Buyer’s Guide to Saddles

How to find the best saddle for your bottom

by David Arthur   April 10, 2014  

saddles

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. 

26 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I have a stock Giant saddle on my Defy and a selle san marco island on my other bike
I always have a great deal of discomfort on the Giant saddle despite it having substantial padding,im constantly shifting around as i always feel a pinch which becomes very painful
Ironically on my selle saddle which is more streamlined and alot less padding i find a great deal more comfortable and i can transfer more power on the pedals too
Im really looking for a fairly cheap new saddle on my Giant which provides sufficient comfort as it is mainly a sportive type bike but also enables me to get more power into my peddling which i feel is being lost due to the extra padding and discomfort

posted by ScotchPoth [49 posts]
14th June 2013 - 17:52

like this
Like (44)

Try a Charge Spoon as a starting point ScotchPoth, you should easily be able to find one of those within your budget

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4111 posts]
14th June 2013 - 18:16

like this
Like (45)

And the PX one, which is obviously the comfiest in the Wurld.

Sir Velo

Raleigh's picture

posted by Raleigh [1725 posts]
14th June 2013 - 19:20

like this
Like (50)

Rido saddle is best! (for me, anyhow).

Their ideology is different - instead of padding, they just make the saddle shell flexible. No padding. Most comfy saddle i've tried.

PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [560 posts]
14th June 2013 - 19:37

like this
Like (51)

Yes we like the Ridos we reviewed PJ, very well priced too.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4111 posts]
14th June 2013 - 20:02

like this
Like (50)

Thankyou very much,being a novice and on a very limited budget i wasnt aware of the charge spoon,i like the look of them and will seriously consider getting one,with so many different brands available its very difficult to choose without advice
Thanks alot

posted by ScotchPoth [49 posts]
14th June 2013 - 20:28

like this
Like (50)

I have a Spoon and it's great - apart from when I'm on the drops. Leaning forward puts a bit of pressure on, and afeer a while,'bits' go numb. Any pointers?

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

Cooks's picture

posted by Cooks [467 posts]
14th June 2013 - 21:06

like this
Like (46)

Well, one thing you could try Cooks is tilting your saddle nose ever so slightly downwards. That's what I do on my Arione for pretty much exactly the same reason and it seems to work for me.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4111 posts]
14th June 2013 - 21:22

like this
Like (44)

My favorite perch is a Boardman, bought for pennies from EBay. There are a lot available, as people buy more expensive models for their Boardman bikes, and sell on the cheapie that came as stock. It is a very comfortable saddle, and for me, beats my other saddles by Specialized, Charge Spoon and Selle Italia....

posted by wakou [78 posts]
14th June 2013 - 22:59

like this
Like (48)

David, I think this is a really helpful article for the novice saddle buyer. Well done on a nicely written article.

You do seem a bit negative, or at least unconvinced by cut-out/channel saddles. So I want to share my experience to give a positive example of their potential benefits.

While I have NOT had my organ wired up to measure blood flow, when I got back into somewhat serious road cycling, I did suffer from very definite numbness in the nether regions, which I began to really dislike. Yes, I could stand up out of the saddle for a few seconds/minutes every now and again to get sensation back, but the fact that I was going numb in the first place really bothered me.

As I was researching how to overcome this, I came across the fizik Spine Concept on their website, which does a great job of explaining the situation in a very plausible way (see www.fizik.it/spineconcept/#learn ).

In summary, the less flexible your lower spine, the more your pelvis tilts forward when you reach towards the handlebars, and the more your soft areas get pressed into the saddle. I have poor back flexibility, but I like to ride pretty deep in the drops (top of my traditional, non-compact bars are 4+ inches below saddle and I ride pretty slammed over in the drops). My pelvis therefore tilts forward a long way and puts pressure (not uncomfortable except for the numbness) at a strategically bad location.

