Bike saddles: Choosing the perfect perch

Buying a saddle is a very personal affair, the compatibility of the body and saddle can make or break a ride, and can even make or break a rider.

Many potential cyclists have been put off by a few early rides on a saddle that didn’t agree, quickly abandoning the bike based on its one flaw, with no idea what could be if they upgraded the seat.

The problem with saddle buying and advising is that no two bums are the same, however, there are various styles of saddles that will be more likely to suit a certain body type and riding style.

Here’s a few things to look for:

Shape

If you’re a fan of longer, slower rides, you’ll likely be sitting with your hands on the hoods, or riding a more upright bike such as a hybrid or tourer. In this case, there will be more pressure on your sit bones, so you’ll need a saddle with a wider back.

For those who adopt a more upright position, and put the miles in, Brooks saddles are a popular choice – these are designed to mould to your body over time making them truly fit you. These leather saddles are long lasting, but need firstly to be “worn in”, and will need some care over time.

The Brooks is popular among touring cyclists

The Brooks is popular among touring cyclists

Meanwhile, if you like to ride hard and fast, you are likely to be on a road bike, often with your hands on the drops, and therefore you’ll be rolling your hips forward, taking the pressure away from the sit bones, and often onto sensitive soft tissue. In this case, you probably want a saddle with a narrower nose. I reviewed a selection of more racey women’s saddles on my blog here.

If you’re looking for a new saddle because your current one is not comfortable, it is worth properly analysing what exactly is uncomfortable – if you can pinpoint the issue, you can then look for a saddle that directly addresses it. For example, chafing on the inner thighs implies the nose is too wide, whilst discomfort on the sit bones implies you might want a wider base or more padding.

Measurement Systems 

The problem with testing out various saddles to see what “works” is that it can be hit and miss, and can become expensive. You want to reduce the guesswork.

Brands such as Specialzed, Fizik and Selle Italia all have a fit system, which is based upon your width, and flexibility.

Specialized call this their Body Geometry approach, Fizik use the Spine Concept test, and Selle Italia have ID Match.

Most LBS’s that sell these brands will have various “assometers” (the name for the Speialzed version!) and measurement tools which will help you establish the best version. Brands that have these measurement approaches take away some of the guesswork and room for error.

Many of these saddles come in a variety of widths, this is based upon your anatomy and width of your sit bones, not the actual width of your bum, so bear in mind measurement corresponds with your bones, and not any extra soft tissue you may or may not have on your derriere.

Demo’s

Some LBS’s will let you test ride a sample saddle before you buy, too, and if this option is available, it’s definitely worth going for.

Padding and cut outs

Saddles for long rides will often have more padding – but this doesn’t suit everyone, and especially riders who enjoy a more aggressive riding position will find extra padding can result in unwanted pinching or chafing.

Cut outs are designed to increase blood flow to important nether regions. As a rule, women will nearly always want a saddle with a cut out, so it’s a good place to start for a female shopping for a saddle, and many men prefer them too. Some women are happy on men’s or unisex saddles, but if you a women it is worth exploring the world of women’s saddles as obviously female anatomy will be different, and our sit bones are usually wider.

If you find a cut out makes a big difference, and you plan to be riding with your weight very far forwards, it is worth looking at the ISM Adamo range. These are incredibly popular amongst those who ride time trial bikes, where the weight is far forwards, but they suit road bikes. Admittidly, Adamo saddles don’t look great on the bike, but the Adamo Breakaway is my own chosen perch, and I wouldn’t attempt a time trial or very long ride without one.

The ISM Adamo Breakaway

The ISM Adamo Breakaway

Bike fit, chamois and chamois cream

If you’re not sitting comfortably, the problem might not just be with the saddle. Before opening your wallet, do some research and have a friend or your LBS look at your fit on the bike – as a badly fitting bike can usually be fixed with some tweaks to saddle height and position, and this can make a big difference.

You should also make sure your shorts have a good chamois, and use chamois cream for longer rides.

What sort of saddle do you use, and  did it take some trial and error to find?

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14 Responses to Bike saddles: Choosing the perfect perch

  1. human cyclist 06/04/2014 at 7:02 pm #

    A very well timed article as I’m in the market for a new saddle but the thought of experimenting doesn’t fill me with confidence or joy. I hear the charge spoon suits a lot of folk but I love the idea of test riding a few first, although that means putting the miles in on each saddle.

    • Andreas 07/04/2014 at 12:24 am #

      I’ve only ever bought a second hand bike, and every time the saddle that has come with it has been fine, I’m not sure if that’s an exception, so I’d be interested to hear about people’s past experiences.

  2. MJ Ray 07/04/2014 at 7:54 am #

    Hybrids and tourers upright? Are you getting them confused with city and trade bikes?

    Anyway, I think you can make a reasonable guess by measuring your own sit bones, but make sure to measure them while sitting. Also with English roads being what they are, saddles with a bit more flexibility and give can take the edge off the roughness.

