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Saddles are a more important issue with women than with male riders. Due to anatomical differences (not the least of which being wider pelvic bones), a female rider will find most men's saddles to be uncomfortable, but you must realise that discomfort is not simply an integral attribute of cycling to be accepted without question. Saddles designed to fit women are available, and there are some important points to keep in mind about choosing and using a saddle.

Design

Choosing a saddle is a very individual matter. As a result, a given saddle has as many deriders as proponents, and it isn't useful to make any recommendations other than to try them out. However, it is essential to choose a saddle designed especially for women: men's saddles, and many unisex models, will simply not suffice.

An anatomical "cutout" or "padded spot" is a key feature of a suitable saddle. However, some cut-outs are more effective than others, and some are not at all. Further, just because the cut-out fits in one riding position doesn't mean it will remain comfortable if you slide back on your seat for extra leg extension, work your torso back and forth, or sit up on your bike to stretch. Racers especially will want a saddle with lots of comfortable positions, with a soft nose.

If you aren't riding for performance, a wide back on the saddle, or a wide saddle in general, can be more comfortable by supporting the rider by the buttock, rather than exclusively the bones in the pelvis. This generally comes at the expense of thigh friction and often comfort, so you don't usually see serious riders with those wide, spring-toting K-Mart saddles. Padded shorts on padded saddles with padded gel covers are generally a inadequate band-aid for a bike that does not fit, one which never will work.

Speaking of K-Mart saddles, do not buy a saddle with visible springs -- solid foam saddles, if properly designed, are unfailingly more comfortable. Like fins on the back of a 1968 Cadilac Eldorado, the springs are a counter productive gimmick to prey on an ignorant consumer accustomed to similarly incompetently designed seats. A firm saddle will keep you in the optimal position for pedalling, rather than having the effect of randomly changing the seat-tube height. Even a 4% change in the distance to the pedals can improve efficiency by as much as spending $500 on aero wheels.

Get it Dialed

Nearly as important as the saddle itself is getting it properly adjusted, rendering an uncomfortable seat perfect. My saddle, albeit an expensive racing saddle for a guy, is designed to be used as exactly level as possible. It was set with a carpentry level, and I find it great, but before it was levelled I kept sliding around uncomfortably.

Also, the rails on a seat allow you to set it closer or further from the saddle, which is a complex optimisation. The further back the saddle, the more aerodynamically efficient and the better for your back and breathing in the same way as dropped handlebars. The best way to achieve this may be to lower your headset and get one which extends farther, however, as sliding the seat back this can mess up your leg geometry. The farther forward your are, the more total power output you have available -- hence the steep seat-tube angle on racing or sprinting bikes -- and farther back allows you to "ankle" more effectively and is conducive to long-haul output. Older riders generally prefer seats towards the back of the usual 1 3/4" to 2 1/2" range from the nose of the saddle to a vertical line through the crankset, which also depends on body size.

Try it out

Just as when choosing a bike, it is especially critical for women to try out a saddle to be sure that it fits and is comfortable. There is really no way to determine if a saddle, or bicycle, is comfortable to your particular anatomy, or is even anything other than a men's model painted pink. For men, on the other hand, testing is a small issue as the same design will be comfortable for most men.

Many women riders report their dislike for a saddle after only one ride. Saddles, especially the hard, "uncomfortable" ones, must be worked in, like a good pair of shoes. Use a seat for at least a few days, preferably a week or more, after it has been dialed in. Many of the riders who chuck a saddle after one day might have been surprised.
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