Bike Saddles 101
The infamous bike seat (or saddle) is one of the biggest obstacles to more people riding. Problems with a sore posterior are very common with cyclists, especially new riders. Having a saddle that is comfortable and won’t make a ride to the store cringe-worthy is important.
Most of us have had experiences with uncomfortable (or downright awful) saddles. We don’t have to live with this. Modern saddles have been fine tuned for over 150 years. There are many different types of models on the market that fit different needs and can eliminate the common problems riders experience.
This bike saddles guide will help to explain the differences between these styles and help you decide which is right for you. Let’s get to it!
But first, a word on gender
Men and women obviously have differences in the anatomy that sits on a saddle. Women, who generally have wider hips, wider “sit bones” and shorter legs, tend to prefer saddles that are wider at the rear and shorter in length. Men’s saddles tend to be narrower and longer, more suited to a male anatomy. Sometimes a women’s saddle will fit a certain man better than other options, and vice versa; it’s best to try out the saddle you are considering (or one like it) in person before you buy.
Both men’s and women’s saddles sometimes feature a cut-out in the center region to reduce genital discomfort. This varies in size and shape, and some riders prefer no cut-out at all.
New riders often desire a cushion saddle: wide, with thick, soft foam or gel padding across the entire surface. Often found on cruiser-style bikes, these saddles lure in consumers with their cushy appearance and sometimes even feature springs under the seat to absorb road shock.
But looks can be deceiving! Cushion saddles are not a good option for most cyclists. Like car seats or mattresses, the comfort of bike saddles benefits from firmness; too soft and you will feel less comfortable, not more.
There are cushion saddles on the market that don’t fall prey to the overly-soft trap: the Selle Royal Freccia, for example, is a women’s specific saddle with a firmer gel padding for comfort over long rides.
This style of saddle is recommended for people who ride casually, are not concerned with speed and ride in a more upright position.
These are the best option for people who want maximum comfort.
Do you get numbness, tingling, or pain in the genital area when riding? If you do, a cutaway saddle could be the answer for you. This design is not technically a style of saddle, but rather a feature than be found across all styles. The cutaway in the middle of a saddle varies in size and shape, so it may take some experimentation to find the model that fits you best.
For people who have problems with the nose of typical saddles digging into soft groin areas, these designs can be a lifesaver. If you have this problem, if should be a stark difference between a painful saddle and one that is comfortable.
The classic, timeless saddle design consists of a leather shell stretched over a metal frame and riveted in place. Leather designs will stretch over time and conform to your anatomy, which makes them very comfortable. For that reason they are preferred by many long-distance riders.
While slightly heavier than more modern styles, leather saddles also let perspiration pass through which makes them more comfortable in hot weather.
Leather saddles require special maintenance, including periodic rubbing down with oil used for baseball gloves. They should also be kept dry. When properly maintained, they can last a very long time.
Specialized designs for mountain riders provide the best functionality for off-road riders. Mountain saddles are made to allow the rider to quickly and easily shift their weight in any direction to compensate for technical terrain, steep hills, jumps, and other obstacles.
These designs are typically narrow, with a medium amount of firm padding to absorb the shock of hard landings, and reinforced to weather crashes without damage. Basic mountain models cost less than $20 and use steel rails, while high end options that cost over $100 often use titanium rails and high tech fabrics like kevlar to provide strength and light weight.
For road riders who like to go light and fast, a racing saddle is the design of choice. These saddles are narrow to minimize chafing on the inner thighs while pedaling fast and aggressive. Weight is kept to a minimum with carbon fiber or titanium mount points and thin, firm padding, and the saddle is often tilted slightly forward to make the “tuck” position easier to assume.
Entry level saddles for road bikes and racers use steel and simple plastic materials and foam. High-end road saddles can cost over $300 and use carbon fiber rails and fabrics like Microtex to reduce weight to a bare minimum
For those with medical conditions or extreme sensitivity, a typical bike saddle -- no matter how comfortable -- just won’t cut it. There are other saddle designs available that can allow people to ride when nothing else will do.
The first and most common option for these people is not a saddle at all, but a whole new bike: a recumbent. These low-slung cycles feature a chair with a backrest, so the rider is pedaling in a much more comfortable position.
Other options include various noseless, padded, slung, and otherwise very different models that can make a ride very comfortable for just about anyone. If you need help finding a special saddle, consult a bike shop or call an expert. We’ll have you riding again in no time!
The right saddle can make a world of difference. With this guide, you should be able to choose the right design for your needs. If you want even more comfort, try wearing bike shorts, which eliminate seams under the seat. Riders traveling long distances or racing sometimes even use Vaseline or chamois cream to eliminate chafing. It may sound odd but it works! Many riders swear by this method.
A bad saddle can ruin a long ride, but a good saddle can make your rides feel like they should: fast, smooth and comfortable.
Now go on, fix that saddle and get out on the road!