How To Choose the Right Saddle for Your Bike

The right saddle makes for a more comfortable, enjoyable ride.

No one wants to be uncomfortable while riding their bike, and one of the most important factors in riding comfort is finding the right saddle, or bike seat. The way a person sits on a bike is influenced by everything from the width of their sit bones to their overall flexibility—in other words, each rider is unique. Finding the saddle that fits your body and your riding style is crucial to enjoying your time on the bike. Here’s how to find the right one for you. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you buy a saddle, ask yourself a few questions, starting with where and how you plan on riding.

Am I a fair-weather rider?

Some saddles come with features that are specifically designed for nasty weather. If you only ride when the sun is shining, you don't need to spend money on these upgrades.

How flexible am I? 

Buy a saddle that works for you now, not one you hope to grow into. By choosing a saddle that matches your body and feels comfortable, you’ll ride more and become a better cyclist (rather than just wishing you were).

How much am I willing to spend?

Technology and materials will affect how much you pay for your saddle. Set a budget before you start shopping so you can get the best saddle that you can afford.

What’s in a Saddle?

Saddles are made up of several different parts.

Cover

The cover is the outermost material of the saddle. While it is usually made of synthetic material, some saddles use leather and others use more durable materials for heavy wear disciplines like mountain biking. 

Padding

The padding is the squishy layer of the saddle. Be warned: More padding does not always mean more comfort. 

Shell

The shell forms the basic shape of the saddle. It is usually a hard material, like plastic, but lighter, more expensive models use advanced synthetics and even carbon fiber, which cuts weight but adds to the price. 

Rails

Rails run along the bottom of your saddle and allow the saddle to attach to your seatpost clamp. Rails can be made out of cheaper, heavier materials like steel, lighter metals like aluminum, and even ultralight carbon fiber (though you'll have to confirm your bike’s seat clamp works with carbon-fiber rails).

Types of Riding

There are a variety of saddle types to match different styles and disciplines of riding.

Mountain

Mountain bike saddles are often flatter from front to back, which makes it easier for you to slide off the back for better control on steep descents. These models often have shorter noses (the long, narrow part at the front of the saddle) to keep from catching your shorts or the inside of your leg as you sit and stand. Some will also have reinforced covers to endure the wear and tear that comes with mountain bike riding.

Road

Road saddles are often made out of more expensive, lightweight materials. In addition, they often have a small rise toward the rear to keep you from sliding backwards while you pedal. They will also frequently have a smaller, narrower shell and less padding to allow maximum freedom of movement for your legs and maximum power transfer to the pedals.

Recreational

Recreational saddles are made for more upright, casual riding. They often have a wide, well-cushioned seat and a short nose—since you’ll be riding upright, most of your weight will rest toward the back of the saddle. 

Commuting

Commuting saddles usually have a mix of features found on mountain, road, and recreational models. They are often shaped like road saddles, but they have a bit more padding for comfort at lower speeds. Some offer features like waterproof covers to keep you dry in wet weather.

A hand with a multitool twists the mount on a bike saddle Photo: Brizmaker

Women’s Saddles

Many companies manufacture women’s saddles that are specifically designed to fit women’s body geometry and sit bones. These can be great options for women, but don’t be afraid to choose a unisex saddle if it feels more comfortable.

Get the Right Fit

Saddles come in many sizes, shapes, and styles. To find the right one, it’s important to know your body and how you move on the bike. 

Measure Your Sit Bones

As the name implies, sit bones are the bones that you sit on, and they’re located at the bottom of your pelvis. Knowing the distance between these bones will help you determine the proper width of your saddle.

Bike shops can measure this for you, but you can also get a rough measurement at home. First, set a piece of aluminum foil on a soft surface (like a couch or padded chair). Sit on the foil and lean forward like you’re grabbing your handlebars. Then stand up and measure the distance between the two indents on the foil: This is your sit bone measurement. Compare this with manufacturer charts to determine the proper saddle width for your body. 

Know Your Flexibility

More flexible riders—people who can bend over the bars with a flexible spine and firmly planted sit bones—will want more paddling on the back of the saddle and a narrower nose to the saddle. 

Riders with stiffer backs—people who tilt their spine forward to the bars rather than bending it—will likely move weight from their sit bones to their perineum (the soft tissue area between your legs). They’ll likely need a slightly wider nose with more cushioning in the center and front of the saddle.

Cushioning

More cushioning does not necessarily mean more comfort—if you ride for hours at a time, more padding can actually cut off circulation. Most performance-focused saddles will have minimal cushioning, while more recreational saddles will have a thick layer of padding for shorter jaunts on the bike. 

Foam Cushioning

This cushioning is favored by road and mountain cyclists. It resists compression, so it lasts longer. Stiffer foams will feel harder initially, but they can also be beneficial to heavier riders who might bottom out on softer foam.

Gel Cushioning

Gel cushioning is supremely soft and often thick. It is beloved by recreational riders for its cushy feel, but if you ride a lot, it will compress and break down quickly.

No Cushioning

Some saddles, like leather saddles, have no additional cushioning. While they’ll feel stiff at first, over time they adapt to the shape of your body for a more comfortable fit.

Cutouts

If you often feel numbness due to pressure on your perineum, look for saddles with a cutout or relief channel in the middle. These can relieve pressure on your soft tissue, but pay close attention to the fit: They can increase pressure on your sit bones if not fitted properly.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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