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How to choose the biggest upgrade you can make to your bike

Your saddle is one of the easiest things to upgrade to save weight and improve comfort.

Few component changes constitute a genuine upgrade as much as a new saddle. The right seat can lop a substantial amount of weight off your bike, and make for a more comfortable ride at the same time.

Fizik Kurve Snake Aluminium saddle - underside

Fizik Kurve Snake Aluminium saddle - underside

In the last few years saddle designers have become very adept at blending features that both reduce weight and improve comfort. Most of the improvements have come from composite materials that allow carefully tuned flex in a very light hull so the saddle better absorbs shock and moves with you as you pedal.

On top of a lightweight hull, you'll usually find a thin layer of very dense foam and/or gel. This helps spread your weight over the hull, but with modern flexible hulls it's less important than it used to be. Some very light saddles do without it altogether, and even manage to be fairly comfortable anyway. 

The search for better foams and gels has even led to saddle makers branching out into other fields. A few years ago, Selle Royal, owner of Fizik, span off a subsidiary company to make memory foam pillows and mattresses incorporating the Technogel material it originally developed for saddles.

Lighter rail materials make a big difference to saddle performance too. The slight flex of titanium rails helps absorb shock, while carbon fibre rails save save a lot of weight.

Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow saddle - underside

Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow saddle - underside

You’ve never had a wider choice of saddle shapes and widths. Companies like Specialized and Bontrager make their performance saddles in a range of widths, Fizik tailors its designs to a rider’s flexibility and Charge offers saddles in three width classes and each model in three different shapes.

To help navigate this thicket of choices and find the right saddle for you, you’ll probably want to quite literally get your bum into a bike shop and get fitted for your saddle with one of the measuring devices many saddle makers now supply their dealers. This will tell you the spacing of your sit bones, the first thing you need to know to get a saddle that fits and will therefore be comfortable.

If it’s on offer, take up any chance to test-ride a saddle. The only way to be sure a saddle is right for you is to ride it for long enough for your bum to get used to it.

A typical stock saddle on a £1000 bike weighs about 300g, so for each of the saddles below we’ve calculated the Hairsine ratio – the grams saved per pound cost. This gives an indication of value for money, at least from the ‘lighten your bike’ perspective.

12 great performance saddles

B'Twin 900 Sport — £19.99

Weight: 247g Hairsine ratio: 2.65

BTwin 900 Sport Bike Saddle

BTwin 900 Sport Bike Saddle

The B'Twin 900 Sport Saddle is an own-brand product from sporting megastore Decathlon, designed for 'sport' bikes rather than, say, leisure or commuting, hence the slim profile and narrow nose. It's comfortable, reasonably lightweight, pleasing to the eye and remarkably good value.

It’s not featherweght, but for 20 quid you don’t expect it to be. The weight is pretty reasonable and it’s a very comfortable saddle. We used it for short training rides, and for a couple of more relaxed 100-mile outings as well. After a month of using it, our tester decided he liked it so much he left it on his bike.

Read our review of the B'Twin 900 Sport

Essax Adrenaline R titanium — £48.99

Weight: 157g Hairsine ratio: 3.04

Essax Adrenaline R saddle

Essax Adrenaline R saddle

The 130mm wide version of this keenly-priced saddle weighs 157g, which is light compared to others at a similar price range and beats many that cost more than its £104 RRP. It can currently be found for half that, which makes it a heck of a bargain if you’re looking to shed bike grams on a budget.

When riding, the saddle's flat design is apparent and you notice it's not the most flexible. Although it's not uncomfortable as such, as you get further into a long ride you can feel that it is a saddle that has little flex and padding, but it makes up for in other areas. According to Essax: "padding is added to the key areas where the ischium sitbones contact the saddle to offer comfort where you need it most on a performance saddle".

Because the saddle is so stiff, it feels like you're not wasting any power in flex. It is worth noting though, that it saves your power, but it is certainly not a seat that is armchair-comfortable over many hours of riding.

