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 bike saddle designs can lead to one of them crossing fine line between comfortable perch and instrument of torture.
Saddles are the most individual bike component; you may have to try several before finding the one that's just right for you
As well as it needing to fit your undercarriage, you should choose a saddle with an eye on your riding position; the more upright you sit, the wider your saddle is likely to need to be
We've listed just one woman's saddle here because we have an extensive buyer's guide devoted to women's saddles with numerous recommendations for different types of female rider
Women almost universally are more comfortable on saddles that have some sort of centre section that relieves pressure on the soft tissues of the vulva; look for either a cut-out or softer area
It takes a while to adjust to any new saddle; give it several short-to-medium-length rides before you decide
Good modern saddles start from around £30, but you can spend a heck of a lot more in pursuit of low weight, so we've carved off lightweight saddles into their own buyer's guide
The usual caveat applies here: saddle choice is personal and what fits the road.cc team's various bums may not fit yours. That aside, though, these are the best saddles you can currently buy.
The Fabric Line Race Shallow saddle is a bit of a classic. Though it's been around for a few years now, it's still one of the best all-round performing saddles out there: comfortable on long rides, suitable for a range of riding styles, with subtle styling that looks great on any bike.
What you're getting here is a reasonably lightweight saddle with titanium rails for £75 RRP, which actually isn't a huge amount of money when you look around at what else offers the same – and a full-length pressure relief channel.
Most importantly, it's really very comfy. Okay, saddle comfort is personal, but I never thought I could be swayed away from the Charge Spoon saddle that I've been perched on for the last 15 years – it just seemed to suit me for some reason – but this is just as lovely a place to rest my backside, if not even more so. Despite there being quite a minimal level of padding, the combination of flexy titanium rails and the channel along the centre did a great job of cushioning me nicely.
The Selle Italia Lady has long been a go-to saddle for bike shops helping solve women's bike comfort problems and still represents arguably the best combination of features, though as you'll see below it has considerably more competition than when it first appeared.
The key is the large, pressure-relieving cut-out down the centre of the hull. That's the feature Selle Italia designates as 'Flow' in all saddles with it, because the idea is it lets blood flow easily to the soft tissues that get squashed by most saddles.
Under the synthetic leather cover there's gel padding for support, and the Lady Gel Flow is available in two widths: 135mm and 160mm so using Selle Italia's idmatch system you should be able to get one that fits your sit-bone spacing.
As mentioned above, check out our women's saddles buyer's guide for more recommendations.
The Selle Royal Float Athletic uses memory foam cushioning to offer a really well-supported and comfortable ride. While it won't necessarily be lusted over by fast road riders, for anybody who wants a little extra luxury, it's very good.
The problem with highly padded saddles is that you can't always legislate for where that padding goes, and it can end up restricting movement and even cause chafing. In truth, probably the best thing you can do to improve comfort is to buy good padded shorts and spend a sensible and regular amount of time in the saddle to build up your tolerance.
However, Selle Royal thinks it also has another answer. Its Float range of saddles uses Slow Fit memory foam which moulds itself to adapt to the shape of the body's contact points. This, Selle Royal says, "creates more uniform pressure distribution while maintaining effective support". This 'Athletic' model is the most svelte of the Float range (although, svelte-ness is all relative).
The Float Athletic's on-road performance is very good. The memory foam cushioning works a treat and offers a very comfortable base without ever feeling overtly soft or squidgy. Support is good across the width of the saddle and even the pressure-relieving channel does its job.
A supremely comfortable saddle with innovative shock absorption built in, the Morgaw Trian is designed for comfort, and our tester thought it perhaps the most comfortable saddle he had ever used. It seems that the shock absorbers are what have really made it comfortable. Morgaw is a saddle company from Slovakia that began as a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. The idea behind it came from Martin Moravcik and Slawek Gawlik, two ex-pro mountain bikers who wanted to make a new kind of saddle.