  3. tom 07/04/2014 at 2:20 pm #

    I finally bit the bullet and bought a Brooks saddle a few months ago, I’d been wary due to cost, break in time and the chance of it being nicked.

    It was very comfortable from the start and has been getting more comfortable as it gets worn in. Every now and then I find myself noticing how comfortable it is, which is an odd thing. With regards to security, I just loop the same cable I use for my front wheel through the seat rails.

    I honestly can’t see me using any other type of saddle in the future.

    • Spencer 07/04/2014 at 9:10 pm #

      Likewise, use a Brooks B17 and have had no problems from the off.

      Good looking saddle and very comfy despite the lack of padding.

      Thankfully have secure parking where I work so little risk of it being stolen.

    • tom 14/04/2014 at 8:21 am #

      As an update, my saddle was nicked at the weekend, despite being locked to the bike with a supposedly very secure cable and being in broad daylight in a busy area. The sods.

      However, I liked my Brooks so much that I bought another straight away, the only thing I will do differently is get a quick release collar and take it with me all the time, it’s worth the hassle of carrying a saddle to keep such a comfy thing.

      On another note, if you are temtped by a Brooks, please don’t buy from ebay, it will almost certainly be stolen, particularly if that seller has more than one to sell and is selling a suspicious amount of front wheels too, as one that I looked at was. Buying will only encourage stealing.

      • TOM 15/04/2014 at 2:45 am #

        when my B-17 Flyer was on the bike, I was always worried that someone else would liberate it from my ride.

        I took off the QR lever, but then realized that thieves can carry Allen wrenches too.

        Bright idea (since the position was perfect, never needing to adjust it again) ….I laid the bike on its side and dribbled hot solder into the seat clamp Allen arbor. Now you can’t even open it with the right wrench, nothing to get the wrench into.

        If I ever need to remove it , just get out the soldering gun and melt the slag back out. EZ.

        • tom 15/04/2014 at 6:16 pm #

          Excellent tips, cheers.

  4. Sonia 07/04/2014 at 6:56 pm #

    I use Selle SMP saddles. They do have a weird shape but I find them comfortable. My favourite is the Dynamic which is hard and narrow but, weirdly comfortable!

    Given the cost of the Dynamic, that is on my road bike which is never left out overnight. For day-to-day use, I have the TRK and Extra.

  5. GrahamL 09/04/2014 at 5:18 pm #

    I have a Brooks saddle which I’ve had for about two years on my tourer. It’s sooooo comfy.

    I rode my MTB recently on a relatively flat canal tow path but part of the journey was ‘lumpy bumpy’. Even with padded shorts I had a sore under carriage afterwards.

  6. Mik 10/04/2014 at 9:38 am #

    I’ve ended up happy with a Romin from Specialized, although I’m on my second (with ti rails) as the first one (the ‘cheaper’ option) snapped the rails after 14 months which was a bit unsettling. There was some signs of rust on the rails that I was assured was ‘cosmetic and on the surface’, it wasn’t.

    I messed about a bit, but the Specialized Body Geometry saddles come with a months ‘testing’ time so you can put some miles on them in real world conditions. The Romin was my second option using this scheme.

    They aren’t cheap, but they aren’t Brooks expensive. I find myself presuming that at some point I’ll buy a Brooks and wonder why I didn’t earlier, but at the moment I just can’t bring myself to part with that much money…

  7. Andrew 11/04/2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Last time I was shopping for a saddle, Bontrager had a 30 day money back confort guarantee. I sat on the assometer and picked the corresponding width.

    Still riding the same saddle on a different bike, but am now looking at a version with a cut out, as I recently had a bike fit which made me significantly more aero, but has added a bit of pressure on the front during longer rides.

  8. TOM 11/04/2014 at 4:06 pm #

    Nicely written article ..Thanks

    I ride 2 touring bikes , one setup for Summer and one for Winter. The Winter has a leather Selle San Marco Anatomissimo that is really right for me.
    The Summer has a Brooks B-17 Flyer (less rain in Summer, tho the rain doesn’t bother the San Marco like it would the Brooks)

    The Flyer is about a year old and was very comfortable last year , this season tho, it seemed irritating.

    Just bought an Italian bike with a leather San Marco Concor America saddle (it was the “IN” saddle of the 80’s) , moved it to replace the B-17 and it’s wonderful.

    It seems like sexy (yes, beautiful shaped) leather saddles from Italy just appear to be my new preference.

    Oh yes, I have a leather Viscount on my Mountain bike and it’s rather nice too. :)

    currently have 5 rides .. they are somewhat cheap here in Oregon.

  9. David 13/04/2014 at 6:21 pm #

    I ride a cruiser.A nice big Schwinn signature seat on mine.padded,but firm and sprung.Heaven after trying Brookes and other ‘perch’s’.I like a seat!

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