How to choose a bike saddle

Buyers guide to road and mountain bike seats

There are many different saddles on the market, and for good reason: there's a huge variety of riders.

Choosing a saddle can be a challenge, but it's worth putting the effort in to find the right one for you, and the key thing to look for is comfort - the more comfortable you are, the longer (and faster) you'll be able to ride.

Unfortunately, saddle comfort is extremely subjective – ask a dozen riders what the most comfortable saddle is and you'll get a dozen answers. This isn't surprising – when you sit on a bike, your weight rests on a pair of bones collectively called the ischial tuberosity or, more familiarly, the sit bones. These are positioned differently in different riders.

Not only that, but depending on your riding style and bike set-up, you'll experience pressure on different areas to the next rider.

How to buy a new saddle

Choosing the right saddle tends to be an iterative process - most experienced riders have tried a few before settling on a favourite. To avoid buying a succession of saddles, think about what it is with your current one that isn't working for you.

If it’s just that it’s comfortable but knackered or just a bit heavy, then choosing a new one is fairly easy. The same saddle shape is usually available in a range of cost, material and weight variants, so upgrading within the same family is generally a safe bet.

A bigger challenge is replacing a saddle because it's uncomfortable. This needs a bit of thought - try to pin down what it is that doesn't work for you. If you feel you have to constantly correct your seating position, why not try a seat with a more pronounced dip to keep you in one place? Maybe it's too wide and rubs your legs, or you like to sit on the nose but it's hard and narrow? Use your observations of previous perches to narrow down your choice.

Figure out what it is you do and don't like about your current saddle before choosing a new one

Once you've got a checklist, see if you can audition some likely candidates.

This might involve cadging rides on friends' bikes or getting test rides at shop or manufacturer demo days. Some shops have lending schemes so you can get a few miles in before buying, and some manufacturers have 30-day 'comfort guarantee' schemes for risk-free purchasing.

What to look for in a bike saddle

There are variations between mountain bike and road cycling saddles – mountain bike saddles are usually made from stronger, more durable materials, and road bike saddles tend to be lighter, for example – but fundamentally, the things you need to consider to find one that suits you are the same. 

Mountain bike saddles need to be robust enough to cope with trail abuse

Here’s what you need to consider…

Cover

Most modern saddles use synthetic materials, although you'll still find real leather on more expensive ones. The key thing is to make sure any seams, sticky bits or reinforcing panels don't chafe. Mountain bike saddles are likely to suffer crashes, so a hard-wearing cover is essential.

Shell

The base of the saddle controls the basic shape and how springy it is. Several manufacturers produce different width or shaped shells for different physiques. The majority of saddles have a Nylon shell, but often there'll be some carbon reinforcement. Really posh perches have all-carbon shells.

Grooves or cutouts

Some saddle shells have a groove in the centre or a hole cut out – this is designed to reduce pressure and heat around your sensitive veins and nerves.

This Specialized Rival saddle has a cutout in the centre to relieve pressure

Padding

Padding distributes pressure from your behind across the surface of the saddle. Polyurethane foam is the most common padding material - it comes in a range of densities to give firm or soft saddles. The crucial thing to remember is that while a soft, deep saddle might feel comfortable at first for a beginner, more contact and movement is likely to increase heat and discomfort the longer you're in the saddle.

The padding in the Fizik Gobi is well placed and offers a good balance of firmness and comfort

Rails

The rails are the bars that the seatpost clamps onto under the saddle. Cheaper saddles use steel alloys, while titanium or carbon rails make for a lighter saddle. Single rail saddle and post systems are gaining ground in road cycling for their light weight and adjustability.

Extra details

You'll find all sorts of other touches on saddles, from Kevlar-reinforced corners or plastic bumpers, to built-in mounts for tail lights or saddle packs.

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