Rather than simply having the rails mounted onto the base of the saddle, they mount through shock absorbers in order to lessen the impact of bumps in the road. It is meant to protect your spine as this is naturally where the shocks radiate.
On the surface the Rivet Independence is a traditional leather saddle, but it has a modern twist in the form of a composite resin frame. anyone who fancies trying a leather saddle would do well to try the Independence.
The Independence shares the quality construction and thick leather of Rivet's Pearl saddle, along with the all-important tension plate underneath, which prevent the saddle from splaying. Where it differs significantly from the other saddles in the range is the composite resin frame (complete with bag loops). This sturdy plastic helps to keep the weight down.
After a short acclimatisation period our tester's backside and the saddle were in complete harmony. Anyone who fancies trying a leather saddle would do well to try the Independence.
Blending 3D-print technology with a tried and tested shape yields a lightweight and comfortable performance saddle. The Fizik Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive saddle is expensive, yes, but for those who like the Antares shape, the high-tech construction has some real benefits.
Tester Leon writes: “I was initially sceptical about messing the construction of such a vital part of your bike’s fit, but, now that I've covered some real miles on the Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive, and really deliberated over my opinion of it, I'll admit it: I'm a fan.
“The construction allows for more cushioning to be engineered into the bits that you are in contact with. The honeycomb-like structure includes the outer layer that you can see, plus the airspace underneath it, which takes the place of more traditional saddle fillers. I can really appreciate just how much more give there is in the new model compared to my old Antares. That doesn't mean it feels like a sofa, but it's able to mould and depress really effectively when it needs to, and in all the key directions too.”
Tester Matt writes: “Despite their prevalence, gel and foam saddles do have their drawbacks. Foam can compress to a point where it provides almost no cushioning at all. And for all the support that gel is supposed to provide, it can sneak into places you really don't want it to cause other problems. In theory, any air-filled saddle could do the same. But Fabric's Cell Elite Radius is not some sort of seat-shaped balloon; instead, it uses collapsible pyramid air cell technology to provide impressive air-sprung comfort.
“Fabric says this saddle is designed for more upright riding, and there's little to complain about when cruising with your head up. Support is really quite incredible. I did my first test ride on the Cell Elite wearing just jeans and comfort was superb.
“The reason for this, Fabric says, is because, 'the air-tight seal stops the saddle compressing completely, so you never feel those painful pressure points found on traditional seats.' I'd have to concur. I experienced no discomfort, with my seated weight distributed nicely across the saddle width and length, particularly when sitting upright in cruise mode. The air cells are tightly regulated, so you won't find unwanted cushioning going walkabout like gel, and they don't compress to rigidity like foam.”
Proof that you don't have to spend a fortune to get a comfortable saddle, for just £45 this is a super-comfortable performance saddle with pressure-relieving channel.
It's based on Charge's popular Scoop but the foam padding is partitioned down the middle. The unique construction method means Fabric has been able to retain a full base, so you're protected from road spray (many saddles have a hole) and no reinforcement is needed of the foam padding, which means it can be lighter.
The link above goes to the 134mm-wide version. It's also available in 142mm width.
The Bontrager Aeolus Comp is a unisex shorty saddle with a large cutout that's designed to take the pressure off soft tissues in an aero position – which it does very well. It's comfortable for both long road rides and short, intense turbo sessions thanks to its well judged level of padding and flexible shell. As the entry-level Aeolus saddle in a range of three, the price is competitively low.
Shorty or 'boost' saddles are increasingly popular because they make holding an aero position more comfortable by eliminating the traditional longer nose that can put pressure on soft tissues for both men and women. The penalty, however, is that they have to be set up exactly right because shuffle space is reduced. In addition, because you're more 'locked' in position they have to fit your sit bones more precisely.
The Aeolus Comp's shape looks simple but it's very effective. The sit bones are well supported on flat sections either side of the cutout, while the nose, which is wider than the noses of other shorty saddles such as the Selle Itala SLR Boost Superflow, lets you perch on it in a stem-chewing situation in more comfort than Selle Italia's SLR shape does, maximising available space. And the semicircle of padding at the tip, which closes off the cutout channel, cleverly stops you from sliding too far forward.
