It’s only taken a few years and four double centuries, but I’ve finally found the saddle/shorts combination that works for me on long rides. The conclusion I reached was rather surprising, and reminds me of a few bits of wisdom I’ve uncovered in other areas of endeavor.
When I was learning to play the fiddle, I was told that the bow I used was as important as the fiddle. The bow has a big impact on how a fiddle sounds and plays.
A similar thing is true about bikes: The wheels are as important as the frame, as the wheels have a big impact on how the bike rides. A stiff frame will feel mushy if your wheels are mushy. And a too-stiff bike might ride like a dream on wheels with a bit of give. The wheels have a lot to do with how a bike corners. It’s not just the frame.
I’ve known this about bikes for some time, but I learned another bit of biking wisdom this spring:
When it comes to saddle comfort, the shorts you wear are as important as the saddle itself.
I wouldn’t have believed this, until I acquired a pair of Assos bib shorts (their F.I. Mille S5 version.) They were nothing short of a revelation. While my Brooks Swift saddle is mostly comfortable, before I tried the Assos shorts, I was still squirming in the seat after fifty miles, and during my first double century on the Brooks saddle, I wasn’t all that comfortable after 150 miles. I was saddle sore for days afterwards.
But a pair of Assos shorts combined with the Brooks saddle? Pure comfort. I did the entire 203 miles of the Davis Double without any saddle issues whatsoever. It was shocking to discover that a pair of shorts would have such impact.
Why do these shorts work so well? Presumably, it’s because the chamois is made of stretchable material that conforms to your bottom, and moves with it, greatly reducing any rubbing. Whatever the case, I can attest that they work well. (By the way, don’t expect absolute perfection. Nothing’s that good!)
Who knows if this shorts/saddle combination would work for you, because everyone is different. Personal trial and error is required in finding the right combination. There seems to be no way around that. But if you are experiencing saddle discomfort, and have already assessed and addressed your bike position, and have experimented with various saddles, you might give thought to the shorts you are using. And don’t skimp in this area. It’s not worth it.
What you wear may not matter much on short, 30 mile rides, but over 100 miles, it’s a whole nuther … er… tube of chamois butter.