Read our review of the Essax Adrenaline R titanium

Find a Essax dealer

Arte Selle Dakar Double — £50

Weight: 172g Hairsine ratio: 2.56

Arte Selle Dakar Double saddle

Arte Selle Dakar Double saddle

Arte Selle's Dakar Double saddle is a high quality bit of kit that we found really comfortable. It packs a couple of surprises too, the first of which is the price: it costs just £50.

The rails are titanium while the carbon-infused base has just a little bit of flex. You get a middling depth of padding here; enough to provide decent cushioning but not so much that it feels spongy. It's smooth down the centre while the side panels have a slightly textured matt finish.

In use the Dakar Double feels great. It's a tried and tested shape similar to that of plenty of other race saddles. If you get on with the Selle Italia SLR, for example, the shape of this saddle isn't a million miles off. We found the comfort provided by the shell and the cushioning to be spot on.

Read our review of the Arte Selle Dakar Double

Selle San Marco Concor Racing — £59.99

Weight: 200g Hairsine ratio: 1.67

Selle San Marco Concor Racing Fluoro Flash Edition 2.jpg

Selle San Marco Concor Racing Fluoro Flash Edition 2.jpg

The rebirth of a classic design from the late 1970s, the Selle San Marco Concor Racing Fluoro Flash Edition is a firm, light, racing-orientated saddle.

It's firm enough to provide a solid power base but offers enough flex to provide stability even on the longest of rides. It's a well made, supportive ride at a reasonable price.

Read our review of the Selle San Marco Concor Racing

Find a Selle dealer

Bontrager Serano RL — £89.99

Weight: 225g Hairsine ratio: 0.83

Bontrager Serano RL saddle

Bontrager Serano RL saddle

Bontrager's Serano saddle draws on a design that has been around for many years, which is why they call it a 'classic shape'.

We clocked several hundred kilometres and didn't think twice about the Serano, and our tester felt no need to rush back to his old saddle. We're willing to bet this saddle shape will work for a lot of people; it simply supports the bottom so well and provides adequate padding in the key areas.

It's available in three widths: 128, 138 and 144mm. A Bontrager dealer will be able to help you find the right one for your sit bones.

Read our review of the Bontrager Serano RL

Find a Bontrager dealer

Specialized Women’s Ruby Expert — £85

Weight: 205g Hairsine ratio: 1.12

Specialized Ruby Expert saddle

Specialized Ruby Expert saddle

There aren't many performance saddles aimed at women. Saddle makers tend to go for width and padding when making women's saddles, which doesn't make for low weight.

In a small field, this is an excellent saddle. It's available in a choice of widths including a properly narrow 130mm to suit your style of riding and just as importantly your sit bones too. It's a firm saddle, but very light. In comparison with most female specific saddles, it's a pared down seat, ideally suited to aggressive road riding and racing.

With the trademark BG cut-out, it's designed to relieve pressure where it's needed without sacrificing ride efficiency. Hollow titanium rails help keep the weight down, and at just 205g for the 143mm size that we tested, it's definitely one of the lightest women's saddles on the market. The cushioning is placed exactly where you need it to support your sit bones, alleviating any discomfort or feeling of pressure.

This saddle is at its most comfortable when riding in a stretched forward position, but still gives all-round day long comfort too. There was little feeling of loss of power, with the saddle remaining a background feature of the ride, rather than making its presence actively known. Given the choice of widths, this is a good option for any female road rider looking for a comfortable performance saddle.

Read our review of the Specialized Women’s Ruby Expert

Find a Specialized dealer

Fizik Antares R5 with K:ium rails — £93.49

Weight: 175g Hairsine ratio: 1.34

Fizik Antares Saddle

Fizik Antares Saddle

For riders with intermediate flexibility, the Antares is a light, comfortable road saddle with a good depth of padding. The K:ium rails — Fizik's hollow titanium alloy — help keep the weight down while it's comfortable thans to the Wingflex feature it shares with other saddles in the family.

Your weight is carried primarily on your sit bones which are easily supported by the wide rear section, but the dense foam and flex in the shell do a good job of cushioning the road shocks and vibrations. The padding remains thick all the way up the nose, allowing you to move forward for those long turns in the drops or big climbs in comfort, a welcome change for a lightweight saddle.