The Fabric Scoop Elite Shallow is a chromoly-railed saddle with three shapes to suit riding style. The shallow style here is a very comfortable, well constructed saddle which bench marks what a decent saddle should be.
Sat on chromoly steel rails, this 142mm wide, 282mm long saddle uses a plastic base that gives a really good amount of flex for comfort. It never feels too flexy, either.
The soft foam padding gets a waterproof covering that's smooth and easy to move on, but not so smooth you slide around while pedalling hard. It's also easy to clean.
It may not be the lightest thing out there at a claimed 266g, but for the price you probably won't mind – the Fabric Scoop Elite Shallow is an excellent saddle for most riders, offering a great blend of comfort, ruggedness and performance.
Charge describes the Fabric Scoop Gel as a 'comfort' design, and it ticks all the boxes: it's comfortable, well made, attractive and a fair price.
It's aimed at leisure, commuter and off-road riders who adopt an upright position, so has large gel inserts covering the three pressure points – the nose and wings – plus a V-shaped central channel to alleviate pressure on your bits. It's a unisex design, as are all Fabric saddles, but is particularly suited to women with wider sit bones.
If the three-figure price of a Brooks Swift is a bit rich for your blood, this very similar own-brand seat from Harrogate touring specialist Spa Cycles is a very acceptable substitute. It's made from thick Australian leather with shiny chromed steel rails; very handsome.
Our tester found it comfortable even for 15-hour rides. For hard-core randonneurs on a budget or leather saddle virgins who want to try one without breaking the bank the Aire is just about perfect.
Fabric's Line-S Race Flat saddle will appeal to performance-focused riders looking for a stable, supportive design for fast riding – the Flat in the name means flat-out. Its stumpy length and wide, slightly-sloped rear encourage an efficient fixed position, while the full-length channel relieves pressure. Mostly, it works extremely well, but the angular channel sides can occasionally irritate and there's no real wiggle-room to ease pressure on long rides.
I have always used long-nosed saddles and had, until now, never got on with shorter, wider ones. I've been pleasantly surprised by the Line-S, though. The full-length channel means I can get into a low position, stay there and experience no soft tissue discomfort from pressure.
I managed rides of up to 2.5 hours at a tempo pace and the saddle stayed comfortable throughout, fixed though I was in position. This position allowed me to put down power efficiently and effectively.
Saddle adjustment is critical too, but no matter what I did, anything longer than 2.5hrs and I was wanting to shuffle about a bit more. The shape doesn't really allow it, though.
A classic design from the late 1970s, the Selle San Marco Concor Racing is a firm, light, racing-orientated saddle. The original had a rounded, slim profile. The present incarnation has taken the design further by using state of the art materials and developing the saddle over two years to produce what Selle San Marco hope will be another winner.
Tester Cavan writes: “In terms of performance it hits all the spots, in the right way. There was some initial discomfort as the saddle moulded to its new position. The wings are not intrusive but on those early rides it was enough to force me out of the saddle more than I normally would. However after some regular commuting with the occasional evening or weekend ride I felt it was time for a proper test.
“What better way to prove your saddle is suitable than with an all day ride. The prospect of jumping out of the saddle did not appeal on a ride of this length. My fears were unfounded. There is enough flex on the wings for my thighs to find an accommodating position and when you need to exert additional power the hull is firm enough to allow you to do so.”
Bontrager's Serano saddle draws on a shape that has been around for many years, which is why they're calling it a 'classic shape' on their website.
Tester David writes: “The shape is indicative of a saddle like the popular Prologo Scratch, once favoured by Fabian Cancellara, and still favoured by me. A long flat and rounded middle section features with a raised tail and slightly dropped nose, with deep sides. It's the sort of shape that many cyclists will find comfortable. I replaced the Scratch on my test bike with the Serano and I didn't even have to alter the saddle height, such is the similarity. Out on the road and it felt virtually identical. There's a subtle difference in padding, the Serano being a touch firmer along the middle, but not enough to negatively impact comfort. I've clocked several hundred kilometres so far and haven't thought twice about the saddle, and indeed not rushed back to my old saddle.
