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Saddle Quest ~ In Search Of Enduring Comfort


In this post I share what I’ve learnt about saddle comfort.

I’ve been cycling since I was a kid as a way to stay fit or get about locally. It is only in the last year that I’ve been riding regularly for several hours at a time or even days on end. My biggest single challenge with any of this has been dealing with saddle discomfort.

The cycling industry doesn’t like to put newcomers off by dwelling on this but it can take months to fully acclimatise your sit bones to the demands of sitting upon a bike saddle for hours on end.

As a new cyclist you have to begin slowly in order to accustom your bum to the saddle experience; no matter what brand or design of saddle. Just complete very short rides on alternate days to begin with, there are no shortcuts, it simply takes time for your tissues to develop and adjust to this new demand.

A gradual process is fine for acclimatising your sit bones but if you’re also experiencing numbness and tingling in your soft tissues then something else needs to be done as you can never acclimatise to that. Such tingling or numbness can lead to longterm issues and needs to be taken seriously. (One long five day endurance trip I took lead to months of discomfort but fortunately no lasting issues.)

Some things I’ve learnt..
  • Tilting a saddle down to reduce perineal pressure tends to place more weight onto your hands as you stop yourself sliding forward. This can lead to nerve pressure resulting in numb fingers or cyclist’s palsy.
  • Saddle width needs to be matched to sit bone width. Wide (130mm+) sit bones on a narrow saddle particularly cause soft tissue pressure.
  • A professional bike fit is money very well spent. I had an in depth hour long fit and follow up fit with Kernow Physio that included video analysis and physiological measurements to get an optimum starting position. A follow up session some months later further refined this. The whole process gave me an understanding of the dynamics my bike position, ideas on how I can improve aspects of my strength and flexibility as well as insight into how I can make further micro adjustments if necessary. Get a professional bike fit, no online article or video is any kind of substitute. Scott at Kernow Physio say this about the importance of also combining physiotherapy assessment with a bike fit. “…Full Physiotherapy assessment: This is a key asset to Kernow Physio as one of the most important aspects of a bike fit is understanding how the client moves. And experienced Physiotherapy knowledge certainly helps this. Kernow Physio is one of the few bike fitting companies to be run by a fully chartered Physiotherapist. Key assessment areas include flexibility, true leg length discrepancy, restriction of hip, knee and ankle movement, and a footbed assessment if required.” It worked for me.
  • Even just a few millimetres of adjustment (of many different components) can make a significant difference.
  • What feels comfortable for 4 hours may not prove so comfortable on much longer rides.
  • Good core strength stabilises the pelvis and back which aids comfort. It’s necessary to cross train and combine other exercises beyond cycling to support longterm cycling comfort and endurance. With strong, flat abdominal muscles your pelvis tilts forward less and reduces perineal soft tissue pressure.
  • There is no one size fits all solution. Seek the best advice but also trust your judgement; only you really know what is right for you. Very few experts in bike fit or coaching actually have much experience with unsupported ultra distance cycling.
Saddles I’ve tried – in order

Selle SMP Extra

Used on my previous bike. I had high hopes for this but try as I may I couldn’t get a comfortable position with it.






Stock Genesis saddle

This came with my Datum bike but didn’t work well for me.





Brooks Cambium C15 Imperial

I so wanted this saddle to work for me. I love how it looks and initially it did seem very comfortable but after over 1000+km of testing I had to give up on it. It was Ok when riding up on the hoods but in the drops or on TT bars my nether regions went to sleep (I think the non cutout version maybe better as it should result in less sagging in the middle)


Ergon SRS-M

This at first seemed like the solution to my problems but again I couldn’t get a fit that allowed for comfort and blood flow in an aero position using the drops or TT bars without tilting the saddle nose down. Any nose down saddle position had me putting too much weight on my hands to stop me sliding forward. This then lead to nerve constriction and numbness and tingling in my fingers.



Selle SLR 

This is the saddle endurance cycling supremo Kristof Allegaert uses and having watched him cross Australia on one during the IPWR I thought it was worth a try. Once again I had the same issue of needing excessive downward saddle tilt to maintain blood flow in more aggressive riding positions which lead to excess hand pressure.


