Choosing the best bike saddle for you – which is essential for comfortable and enjoyable cycling – can be a minefield. With so many different forms, styles, and price points to choose from, the sheer number of possibilities available might be bewildering.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over how to choose the ideal saddle for you — whether you’re a road, gravel, or mountain biker, and whatever gender you are, we’ll help you locate the right saddle for your riding demands.
A comfortable saddle is essential for riders of all cycling disciplines since, unless you’re a downhill mountain biker, BMX rider, or trials rider, you’ll be spending a lot of time on it.
In this article, we’ll start with the basics of how a saddle works (or should work), why different disciplines require different saddle shapes, why women’s saddles differ, and the overall anatomy/construction of a saddle.
We also debunk certain saddle myths, including what not to do in your quest for comfort.
Finally, we’ll go over how to choose the ideal bike seat, including how to figure out what shape and size of saddle is best for you and your riding.
Why does saddle fit matter?
A female biker compares two saddles.
Finding the correct saddle for you is a journey, and we’re here to assist you every step of the way. Immediate Media / Robyn Furtado
Few other aspects of riding are as subjective, and the ideal saddle for one rider may be a torture device for another.
Our various shapes and sizes, as well as our riding style, discipline, and overall amount of flexibility, all influence what will work best for us.
Finding the correct bike saddle can be difficult with so many options, especially with so many various saddle models, sizes, and forms available.
A bike saddle not only provides you with a place to sit, but it is also one of three critical points of contact with your bike that can alter its overall perceived ride quality.
A well-fitted saddle should allow you to get the most out of your ride, whether that’s sustained power exertion, riding for days on end, or getting you to the trailhead without discomfort. When you find the ideal saddle for you, it can feel truly liberating.
A word of caution
It’s a popular misconception that bike saddles are inherently uncomfortable, which might discourage people from riding entirely.
A good saddle should not cause any discomfort, such as numbness, soreness, chafing, or pinching.
A excellent saddle for you, like a wonderful pair of bib shorts, is one you don’t notice is there.
If you’re new to cycling, keep in mind that it can take some time for your body to adjust to being in the saddle for extended periods of time.
To be comfortable, you must first acquire a level of strength and resilience, similar to how you might feel after your first visit back to the gym after a while.
The good news is that if your saddle is a good fit for you, your body will quickly adjust to your new position in the saddle.
However, if you’re still experiencing saddle pain after a few weeks, it could be time to seek for a different seat.
How does a saddle work? (or, how a saddle should work)
Illustration of sit bones
A good saddle should adequately support your sit bones. Immediate Media / Thomas McDaniel
The sit bones at the lowest position in the pelvis, just like when sitting in a chair, support the body’s weight and are critical for saddle fit.
The perineal area for men and the pubic bone arch for women may rest on the saddle when riding.
Although these areas can support a small amount of weight, reducing pressure here is crucial to avoiding numbness and pain caused by this nerve and blood vessel-rich location.
Because sit bone widths vary from person to person, saddle manufacturers frequently create models in a variety of widths. Furthermore, women have larger hips than males, therefore they have wider sit bones and require bigger saddles on average.
If your saddle is excessively small, you may feel excessive pressure on your sit bones or unevenness in the saddle. Chafing can occur if you go too wide.
What are the real distinctions between road and mountain bike saddles, as well as women’s and gravel saddles?
The shape of the saddle varies depending on the discipline.
The shape of the saddle varies depending on the discipline. Immediate Media / Robyn Furtado
Differences in saddles for different disciplines are largely related to riding position, which is determined not only by the sort of bike you’re riding but also by how you ride it.
A road cyclist competing in a road race, for example, is likely to take a far more aggressive approach than a road cyclist on a long-distance tour.
Prologo saddle form reference
Saddles come in a variety of shapes, with the optimal shape for you determined by your riding posture. Prologo
This position is then related to the rider’s hip angle, which influences how the pelvis interacts with the seat and, as a result, what shape is optimal.
Flatter, longer seats work better for faster-paced workouts and more aerodynamic positions, such as those found in road riding and triathlons.