“Of course saddle shapes are very personal and what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. I'm willing to bet this saddle shape will work for a lot of people though, it simply supports the bottom so well and provides adequate padding in the key areas.”
The Rido R-Lt saddle is a reasonably lightweight performance choice that's built specifically to avoid numbness. This is a brilliant saddle. It does what Rido claim with regards to comfort plus the shape and fit are spot on. It is low profile enough to be taken seriously as a race saddle and at only 230g it isn't going to add any unnecessary weight to your race bike.
Giant's Fleet SL saddle is a very good choice for occasional racers looking for more comfort when riding in an aero position. The saddle features firm padding but there's a little flex in the base along with a large central cutout, and I found it to be very comfortable, especially as the miles ticked up. The weight is good, but the price is a little higher than the competition.
Tester Liam writes: "I favour a rather long and low bike setup, so I find these types of saddles to be very comfortable; when shunted forward, they place more of the supportive rear part of the saddle under me. The Fleet SL does this really well and I've really liked my time spent on it.
"My testing has included as much variation in types of riding as possible, from flat-out efforts to lazy spins through the lanes. I've fitted this to my race bikes and also popped it on my cyclo-cross bike to test out a slightly more upright position. It was comfortable on both types, so I wouldn't pigeon-hole this saddle for race bikes only."
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 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.
The padding towards the back of the saddle is quite firm to support your sit bones, and more squashy at the front to cosset your soft tissue. It immediately moulds to your body shape to provide a load of comfort without any areas of high pressure. The cover is made from Italian microfibre that's easily wiped clean after a wet ride.
The Fabric Scoop Race Shallow is a well-made, supremely comfortable saddle, with a non-slip surface and shock-absorbing titanium rails, and comes at an excellent price.
The Scoop has been around a fair few years now and has a well-deserved reputation for being a very comfortable saddle for smashing out the miles. This titanium-railed version continues the theme, impressing with its levels of comfort, build quality and value.
The titanium rails gave a slightly sprung effect, so that any potholes or rough surfaces felt slightly damped. At no point during testing did I feel that it had been a harsh ride.
I also really like the non-slip surface formed by the Fabric logo. When you pick a position, you stay stuck to it – to move backwards and forwards you have to rise up and move, rather than slide. I tested it on some of the really steep climbs around Bath – some over 30% – and found it really good for seated climbing. On descents, or fast cornering too – as long as a small patch of your posterior is on the saddle – you stay in position.
The Selle San Marco Mantra Dynamic Open-fit saddle is the sensibly priced kid brother to the Mantra Superleggera we tested previously. It's reasonably comfortable and still a competitive weight, but it's definitely a firm, performance-orientated saddle, not a comfy-as-a-couch seat for upright cruising.
If you like a firm, flat saddle, then the Mantra Dynamic is for you. It has a stiff, fibreglass-reinforced hull topped with a thin layer of closed-cell foam and a pressure-relieving gap down the middle, all of which comes together in a saddle that's very much a platform for going fast.
Tester John writes: “I adapted to the Mantra in a few rides, even though it's very different from my usual Fizik Aliante and Brooks Cambium saddles, so even if you don't usually like this sort of thing, you might find the Mantra is a pleasant surprise after all. If your riding is about going fast, it's a seat you should definitely try.”
The Fizik Aliante R3 Regular is a medium-width, scoop-shaped saddle that's firmer than some previous Aliante models, and is therefore best suited to hard efforts. If you want a saddle for sitting up and cruising, this isn't it, but if you're in a hurry, it's definitely one to consider.
Tester John writes: “The Aliante R3 Regular is definitely a bit firmer than the Aliante Gamma that's been one of my go-to saddles for the last few years. I initially fitted it to my turbo-training bike, and took a while to get used to it. Periods of low-power riding in my first couple of sessions were uncomfortable after a few minutes, though higher intensity was fine. I got used to it after a few sessions, though.