My ultimate solution, having tried a few saddles, was to buy a Selle San Marco Mantra. This saddle has an absolutely gigantic cut-out, and it has a funny dropping away shape on either side of the back of the saddle that gives (me at least) very good sit bone support. The numbness issue stopped straight away to the extent that I immediately went out and bought a second such saddle to put on my winter bike. It is a very peculiar looking saddle, but highly effective for me in removing an unpleasant symptom.

The only downside is that the saddle is expensive, even for the lowest spec version. I actually bought both mine second hand to save some cost. I expect I will continue to use this same saddle on all my bikes going forward (although I may see if I can try one of those Adamo saddles out of curiosity at some point).

Caveat: fully appreciate that this is by no means a scientific test, and neither is it terribly rigorous (perhaps some non-channel/cut-out saddles exist that would work for me), so I am by no means trying to say that cut-outs/channels are the best kind of saddle, or that they will make you more virile, or faster, or anything else for that matter. All I wanted to do was to share my story so that if anyone else is having similar issues, my experiences could provide food for thought

posted by Tjuice [93 posts]
14th June 2013 - 23:55

like this
Like (47)

Brooks won't thank me for this but you can get good leather saddles from Spa Cycles for £35. They take longer to work in but if you want to see which shape you need you could buy their entire range for the price of one decent brooks! They do three essentially 'B17, swift and swallow' shapes which roughly translate to tour, long fast day rides and sort of racing. They are heavy heavy heavy!

I also have had great success with cheap perches; the charge spoon and planet x team are both good for peanuts. The Plant x team is a poor mans airone - long with a flattish back.

And you won't find the perfect saddle quickly; I had a year where I bought several second hand seats and just tried them all out then sold them on again. I have now settled on PX team, a Spa 'swift' and the super aggressive San Marco SKN, each for a different purpose on a different bike.

Also note that each style of seat places more or less emphasis on your shorts. I can ride all day without chamois at all on the leather saddle, but the SKN needs good shorts - it's almost like the more minimal the saddle the more work the saddle makers expect the shorts makers to do.

alotronic's picture

posted by alotronic [231 posts]
15th June 2013 - 8:30

like this
Like (47)

I have a Rido R2 and a Brooks B17 and as much as I like the look and feel of the Brooks it is just not as comfortable (for me)as the Rido and that is a shame as I really like the old school look of the Brooks and it looks ok on my Tricross sport

posted by sodit [60 posts]
15th June 2013 - 10:12

like this
Like (36)

Great article! Really nice in-depth stuff. I do most of my riding on a Planet-X that I got for a tenner, and it's great for rides of 3 to 4 hours. My arse gets a bit iffy after that. I have had a couple of charge Spoons and a Knife, really comfy but I found that the stitching on the side tore through shorts and trousers more than any other saddle before or since.

mr-andrew's picture

posted by mr-andrew [292 posts]
15th June 2013 - 12:37

like this
Like (35)

I totally recommend buying second hand saddles from Fleabay and trying them out for a bit. After a lot of tests I ended up with San Marco SKNs on both my bikes.

You can easily sell off the rejects again on Fleabay.

posted by drmatthewhardy [220 posts]
15th June 2013 - 13:22

like this
Like (29)

The first gen specialized body geom was the most excruciating saddle I have ever tried. The most comfortable was a Vetta (circa 1997), it had a very flexible shell and wing type mounts at rear (like Richey have now). Many modern saddles have very flat shells, which in turn means the structure has little I-factor, so the shell has to be very stiff to be strong enough. The stiff edges restrict pedal motion, forcing the rider forward onto a smaller contact area.
This is even more of a problem with cutout saddles, none of which I have tried, is comfortable.
If the shell is too stiff and concentrates sit bone contact in too small an area, it can be just as uncomfortable as excessive perineal area pressure.

posted by imaca [39 posts]
16th June 2013 - 0:05

like this
Like (37)

