Finding a comfortable bike seat for yourself is like seeking the right option in a minefield. With so many different shapes, styles, and price points to choose from, the varieties available can be overwhelming. Even the name can be a little confusing! Bike seats or saddles are used interchangeably and are synonyms. Early bicycles were adapted from the hobby-horse invented in 1817. The hobby-horse didn’t have any pedals: the rider pushed their feet against the ground and rode in the saddle, the name stuck and here we are 200 years later!
Sure, tacky grips are nice, and the right pedals make a significant difference, but nothing has as big an impact on your comfort and enjoyment of the ride as selecting the best bike seat or best bike saddle.
In this short comprehensive guide, we'll go over how to choose the best bike saddle for you. Whether you are shopping for a road bike saddle or a mountain bike saddle and whatever gender you are, we'll find the most comfortable bike seat and perfect saddle for your riding needs.
Measure your Sit Bone Width - (aka the Ischial Tuberosities)
When shopping for a saddle, the easiest thing to measure is the width of your sit bone. That is the distance between your pelvic protrusions that make contact with your saddle.
To measure it at home, place a piece of tin foil on a carpeted stairwell or other slightly soft surface and sit on it, leaning forward to approximate your riding position. Remove the foil and measure the distance between the centers of the two largest divots. This is the width of your sit bone in millimeters.
Add 20mm to your measurements if you want to choose a bike saddle based on your sit bone width. Because most saddles round off towards the edge or are curved from side to side, the usable surface area is slightly reduced, and they are designed for your sit bones to lie inside from the saddle's edge.
Understand the Anatomy of the Bike Seat
Shell: The hard base that forms the basic shape of the saddle and determines how much it will flex is known as the shell or chassis. The rails beneath the seat clamp connect the shell to the seat post. The padding and cover are the layers on top of the shell.
Cotton Bike Seat Shells
Cotton covers provide great comfort and help you take control while pedalling. They are designed with the intent of stretching and moving a little during cycling. A great benefit of cotton covers is that they require a shorter break-in period as compared to leather.
Synthetic Material Bike Seat Shells
Majority of bike saddles are made of synthetic materials due to their low maintenance and lightweight. The shell, foam or gel padding and seat cover, you can find seats make entirely from synthetic materials. Another major advantage of synthetic materials that they require no break-in time. No wonder most riders opt for it.
Leather Bike Seat Shells
Leather, which is a good material for a range of items like bags, shoes, and others, can be used for bike saddles. Some leather covers are stretched and allowed to suspend between the metal frame rails. On reaching a 200 miles break-in-period, the leather assumes your shape and weight. Moulding to fit your body and provide maximum comfort expected in saddles. One disadvantage of leather is that they are not waterproof, and may require extra cost to maintain.
Saddles with a lower price tag will be made of plastic or a fiber-reinforced polymer, whereas saddles with a higher price tag will have a carbon-fiber shell.
The saddle rails connect the shell to the seat post clamp. Steel alloy rails will be standard on lower-priced saddles, while manganese alloys, titanium, or carbon fiber rails are more common on mid-range and higher-priced saddles.
These rails are a major determinant of a saddle's price, and they can also provide significant weight savings as you progress through the range.
Strong, heavy and reliable. If you're concerned about weight and looking for light rails, steel isn't your thing.
Alloys are lighter than steel and very strong material. But, not as light as titanium
Strong, very light but expensive. If cost isn't a concern, it's worth the extra bucks. An additional benefit of titanium is its ability to absorb vibrations.
Also very light and can be manipulated to absorb vibrations, like titanium. The downside, however, is that they are very expensive
Cover: The outermost layer is the bike seat cover, which is the part you sit on. Saddle covers are made from a variety of materials, including genuine leather, but synthetic covers are far more common.
When selecting a saddle, keep an eye out for any prominent seams or rough patches, as these can cause discomfort depending on where they are, or even wear holes in your shorts.
Padding: While thick, soft padding may appear to be the best solution for ultimate saddle comfort, it compresses over time, deforming around your anatomy and putting pressure on the soft tissue areas.
