Bicycle Saddle Buying Guide | BUMSONTHESADDLE optimised

HOW TO CHOOSE BICYCLE SADDLES

Shaun George BOTS Guides

If you’re going through this article you’ve probably encountered an issue with your saddle. It’s probably uncomfortable or perhaps you’re simply looking for an upgrade. Either way, a change in your saddle can bring about a big change in your riding comfort and endurance. 

Buying a saddle may look like a daunting task with so many different choices available in the Indian market. Saddles are getting more and more complex these days with rider’s requirements getting more extensive.

The biggest task a saddle needs to accomplish is to deliver comfort. Secondary requirements may include lightweight construction or optimal positioning for power transfer. This is where things get more complicated, a saddle is now expected to do more and more work while still providing comfort. Ask a rider about what characterizes a comfortable saddle and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Every riders’ sit bone structure is different and according to the bikes size and seating style each rider will have his/ her own preferences 

The saddle is a point on the bike that you’re going to spend most of your time on. Comfort is crucial, however, if you’re looking for ultimate performance, you’ll have to sacrifice a little bit of that comfort.

CHOOSING A NEW SADDLE

Start off by identifying what your current saddle lacks and why you’re looking to upgrade.

You will most likely fall into one of these categories

  • The saddle isn’t comfortable
  • The saddle is heavy 
  • The saddle is not my size
  • The saddle doesn’t hold me well
  • I need a more performance-oriented saddle

Saddles vary in a lot of aspects these days. Saddles can be touring, comfort, off-road or performance-oriented. Unfortunately, there’s no saddle that does it all. 

If your saddle doesn’t hold you well it’s probably too big for you or just does not have a deep enough dip to keep you planted. If your saddle causes chafing in between your thighs then it’s likely too large for you. Use your main concerns as features to look out for in your next saddle. 

There are variations between mountain biking and road cycling saddles — mountain bicycle saddles are usually made from stronger, more durable materials, and road bike saddles tend to be lighter and more aerodynamic, but fundamentally the things you need to consider to make a buying decision are the same.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WHILE BUYING YOUR NEXT SADDLE

1. Cover material – This part of the saddle is going to take the most amount of abuse. Constant pressure, moisture, friction and sweat. It’s always exposed to the elements. It’s crucial you invest in a saddle that can take all this abuse. Most saddle covers these days are made of a synthetic blend of rubber or plastics and foam. The really high-end ones come with hard-wearing leather covers. 

Mountain bike saddles usually take more abuse and should have tougher seams and materials used.

Bicycle Saddles – Padding, Shell, and Rails

2. Shell – The shell of the saddle is the heart of the saddle, the amount of performance you can extract from your saddle all depends on this part of the saddle. The shell gives the saddle its basic shape and flex characteristics. Most low to mid-spec saddles have a nylon shell with some carbon reinforcement. Higher-end saddles have a full carbon fiber construction for ultimate efficiency and minimal flex. 

3. Cutouts Many saddles feature cutouts with the main purpose of being pressure relief channels. Its main purpose is to eliminate soft tissue pressure The center portion of the saddle that is also responsible for your comfort levels. Some saddles have grooves or cut-outs in the center to provide ventilation and to alleviate pressure from around your most sensitive nerves and veins.

4. Padding – The padding provided on saddles distributes the pressure from your bottom to the surface of the saddle. The Polyurethane foam used most commonly comes in a range of densities for either a firmer or softer saddle feel.  

A softer saddle may be ideal for short city commutes but for longer distances, a soft saddle will be more fatiguing and less efficient. 

5. Rails – The rails are the tubular bars that go underneath the saddle and clamp onto the seatpost clamp. Steel alloys are most commonly used on saddles while higher-end more performance-oriented saddles have titanium or carbon rails for further stiffness and weight reduction.

These rails usually run parallel from the nose to the back of the saddle. The bike seat post clamps onto these rails. These rails are an integral part of the seating. Rail material, strength, and cost vary from design to design and based on materials used.

5 TYPES OF SADDLE

1. ROAD SADDLES

Road Bike Saddle

Road bike saddles are usually narrow and streamlined to aid the most efficient transfer of power. They are also often made of lightweight materials such as Carbon Fiber. 

Road saddles are designed to allow full movement of the legs, thighs and also prevent chafing. These saddles shift your body weight forward into a more aggressive position so you have more weight on your hands and feet, and less on the seat. Road saddles are thinner, harder and lighter while mountain bike saddles are also thin and strong but with some additional padding for the rough terrain usage.

 A good road specific saddle also needs to be especially stiff for the best efficiency. Even the slightest amount of saddle flex is effective power lost and wasted. Road bikes overall, are all about being as efficient as possible. This is mainly done by keeping things as light and as stiff as possible.

Riders who tend to stay in a more upright position while riding tend to prefer flatter saddles. A flat saddle also makes for a more consistent feel when sliding forward or backward on the saddle.

On the other hand, curved saddles are usually preferred by riders who are less flexible or ride in a low and aggressive position. Riders who don’t move around much on the saddle also usually prefer a wavy or curved profile as it keeps them locked in place.