“I switched the Aliante R3 to road-riding duties and found it comfortable, though I'd still generally prefer something a shade softer like the Gamma or even Brooks Cambium. Just as it was more comfortable when I was going hard on the trainer, so pushing harder on the pedals took enough weight off my bum that the Aliante R3's shape and support could do its job.
”If you like a firm, dipped saddle, you'll probably get on well with the Aliante R3, and should definitely consider it if you're in the market for a new seat.”
The Prologo Scratch 2 134 Tirox provides excellent comfort straight out of the box, and that doesn't change whether out on a five-hour road ride or a jaunt on the gravel. It has a curved shape from front to rear, dipping in the middle, and this really works. The upwardly swooping tail end gives something to push against should you want to whack the power out, but for the rest of the time the narrow nose and rounded edges offer plenty of clearance for hip rotation during the pedalling motion.
What do you get if you combine the classic Brooks 'hammock' saddle design with thoroughly modern materials? You get the supremely comfortable Cambium C17. It's not the lightest saddle around, but if you value comfort over weight, then the Brooks Cambium C17 should be on your list of saddles you must try, and soon.
The Specialized Power Arc Expert saddle is a comfortable and accommodating seat that's capable of keeping you supported over even really long distances without trouble. With a pressure-relief cutout and available in two different widths to suit your body, this really can keep you riding all day without discomfort.
Fizik's Antares R5 Kium Road Saddle is surprisingly comfortable for speed-orientated road riding, and the build quality is top-notch.
The Antares R5 sits in Fizik's Chameleon family of contact points. This is the mid-point of a three-category range created according to different levels of rider flexibility, which also includes handlebars (the other two are Snake/flexible and Bull/rigid). It's 275mm long and 142mm wide and Fizik describes its shape as 'wide and slightly curved in profile, which is ideal for riders with medium spine flexibility'.
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.
The padding towards the back of the saddle is quite firm to support your sit bones, and more squashy at the front to cosset your soft tissue. It immediately moulds to your body shape to provide a load of comfort without any areas of high pressure. The Astute Star Lite is an excellent saddle. It's beautifully made from high-quality materials and delivers plenty of comfort. The price might make you think twice but you can't argue with the performance.
The Specialized Power Expert saddle provides reliable comfort and support even on all-day rides. Available in a range of widths to accommodate different sit bones, and with a cutout to relieve pressure, it's one you really can ride for hours without any issues.
Tester Ian writes: “I tested the two very similar Body Geometry saddles at the same time. While the Power Arc Expert is intended for people who like to be able to move around in their seat while riding, this Power Expert saddle is for people who like to stay in one optimal position. At the risk of repeating myself, you might want to ask yourself how you ride, and whether being able to move back and forth in the saddle matters to you – do you like being able to shift back and forth to engage different muscles, for example, or to drop down onto aerobars?
“The difference in shape that facilitates these different riding patterns is subtle, but definitely alters how the saddles feel. Having tried both, I can say that the two models work as advertised thanks to squarer, blunter edges and surfaces on this model and more rounded edges and surfaces on the Arc.”
The Cycles Berthoud Soulor leather saddle is beautifully made and well worth the relatively modest time it takes to bed in because, once moulded, it's like it was custom made for your backside.
The Soulor is the sportiest saddle in the Cycles Berthoud range. Brooks' Swallow is probably its closest comparator, although the Soulor is slightly narrower. It comes in four different finishes, all with stainless steel rails. There's also a titanium-railed sibling, the Galibier, if you can justify the extra £30-odd.
The Soulor is a vegetable-tanned, pre-softened cow-hide saddle, which is joined to the steel rails via Torx bolts. Theoretically, this means it can be stripped and rebuilt, say in the event of damaging or seeking to upgrade the rails.
It took about 200 miles of riding and treating to break in after which it was nigh-on formed to tester Shaun's shape, so only felt in the most positive sense.
