Buying a bike saddle can be a daunting task because there are many different options on the market, and for good reason; there’s an equally huge variety of riders.
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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 bicycle 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 bike 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.
What to look for in a bike saddle
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.
Grooves or cut-outs
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 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.
You’ll find all sorts of other touches on bicycle saddles, from Kevlar-reinforced corners or plastic bumpers, to built-in mounts for tail lights or saddle packs.