Your saddle is one of the easiest things to upgrade to save weight and improve comfort.
Few component changes constitute a genuine upgrade as much as a new saddle. The right seat can lop a substantial amount of weight off your bike, and make for a more comfortable ride at the same time.
In the last few years saddle designers have become very adept at blending features that both reduce weight and improve comfort. Most of the improvements have come from composite materials that allow carefully tuned flex in a very light hull so the saddle better absorbs shock and moves with you as you pedal.
On top of a lightweight hull, you'll usually find a thin layer of very dense foam and/or gel. This helps spread your weight over the hull, but with modern flexible hulls it's less important than it used to be. Some very light saddles do without it altogether, and even manage to be fairly comfortable anyway.
The search for better foams and gels has even led to saddle makers branching out into other fields. A few years ago, Selle Royal, owner of Fizik, span off a subsidiary company to make memory foam pillows and mattresses incorporating the Technogel material it originally developed for saddles.
Lighter rail materials make a big difference to saddle performance too. The slight flex of titanium rails helps absorb shock, while carbon fibre rails save save a lot of weight.
You’ve never had a wider choice of saddle shapes and widths. Companies like Specialized and Bontrager make their performance saddles in a range of widths, Fizik tailors its designs to a rider’s flexibility and Charge offers saddles in three width classes and each model in three different shapes.
To help navigate this thicket of choices and find the right saddle for you, you’ll probably want to quite literally get your bum into a bike shop and get fitted for your saddle with one of the measuring devices many saddle makers now supply their dealers. This will tell you the spacing of your sit bones, the first thing you need to know to get a saddle that fits and will therefore be comfortable.
If it’s on offer, take up any chance to test-ride a saddle. The only way to be sure a saddle is right for you is to ride it for long enough for your bum to get used to it.
A typical stock saddle on a £1,000 bike weighs about 300g, so for each of the saddles below we’ve calculated the Hairsine ratio – the grams saved per pound cost. This gives an indication of value for money, at least from the ‘lighten your bike’ perspective.
14 great performance saddles
Weight: 167g Hairsine ratio: 0.58
Fizik has gone with the whole 'less is more' ethos with its Arione 00 Versus Evo saddle. Stripped back to a mere 167g with minimal padding and lashings of carbon fibre, it is still surprisingly comfortable with a great balance of stiffness and flex. You're going to have to pay for the performance, though.
Fizik's '00' range is its showcase of what is achievable in terms of design with top end materials. The Arione 00 Versus Evo has a shell made from high modulus carbon fibre which is unbelievably stiff considering how thin it is, with the central channel literally just about a millimetre thick. Even the main sections either side of the channel are just 4mm thick too.
Though the whole shell feels stiff, it does a decent job of allowing just enough flex to take out any harshness or road vibration. This is helped by the Mobius carbon fibre rail. Rather than having two rails plugged into the front and rear of the saddle, the Arione 00 uses a single rail which makes up a complete loop around the base of the saddle. It adds stiffness front and rear but allows the shell to flex around the sides, so the saddle can move with you a little as you pedal.
Weight: 220g Hairsine ratio: 0.69
The Astute Star Lite is a superbly made saddle that offers a high level of comfort, especially when you're in a low and aggressive riding position.
The build quality here is exceptional. Even when viewed from underneath (granted, you're unlikely to do that often) the Star Lite looks superb with no ragged edges, staples or stray adhesive to spoil the appearance.
The carbon fibre-reinforced nylon shell has a cutaway centre to reduce pressure on the perineum – as you'll find on many other saddles – and on top of that you get tri-density memory foam padding.
Weight: 130g Hairsine ratio: 0.58
The Repente Aleena 4.0 is an innovative saddle that backs up its unique functionality with a beautiful design. It's very light and comfy in a race-saddle way, and the interchangeable covers allow you to modify the feel of your saddle without changing its position.
The main news here is the Repente Locking System. Repente saddles are modular, with a separate base and cover. The base is made in an autoclave (a pressurised oven) and it's almost entirely T700 carbon fibre; it has carbon rails and a wide central channel, connected at the nose and the tail. The only bits of the base that aren't carbon are the three alloy mounting points for the cover, which has three corresponding alloy pins. You poke the pins through and secure in place with a small clip. There's a rubber O-ring between the base and the cover for a bit of extra cushioning over and above what the base and cover provide.
Talk of the Aleena's clever details would be moot if the Repente didn't work as a saddle, but it works very well.
The base has been designed to offer a bit of flex, controlled by the bridge at the rear, and when you concentrate on your sit bones you can feel a little of that mobility when you're riding along. Most of the time you won't be concentrating on your sit bones though, unless your sit bones are hurting. And that wasn't the case for me here: even though the padding on the Aleena (and the Comptus, which I also rode) is pretty thin the Repente didn't ever feel uncomfortable.
Weight: 200g Hairsine ratio: 2.50
The rebirth of a classic design from the late 1970s, the Selle San Marco Concor Racing Fluoro Flash Edition is a firm, light, racing-orientated saddle.
It's firm enough to provide a solid power base but offers enough flex to provide stability even on the longest of rides. It's a well made, supportive ride at a reasonable price.
Weight: 132g Hairsine ratio: 1.12
The top of Wiggle/CRC's range of own-brand saddles, this is an excellent deal for a 132g saddle with carbon fibre rails. We haven't tested this particular model, but we liked its cheaper kid brother, the titanium-railed Cosine Sprint.
With its central cutaway this should be a shade more suitable for endurance riding than the Sprint Titanium, but it's still very much a saddle for going fast.
Weight: 225g Hairsine ratio: 0.83
Bontrager's Serano saddle draws on a design that has been around for many years, which is why they call it a 'classic shape'.