The Brooks Cambium C13 is the latest model in the English brand's excursion into non-traditional materials for its saddles. There's no leather or chromed steel at all here, replaced by the vulcanised natural rubber and cotton top surface previously seen in the original Cambium models, and – what's this? – a full carbon fibre structure underneath. It's very well made (in Italy, not Birmingham, unlike the majority of the range) and there's no breaking-in period, unlike the leather models.
The SQLab 612 Ergowave Active Carbon Saddle is expensive but packed with pressure-relieving, customisable tech. If you have challenges getting comfortable or regularly swap between aerodynamic and general riding, it could be the one saddle you need.
The 612’s visibly distinct feature is the 'Adjustable Active Technology' at the back of the saddle, in the form of three differently coloured rubber inserts that you plug in, to adjust the amount of movement the saddle has when pedalling. Going from soft to hard, you get up to 7 degrees of tilt in the pelvis as you pedal, mimicking how your pelvis rocks when walking.
The ability to tune the saddle based on your ride duration, purpose (all-out speed vs slow and steady), your weight and general comfort preference make the 612 Active a good option to consider in your search for the perfect perch. This is a very good choice for faster riders seeking the ability to tune their saddle to the type of riding they do.
Tester Stu writes: “Astute's Skylite Pilarga SR saddle may look on the pricey side, but with its twin bases, shock absorbers, memory foam and carbon fibre rails, you're getting a lot of engineering from this Italian handmade saddle. Add to the fact it's one of the most comfortable saddles I've every ridden and all of a sudden that cost is looking value for money in terms of smiles per miles.
“The main comfort comes from the twin base. Two thin layers of nylon, the upper one reinforced with carbon, create a hull that flexes in between the stiff, one-piece carbon fibre rails, therefore absorbing road imperfections and impacts. It can be a bit disconcerting at first, as you kind of feel like you're floating in the middle of the saddle rather like a hammock, but you soon adapt. The movement is subtle, mind, it's not like you're bouncing off down the road.
“Overall, I love the Astute Pilarga. It looks classy and offers a ride that is truly forgettable, which is something you want in a saddle. The details and finish really help to justify the cost, and being one of your main contact points it's worth spending out on something that suits.
For a lot of people the saddle they get 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.
However, if it doesn't or you want to drop some weight from your bike, or pep up its looks with a new saddle 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. It's no 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. And you don't necessarily need the most high tech bike saddle to be comfortable or go fast — 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. Bike 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 options.
If you're going to find the best bike saddle, you need to narrow things down - and that's the aim of this guide.
The critical part of choosing the right bike 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.
Manufacturers are getting better at helping you to choose the right bike 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 bike 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 areas. That’s why many saddles are offered in different widths, reflecting the difference in people's anatomy. Some manufacturers offer up to three widths to suit the range of variance. The nose of the saddle supports some of the cyclist’s weight too. 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.
Bike saddle shapes largely fall into several camps. Some 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.
Generally, thinner saddles with minimal padding are more suited to racers with deep, stretched riding positions, down 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.
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 at 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.
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 where 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 plenty 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, as they don’t much like the rain; that's why you most often find them on mudguard-equipped touring bicycles. Brooks is the name most associated with leather saddles but they aren't the only maker out there. Spa Cycles do a well regarded, and well priced, range of leather saddles that possibly require more breaking in than a Brooks, but not that much more.
A fascinating recent development is the Brooks Cambium range of saddles, which use similar construction techniques to Brooks' leather saddles, but with modern materials. Instead of a sheet of leather across the ends of the rails, Brooks has come up with a combination of vulcanised natural rubber, cotton canvas and structural textile for the top.
This top is inherently flexible, like a worn leather Brooks or a new one with the tension backed off slightly, and it moves slightly as you pedal. It's a design we like a lot.
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 cyclists 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 as it can move, pinch or chafe rather than supporting your sit bones.
