From the Archives: The Saddle/Handlebar Connection

[During our lively discussion the other day regarding handlebar height and rider comfort, a number of people brought up the relationship between handlebar height and saddle choice. I wrote about this back in July of 2009, so as a follow-up, I’m reposting the article today. —ed.]

I’m stating the obvious here, but finding the right saddle is very important for rider comfort. Every person is different, so it can take some experimentation to find a good fit. You know you have a good fit when your weight is supported by your ischial tuberosities, or what are called “sit bones”, and little to no pressure is placed on the soft tissues between the bones. We’re naturally accustomed to supporting our weight on our sit bones, so it only makes sense to do so when we’re on our bicycles.

The goal is to identify the saddle that works best for your physique, on a particular bike, with a particular build.

Handlebar height in relation to saddle height affects saddle fit. As a general rule, the higher the handlebars in relation to the saddle, the wider the saddle needs to be. High bars place the rider in an upright position, rolling back the hips and placing more weight on the wider portion of the sit bones. Low bars place the rider in a forward leaning position, moving the pressure points to the narrower, front portion of the sit bones. A wide saddle combined with low handlebars is likely to cause chafing between the thighs, while a narrow saddle combined with high bars is likely to place too much pressure on the soft tissues between the sit bones.

I wish I could say there’s a simple method for finding the perfect saddle. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that a fair amount of expensive trial-and-error is required. Even among the bikes I ride on a regular basis, each requires a different saddle. The goal is to identify the saddle that works best for your physique, on a particular bike, with a particular build. Taking into consideration the relationship between saddle height and handlebar height will get you there quicker and greatly simplify the search, saving you time, money, and maybe even some discomfort in the process.

10 Responses to “From the Archives: The Saddle/Handlebar Connection”

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    ” Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that a fair amount of expensive trial-and-error is required.”

    Same here. At this point I have at least figured out that the B17 S is a pretty safe bet for me for bicycles with drop bars and the B66 S works for bolt-upright bicycles. Anything in between, however, takes a while to get right.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    Have you tried the Selle An-Atomica? They claim to be “gender neutral”. My wife prefers her B67, but she’s on a Betty Foy; her preference might change on a different bike with more drop. One of the top women Race Across America competitors rides a Selle and swears by it.


  • Sarah says:

    It would be neat if local bike shops rented them to try out.

  • G.E. says:

    @ Sarah

    I believe you can try Brooks saddles from Walingford Bicycle for a certain length of time (I believe it’s 6 months). ( Could be worth looking into for those looking to try before committing a ton of money to something that might need to be wider or narrower?

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Yes, I plan to try the SA next – just need to save up for it!

  • Frits B says:

    Henry Cutler was at the Friedrichshafen Eurobike and noticed new saddles from Brooks and Gilles Berthoud:

  • kanishka new england says:

    with respect to wide saddles, i’ve been sporting the spongywonder for a 2 years now. my feelings are mixed on it. its transitioned from a brompton to a swift folding bike (setup progressively more upright, but not completely upright). i see what sheldon brown says about noseless saddles and the wrist pressure problem, but i’m not sure if the wrist pressure is minor or problematic. its been quite a while since i’ve felt any pressure on wrists, but seems related to how long my average trips on bike are

  • The week in bikes /  Cycling in Wellington says:

    […] talks about the saddle/handlebar connection – something I’m intending to write about […]

  • CedarWood says:

    The other half has the SA and after much adjustment, swears it’s very comfortable due to the length of the cutout. My sit bones are too wide for it though.

    We both tried the Spongy Wonder but, regardless of adjustments, it rubbed a bit too vigorously on the backs of our thighs for comfort.

  • Teddy says:

    I was lucky in choosing my saddle. My LBS was really helpful in helping me make a decision.
    Right now i’m riding on the brooks b17 saddle and it’s just great. It was my first bike and saddle I ever did any real riding on, and i’m glad that my bike shop was so helpful. Having ridden other saddles after buying the brooks, I never turned back. I ride with my bars just about level with my saddle, and it seems to be perfect. Found a sweetspot and never changed it.

© 2011 EcoVelo™