Bike saddles are fundamental to cycling comfort. When their shape, size, or stiffness are inappropriate for a rider, even a short trip could become unpleasant. Hence why many long-distance riders invest a lot of time in finding the right saddle for them.
But even if you spend many hours reading reviews, you still won’t know with certainty if the saddle in question will work for you until you test it.
In some cases, the assessment process extends even further because some saddles take a while to assume their most comfortable shape.
This leads us to a frequently asked question – how long does it take to break in a bike saddle?
Non-leather saddles don’t have a break-in period. They are either comfortable or not. Conversely, leather saddles (e.g., Brooks) adapt to the shape of the rider’s sit bones over time.
It’s difficult to come up with a precise number due to the involvement of various factors, but in general, a leather saddle would need at least 400km (248miles) of riding to reach noticeable suppleness.
Shape Is King
The shape of a saddle is more important for comfort than the softness or the adaptability of the material it’s produced of.
A saddle could be made of an alienesque matter, but if the architecture causes instantaneous discomfort then the saddle itself will never be truly comfortable even if you ride with it for a long time.
The same applies to leather saddles. Many people think that there’s a “rite of passage” period during which you have to suffer greatly for a leather saddle to become comfortable.
A leather saddle indeed adapts to your physic and style of riding over time, but if it’s not acceptable initially, it won’t suddenly improve its performance multiple times even if it’s expensive and manufactured by a reputable company.
How Long Does It Take For A Brooks Saddle Break-In
Brooks saddles are made of natural leather and vary in thickness which means that every saddle has a slightly different “break-in” period.
In general, however, most people say that at least 400km (248miles) are needed to see results.
Note: Brooks saddles are not an exception to the shape rule. If a particular Brooks saddle does not feel sufficiently comfortable when you begin using it, then the improvements that you’re going to see over time will be insufficient. If that’s the case, you will have to test a new model.
In the ideal, scenario, the saddle would be comfortable right away and will become even better over time.
How Can I Speed Up The Break-In Process of a Leather Saddle
It’s best to stay away from extreme “break-in” techniques (e.g., soaking the saddle in water) because they could needlessly harm the integrity of the leather.
There are many products out there designed to soften leather products, but that doesn’t necessarily make them suitable for this application because saddles are support units rather than clothes.
As far as treatment is concerned, it’s best to stick with products recommended by the manufacturers. For example, Brooks sells the so-called Proofide mixture which improves the waterproof capacity of a saddle and its flexibility.
Another possibility would be beeswax like SnoSeal which offers protective properties without excessive softening.
Ultimately, however, the main purpose of similar products is to protect the saddle from the elements rather than to make it soft.
The fastest and safest way to speed up the “shaping process” is to ride your bicycle.
Make Sure That The Saddle You Choose Fits You
The first step to increasing the chances of finding a comfortable saddle is to first select one that fits you.
The job of a bike saddle is not to be a couch, but to support your sit bones while riding.
What are the sit bones?
The anatomical term for sit bones is ischial tuberosity and refers to the lower part of the pelvis which supports the body when we seat.
In a standing position, the glutes are contracted and cover the area, but in a seated position the sit bones become exposed. The easiest way to find your sit bones is to place one of your palms under yourself and gently sit on it.
The length between the centers of the sit bones is of crucial importance because it determines the width of the saddle that you need.
How To Measure Your Sit Bones At Home (simple way)
Step 1: Find a large piece of aluminum foil used for cooking.
Step 2: Place it on a low chair. If you don’t have a low chair, put a thin blanket on the first or second stair of a stairway and position the foil on it.
Step 3: Sit on the foil and lean forward to mimic your riding position.
Step 4: Lift your feet slightly.
Step 5: Measure the distance between the deepest impressions in millimeters.
Step 6: Add 25-30 millimetres to the measurement.
This is done because the absolute width of the saddle should be greater than the distance between your sit bones.
Step: 7 Look for a saddle that corresponds to that number.
E.g., If your sit bone measurement is 115mm, then you’ll need a saddle about 143mm wide.
Below is a table containing the most likely size saddle that you’ll need according to the width of your sit bones:
|Sit Bones Width||Saddle size|
|110mm or less||Small|
Unfortunately, however, this is a general rule and does not guarantee that every saddle that’s technically the correct width for you will be comfortable.
A saddle may have the perfect theoretical dimensions for you and yet still feel unpleasant due to its peculiar shape.
Still, many people are unaware that they ride a saddle that’s too narrow for them and experience relief when switching to one more appropriate for the width of their sit bones.
A Saddle Shouldn’t Be Uncomfortable Even If You’re A Beginner
If a saddle is good enough for you, you shouldn’t be experiencing discomfort at least for the first 30 minutes of riding even if you’re a total beginner.
Note: It’s normal to get sore after a long ride if your body hasn’t adapted yet. This happens even when the saddle is made for you.
How Long Does It Take For the Sit Bones to Adapt?
If your bicycle and saddle fit your body type, it shouldn’t take very long for the sit bones to acclimate to the new stress.
It’s hard to come up with a precise number, but significant improvement should be seen after the first 10-20 hours of riding, although soreness may persist for longer, especially if you cover massive distances.
FAQ: Where should I feel the soreness?
The sit bones should take most of the burden. If the soreness is in a different area, then you may need to readjust your saddle or find a new one.
