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Those of us who try to bite off 50+ mile rides without padded shorts really have to pay attention to our saddle's shape and padding.

With padded shorts, how much of a difference can you tell between saddles that, when ridden without padded shorts, would mean a large difference in comfort?

I've never had padded shorts, so I'm curious.

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    Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works is a famous lycra refusenik, i.e., a cyclist who refuses to wear anything but regular clothes when he rides. There is a reason he sells Brooks Saddles: rivbike.com – Zippy The Pinhead Oct 2 '15 at 0:39
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    First off, no pair of shorts can make up for a problem with the overall shape of the seat. If it's too wide or too narrow or the perch for your "sit bones" is not correctly positioned (for your specific anatomy) then you will have problems, regardless. – Daniel R Hicks Oct 2 '15 at 11:54
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The short (pun intended) answer is "yes." Or at the very least, "probably yes." One of the big things that makes saddles uncomfortable is pressure on the soft tissues between your "sit bones" (the ischial tuberosities). It may seem counterintuitive, but padded saddles can make this worse. The problem is that the padding allows your sit bones to sink into the saddle increasing the pressure on your soft tissues. Padded shorts won't do much, if anything, to prevent this and may actually make it worse.

What you want is a saddle that supports you sit bones with enough conformance to avoid pressure points around the bones, but without so much give that you end up carrying your weight all across your "bottom." On a saddle that basically works, but where you find yourself getting sore around your sit bones, padded shorts may help. But a good saddle is a lot like a good hard chair – you can sit on it for hours. You'll get tired of sitting before you it becomes uncomfortable from the pressure.

In my experience the benefit of the chamois is in minimizing chafing, not in providing padding.

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Like everything... it depends. If you're doing short distances, pretty much any saddle is fine, with or without padding.

For longer distances, good shorts may help a saddle's shortcomings, and a good saddle will help make up for no or bad shorts.

But for the most comfort, a good saddle teamed with well fitting shorts works best.

Personally, I got the most benefit from tight cycling pants which helped to brace my knees, as well as a big orange coolmax pad, plus a good hard flat saddle.

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Saddles are highly personal-- one person likes a particular saddle, but you may not-- but there is a reason most cyclists who ride 50+ miles in one ride do so with shorts or bibs that contain some kind of chamois: it is more comfortable.

That said, does it mean a person can't go long distances without a chamois? Of course not. There are people in the world who can go long distances in their bare feet, too, but most of us wear shoes for various reasons. Clearly there are some saddles which might be more comfortable if you don't wear shorts or bibs with a chamois, and it may even be clear what sort of saddles are more likely to fit the bill (stretched leather over a frame, like Selle Anatomica, or Brooks), but I know riders who have found such saddles uncomfortable with a chamois, so your mileage may vary, no pun intended.

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I feel like the padding helps a little bit as far as cushioning goes. The bigger benefit for myself seems to be the bib/short material. I generally have a lot less issues with chafing and its a lot easier to slide around on the saddle while wearing lycra.

I'll sometimes ride my SSCX bike to work in normal clothes and I can tell the difference even on a short ride.

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