We clocked several hundred kilometres and didn't think twice about the Serano, and our tester felt no need to rush back to his old saddle. We're willing to bet this saddle shape will work for a lot of people; it simply supports the bottom so well and provides adequate padding in the key areas.
It's available in three widths: 128, 138 and 144mm. A Bontrager dealer will be able to help you find the right one for your sit bones.
Weight: 205g Hairsine ratio: 1.73
There aren't many performance saddles aimed at women. Saddle makers tend to go for width and padding when making women's saddles, which doesn't make for low weight.
In a small field, this is an excellent saddle. It's available in a choice of widths including a properly narrow 130mm to suit your style of riding and just as importantly your sit bones too. It's a firm saddle, but very light. In comparison with most female specific saddles, it's a pared down seat, ideally suited to aggressive road riding and racing.
With the trademark BG cut-out, it's designed to relieve pressure where it's needed without sacrificing ride efficiency. Hollow titanium rails help keep the weight down, and at just 205g for the 143mm size that we tested, it's definitely one of the lightest women's saddles on the market. The cushioning is placed exactly where you need it to support your sit bones, alleviating any discomfort or feeling of pressure.
This saddle is at its most comfortable when riding in a stretched forward position, but still gives all-round day long comfort too. There was little feeling of loss of power, with the saddle remaining a background feature of the ride, rather than making its presence actively known. Given the choice of widths, this is a good option for any female road rider looking for a comfortable performance saddle.
Weight: 175g Hairsine ratio: 1.44
At 175g, this is the lightest women's saddle we're aware of thanks to its carbon fibre-reinforced shell and carbon rails. When she tested the regular Luce R5, tester Sarah found it very rideable and definitely worth a try for a regular rider if you want something not too squashy.
The Luce has a little give but is pretty firm, which could be a turn-off, but don't be too hasty: Fizik looks to have put a lot of work into this saddle for women.
The Regular-width Luce has a sitting area shape measuring 144mm wide from wing to wing, and narrowing down to the nose. The nose is a little narrower than the Selle Italia Diva – 5mm in fact – meaning less friction on the thighs. This narrower nose will definitely appeal to some.
It quickly it felt comfortable and not too firm. Sarah found she didn't have to shuffle around to find a good position, so the profile of the saddle worked well for her, giving the impression that her sit bones were comfortably supported. Yes, it's a firm ride, but the cushioning is where you need it.
Weight: 175g Hairsine ratio: 1.42
For riders with intermediate flexibility, the Antares is a light, comfortable road saddle with a good depth of padding. The K:ium rails — Fizik's hollow titanium alloy — help keep the weight down while it's comfortable thans to the Wingflex feature it shares with other saddles in the family.
Your weight is carried primarily on your sit bones which are easily supported by the wide rear section, but the dense foam and flex in the shell do a good job of cushioning the road shocks and vibrations. The padding remains thick all the way up the nose, allowing you to move forward for those long turns in the drops or big climbs in comfort, a welcome change for a lightweight saddle.
Weight: 190g Hairsine ratio: 0.94
Fabric offers three versions of the 143mm wide Scoop: flat, shallow and radius. If you want something wider, there’s the 155mm Cell, while the 134mm ALM is your choice if you want something narrower. There isn't much padding, but there is loads of flex in the one-piece base and it's this flex that really provides the core of its magnificent comfort. The carbon rails provide a surprising amount of flex too.
The real beauty of the Fabric Scoop is the construction. The waterproof microfibre cover isn't stitched or stapled into place, it's moulded to a one-piece nylon base. It's really very impressive and if you get the chance to fondle one in your bike shop you really should, it's a marvellous bit of design.
Weight: 120g Hairsine ratio: 1.09
The value for money winner of the three Selle Italia saddles we've included, this carbon-railed saddle is feathery 120g but still boasts a layer of padding, albeit a thin, firm layer.
Weight: 96g Hairsine ratio: 0.77
The Selle Italia SLR Tekno is an extremely lightweight saddle although its lack of padding makes it feel firmer than most so it has to fit you very well if you're going to stay comfortable on longer rides.
The SLR Tekno's main selling point is its weight. Ours hit the scales at just 96g (Selle Italia claim 90g). You could reasonably say that anything under 200g falls into the lightweight category, sub-150g is superlight, and below 100g is nuts.
We can't say this is among the most comfortable saddles we've ever used but it's far from the least. It feels firm but we could live with it easily enough, especially when used on a bike with a fairly flexible 27.2mm diameter seatpost. We know of people who rack up 100-milers on this saddle and think nothing of it. We'd save it for race day. I'd certainly use it for a crit or a short road race where weight is a more important factor than long-ride comfort. You might be saving just 100g or so over a regular lightweight saddle, but if you're a weight weenie focusing on marginal gains it all counts.
Weight: 137g Hairsine ratio: 0.56
The Selle Italia Flite Tekno Flow saddle is an updated classic that's lost weight and some of the usual depth of cushioning, and gained a slightly flatter and wider shape. It’s a lightweight saddle with a fairly shallow amount of padding, but the flex in the shell, especially through the central section, means it feels firm rather than harsh.
At its £344.99 RRP this is the most expensive saddle we’ve ever tested, but it can sometimes be found a lot cheaper than that eye-watering figure.
Weight: 164g Hairsine ratio: 0.78
The Prologo Zero C3 Nack is a light, thinly cushioned and beautifully finished saddle, although it's an expensive one. The fairly shallow cushioning means that the it’s quite a firm saddle, although flex in the base – not loads, but some – helps smooth over road vibration and takes the edge off bigger hits.
We didn't find its firmness to be a problem, though. It was perfectly comfortable for both short and long rides, although it's safe to say that if you're after a soft, deeply cushioned saddle, this isn't the one for you.
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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.