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 reduced blood flow cause by saddle pressure could lead to erectile disfunction in men and cause permanent reproductive failure. A load of nonsense 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 restore the blood flow and so prevent 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.
Even if decreased blood flow does cause a problem depending how you are plumbed down there the amount of difference between a normal saddle and one with a channel may be minimal to non-existent. In the interests of science our editor Tony 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.
So cutaways and channels are not for everyone. You only need look 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 particular urological or prostate problems it may well be worth looking at a saddle with a hole or channel or cutaway, and 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,
Saddle padding doesn't last forever, particularly on performance saddles. After a while the padding isn't really doing any padding any more because it has become permanently squashed by the millions of times your bottom has compressed it. The more performance-oriented a saddle and the less actual padding it has, the more time limited its lifespan. Many top end performance saddles have an expected lifespan of a couple of seasons if used the way they are intended.
Most manufacturers now have a large choice of women-specific saddles to recognise the differences in anatomy. Many women do get on just fine with men's saddles, just as many women happily ride men's bikes, but 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.
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.
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 collecting a large pile of saddles in your shed as you enter the quest for the ultimate saddle.
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 fit you, not the body fitting the bike.
Our readers are always valuable source of insight, opinion and knowledge on all things cycling. Here's the pick of what they had to say in a previous version of this article.
It would have been helpful advice to know where/who offers try before you buy...
They do some sort of fit using a scan then you get about 60 days return if it doesn't work out
I spent a lot on a Fizik Arione but didn't get on with it. I tried a Brooks B17 but gave up with it when one of the rails snapped. The San Marco Rolls is the saddle I get on with best.
It would be good to cover the Selle SMP range in a future update https://www.sellesmp.com/en .
Discovering these was a revelation for me and my Brooks saddles went to the great EBay.
I'm a convert to Selle SMP as well. I used the ubiquitous Charge Spoon for a while on a variety of bikes, dabbled with Brooks CAmbiums, but found the rails were too short to get the fore/aft position correct. I then acquired a Selle SMP Dynamic and pretty quickly got it dialled in to suit me. It was a bit odd to start with as you really don't move about on the saddle and I run it with about 4-5 degrees of nose down tilt. I've completed a 100 mile ride with no discomfort. I've also acquired a SMP Forma, which is the unpadded version of the Dynamic, and it has been fitted to my Pro Carbon, and although I'm not using it for long rides, the saddle seems surprisingly comfortable given the lack of padding.
After using Fizik Aliante Vrs for ages without issue, I've now gone over to Selle SMP.
I was quite comfortable on the Fizik until last year and would get uncomfortable even on relatively short rides. Getting old doesn't help.
But having got the SMP set up, I rode 110km in the Pyrenees in July, which had been my longest ride in ages. I didn't even notice the saddle, despite it being hot, which would normally cause discomfort.
I've asked technical editor Mat Brett to get in some SMP saddles for review.
I think we had them pegged as goofy triathlete gear, but the rave reviews from folks here show we were wrong, so we'll get that sorted.
Serfas RX works nicely for me
Both my Ridgeback World Tourer Deluxe and my full carbon road bicycle are fitted with identical Spa Aire saddles.
I can spend full days in the saddle without issue and I've ridden up to 120 miles without stopping.
I bought the Aire from Spa Cycles when I purchased the Ridgeback from them at the beginning of 2016 and another when I purchased the full carbon b'Twin a year later.
I am very big (119kg) for an endurance/sportive rider and both saddles still look like new.
I maintain it by polishing Cherry Blossom shoe polish in after each ride, leaving it to be absorbed and brushing it to a shine before my next ride.
I have ridden for over 50 years and have never found a saddle as good as this.
Every cut out saddle I have tried (Specialized/ Selle Italia x 2) has been terrible.
Cut outs seem to be a solution for people using overly narrow curved saddles when they actually have too wide sit bones for this style. This tends to put pressure where you don't want it. So add a cut out. The problem is, cutting a hole in the shell weakens it, meaning the shell has to be made stiffer, which means the edges of the hole then put pressure where you don't want it anyway, along with the stiffer shell reducing shock absorption.