Also, it’s normal to experience a little bruising and skin irritation due to the prolonged pressure, but it should never be severe.
If the fit is good, the discomfort should gradually disappear as you continue with your cycling regimen. If that’s not happening, there’s a strong chance that your saddle is not good for you.
FAQ: Should I ride when I’m sore?
It depends. If you’re new to cycling, you’ll need more downtime because the body cannot recover without rest. A few off days here and there will be very helpful during the introductory phase.
Nonetheless, there’s no need to be perfectly recovered before your next ride. Some soreness is to be expected. If everything is alright, it should subside as you warm up.
It’s not uncommon to be a little sore at the beginning of a ride and then gradually become more comfortable.
Saddles Aren’t Boots
New boots made out of thick leather are known for having long and painful “break-in” time. People have been doing all kinds of tricks to “anesthetize” and speed up the process. E.g., wearing thick socks and hitting the boots with a hammer.
Saddles are different, however.
Stiff boots have firm soles and act as “constraints” for the feet and the ankle. Consequently, they represent a higher barrier for the foot to overcome and perform its function.
Conversely, the saddle does not “constrain” your body. It only supports it while you’re exerting effort. Hence why the break-in period is of lesser importance to the final result.
How Far Forward or Backward Should My Saddle Be?
Some beginner cyclists may not know, but a bike saddle can move forward and back. You can regulate it by unscrewing the hex bolt underneath it and then sliding the saddle over the rails.
This adjustment can have a great effect as it sets the position of the saddle underneath you.
How To Choose The Correct Rail Position
In the most common scenario, the saddle would be in the middle. Or in other words, the clamp would be holding the rails in the center. However, this isn’t always the most comfortable adjustment.
If you have a frame that’s slightly smaller for your body, you may compensate for it, albeit to a degree, by sliding the saddle backward.
This is what I do with my commuter. Normally, the ultimate Cross Country frame for me is around 19-inches, but I’m riding a 17.5-inch because I prefer smaller, more agile frames.
If the frame you’re riding is slightly bigger for you, you will have to slide the saddle forward to position it properly.
The length of one’s femurs influences the saddle position too. If you have short femurs, you may have to slide the saddle forward; if you have long femurs you may have to slide it backward.
Here’s the general procedure used to find out the necessary rail adjustment:
Step 1: Adjust the height of the saddle.
At the bottom position, your knee should be slightly flexed.
Step 2: Get on the bike and put one of the cranks in the 3 o’clock position.
Step 3: Suspend a plumb line from the front of your knee. If you don’t have a plumb line you can use a string with a weight attached to it.
Ideally, the line would be right over the axle of the pedal.
If it’s not, you’ll have to move the saddle forward or backward to achieve the proper alignment.
Why Soft Saddles Are Not Always Comfortable
Saddles with wide springs and five layers of gel inserts may look incredibly comfortable when you’re off the bicycle, but once you get on the plot changes.
The job of a bicycle saddle is to support your sit bones rather than to be a soft comfortable chair.
Extra padding increases the surface area and the so-called “chaffing” effect. As a result, the skin gets irritated as the ride progresses. Hence why most saddles on high performances bicycles are designed in a way that limits the contact of the saddle with soft tissues.
Don’t be surprised if you find out that the most comfortable saddle for you is one that looks incredibly uncomfortable when you’re off the bike.
Note: If you want extra padding, it’s significantly better to just wear shorts and bibs than to buy a saddle resembling an office chair.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I am correctly positioned on my saddle?
If you’re sitting properly on the saddle, your sit bones will be within the widest part of the saddle.
If you find yourself constantly pushing back to get a comfortable position, then the saddle is too far forward.
What’s the difference between “male” and “female” saddles?
Female saddles are shorter and wider because women have a wider sit bone area. Also, many female saddles have cut-offs in the middle designed to reduce the pressure on the soft tissues in the groin area.
What are the upsides and downsides of a leather saddle?
The pros of a leather saddle are:
- Appearance. Some people love the classic look
- Custom-fit. The leather of the saddle adapts to you.
- Saddlebag hooks. Brooks saddles have special hooks to which you can connect various classic saddlebags.
- Comfort. Many long-distance cyclists consider leather saddles an indispensable component.
Leather saddles have the following downsides:
- Heavier weight
- High maintenance
- Break-in period
- Clothes coloring. Leather saddles can color your clothes.
- Thief magnet. Some leather saddle brands attract thieves due to the high resale value on the black market.
What are the most suitable bikes for leather saddles?
Even though you can put a leather saddle on just about any bicycle, the most suitable candidates are commuters and touring bikes because they require the most comfort and suffer the least from the weight penalty (they are already heavy anyway).
If you install a leather saddle on a mountain bike used as intended, the saddle would be persistently covered in mud and will disintegrate faster.
Road bikes don’t make the cut either because of the saddle’s extra weight and architecture. Most leather saddles are designed for a more upright position which is the polar opposite of what road bikes’ geometry encourages.
Do I have to pay a lot of money to get a comfortable saddle?
No. I’ve been using the USD 15 stock saddle that came with my mountain bike. Over the last couple of years, I’ve covered about 20, 000km (mostly commuting) and cannot complain.
It’s a cheap synthetic one and didn’t need a break-in period. It was sufficiently comfortable right from the start.
Having said that, I haven’t done serious touring. My best is 110km one day “tour”. The saddle didn’t give me any problems, though.