Fog of War
‘Fog of war’ is a military term describing uncertainty in a situation due to the lack of information. In the context of saddles, we are often unaware of the necessary facts required to select the right saddle; when using a new one, it can be difficult to isolate the root causes and resolve issues that crop up. We discuss different aspects of this fog: the impact of sitbone width guesstimation, reference points used when providing and receiving saddle feedback, the conveyance of intended saddle usage from designer to the cyclist, and various contributing factors to specific problems.
Although multiple ways and tools to measure sitbone width exist, most of us still do not know what ours are. We look at the distribution of sitbones (shown below), then conclude that ours is 110mm (for men), or 130mm (for women). Or we look at the range of saddles on the shelves, then pick the middle option assuming it’s the safest.
Knowing sitbone width is necessary to find the right saddle. Too narrow, our sitbones won’t be supported. Too wide, the saddle sides can interfere with pedaling. In some cases, saddles designed for a particular width incorporate features intended for sitting at certain positions in a specific way (e.g. upright with sitbones around the middle of saddle wings); a deviation from the designed-for width may result in incorrect usage of the saddle.
Not knowing our sitbone widths has other implications. Sitting on a saddle that is too narrow places more pressure on the perineum. If we are unaware that properly supported sitbones can relieve perineum pressure, we may come to the incorrect conclusion that a channel or a cutout is necessary. While the latter can indeed help, the better solution is to find a saddle that is wide enough.
Feedback from multiple sources regarding comfort of a particular saddle can cause the fog of war to worsen. For instance, one may claim that the saddle is perfectly comfortable, while another says perineum pressure is excessive. Another example is the definition of an aggressive versus non-aggressive position on the saddle: an experienced racer’s non-aggressive position may be considered aggressive for a recreational rider. Such vastly differing opinions relied on facts (e.g. sitbone width, riding posture) that is not explicitly stated or known, and can therefore be difficult to reconcile. We call these facts reference points, which help when discussing saddle comfort.
A saddle is typically designed with certain sitting postures in mind. For instance, only an upright position having weight on the the sitbones may be suitable for a cruiser bike’s saddle. A time-trial specific saddle may be optimized for supporting the rami, not sitbones. In the event that the intended postures for a saddle are not properly conveyed to cyclists, we have to resort to trial-and-error attempts at getting comfortable on the saddle.
Multiple contributing factors
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of selecting and using the right saddle is teasing apart the factors that can contribute to a particular discomfort. Without knowing the root cause, problems encountered may be incorrectly attributed to the saddle.
Chafing is an issue that can have multiple contributing factors. Poorly adjusted chamois, poor fitting bibs/shorts, poor fitting saddle, friction caused by excessive sweat drying in the chamois are all contributing factors.
Lifting the Fog of War
It is difficult lifting the fog without investing some time and effort into learning more about our anatomy, the way we ride, and possible causes of issues.
- Know our anatomies — using various measurement tools available at local bike shops, or homemade options, determine our sitbone widths.
- The intended posture(s) for a saddle needs to be conveyed from the designer to the cyclist. In addition to the general type of cycling activity (e.g. time-trial, or cyclocross), how and where the cyclist sits on the saddle should also be stated. This knowledge can be used for saddle adjustments, enhancing fit and comfort.
- Consider relevant reference points when providing and receiving saddle-related feedback. For instance, when discussing saddle flexibility, include weights of cyclists who tested the saddle. When discussing saddle fit, include sitbone widths, sitting location on saddle, fore/aft position of the saddle and its tilt, and whether weight is placed solely on the sitbones and/or the rami.
- To determine root causes, change variables one at a time and observe the result. E.g. if chafing tends to occur in the summer and/or on long rides, try using chamois cream to mitigate friction caused by sweat.
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