‘Saddles come in many shapes, but suffice it to say, there is only One True Saddle for you out there in the whole world, and chances are you just aren’t going to find it.’ (BikeReader). Is finding the perfect saddle, the one that will give you support and comfort, more difficult than finding the perfect bike then? It could be the one component that you have to try out for yourself, because recommendations are not to be trusted. So The Quest begins, and it may last some time. In addition to the handlebars and the pedals, the saddle is one of the three contact points between a bicycle and its rider and it takes most of my weight. No wonder, then, that shape, size, material, angle, height and weight all matter so much. It can be crucial . . . or excruciating. Being on a bike may be like having the best seat in the house but that certainly depends on what kind of seat! An uncomfortable hard nylon shell could quickly turn my journey into an agony. And, to be sure, some saddles do look strictly decorative, half-way between a rock and a hard place. Surely that narrow piece of plastic that won’t give in until I do is not made to sit on?
So far, however, my interest in bike seats has been casual at best. Since it’s the one component I never see when I ride, I don’t give it much thought. And considering the number of expensive saddles I see in the streets not secured to their bikes, I wonder if we’re really as attached to our saddles, figuratively speaking, as we would like to think? For my own part, I have low expectations. I tend to think of a saddle as something which is moderately comfortable to sit on and will do. My hybrid came with an adequate saddle, and some years later, it still has the same ordinary, ordinarily comfortable one; only it is now starting to show its age and its foam padding. I can’t say, as I have for pedals, that a saddle changed my life but luckily, most saddles seem to fit me, or rather I adapt to them. Although I don’t do padded shorts, I only do short rides, so that probably helps. In any case, a saddle that goes unnoticed must be a good sign!
I have a confession to make, though: I am fond of leather saddles, particularly that beautiful piece of craftsmanship, a Brooks saddle. The leather, the rivets, the metal springs, the shape . . . they – or we – may need to be broken in but they are the one type of saddle I would love to own. It’s their sharpness, the elegance of a classic but sturdy look. Something they have in common with the Methodist Church, apparently. The wearing-in and patina of the leather gives them a past and a personality that I never find in an everyday gel saddle. I like the photo of this stern-looking saddle seemingly standing guard over the bicycle on behalf of its owner.
I may pay little attention to my saddle but all the same, I do not like to have to get out of it. Cycling without sitting in the saddle, i.e. whilst standing on the pedals, can either look graceful if you have good coordination skills and are French – it’s called ‘pédaler en danseuse’ over there – or resemble graceless, red-faced contortions if you’re me. My full weight pushes down on my legs and I climb the hill, giving it my all. Dizzy heights, full power, polka dot jersey (and I thought I was just cycling to the shops!)? Not for me, thank you. This is the sign of a physical effort that goes beyond what I am willing to give. If I need to get out of the saddle, then something is amiss. Either I’m in the wrong gear, or on the wrong route, or on the wrong bike, or it’s just the wrong day or the wrong me. The fact that I don’t have to support my own weight is precisely the reason why I find riding a bike in London so comfortable – and why moderate cycling doesn’t burn as many calories as walking. ‘In the saddle’ is a figure of speech that has come to mean, by extension, ‘on a bicycle’ and indeed, my saddle, though neglected, is the foundation of my cycling posture. It gives me poise and reminds me that this is what cycling is about: sitting up and going forward.