Infinity Seat N series

Aside from perineal pressure there is also the issue of saddle sores where your sit bones make contact. I haven’t suffered particularly badly with this but it’s something I’d idealy avoid. I read many glowing reviews about the comfort of this saddle and it’s design intrigued me. Sadly, my sit bone width at circa 130mm resulted in my sit bones resting, very uncomfortably, exactly on the edges of the cutout rather than within it. I could also tell that even if this wasn’t the case that I was still going to have perineal pressure issues. Another one for eBay and a real shame that  http://infinitybikeseat.com don’t provide better pre-purchase sizing guidance.


ISM PN 1.1

Success! This is the saddle I rode the 2017 TAW race on with virtually no blood flow or nerve issues and only mild saddle sores. I find I can move around a lot on this, but still stay comfortable, depending on whether I’m on the hoods, drops or TT bars. The pressure on my pubic rami bones took a few weeks to get used to but then I was set. It’s not quite perfect but certainly the best I’d found until I upgraded to the new PN 3.0.


ISM PN 3.0

This is a seriously good saddle for my needs. Virtually zero blood flow issues riding in any position. Compared with the PN 1.1, the wider back offers more pelvic support and allows me to sit back onto my sit bones if I want. The slightly different to curve to the top of the saddle fits my anatomy better. Small changes compared with the PN 1.1 have resulted in even better comfort. There maybe more comfortable saddles to be had but I’m content with this and no longer looking elsewhere. My focus now is on managing friction and eliminating saddle sores. Check out ISM’s design theory here.


Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found this useful and wish you happy, comfy riding.

The Bike

What am I riding for this adventure?


A Genesis Datum 2016 “10” edition. The version with the lowest equipment specification (There’s 10, 20 & 30, all with the same frame but different drivetrain and paint jobs). I rode this pretty much in it’s stock Shimano Tiagra setup from September till January other than changing the tyres after a few weeks and installing a Quarq Dfour power meter to aid training.

During those months I researched a lot on endurance cycling in general plus rider accounts from other ultra distance events and generally finessed my ideas into what I felt was going to be my optimum setup. It won’t be everyone’s idea of ideal by any stretch but I’m very happy so far and will be really putting it through it’s paces on some longer rides in the coming weeks.

what have i changed?
  • Gears are controlled with Shimano Dura Ace 9000 bar end shifters.
  • Brake levers are now Shimano R400. (Still controlling TRP RDHD brakes)
  • Front chain rings 50-34T. (On Quarq Dfour crank) (Was 46-34T but decided that was not needed)
  • Front mech upgraded to Shimano Dura Ace 9100.
  • Rear cassette: 11 speed Sram 1170 11-36T. (was 10 speed 11-32T)
  • Rear derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6800 medium.
  • Saddle changed to Ergon SR3 (20-16-17 Now changed again to ISM PN1.1)
  • Seat post: Ergon CF3 (This thing is amazing…)
  • Custom wheels from Owen Wheels ( Schmidt SON 28 15 6-bolt front hub, a Chris King R45 disc rear hub and Kinlin XR31RTS OCR rims, laced 32-spoke, 3-cross with Sapim CX-Ray spokes and Sapim’s alloy polyax nipples) Shimano Ice Tech Rotors
  • Tyres: Schwalbe S-One 30c tubeless.
Why this lot?

Well, I grew up riding bikes with friction shift gear changing and really like having a single lever for changing gears up or down over whatever number of gears I desire. The Tiagra brake lever controlled gears were mostly fine but on occasions the left side one, controlling the front mech, would get stuck on the small ring for no apparent reason until eventually, after much lever flicking, it would re-engage. Not confidence inspiring.

I’ve also had issues with finger numbness on longer rides and bar end shifters force you to move your hands around the bars more which helps with blood flow and reducing nerve pressure. I cut 25mm off the handlebar ends before fitting the shifters so that they didn’t stick out to far and get in the way when riding out of the saddle. I also double wrapped the bars for more comfort using the original wrap with Sram cork tape on top. I am very happy with the result and adjusted to using them immediately. Perfect for long rides with little to malfunction.

