How to choose a bike saddle

Buyer's guide to road and mountain bike seats

Buying a bike saddle can be a daunting task as there are many different options on the market, and for good reason; there's an equally 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 on 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 prices, materials and weights, 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.

The San Marco Regale Racing and Genetic Carbon Monocoque are two lightweight racing options
The San Marco Regale Racing and Genetic Carbon Monocoque are two lightweight racing options

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

This might involve having a ride on a friend's bike or getting test rides at shop or manufacturer demo days. Some shops have saddle demo schemes so you can get a few miles in before buying and some manufacturers have 30-day 'comfort guarantee' schemes for risk-free purchasing.

While it may be tempting to try and pick up a bargain online, a visit to a well stocked and knowledgeable bike shop who knows its saddles — and what type of rider they fit best — can save you a whole load of frustration. 

What to look for in a bike saddle

The Prologo Scratch Pro X14 Ti 1.4 is a good option for trail bikes
The Prologo Scratch Pro X14 Ti 1.4 is a good option for trail bikes

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.

Here’s what you need to consider…

Cover material

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 Brooks Cambium C17 uses an interesting natural rubber 'shell' that differs from the brand's more usual use of good ol' leather
The Brooks Cambium C17 uses an interesting natural rubber 'shell' that differs from the brand's more usual use of good ol' leather

The base of the saddle controls its 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 cut-outs

Specialized produces a huge range of finishing kit including a mammoth range of saddles of all shapes and sizes
Specialized produces a huge range of finishing kit including a mammoth range of saddles of all shapes and sizes

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

Padding

The Fizik Gobi XM mountain bike saddle has well distributed padding that we've come to love
The Fizik Gobi XM mountain bike saddle has well distributed padding that we've come to love

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.

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 — such as the SDG i-Beam — are gaining ground for both road and mountain bikes 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.

Jack Luke

Staff Writer, UK
Jack has been riding and fettling with bikes for his whole life. Always in search of the hippest new niche in cycling, Jack is a self-confessed gravel dork and thinks nothing of bivouacking on a beach after work. Also fond of cup and cone bearings, skids and tan wall tyres.
  • Discipline: Long days in the saddle by either road or mountain bike
  • Preferred Terrain: Happiest when on a rural road by the coast or crossing a remote mountain pass. Also partial to a cheeky gravel adventure or an arduous hike-a-bike.
  • Current Bikes: Custom Genesis Croix de Fer all road adventure wagon, Niner EMD 9.
  • Dream Bike: A rigid 44 Bikes Marauder, all black please.
  • Beer of Choice: Caesar Augustus
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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