Many modern bike saddles now have variable density foam areas to provide support and relief where it is needed.
Channels, grooves, and cut-out features: Many saddles on the market have pressure-relieving channels or cut-outs in the center. If you're experiencing numbness while riding, consider a saddle with a cut-out or central channel.
Do you want a Center Cutout?
Little things truly count, especially when it comes to bicycle seat design. If you've seen seats with a center cutout, you might have wondered why it's there. An easy way out is to assume it's there as a design. But, it does way more than that. The region between your sit bones is called the perineum. And, like other parts of the body, several nerves and arteries pass through it. When biking, you tend to put pressure on the perineum and prevent an inflow of fresh air which may cause discomfort if it continues for a while. That's where the centre cutout comes in. It reduces the pressure on the perineum and adequate airflow which translates to more convenience and comfortable cycling. Some riders who do not like to have a perineum cutout use saddles with a small indentation in it. Others however do not accommodate any. The centre cutout brings relief and makes several miles cycling less disturbing
If you frequently ride in mucky conditions, it's worth thinking about specific mountain bike seats without a full-depth hole because you're more likely to end up with a lot of dirt exactly where you don't want it!
Determine Your Kind of Riding
Even for the same person, the needs of a saddle will vary depending on the discipline: a road bike seat for racing crits will rarely be the same as a saddle on a trail mountain bike or long-distance tourer. Not only will your riding style influence which saddle is best for you, but so will your discipline.
If you enjoy sitting upright and balanced while pedaling your urban or commuter bike around the town, you should probably try saddles designed for recreational cyclers. Recreational Cycling saddles are usually wide and have a plush or padding. Some may also have springs and a short nose.
If you're a road cycler, you probably would be covering long distances. For this, long and narrow saddles have been effective as they enable you to apply maximum power on your pedals
Most mountain riders don't have a fixed cycling position. They alternate between standing on the pedals and crouching down on the bike in a tucked position. Mountain-specific saddles that have padding to support sitting are your best option here. Make sure you choose one that has a durable cover and also streamlined shape to enhance movement
For bikes used mainly to commute, saddles with some padding will do the job. Be careful not to go excessive with the padding and look out for good weather-resistant cover materials.
Saddles that provide cushioning for a better sitting position and have a fairly long and narrow nose are good for touring, especially for long-distance cycling.
Consider Your Anatomy
Because men, women, and children are built differently, many brands make saddles that are designed to accommodate the differences in anatomy. A men's bike seat is distinct from a women's bike seat, which is distinct from a kid's bike seat. However, if you are comfortable, there is no reason to select one that is specifically tailored to your anatomy.
Don’t Forget to Try the Saddle Out!
When trying out a bike saddle, it's important to simulate how it'll feel while riding. Wear your regular riding shorts, and try to simulate a riding position on the saddle.
Pressure points and unsuitable padding will usually become apparent after only a few minutes of sitting on the saddle. A good saddle is comfortable when it positions you correctly on your sit bones, allows space for sensitive soft tissues, and provides room for your legs to move freely without chafing. If it remains comfortable and you do not experience numbness or aching, you may have found a winner.
Remember that while shopping for a new saddle can be intimidating, it's well worth your time to find one that works perfectly for you! Bicycle Warehouse has a 30 day LOVE IT RETURN policy.
We'll use information from one of our favorite saddle manufacturers for this section, WTB. WTB now offers a complete line of saddles covering a full range of widths and padding thicknesses. However, even the most comfortable saddles require a fit procedure to ensure riders end up on their ideal saddle. The revolutionary WTB Fit Right System uses simple steps to guide riders towards the ideal saddle width and padding thickness that matches their physiology and riding position. Our goal is to provide riders with a saddle that fits so perfectly they forget it’s beneath them.
Saddle selection is more than choosing a cool looking bike saddle. Choosing the right saddle will give you so much more out of your bike riding experience. Find maximum comfort and perform your best whether you ride road, mountain, or commute through the city.
Thanks for reading our article on How To Choose a Bike Seat. If you have any questions or want gear recommendations drop us a line and we'll get you rolling!
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