We touch our bikes with our hands, feet, and seat, and for all of those contact points, comfort is important. While we can easily change or even do without gloves, tighten or loosen shoes, or select different socks, once we've selected a saddle, it becomes a part of the bike. Gloves and shoes have long-standing sizing standards that allow us to measure our hands or feet and come up with a pretty sure bet when buying gloves or shoes, and what feels right in the local bike shop will likely be OK out on the road. This has not been the case with saddles. Many shops had a few loaners or our buddies might have something laying around that we could borrow, but it has been a trial-and-error endeavor. With quality saddles often in the $100-350.00 price range, buying the wrong saddle can be an expensive experiment, but the right saddle is worth pretty much whatever it costs.
Now, saddle makers have stepped up their game with some methods that at least smack of a scientific approach. The first saddle fit tool I was aware of came from Specialized.
Specialized came up with a system in which you sat on a pad in order to make an impression of your sit bones.The resulting measurement gave you some direction as to which saddle would best meet your needs.
Selle Italia has taken the process a step further with their idMatch saddle fit system. After hearing about this tool from a ride partner who had been saddle shopping, I dropped by Spokes to check it out.
After getting some basic information like height, weight and age, Burke Jolly of Spokes used these calipers to measure the my pelvic width.
After measuring the width of my pelvis, Burke got a little more personal as he measured the circumference of my thighs just below the hips. He then used a pelvic inclinometer (no, that term was not previously in my vocabulary) to get a measure of my degree of flexibility.
With the measuring done, Burke plugged my data into the software tool.
The results narrowed the range of my selections, though the process is still far from precise. The saddle that I have been riding for years, a Selle Italia Flite Genuine Gel, has the same width and similar dimensions some of the recommendations, so I have no doubt that it would have been on the list if it was still being offered.
No, I'm not going for the Lady Gel Flow, but the idFit tool serves to narrow the range of options within the Selle Italia line.
A key component of the Selle Italia idFit program is a demo kit so that after the fitting, cyclists can try out saddles within the recommended range before buying.
Fizik, another popular high quality saddle maker, also has a fit system called the Spine Concept. They classify riders as "snake", "bull", or "chameleon" based in large part on their degree of flexibility. Peter Sagan and Team Cannondale ride Fizik saddles and I spent part of my summer wondering why those guys had adopted such critter names.
Saddles are a very personal choice and any discussion with knowledgeable riders or bike shop folks will likely end with , "...but you've just got to try some." Systems like idMatch and Spine Concept can help narrow your choices but, well, you'll just have to try some.