Let’s face it—if you aren’t comfortable on the bike, you aren’t going to go very far or very fast. Other than bike fit, your seat is one of the biggest factors that determines exactly how comfortable your ride will be.
The right bike saddle can improve your pedaling efficiency, reduce numbness and pain and, in some cases, help you produce a bit more power when time trialing or heading up steep climbs.
Choosing the right seat can be difficult since we’re all a little different anatomically. The perfect seat for one person can be disastrous for another. While the only true way to find the best saddle is to test as many as possible, there are factors you should consider that can help you to narrow the selection.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE SADDLE CHOICE
Here are four things to think about when shopping for a bike saddle:
- Cycling discipline: Are you a commuter, mountain biker or a road rider? Most saddles are made for a specific discipline.
- Style of riding: If long, casual weekend rides are your thing, avoid super lightweight saddles that are made for aggressive riding positions.
- Comfort versus weight: Lightweight saddles are more expensive because of the material used to make the rails. If you don’t need a racing saddle, avoid titanium or carbon rails that cut down on weight but raise the price. Opt for a seat with steel rails or another material made for long-distance comfort instead.
- Men’s versus women’s: Because of the differences in the anatomy of the pelvis, a seat that’s built for a guy probably won’t be all that comfortable for a woman. Look for gender-specific saddles.
While you don’t need to go too deep into technology, you should understand some of the basic differences between saddles to make the right choice. Here’s a simple breakdown of what you should be looking for:
- Width: Narrower saddles are for stretched out, aggressive riding positions common in road-racing cyclists. Wider saddles, on the other hand, are better for slower riding and more upright positions.
- Sit bones: While it can be tricky to figure out, the shape and size of the saddle should match your sit bones. If it’s too narrow, it won’t provide adequate support and could cause circulation issues.
- Rails: Carbon and titanium rails raise the price of saddles, but also reduce weight. Look for steel rails if comfort is your thing.
- Padding and cutouts: Fast or long-distance cyclists need saddles with minimal padding to reduce chafing and offer maximum support for your sit bones. Commuters and recreational cyclists should opt for more padding. If you’ve had problems with numbness or pain, a center cutout can help take pressure off sensitive spots.
While saddle choice is still very objective, these saddles are worth considering when upgrading from your stock bike seat to a more comfortable or faster saddle.
Brooks is a company known for its craftsmanship and all-leather touring saddles. And while those are still an excellent choice, the new Cambium lineup is a break from the norm, using different materials and shapes for different styles of riding. The carbon railed C13 is an all-out racing saddle, while the C15 Carved is perfect for endurance cyclists who want comfort without sacrificing too much weight. The Carved model also features a cutout and a vulcanized rubber underside that flexes as you ride. Whether you’re riding centuries or with a group on the weekend, this is one of the most comfortable saddles we’ve ever tried.
FIZIK ARIONE CLASSIC
What we like about the Arione is it comes in several different options, ranging in price, weight and materials. The Classic is on the lower end of the spectrum, with a more comfortable rail that’s suited for long-distance efforts. While Fizik does recommend the Arione for flexible cyclists, it’s a favorite because of its narrow shape and long length. This makes sliding back on the saddle for extra power when climbing or forward on the nose when hammering on the flats pretty easy to manage without sacrificing any comfort.
Utilizing gel flow inserts to improve comfort without increasing weight, this women’s-specific saddle is one of the few you’ll find that is suitable for racing or longer, more relaxed rides. The cutout reduces pressure on sensitive areas, and the slightly wider shape and varying thickness of the padding makes for a very comfortable seat that won’t hold you back if you plan on going fast.
Multi-density foam and a thin layer of gel make this women’s-specific saddle a must-have if you’re looking for a touring saddle built for extreme comfort. Other key features include an ergonomically shaped back panel that allows for a more upright position, a wide-contoured rear and an ergonomic cutout for hotspot relief.
SELLE SMP TRK
Whether you’re into urban riding, touring or putting in miles on the indoor trainer, the Selle SMP TRK is a deluxe option that places emphasis on comfort above all else. The pronounced saddle cure, dropped nose and air channel cutout are all designed to promote blood flow, minimize perineal pressure and provide airflow to keep you cool. This can be especially helpful when riding in the seated position for extended amounts of time — such as on an indoor trainer.
A mountain bike saddle might not look much different from a road saddle, but they are quite different. The Scoop Radius Elite is one of the best mountain bike saddles you’ll find anywhere. It has just the right combination of padding and flex to be efficient when you’re hammering uphill and comfortable when riding rough terrain. The waterproof cover is stitch-free to prevent irritation and is very easy to clean after a muddy ride.
ISM PS 1.0
Because of the aggressive, forward position used among time trialists and triathletes, normal road saddles can often cause discomfort and pain. This triathlon-specific saddle uses an sloped rear to provide additional hip support and improved power when you’re hunched over on aerobars. The nose-less design and cutout also allow you to ride as far forward on the saddle as possible without any numbness or pressure on soft tissue areas — a trademark of ISM saddles.