Your hip angle is determined by your position on the bike.
Your hip angle is determined by your position on the bike. Immediate Media / Thomas McDaniel
Curved-profile saddles, on the other hand, are frequently preferred by riders in a more upright endurance position, which is more commonly employed by gravel riders, commuters, or trail riders.
Aside from saddle shape, some off-road saddles may have characteristics meant to reduce trail vibrations, such as flexible wing panels or more compliant shells.
What makes women’s saddles unique?
Although some female riders prefer unisex saddles (or vice versa! ), many women prefer a women’s-specific saddle.
Women’s saddles include slightly varied shapes, such as center grooves or cut-outs, as well as variable densities and padding sections that correlate to women’s anatomy.
The goal here is to be supportive where it counts, i.e. the sit bones, while releasing any pressure around the soft tissue areas.
Why is there a cut-out in some saddles?
top image of a cutaway mountain bike saddle
To ease strain on sensitive tissue, certain saddles have conspicuous cut-outs. Hinton, Georgina
Cycling saddles with central grooves or cut-outs not only help riders relieve soft tissue strain in the genital area, but they can also help relieve pressure on the perineal area (men) or the pubic bone arch (women).
Much like other aspects of saddle fit, finding a recessed shape that works for you may need some trial and error.
What is the anatomy of a saddle, and what will I receive if I spend more?
1st. Shell Pro Stealth Underside of a superlight saddle hull
The material used to make the saddle’s shell determines its ride quality (and cost). The Pro Stealth Superlight, for example, is built on a one-piece carbon hull. Immediate Media / Jack Luke
The rigid base that defines the fundamental shape of the saddle and dictates how much it will flex is known as the shell or chassis.
The rails beneath the seat clamp link the shell to the seatpost. The padding and cover are the layers on top of the shell.
Saddles with a lower price tag will be made of plastic or a fiber-reinforced polymer, but saddles with a higher price tag will have a carbon-fibre shell.
It’s worth mentioning that a certain saddle model will usually have the same shape, regardless of whether it has a plastic or carbon shell.
A carbon shell has the advantage of being lighter and potentially stronger than a plastic or polymer equivalent in most instances.
Endurance road bike Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra
The material selected for the saddle rails has a large impact on the entire cost of the saddle. Steel rails, as seen here, are typically the least expensive. Smith, Felix
The saddle rails link the shell to the seatpost clamp.
Steel alloy rails will be normal on lower-priced saddles, whereas manganese alloys, titanium, or carbon-fibre rails are more common on mid-range and higher-priced saddles.
These rails are a major driver of a saddle’s pricing, and they can also give significant weight savings as you progress up the range.
Because the rails on carbon rail saddles are oval rather than circular, they may not be compatible with all seat clamps.
- Protect Giant Romero’s upper body.
The cover is the saddle’s outermost layer. Immediate Media / Tom Marvin
The cover is the saddle’s outermost layer and the part on which you sit. Saddle covers are constructed from a variety of materials, including genuine leather, but synthetic coverings are far more prevalent.
When selecting a saddle, keep an eye out for any conspicuous seams or rough places, since these might cause discomfort depending on where they are, or even wear holes in your shorts.
Prologo saddle from above
To relieve pressure, a high-quality saddle will employ varied densities of foam throughout. Prologo
While thick, soft padding may appear to be the best choice for optimal saddle comfort, it contracts over time, deforming around your body and placing pressure on the soft tissue areas.
Many saddlemakers utilize pressure mapping to determine where to install cushioning, which can range from plain foam to gel and even memory foam.
Many modern saddles are now built with regions of variable density foam to provide support and relief where it is needed.
S-Works that are specialized Power with Mirror saddle is manufactured with Mirror technology. 3D printing is making inroads into the saddle world. Immediate Media / Dave Caudery
Some saddles, like as the Fizik Adaptive and Specialized Mirror lines, even use 3D printing to build a polymer matrix to aid with pressure reduction in very specific regions.
The majority of saddles will feature padding, however some riders are content without it.