If you have cycled for more than a few years and if you live in an area where you cannot cycle all year long you may find that the saddle on your bike is not as comfortable in the spring as you remember it being in the fall before you put it away for the winter. That goes even if you ride a stationery bike in winter. Saddles on stationary bicycles tend to be larger and more heavily padded than those on a traditional bicycle. Also most people don’t ride stationary bikes as long as they do traditional bicycles, there are no bumps, gravel or potholes to hit on a stationary bike, so a saddle that is acceptable on a stationary bike will not likely be as comfortable on a traditional bicycle.
Notice that so far I have always called it a saddle, not a seat and believe it or not there is reason for this. When I was growing up and before I started actually transforming from a person that enjoyed cycling to an actual cyclist I used the term seat and saddle interchangeably. After reading several articles on the subject, most recently by the late Sheldon Brown I have come to appreciate the difference between a seat and a saddle.
Sheldon explained it like this: a seat is something you sit on and is designed to bear your entire weight, much like a chair would do. Recumbent bikes use seats upright traditional bikes have saddles. Saddles are designed to carry some of the weight of the rider but not all. The legs as well as the arms and hands carry some of the weight of the rider also. So you see the bicycle saddle is found on traditional upright bicycles. Bicycle seats are found on recumbent bikes.
At this point I do not have or ride a recumbent so this article will be mostly about the traditional upright 2 wheel bicycle. It also does not really cover saddles for BMX bicycles, since BMX riders spend most of their actual riding time out of the saddle the saddle is more of an ornament for them except when they are in staging waiting for the race.
The average recreational cyclist will ride their bicycle until it gets cold outside then put it up for the winter and bring it back out to ride when the weather gets warmer in the spring. The cyclist gets in a few miles on his/her bike from last year and the saddle is no longer as comfortable as it felt in the fall. The cyclist then goes to the nearest bike shop or searched the Internet for a new saddle. The purchase is made and after a few dozen miles the new saddle feels better, so they stick with it and retire the old one. This scenario may continue each year, not because there is anything wrong with the old saddle but because the rider needs to get accustomed to riding again. In most cases gradually getting back in to riding by doing short rides at first then adding miles each time you ride is the best way to find out whether you really neat a new saddle or whether you just need to get more used to riding.
If after trying for a while you still feel a new saddle is what you need then here are some things to think about.
The width of the saddle is crucial to your comfort. Your sit bones or ischial tuberosities are designed to bear your body’s weight when seated. If the weight is carried between the sit bones instead of on them you will be uncomfortable. If the saddle is too narrow the soft tissues will bear the body weight. If the saddle is too wide you may notice chafing on the inner thigh especially when it gets warmer outside and you perspire more.
The material that the saddle is made of makes some difference in comfort. Personally I prefer the leather saddle for my bicycle, but it doesn’t really have to be fine Italian Leather, just regular stretched, vinyl is too slippery, and Lycra is not as durable as either leather or vinyl. Heavily padded seats are comfortable for short rides but tend to get uncomfortable quickly as the rides get longer.
Many times the cause of pain is not the saddle itself but the adjustment of the saddle and whether or not the bike fits the rider. Before tossing out a perfectly good saddle and laying out a 100.00 or more on a new fancy saddle make sure that your bike actually fits you and that the bike is adjusted properly.
You may need help with the fitting of the bike or adjusting the saddle correctly. Any good bicycle shop should be able to help with this. You can also do a Google search for bicycle fitting and find many variations of fitting a rider to a bicycle.