To me a flat, flexible, saddle like the Scoop flat is vastly better solution for anyone who isn't built like a tiny pro rider.
It might be worth looking at people like Selle SMP as to why that's an over simplification. Steve Hogg has a nice discussion about them and general pelvic geometry/saddle width/tumblehomes/cut outs and so on here
Found the perfect saddle in the men's Specialized Riva 143mm. The women's Riva was far too painful so I stuck with the men's and now have one on all my bikes.
Having tried to fit saddles to people in a shop for years with all the hoo haah of Spesh's gel fitting tools and arse bone detectors etc, it's a total waste of time. Only decent advice is "try a bunch and see what you like".
WTB not mentioned or tested before? One of the few saddle brands that makes the same shapes available in many widths, a crucial part of comfort.
I know saddles are a personal thing, but anyway .. the WTB Volt 142 is the comfiest thing I've used in 25+ years. I don't used padded shorts (touring shorts and thin poly sport boxers) and I can ride long days back to back on this saddle, on and off-road. Basic crmo version does the job. Previously I was on the same model (or the Rocket V, same shape) but 135mm width, it was good for years but not as good as the 142mm - the width as well as shape is important to get right.
Clearly, saddles are subjective. For instance, I tried all three categories of Fizik saddles, and some of the sub-varieties within each category, and I just could not get comfortable on any of them. The Arione felt like it was the right size and shape, but I would still end up with butthurt even after short rides.
One thing I did discover though is that saddles with channels work for me. I tried a couple of saddles where I had access to the channel and non-channel versions so was able to directly compare, and even if I didn't like the saddle overall, the version with a relief channel was better in every case.
So what did I go with in the end? Astute Skylite VT.
Selle SMP Drakon. The most comfortable saddle I have used in over 30 years...
No mention of the Proust, with it's very short nose and swivel action.
My wife absolutely swears by hers....
Damn that thing looks like a B-2 stealth Bomber. For me the Fizik Kurve snake was the most comfortable saddle for me.
> 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
No, that's not why. Race bikes have thin saddles because they're ridden with a lot of forward pelvic tilt, and when tilted forward, the shape of the contact patch between the pelvis and the saddle becomes very narrow. Upright bikes are the other way round, and everything in between is, well, in between.
That's very informative, indicates I am aggressive based upon where I have discomfort. Any recommendations based upon riding styles?
I mostly use 'posture 1' and could not find a comfy saddle. Tried about 15 until I was pointed towards the Fabric Tri. With the correct tilt it is pretty much perfect for me. Well worth a try if you cycle in an aero position and can't find a comfy saddle.
Specialized have been good for me. I get on with the cut outs. Romin and more recently the Power model - allows me to get very low without the perineum pressure, but more versatile than a stubby SMP/ tri saddle thing
+1 for specialized power. Used by many ultra distance cyclists. Have one on all my bikes.. no pain, chafing or bruising even after a 12 hour day in the saddle. Doing the TCR on it.
Classic Flite Ti for the past 25 years, my arse must have been moulded into the shape by now. Forced to buy a Gel one in the mid 2000s, glad they are making the early 90s one again.
For years all of my bikes had Flite Ti's then all of the Charge Spoon Ti, and then Fabric's the only one that differs now is my summer road bike with the Specialized Power Expert...it's the best saddle I've ever used on a road bike.
No SMP? By far the most comfortable saddle I've ever used. MASSIVE cut out, drop nose, and very long rails. What's not to like? Its not the prettiest, but they do work.
I was recommended an SMP a while ago. Really, really tried to get on with it but never could. Then I had the good fortune of snapping a saddle rail so switched to an Antares instead. Have never ridden anything more comfortable
Snap. I only tried an Antares because it was fitted to a used bike I bought; I'd never have tried it based on looks alone - it looks like the last place you'd want to perch.
Agreed. SMP - the only saddle I would use.
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John 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 founder 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. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.