How To Buy a Bike Saddle

Oth­er than the geom­e­try of the frame, few things deter­mine whether or not you’ll enjoy rid­ing a bike more than its sad­dle. For­tu­nate­ly sad­dles are easy, albeit poten­tial­ly expen­sive, to replace. The best ones ride as if they are invis­i­ble, seam­less­ly glued to the rid­er, which will be dif­fer­ent for every cyclist.

Types: For most pur­pos­es, sad­dles can be bro­ken into two cat­e­gories — rac­ing and com­fort. Keep in mind that rac­ing sad­dles are not sole­ly for rac­ing and com­fort sad­dles are not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­fort­able. The thin­ner, sleek­er rac­ing styles help pre­vent chaffing and allow for a full range of move­ment over longer, more intense rides. Com­fort sad­dles pro­vide added cush­ion for more casu­al, less active riding.

Rails: Locat­ed under the sad­dle, the rail is the sus­pen­sion and attach­ment sys­tem of the seat. They are respon­si­ble for absorb­ing the jar­ring that results from hit­ting bumps on the road or trail.

Steel alloys like chro­moly and man­ganese are designed to be lighter and stronger than car­bon-steel, and are the most com­mon type of sad­dle rail. They pro­vide a good weight to strength ratio and val­ue as well. Look for hol­low tubes in these mate­ri­als for reduced weight and more flex

On high­er end sad­dles, tita­ni­um is the stan­dard with car­bon fiber becom­ing more and more com­mon. Both have sim­i­lar ben­e­fits of low weight and excel­lent shock absorp­tion. Car­bon fiber, specif­i­cal­ly, is tops in these ben­e­fits, but also has the down­side of being extreme­ly expen­sive. Vanox, a titanium/ vana­di­um alloy, has been steadi­ly gain­ing ground in the mar­ket­place, and is mar­gin­al­ly lighter, but def­i­nite­ly flex­i­er than tita­ni­um as the added vana­di­um is a soft­er metal.

Shell: This is the body of the sad­dle, with nylon being the near uni­ver­sal choice. It pro­vides more flex than plas­tic. Car­bon fiber is often added for sub­tle changes in flex and some weight reduc­tion while com­plete car­bon shells offer the light­est weight and the biggest expense.

Many sad­dle designs work to reduce pres­sure on the per­ineum, the area of nerves and arter­ies in between the sit-bones. Both steady com­pres­sion and sud­den impacts can cause numb­ness and bruis­ing to this area. Find­ing the right com­bi­na­tion of fea­tures in a seat will help pre­vent dis­com­fort and numb­ness as well as reduce or elim­i­nate long-term prob­lems such as incon­ti­nence, impo­tence and inflam­ma­tion of the prostate.

Men’s and wom­en’s ver­sions will vary great­ly as each gen­ders anato­my is very different.

Sad­dle cov­er: Syn­thet­ic leather is near ubiq­ui­tous in mid-range sad­dles, but more expen­sive mod­els will often use pre­mi­um leather or high­er qual­i­ty syn­thet­ic mate­ri­als. Dura­bil­i­ty between the two varies by man­u­fac­tur­er. Real leather tends to be slip­pery, but that isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. Kevlar is some­times used on moun­tain bike sad­dles and adds grip and dura­bil­i­ty. Rein­forced cor­ners or scuff guards are a superb option on moun­tain bike saddles.

Weight: For the aver­age or even well above aver­age rid­er com­fort, not weight, should be the decid­ing fac­tor in choos­ing a sad­dle. As a tiebreak­er though, it’s a fan­tas­tic piece of cri­te­ria. For a com­fort sad­dle rough­ly 350 to 600 grams is the aver­age range. Car­bon fiber rac­ing mod­els can weigh short of 100 grams, with 200 to 250 grams being an aver­age range for a tita­ni­um (or sim­i­lar) railed saddle.

Obvi­ous­ly com­fort is king and the most impor­tant cri­te­ria. While shop­ping tak­ing notes on dis­likes from pre­vi­ous sad­dles will help in decid­ing on a new one.