Saddle comfort is an essential ingredient to a happy rider. A negative saddle experience can put a beginner off riding altogether, and problems in the perch department can cause experienced riders weeks off the bike.
We’ve long been under the impression that saddles need to be female specific to suit the majority of female riders. However, research from saddle brand Selle Royal has thrown that assertion into serious question.
The Italian comfort saddle experts, who own British brand Brooks and launched the high-end performance variety Fizik in 1997, introduced their new Scientia range this year. They invited us to visit them in Italy, to hear about the saddles – and give them a try.
Selle Royal took us out for a day's e-bike ride in the leisure position that the saddles are designed for, with assorted stops to explore the local sights along the way. By a day's ride, we mean we collected the bikes at 9.30am, and were on and off them until 4.30pm. The riding was very leisurely and we won't lie, there was just as much wine (tasting!) as coffee along the way.
The Science Behind Scientia
The Scientia range consists of nine saddles, developed in conjunction with researchers at Europe’s leading sports university – Deutsche Sporthochschule. Together they carried out studies using 120 male and 120 female participants -with the aim of creating the most comfortable saddle range possible.
The team carried out a trio of studies – one into ischial (sit bone) width, another into gender difference, and a final study to determine the ideal shape of a saddle. The results from the studies convinced the scientists behind the saddle range that it was not necessary to create male and female varieties of their comfort saddles – only differing widths.
In the sit bone study, it was determined that women had slightly wider sit bones than men – but there was of course some overlap with some men having wide bones and some women having narrower bones. As a result, Selle Royal created three unisex widths – with the expectation more women would be at the wider end, and more men at the lower end.
The key differences between men and women, I expect most of us know, are presented in the soft tissue in the pubic area – and it was this area that the second study investigated.
Men and women (35 and 31 respectively) pedaled for over thirty minutes on a saddle with 64 sensors, which assessed pressure on the soft tissue.
They sat on a ‘neutral’ (unisex) saddle in three different positions – one where the rider was in a very relaxed position, with a 60-degree back angle, another with a 45-degree angle, and with the rider in a much more aggressive 30-degree position. The most relaxed, 90-degree position was not tested as it was determined the results would be similar to that of 60-degrees.
The scientists agreed that there would need to be a pressure difference of 100 ‘mbar’ or more for the rider to notice and difference at all.
In the 60-degree position, the average difference in pressure between men and women was 26mbar, and at the 45-degree position, it was 13mbar. However, at 30-degrees – there was a dramatic difference – at 157mbar. From this, the researchers concluded that in a relaxed, leisure riding position – such as that adopted by a person on a Dutch bike, or the majority of hybrids, saddles did not need to be gendered at all. However, as soon as women begin to adopt more aggressive positions, for example that used on most road bikes, the differences became much more pronounced.
Cut Out, or no Cut Out?
Next, they examined shape – using the same sensor research tool and testing riders on saddles of different styles. From this, they determined that the best saddles used a relief channel, from front to back of the saddle, as opposed to a cut out. This was because the pressure was spread evenly, rather than being displaced to the outer edges when a cut out was used.
They also found that the best saddles had a wider nose, and were taller at the back, creating a slight slope towards the nose – much the same effect as angling a saddle down slightly via the seat post adjustment.
Finally, they looked into saddles which used suspension to provide dampening, and concluded that this did not support the rider. However, in their own design they added what they called a ‘curva suspension’ which is created by the unique shaping of the saddle rails to provide flexibility.
Selle Royal's Conclusions
The result of all this work? Nine unisex saddles within the Scientia range. Since Selle Royal create comfort saddles, intended to be used up until the 45-degree angle, their work told them not to engineer any women’s versions.
There are athletic (45 degree), moderate (60 degree) and relaxed (90 degree) options, in widths one to three. The width a customer should buy are dependent upon sit bone width, which can be measured at all suppliers.
Firstly, the saddles use a Royalgel padding throughout the central channel, and this is super fun to squish. The 'squish test' is one of the first interactions that takes place between a potential saddle buyer and product, and we certainly enjoyed this. It was kind of like a little stress ball and we wouldn't mind keeping one on our desks at all times.
The overall feel is quite high end, with a soft suede like cover and fairly lightwight rails, though the saddles come in at €79,90 (about £60).
Seven hours, on and off, in and out the saddle - is a pretty long time, so if we were going to run into problems, we would have hit them like a brick wall. I'm generally a roadie, and was riding a Dutch bike in a very relaxed position, actually for the first time. I didn't feel any soft tissue discomfort at all during the day.
The slight tilt of the design meant I found myself having to think about shifting my weight back a few times, to find the right position, but once my sit bones had found the right contact patch, I was more than happy.
There was plenty of padding across the rear of the saddle, though towards the very end of the afternoon a slight dull awareness of the fact that I'd been sitting on my bum and pedalling for quite some time began to make itself known. However, it's worth bearing in mind that most people wanting to ride in this style will not be perched for seven hours.
Selle Royal have very clearly put a huge amount of research and data into this little black seat, and they've also invested a lot of traditional Italian passion into the marketing. I'd definitely suggest giving the saddle a go, if you ride in a leisure style position - but I think if you're likely at all to tilt forward and adopt a more aggressive style, a female specific model, or actually one of these ISM saddles, is more likely to suit.
Of course - saddles are 100% personal - for more advice on choosing one, check out: