Buyer’s Guide to Saddles

How to find the best saddle for your bottom

by David Arthur   April 18, 2014  

Brooks Cambium C17 saddle

road.cc reviews

Your saddle is arguably the most important component on your bike - like that other key to comfort, your shorts, if it's doing its job properly you'll never notice it, but if it isn't…Ouch! It’s your main contact point with the bicycle, and for some of us even subtle variations between two similar saddle designs can lead to one of them crossing fine line between comfortable perch and instrument of torture.

These days most of us buy bikes as complete machines rather than buying a frame and building it up - these bikes all come with saddles and for a lot of people the saddle they got with their bike works just fine. Every component on a complete bike has to contribute to meeting a price point, but bike manufacturers aren't stupid they may spec a generic product but it is one designed to work for as many people as possible. And for a lot of us the saddle our bike was born with works just fine.

Selle San Marco Concor Racing Fluoro Flash Edition

However, if it doesn't or you want to drop some weight from your bike, or  pep up its looks with a new perch you'll need to find the right one. If it ain't broke though you may want to consider whether you really want to fix it before you start looking for another saddle - it's not surprise that pros, couriers, expedition riders - indeed anyone who spends a lot of time on a bike takes the same favoured saddle from bike to bike. Nor is it the case that you necessarily need the most high tech saddle to go the fastest - the Tour de France has been won on £25 saddles.

If you do need a different saddle though you are faced with a bewildering choice,  saddles come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes to suit every type of riding from racing, touring, commuting and leisure cycling.

While this huge choice means there’s a saddle to suit every bum, it does make knowing just where to start a touch tricky when you're faced with a choice of potentially hundreds of saddles. So you need to narrow down your choice to find the perfect saddle, and that's the aim of this guide.

Shape

The critical part of choosing the right saddle is finding a shape that fits your body and suits your riding style. Generally speaking, the more stretched out your riding position and the faster you ride, the narrower the saddle you need. And the more upright your position and the slower you ride, the wider the saddle needs to be. When you're stretched out, you place less weight on the saddle, but when you sit upright, the saddle has to support more of your weight. That's why race bikes have very thin saddles, and Boris bikes have extremely wide saddles.

Charge Scoop saddle

Manufacturers are getting better at helping you to choose the right saddle. Most have their own system of narrowing the choice, either by deciding what type of cyclist you are - usually by your range of flexibility and your position on the bike, or using a fit system that measures the distance between your sit bones, to pair you with the saddle that best matches your anatomy.

A good saddle should support the sit bones, not the entire bum. It’s where your sit bones contact the saddle that is key, a saddle needs to provide adequate support in these two key areas. That’s why many saddles are offered in different widths, reflecting the difference in peoples anatomy. Some manufacturers have up to three width saddles to suit the range of variance. The nose of the saddle supports some of the cyclist’s weight. Oh, one thing to remember here is that just because you have a bigger bottom it doesn't necessarily follow that you have wider sit bones.

Saddle shapes largely fall into several camps. There’s those that are flat, some are rounded, some have scooped backs, some are narrow, others much wider. You can narrow down the choice by deciding what style of riding you do. A saddle that is too wide can lead to chafing, and one too narrow can feel like you’re sitting on a knife.

Rivet Independence chromoly saddle

Generally, thinner saddles with minimal padding are more suited to racers with aggressive riding positions, riding in the drops and crouched low over the handlebars. Such a position means you’re not sitting with all your weight on the saddle, you actually put very little load on the saddle when riding in such a position.

For touring cyclists saddles with a wider shape are favoured, as you don't adopt such an aggressive position when putting the miles in on tour as you do when racing. For long days in the saddle, and day after day, you need the highest level of comfort possible, and leather saddles are regularly the first choice. They're very durable too, and usually last years longer than saddles made from synthetic foam padding.

Bontrager Serano RL saddle

For more leisurely riding where an upright position is adopted, more of your weight will be concentrated through the saddle. A wider saddle with more support and extra padding will be the preferred choice here.

You can get saddles aimed to road racing, triathlon, touring, commuting, mountain biking, and they all take different approaches with shapes and padding. This does help narrow down the choice. There are some saddles that are favoured by different groups of cyclists, and there are some that seem to straddle the different camps. The Charge Spoon is one such saddle that leaps to mind as being particularly well suited to British bums, whether road racing, touring or mountain biking.

Material, rails and shell

The type of materials used to construct a saddle range from plastic bases and steel rails on entry-level models to entire moulded carbon fibre bases and rails on the very expensive models. The more you spend, the lighter the materials used, so if weight is a key priority for you, you need to start saving up. Lightweight saddles are those in the 200g region.

If comfort is important to you, then steer clear of carbon rails as hollow titanium rails can often provide additional flex to absorb some of the vibrations that pass through the frame into the seatpost. We’re even seeing many professional racers choose these saddles over the very top-end models.

The base of the saddle is an area that a manufacturer can design in extra flex, to allow the saddle to subtly deform upon impacts. Some have holes or different materials in key places that allow the foam to expand through the hole, or the base to flex in a controlled manner.

The saddle cover can be made from synthetic leather like Lorica or real leather, and there’s many other materials manufacturers might use. Some add perforations and Kevlar edges to prevent wear and tear taking its toll. Time trial saddles often have a grippy material along the nose to stop the cyclist slipping back and forth, and we’re starting to see such materials make a presence on road saddles, as with Prologo’s CPC saddle.

Leather saddles have a single piece of leather that is tensioned on a metal frame, so it’s essentially suspended like a hammock, and provides a good range of give that can prove very comfortable on longer rides. They need more looking after than regular saddles, and sometimes need breaking in, the leather needs proofing, and you need to be careful in wet weather, they don’t much like the rain - which is why you most often find them on mudguard-equipped touring bicycles. Brooks are the name most associated with leather saddles but they aren't the only maker out there. Spa Cycles to a well regarded, and well priced, range of leather perches - that possibly require more breaking in than a Brooks, but not that much more.

Padding and cutouts

Most saddles use some form of foam padding, but the amount of padding used and the density can vary a lot. Racier saddles often have less padding, while saddles for commuting and leisure cyclist will have deeper and softer padding, to cushion the ride - however if you ride fast, or for long distances too much padding might not be your friend, it can move, pinch or chafe rather than supporting your sit bones.

Genetic Bikes Monocoque Carbon Saddle

It’s easy to think a saddle with very firm padding is going to be uncomfortable, but once you get used to them they can be a lot more comfortable than softly cushioned saddles for riding of the fast variety. Because you lean forward, you perch on the saddle rather than sit on it, so you can get away with less padding. Strategically placed gel inserts are another frequent solution to providing comfort.

In 1997 a study by Dr. Irwin Goldstein put the cat among the pigeons, claiming cycling could lead to erectile disfunction in men and cause permanent reproductive failure. A load of nonsene it may be, but the story produced a lot of concern, and the saddle with the hole in the middle suddenly became very popular. Step forward Specialized in 1998 who produced their first Body Geometry saddle, with a cutaway channel claimed to reduce the decreased blood flow that can lead to numbness. In fact the idea is not new. The first saddle with a hole was actually born as early as 1903, and Georgena Terry produced the first modern example for women in 1992  It also has to be said that the claims for saddles with channels in them are hedged with all sorts of caveats.

For instance there is no agreement that decreased blood flow, or even numbness will cause erectile dysfunction in men or genital numbness in women. And even proponents of channels and holes agree that there is another simple cure - stand up and any decreased blood flow to your bits will immediately resolve itself. Also even if decreased blood flow does cause a problem depending how you are wired down there the amount of difference between a normal saddle and one with a channel may be minimal to non-existent. In the interestes of science our esteemed editor once had his organ wired up to measure the difference in blood flow between his usual saddle and one with a channel in it - for him at least it turned out there was no difference.

Specialized Ruby Expert women's saddle

So they’re not for everyone, you only need looking at the bikes of the professionals to see that many quite happily cycle many thousands of kilometres a year with little side effect, so there’s a lot more to comfort than just adding the channel. They do work for some people though, indeed some swear by them. It’s a case of trying different saddles and seeing what works for you.

If you have partiuclar urological or prostate problems it may well be worth looking at a saddle with a hole or channel or cutaway - there are plenty to choose from. Or you might even take things a stage further and looking at something with a drop nose - like a Selle SMP or even a noseless saddle - like the ISM Adamo Racing saddle pictured above,

One other thing to bear in mind when it comes to padding on a saddle - particularly a performance saddle - it has a limited lifespan after which time the padding isn't really doing any padding any more because it has become too compressed by the millions of times your bottom has compressed it. Bascially the more performance oriented a saddle and the less actual padding it has the more time limited is the lifespan of the padding it does have. Many top end performance saddles have an expected lifespan of a couple of seasons if used the way they are intended to be. The upside for us more mortal riders is that 'used as intended' means used a lot.

Saddles for women

Most manufacturers now have a large choice of women-specific saddles to recongise, as with bib shorts, the differences in anatomy. It should be noted that many women get on just fine with men's saddles, just as many women happily ride men's bikes. Generally women have wider sit bones so there’s a choice of suitable wider saddles to suit. That said, looking at some saddle ranges, there’s still a much smaller choice for women than men, something which needs addressing.

Selle Royal Seta Sport women's saddle

Georgena Terry developed a reputation for comfortable saddles aimed specifically at women, in doing so pioneering the first women’s specific designed products. She produced a saddle for women in 1992 with a cutaway section, a design she later expanded to men’s saddles.

Try before you buy

Ideally, you want to try a saddle on your bike before parting with your money, and a few saddle manufacturers recognise the problem of spending a lot of cash on an untested saddle. Some then offer try before you buy schemes, where you can run a saddle for a desired amount of time to decide if it’s right for you. That can save you collective a large pile of saddles in your shed as you enter the quest for the ultimate saddle.

Saddle height and bike fit

As important as picking the right saddle, ensuring you have the saddle at the correct height and distance from the handlebars is also very important. Sometimes, you can have the right saddle, but you’re not sitting on it correctly, which can be a case of it being too far forward or backwards. If you find yourself wriggling about on your saddle a lot when riding, it could be a sign it’s not correctly positioned.

We’d recommend getting a professional bike fit, and there are many available these days. They’ll assess your level of flexibility, physical limitations and your cycling goals, and ensure you’re correctly fitted on the bike. The bike needs to git you, not the body fitting the bike.

Choosing a saddle

The road.cc review archive is packed with the latest saddle reviews, and is a good place to start. 

58 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

I used to ride a Toupe. It's a comfortable saddle but very flexible. I transferred to Fizik Antares; it's stiffer but is more comfortable over longer distances. But that's just me.

posted by Gordy748 [74 posts]
18th April 2014 - 21:05

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Turbo!

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [467 posts]
18th April 2014 - 21:45

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For anyone wondering about saddles and what's best for them, this proved an interesting read:

http://www.cervelo.com/en/engineering/ask-the-engineers/the-four-and-a-h...

posted by McTag [36 posts]
18th April 2014 - 22:35

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Saddle reviews are pointless, as has been said: everyone is different, however:

Fizik, end of.

Trial them (which is easy), there's one to fit anyone. Best saddles out there without a doubt and they last forever. They are absolutely brilliant.

posted by ajmarshal1 [259 posts]
18th April 2014 - 22:36

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I have the fizik aliante on all my bikes and tend to prefer the hammock shape saddles (I previously used the original selle italia flite and have tried the prologo scratch). I got a turbomatic on a bike once, and it was like riding a 2x4 sideways. Each to their own, I guess.

posted by isaacrsmith [6 posts]
19th April 2014 - 4:29

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tried just about every thing, nothing worked.
pain, numbness or both !!!!!
all the "fittings" said 130 or 143 .. then I got
loaned a regal-e .... talk about heaven Smile

now I have a c17 on the hybrid and regal-e on
all the rest Smile

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [679 posts]
19th April 2014 - 12:32

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I used to suffer from numbness after 30 miles. I decided to trial the Adamo Road 2. Immediately my numbness went and now I feel I haven't been riding even after 90+miles in one session, no numbness, discomfort or soreness.

No nose saddles are the best you can get:)

posted by CXR94Di2 [57 posts]
19th April 2014 - 15:52

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I am lucky and can sit on most saddles OK. but have used a Brooks professional (just the one) for the last 27 years.

Wonderfully comfortable regardless of the weather. Was hell while it broke me in (felt like the new lag on the wing) but it is amazing now.

Take the time choosing and don't think more padding and gel makes for a better ride, as it doesn't

posted by gazza_d [186 posts]
19th April 2014 - 16:45

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have tried saddles like the fizik and the selle italia but have found that they are uncomfortable to ride on for 2+ hours. i am now using a ism prologue saddle and can ride for hours without any pain or discomfort. there are also selle SMP saddles which are meant to do a similar kind of thing but haven't tried them. but would highly recommend the ism if you have discomfort whilst ridding.

http://www.charleysbikeaccessories.co.uk/collections/saddles/products/is...

posted by markwill [18 posts]
19th April 2014 - 17:24

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currently using carbon Toupe 143mm on my 2 road bikes, and titanium Romin 143mm on my mountain bike, all 3 saddles very comfortable.

Had the older Toupe with the plastic bumpers and went through a number of these as they sagged and then cracked in the middle, Specialized had a no quibble warranty which led me to using the latest versions FOC.

could not get on with the Romin for road use, as I like to be able to slide around a bit to change position for riding normally on hoods, drops or getting into an aero position on the hoods by pushing back and squaring my arms

Romin feels great on the mountain bike where the "locked in position" makes sense as the mountain bike is either standing or sitting

could not get on with Romin Evo either, compared to the regular Romin; shows how "personal" saddles are.

in the past, have attended a live "demo" of the 'blood flow' analysis that Specialized have done at some bike shows, where the rider is wearing a device on his johnson and does some spinning on a turbo trainer with a variety of saddle / seatpost setups (all set to same height and fore / aft ) whilst a machine displays the blood flow in real time

it was somewhat interesting yet disturbing to see how much the blood flow dropped on many 'popular' brands within minutes, including a well known Italian model I was using at the time

The medical doctor behind Body Geometry running the demo (who works as a consultant, not employed directly) said they don't bring any saddle to market if the blood flow drops below 50%. What this means in the 'real world' I don't know as I am not a doctor...

posted by hampstead_bandit [120 posts]
19th April 2014 - 20:42

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This is a bit of a silly conversation - one man's meat is very much another man's poison when it comes to saddles. I love Fizik personally but other people swear by Brooks. Ironically both part of the same company these days anyway. Anyway, if the cap fits and all that...

posted by Yennings [205 posts]
19th April 2014 - 23:10

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I have spent a lot of time anda large fortune trying Selle Italias, Fiziks, Specialized BGs, Brooks and more. Only saddle I can ride for more than an hour is a Selle SMP.

posted by Hector Ch [52 posts]
20th April 2014 - 7:46

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So, I bought an old road race bike of Ebay - late 70s era - and it has a race saddle that flares *up* at the back. I've found it not only comfortable, but the flare at the back is very useful if you have to put a lot of torque on the pedals while sitting. It gives you support.

I've been trying to find modern ones with this same feature. Anyone know if those kinds of saddles are still made?

And to answer my own question. It seems that old saddle I like is very like a San Marco Concor: http://road.cc/content/review/8258-selle-san-marco-concor

Some other classic performance saddles:

Bontrager with a flaredish back: http://road.cc/content/review/116420-bontrager-serano-rl-saddle

Not as flared at the back: http://road.cc/content/review/10258-selle-san-marco-regal

etc. Smile

posted by Paul J [559 posts]
20th April 2014 - 9:24

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"I were rights about that saddle, tho'"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCUN8eJancQ

dafyddp's picture

posted by dafyddp [143 posts]
20th April 2014 - 19:29

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I do worry about the focus on the saddle alone. I think the combination of your shorts (padding) and the saddle are important (providing you have already been fitted for your bike). I can wear one pair of shorts and find a seat uncomfortable after 3 hours, change to another pair the following day and then complete a century ride without noticing any backside issues.
The combination of padding shape and a seat can make a massive difference

IMO, If you are having problems with finding a comfortable saddle, consider how to solve in this order -
1) Get professionally fitted for your bike (this alone removed most of my issues with seats I had previously thought uncomfortable)
2) Buy a couple of different shorts with different patterns of padding in them (they can be very different) and try them out on the seat you currently find most comfortable
3) try a different width or basic style of seat (better borrowed or second hand) but avoid the holes, bumps, magic surfaces, etc for now

You irony of the situation is cheaper saddles tend to have relatively more padding while cheap shorts have little padding; Go very expensive and the situation reverses.... Surprise

posted by macrophotofly [24 posts]
21st April 2014 - 10:52

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I use a charge spoon, dead comfy and cheap, not too weighty either

posted by Gareth W-R [24 posts]
21st April 2014 - 11:26

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I agree with macrophotofly about too much emphasis on saddles.

I had PX saddle that was extremely comfy until I bought some new 3/4s then after 2-3hrs is was painfull. So I replaced the saddle last spring and changed to shorts. No problems until the Autum and 3/4s came out. Come winter and the full tights, saddle comfy for hours at a time. It got warm and the 3/4s pain session.

Back into shorts and the saddle moved during the Paris Roubaix. Welded to them shorts I was. Saddle adjusted, shorts cleaned, sores gone and hours of not noticing again.

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [279 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 16:12

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San Marco Regal suit me. However, having lost weight, I find that my best expensiveist shorts now bunch under me causing problems. The cheap old ones are fine, but the nice ones now can only be used for short rides.

Not so much a six pack as a barrel!

posted by Bigfoz [60 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 19:28

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The best saddle is the one that suits you.

Ignore anyone telling you anything else.

Unfortunately there's only one way to find out what suits you. Trial and error.
Borrow some different saddles from your clubmates and try them. Then when you have found one you can sit on all day, note its shape. Some are flat, some are curved, some are wide, others narrow, others padded, others not, etc etc.
That's the shape that suits you, ignore all others.

Don't waste your breath asking someone what they ride, its absolutely meaningless. You might as well ask them what size shoes they take and then you buy the same size!

Finally, wearing underpants or knickers for the ladies is just increasing your chances of never finding a comfy saddle. Always go "commando" on a long ride. OK if popping to the shops, but no more.

Binky

posted by davebinks [124 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 19:34

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Love my Brooks B17 Copper.
Needed a bit of Breaking In, but would not ride with anything else.
I have always used Brooks, though there have been reliability issues, such as the frame snapping on an old B17 and the nose fitment breaking on a B17 Titanium, but the ride is always pleasurable.

Steve Garratt

posted by Steve Garratt [4 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 20:48

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i had tried a variety of skinny saddles, with varying degrees of success and soreness, then i came across a used Specialised Romin...and thought, may as well try it; looks pretty on my bike, what have i got to lose?
Since riding the Romin, I have never looked back. It is by far the best saddle i have ever ridden, and this is a men's saddle on a men's racing frame, ridden (into the ground i might add) by a woman.
Sadly, my white Romin got destroyed in a crash recently (along with my collar bone!!) so i am on the lookout for a replacement, saddle that it, not collar bone, as i will have to make do with the slightly odd shaped one i've got now!, asnd is my next choice after teh Romin.
I should add that the slimmer womens' specialized Body Geometry is pretty comfortable and teh Level 3 Selle Italia saddles are good if you like a low position, and harder slim saddle with minimal padding.

Lives life on 2-wheels

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posted by thetallbird [3 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 21:39

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Here in Portland we have two different bike shops that do a trial loan system for a small fee. One has a "saddle library" where you pay £15 for a membership card which allows you to borrow any saddle for 2 weeks and try it out. Similar program with the other shop. Wish they had been available when I had my saddle woes years ago. After 6 different saddles (the most painful being the "ladies specific" ones which are ridiculously wide and over-padded) I stumbled onto my current one. Pretty much any saddle by Selle San Marco fits me as long as it's 135 mm no matter how minimal the padding (my Concor and Zoncolan are the race version) I can ride 60+ miles without probs. The sign of a good saddle is one that you can forget about while you're riding because it's doing it's job, supporting your body weight, without causing any discomfort cuz it fits your bum Big Grin

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [132 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 21:53

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@ Paul J - also look at the Prologo Scratch for that sort of slightly kicked up shape. I have a Prologo Vertigo which is pretty much a Scratch but a bit more padded and it's really good. Can't fault the construction at all but I slightly prefer the Nago which is flatter. Both good saddles.

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posted by joemmo [779 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 23:25

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Joemmo: The saddle on my modern road bike is a Prologo Scrach Pro. Relative to that 70s saddle it doesn't have much of a kick at all! Need to try find an LBS that sells San Marco, to see how the old style Concor compares.

I guess the raised / kicked tail doesn't work for everyone Smile.

posted by Paul J [559 posts]
23rd April 2014 - 9:20

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Selle San Marco SKN Fusion 3. When they stopped making them, I bought up a few. That was after a lot of try-outs.

Oh and a 41-year-old Brooks on the 41-year-old steel framed Raleigh.

posted by drmatthewhardy [297 posts]
23rd April 2014 - 16:18

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I too have spent a number of years searching out the Holy Grail of saddles. I am currently very happy with my 155 Toupe Expert. Apparently I have wide sit bones (polite for fat arse). I have also been breaking in a Brooks B17 over the winter for a renovation but to be honest it's dead comfy anyway. I think the flatter the back of the saddle it fits me better.
By the way Edinburgh cycles and other Specialized outlets may well give you a trial period as long as the saddle comes back in good condition. I tried the Romin as it looked great but my butt wasn't so suited and they gave me a refund as they didn't have a replacement Toupe in stock.
Best of luck with the search.

Chris D

posted by wingsofspeed68 [49 posts]
24th April 2014 - 22:30

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No SMP saddles - criminal !

posted by yenrod [100 posts]
8th May 2014 - 14:45

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Different saddles suit different rear ends. Silly

I use Arione Carbon twinplex saddle made by Fizik.

I stress I can't use any of the other Fizik saddles the Arione is the only one that suites me, but it has to be a Twinflex version not the normal version of the Arione.

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posted by Rupert [80 posts]
17th May 2014 - 13:37

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Paul J wrote:
So, I bought an old road race bike of Ebay - late 70s era - and it has a race saddle that flares *up* at the back. I've found it not only comfortable, but the flare at the back is very useful if you have to put a lot of torque on the pedals while sitting. It gives you support.

I've been trying to find modern ones with this same feature. Anyone know if those kinds of saddles are still made?

And to answer my own question. It seems that old saddle I like is very like a San Marco Concor: http://road.cc/content/review/8258-selle-san-marco-concor

Some other classic performance saddles:

Bontrager with a flaredish back: http://road.cc/content/review/116420-bontrager-serano-rl-saddle

Not as flared at the back: http://road.cc/content/review/10258-selle-san-marco-regal

etc. Smile

I suspect the exact saddle you have is the Selle Italia "Turbo" which is in fact back in production due to demand from fixed and retro bike riders.

http://www.selleitalia.com/en/prodotti/road/pagina_vintage/

I have always like the classic Flite saddle and I have the Nitrox version which I am loath to swap for anything else even if it is knocking on for a 15 years old.

posted by MKultra [197 posts]
2nd June 2014 - 16:21

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This has been one of the most useful and informative articles on saddle choice I have read to date.There is no leaning towards one manufacturer or another, no definitive 'right choice' regarding carbon, titanium, steel rails and no 'this is the best choice'. The bottom line (ha!) is finding the right solution for you and here are the positives and negatives on the options available. Brilliant and thank you Road CC. Now I'm going to see if you've done the same with wheelset choice!! Thinking

posted by Chickenlegs [4 posts]
14th June 2014 - 17:47

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