Unable to find a conventional saddle to suit my sit bones I now rely on my moonsaddle, without which I don't think I would be able to spend more than half an hour cycling at a time. There are other alternatives available too which, if they were more widely known/available, I am sure would benefit others too - it's a shame this article about saddles didn't go beyond the standard types.

posted by jenoola [0 posts]
16th June 2013 - 11:01

like this
Like (34)

I bought the Prologo Scratch Pro considering the review and sadly it doesn't work for me. After hour and a half my butt starts to hurt.

ricolek's picture

posted by ricolek [36 posts]
16th June 2013 - 16:08

like this
Like (39)

I have the Fizik Antares with Kium rails fitted to both my road bikes. I also like the Specialized Romin Saddle.

posted by Mostyn [387 posts]
16th June 2013 - 18:17

like this
Like (44)

I love the saddle that came on my Boardman too, and it gets road and trail use. On my TT bike I have a somewhat uncomfortable Selle Italia Optima - I can't really ride it for more than an hour and a half, though it might be better if we had fewer trenches in our roads... I keep it on though because I race short, and it's very light.

posted by nivagh [53 posts]
16th June 2013 - 21:17

like this
Like (41)

I ended up with San Marco SKNs

I got one of these, very good saddle. No longer made but you can find them about still.

jaunty angle: bikes and communications
http://ragtag.wordpress.com

ragtag's picture

posted by ragtag [137 posts]
17th June 2013 - 14:29

like this
Like (36)

I've tried a few (Selle Italia, Fizik Antares) and have settled on the Specialized Romin. It has turned out to be everything which was promised, especially on long rides.

Gerard the Kiwi

GerardR's picture

posted by GerardR [81 posts]
18th July 2013 - 8:52

like this
Like (50)

Specialized Romin, is the place to sit for hours on end, looks hard is great. Keep looking and this is where you will end up if you care for your body.

Gary Higgott

posted by Higgott [1 posts]
10th August 2013 - 10:38

like this
Like (37)

I use Brooks B17 with Ti rails for the long distance stuff.

I bought a nice new Specialized Roubaix and that came with a Specialized saddle. I found it uncomfortable compared to a Brooks but concluded I liked the slot but didn't like the padding

So I modified a B17 so it had a slot: http://audaxing.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/holey-saddle/

For time trials I have a Selle Italia SLR Flow, which has no padding and a slot. It is fine for time trials when most of the weight is on my pedals and not on the backside

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [265 posts]
14th August 2013 - 10:21

like this
Like (38)

Good post. Im suffering horribly. After 7 saddles, and a new bike which was sized properly (gone from a 54 to a 56) its no different. Have tried Toupes, Romins, Ariones, Aliantes, Selles, currently on an Antares VS - which considering it has a "relief channel" is probably the worst of them all - hate it.

Really dont know where to go now. Might try one of these. I spend a lot of time on the hoods, not so much on the drops. Stand often. Nothing changes it. And it can come on after 2 hours or half an hour....... horrid.

The other thing though, I have always gone with a 143mm saddle, but according to the Spesh sizing chart and measurements by my missus, I need a 130....... so I may try a 130 Toupe first.

posted by PhilWalker [30 posts]
23rd August 2013 - 9:30

like this
Like (34)

I'm in a similar boat so if you do try one of the Toupe saddles I'd welcome any findings.

posted by IWoodcock [2 posts]
4th September 2013 - 15:19

like this
Like (39)

I recommend the Specialized Romin Evo if you ride on the hoods (more upright). I can do 4-5 hour rides on rough roads with no issues.

The big advantage of Specialized saddles is the choice they offer (width, shape, and rails). IMHO getting the proper saddle width is critical. I was riding a top of the line San Marco 135mm saddle and suffering. Switched back to my Alias 143 and noticed the difference on the first ride. Upgraded to the Romin Evo Pro 143 and haven't looked back.

posted by massspike [27 posts]
19th October 2013 - 17:20

like this
Like (27)