And I still haven't found what (saddle) I'm looking for 🚲

On Saturday, I managed to beat my innerer Schweinehund 1 to go out for a winter cold/bad weather ride. I had wanted to take Swift Wind on a route I’ve ridden a number of times since moving to Freiburg, to finally see how it compared to my gravel bike with road tyres.

It was a good ride for the most part and once again I felt the differences between a true road bike and a road rubber-equipped gravel bike when it comes to, well, riding on the road. The weather was grey, moody, a bit of rain came down, too, and the roads were wet and dirty. Back home Swift Wind looked as dirty as Battle Cat, if you replaced the dirt and mud the latter attracts cycling off road with grime from the street.

This was also the first wet weather outing with the Mavic Kysrium Pro Exalith wheels and I came away impressed with the stopping power and modulation of the wheel set/brake pad combination. Yes, they still scream like a banshee when breaking but that’s going to go away.

The more important take-away from the ride was the realisation that somehow my bikes still don’t fit me perfectly. On all three of my bikes, road, gravel, CX-turned-commuter I start to get numb hands after a certain amount of time and on the two drop bar bikes my feet start to tingle on longer excursions, too.

I’ve been thinking about getting a proper bike fit for a while, even if it means that the bike fitters are going to tell me that my bikes are the wrong size. Still, it irks me because the road bike and the gravel bike were bought based on the fact they have a similar if not identical geometry to my correctly sized CX bike2. I don’t feel stretched out on my bikes, I always feel in full control of the steed no matter the terrain, and generally, I’m comfortable. Ah well.

I called one of the bike shops in the area that offers bike fittings to ask a few questions and to set up an appointment. The person I spoke to told me that what I was likely going to need is a professional bike fit by one of their partners (which I had expected) but before I went that route, they asked which issues I had. After a brief description they advised me to try something else before a bike fit: a wider saddle.

They said that many people use too narrow a saddle or one that isn’t wide enough to support their sit bones properly in the preferred position they ride a particular bike in. Because of that, the nerves leading towards the feet are compressed on the one hand and on the other hand, in an effort to compensate the pressure on the butt, some people will put too much weight on the upper body and hands.

That… sounded eerily close to how I felt I was behaving on my bicycles.3

I use two saddle models: A Fabric Scoop Pro Shallow in the 148 mm width with the carbon shell and rails, and a Specialized Power Arc Pro Elaston in the 143 mm width. My sit bones are 123 mm apart, so 140+ mm should be the proper width, based on the manufacturers' and retailers' recommendations, and in the case of the Fabric, after trying the saddle in the shop for a good amount of time.

Interestingly enough, I get sore hands and numb feet more slowly on the Specialized saddle. With the input I received from the bike fitter in the bike shop, I think this may be because the Elaston cushioning manages to compensate for a potentially too narrow saddle for a certain amount of time while cycling.
This also fits with what I’ve read doing additional research about the Power Arc saddles on the internet. Seemingly, due to the strong curvature of the saddle, width numbers don’t tell the whole story and more than one person found a better fit sizing up.

A 155 mm Specialized Power Arc Pro Elaston is on its way to me and should arrive later this week. I’m very curious to find out if this changes things for me. It would be nice to get the fit dialled without a bike fit and at this point I’m not ruling out anything, neither too narrow a saddle, nor a completely wrong understanding of bike sizing, or even the fact that I have too many pounds on my ribs for the type of bike I’m trying to ride.

  1. That’s a German figure of speech that there’s no elegant English translation for. Literally it means “one’s inner swine dog” and the closest meaningful translation is “one’s weaker self”. Beating your “innerer Schweinehund” means “to overcome one’s weaker self” but really, it lacks some of the pathos we Germans imbue this phrase with. ↩︎

  2. I had the CX bike fitted at the manufacturer (Canyon in Koblenz, Germany). They took detailed measurements of me and found that I fell between two sizes. I got to try a number of sizes of the same model and the smaller of the two recommended ones was too short, felt too twitchy. The larger of the two felt perfectly right under my butt. I even tried the next size up to be sure and that one was way too stretched out and unwieldy. ↩︎

  3. I’ve done my best to make sure the reach of my bikes is correct, the saddle is not too high, my cleats are set up the way they need to be, the saddle tilt is right, and the drop bars and levers are set up properly. I’ve watched numerous videos on the topic, read up about it, etc. I tried everything short of getting a professional bike fit. ↩︎

Alex Hoffmann @mangochutney