Read our review of the Fizik Antares R5 with K:ium rails

Find a Fizik dealer

Fabric Scoop Flat Pro — £109.99

Weight: 190g Hairsine ratio: 1.00

Fabric Scoop Flat Pro saddle.jpg

Fabric Scoop Flat Pro saddle.jpg

Fabric offers three versions of the 143mm wide Scoop: flat, shallow and radius. If you want something wider, there’s the 155mm Cell, while the 134mm ALM is your choice if you want something narrower. There isn't much padding, but there is loads of flex in the one-piece base and it's this flex that really provides the core of its magnificent comfort. The carbon rails provide a surprising amount of flex too.

The real beauty of the Fabric Scoop is the construction. The waterproof microfibre cover isn't stitched or stapled into place, it's moulded to a one-piece nylon base. It's really very impressive and if you get the chance to fondle one in your bike shop you really should, it's a marvellous bit of design.

Read our review of the Fabric Scoop Flat Pro

Find a Fabric dealer

Fizik Kurve Snake Aluminium — £170.99

Weight: 220g Hairsine ratio: 0.47

Fizik Kurve Snake Aluminium saddle

Fizik Kurve Snake Aluminium saddle

Fizik’s Kurve saddles have a clever hull design that moves with you as you pedal, making for a very comfortable seat. The three-model range follows the shapes of three of Fizik’s regular saddles; the long, flat Snake is equivalent to the popular Arione.

Despite the movement as you pedal, the seat still feels stiff. In fact you can't feel anything unusual at all. Even from the first ride the saddle just feels right. There is very minimal padding between the shell and the elastic cover but it's all you need.

Read our review of the Fizik Kurve Snake Aluminium

Find a Fizik dealer

Selle Italia SLR Tekno — £230.69

Weight: 96g Hairsine ratio: 0.88

Selle Italia SLR Tekno saddle

Selle Italia SLR Tekno saddle

The Selle Italia SLR Tekno is an extremely lightweight saddle although its lack of padding makes it feel firmer than most so it has to fit you very well if you're going to stay comfortable on longer rides.

The SLR Tekno's main selling point is its weight. Ours hit the scales at just 96g (Selle Italia claim 90g). You could reasonably say that anything under 200g falls into the lightweight category, sub-150g is superlight, and below 100g is nuts.

We can't say this is among the most comfortable saddles we've ever used but it's far from the least. It feels firm but we could live with it easily enough, especially when used on a bike with a fairly flexible 27.2mm diameter seatpost. We know of people who rack up 100-milers on this saddle and think nothing of it. We'd save it for race day. I'd certainly use it for a crit or a short road race where weight is a more important factor than long-ride comfort. You might be saving just 100g or so over a regular lightweight saddle, but if you're a weight weenie focusing on marginal gains it all counts.

Read our review of the Selle Italia SLR Tekno

Find a Selle dealer

Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow — £194.99

Weight: 137g Hairsine ratio: 0.84

Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow saddle

Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow saddle

The Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow saddle is an updated classic that's lost weight and some of the usual depth of cushioning, and gained a slightly flatter and wider shape. It’s a lightweight saddle with a fairly shallow amount of padding, but the flex in the shell, especially through the central section, means it feels firm rather than harsh.

At its £313.99 RRP this is the most expensive saddle we’ve ever tested, but it can be found a lot cheaper than that eye-watering figure.

Read our review of the Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow

Find a Selle dealer

Prologo Zero C3 Nack — £239.90

Weight: 164g Hairsine ratio: 0.57

Prologo Zero C3 Nack

Prologo Zero C3 Nack

The Prologo Zero C3 Nack is a light, thinly cushioned and beautifully finished saddle, although it's an expensive one. The fairly shallow cushioning means that the it’s quite a firm saddle, although flex in the base – not loads, but some – helps smooth over road vibration and takes the edge off bigger hits.

We didn't find its firmness to be a problem, though. It was perfectly comfortable for both short and long rides, although it's safe to say that if you're after a soft, deeply cushioned saddle, this isn't the one for you.

Read our review of the Prologo Zero C3 Nack

Find a Prologo dealer

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.