They’ll also control pretty much any brand of replacement front/rear mech if needed due to mechanical troubles mid race. I can also micro adjust the front mech to stop chain rub dead easily. Again makes me move my hands! The Dura Ace front mech maybe a little excessive but it does have a super smooth action.

The smaller 46T big ring means I spend most of my time using just that and only drop to the 34T on the steepest hills. When it was 50t I very rarely used the smaller sprockets. (UPDATE: I’ve changed back to a 50:34 setup because shifting works better and I’ve gotten stronger)

There’s a great piece on ratios for ultra cycling here that informed some of my decision. My low 34-36T grandad gear makes the steepest of Cornish (And hopeful Irish) hills very doable even when exhausted. Energy conservation and management will play a big factor in this race and some easy gearing is going to help.

Saddles will be the topic of a whole other post but having tried a few I can say I’m now very happy with the Ergon SR3. Combine this with Ergon’s CF3 Setback seat post and comfort levels increase dramatically. (UPDATE: Following my 4 day Welwyn Garden Trip I switched to and ISM PN1.1 due to penile numbness issues!)

The Ergon CF3 is described as:

Killing road buzz! The CF3 Pro Carbon seat post with 25mm of setback presents a comfort innovation by using a two parallel leaf springs and bushing equipped pivots to soak up road vibrations. The saddle moves backwards in a arc motion, with the help of the carbon suspension beams (VCLS Technology). The highly sensitive carbon beams retain that ‘direct road bike’ feel.”

It really does achieve all of that. The only downside, aside from cost, is that altering saddle angle is a longwinded process once it’s installed as the post has to be removed for angle adjustments  It’s best get everything spot on and measured with your existing setup and then transfer that across whilst also making allowances for how the saddle moves aft and levels out with your weight on it.

The stock Fulcrum Racing DB wheels that come with the bike can only be described as basic. After only 2000km or so the rear freehub began to bind and grind even with regular oiling. These are budget wheels and removing or servicing the hub is a real faff compared to fulcrum’s higher end wheels and I suspect it’s not really intended. Either way for endurance riding on multiple road surfaces with pot holes and who knows what good wheels are essential. I wanted wheels with a good strength to weight ratio that would also endure and be fully serviceable. The wheels Pete Owen has built me should see me through many years of hard use. Pete clearly loves his craft and is a pleasure to deal with. I found out about his wheels whilst idly fantasising about a custom Rusby bike, not this year!

The top quality Chris King rear hub should last indefinitely, with regular servicing, and can be reused with new rims in the future as needed. Likewise the SON dynamo hub is widely regarded as the most reliable disc hub available and should be good for 10’s of thousands of km.

Finally the tyre upgrade came about after I found myself unexpectedly sliding down the road on my side without warning. I can’t really blame the stock Challenge Strada Bianca 33c tyres but as I wanted to go down a size and try tubeless it was a good excuse for a change. Such crashes aren’t good for one’s confidence either, especially as at no point did I think “oops I’m taking this bend a bit quick”, I just ended up on the ground unexpectedly. By changing tyres I felt I was at least doing something to reduce the chance of similar events in the future.

I settled on Schwalbe S-One tyres because they have a very low rolling resistance, excellent reviews for grip, and as 30c’s in 60-70psi tubeless mode comfort is a very high indeed. I converted the stock Fulcrum clincher wheels to tubeless using Stan’s RimTape which was very easy. Fortunately I have ready access to reasonable sized compressor which makes inflating the tyres onto the rims pretty easy. I don’t think I could have got there with just a track pump, a much bigger initial blast of air is needed to get the tyre to inflate into place. No punctures so far but I have a Dynaplug® Micro Pro Bicycle Bike Tubeless Tyre Puncture Repair Kit in case. (UPDATE: I’ve had a rear tyre puncture that self sealed once pressure dropped to around 40psi but it would not hold at 70psi) I had to top up the tyre pressure a couple of times in the first 2-3 weeks. Apparently all tyres are just a little porous and it takes a while for the Stan’s NoTube sealant or similar to fully seal them. Switching them over to the new wheels was no big deal and I barely lose any pressure now.

That about sums it up. I haven’t totalled the costs but I know I could have spent a lot more, or a lot less, but I’m happy that the bike fits my needs perfectly and most importantly won’t limit my performance in any way.

No excuses!