2. MOUNTAIN SADDLES

Mountain Bike Saddle

Mountain bikes have saddles that are small and have a decent amount of cushioning to aid maneuverability and at the same time provide comfort to the sit bones on bumpy terrain. Mountain bike saddles are usually flat across the top. Some also flare out at the rear tail for a specific seating position. Most are also built with reinforced stitching and panels to protect from the wear and tear of falling and extreme conditions.

MTB saddle has pressure-relieving channels for longer rides, while saddles with flexible edges also help prevent soreness and reduce pressure. Classic leather or faux leather finishes are common, while some will have tougher material at the edges to prevent damage in a crash.
Another feature to look for is a perforated top, which offers added comfort and ventilation, but can also collect moisture in the event of a downpour. MTB riders usually prefer light and stiff saddles that are flat in profile and broadly similar to those used by road racers. 

More general trail riders will often forgive a little added weight for the extra comfort of a broader and more padded saddle, MTB specific saddles often come with a shorter nose for more technical riding. They also have Kevlar reinforcements around the edges as they are vulnerable to falls. More padding does not make a more comfortable saddle. While a small amount can provide comfort and support, especially on long rides, it is uncommon to find more than a couple of millimeters padding in professional saddles. It is not uncommon to see riders using saddles with no padding at all.

3. TOURING SADDLES

Touring Bike Saddles

Touring saddles usually fall in between road and mountain saddles providing comfort and a supportive structure for the long hours on the saddle. If you’re new to this whole touring business, It all comes down to choosing between plastic and leather covers, you’re probably not sure whether to choose between a comfy and plushy bike saddle or a firm and supportive saddle. 

Instinctively, you might want to opt with the plush saddles, so you can enjoy all the comfort in the world. Here’s the thing: when you buy a comfortable gel or thickly padded saddle, that padding will eventually wear down and you will find yourself sitting on the skeleton of the seat. That isn’t very comfortable, trust me. The best solution is, indeed, leather. However, leather tends to be a rather expensive material. However, there are a lot of bike saddles with artificial leather covers which are the closest you can get to the real deal. 

Another feature you may want to look into when investing in a touring saddle would be sprung. They are a subjective feature but can absorb vibrations and uneven terrain very well. 

4. COMFORT SADDLES

As the name suggests, these are designed with comfort in mind. These saddles feature heavily cushioned padding, a wide tail to support the sit bones and in some models, additional suspension in the form of springs. They can be the preferred option of any rider who cycles without the benefit of padded shorts, but it’s important to bear in mind that all that additional comfort comes at a cost: comfort saddles are significantly heavier than performance, road and MTB saddles. 

The additional padding is also of two main types-

  • Gel – Gel cushioning provides the most comfortable ride quality for epically rough terrain.
  • Foam – Foam saddles provide similar comfort whilst also being lighter than gel seats. Foam also springs back into shape faster and provides better overall support than gel saddles.

5. WOMEN SPECIFIC SADDLES

Women’s saddles are often wider than male offerings, but interestingly the difference between male and female saddles isn’t actually that significant.

We’re different!

Cutouts in women-specific performance saddles are usually the most significantly different part when compared to male saddles. Due to the female anatomy, the usage of a male saddle for women may cause soft tissue compression problems.

The gap between most new performance saddles is built mainly to protect your perineum and to provide airflow during long rides. This feature is a very subjective one as it’s up to rider comfort on whether you require it or not.

FIT AND SIZING

No two people are the same, which is why there are so many different types and sizes of saddles available. In the first place, the shape of your saddle depends on your gender. But the shape of your saddle also depends on the type of cycling you do. Do you race under extreme circumstances? or are you just a leisure rider?

Whether you sit comfortably on your bike depends to a large degree on your riding position. Some cyclists prefer an upright position, but others would rather maintain a more sporting or even aerodynamic position. The further you bend forwards, the more pressure you put on the forward part of your pelvic area. The further back that you are seated, the less pressure you are putting on your pelvic region and the more you put on your sit bones.

The width of your saddle depends on the distance between your sit bones. By measuring this, you can discover exactly which saddle is best for you. A saddle’s width is measured from edge to edge across the top, Specialized recommends a 130mm saddle width for narrow, 143mm for medium and 155mm for wide.

First, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct saddle height and position in relation to your frame, height, and pedals. If you’re up too high or too far front, the chances that you’ll develop some sort of back and shoulder pains are high, your optimal saddle is also unlikely to be working the way it should.

You’ll next need to identify your riding style unless you’re riding in a performance position, you’ll want to be seated towards the rear of your saddle. It’s the widest, flattest part of the seat. It is also the best place to support your weight. If you find yourself sitting on the front of your saddle constantly, that’s often a sign that something is wrong with your positioning. You should only be at the front of the saddle when attaining an aero position.

Adjusting saddle height and fore/aft angle will further enhance your comfort and power transfer capabilities. Your legs must extend about 80-90% of its full extension capability for the most efficient use of energy- this is made possible by adjusting your saddle height. 

SADDLE MAINTENANCE

Bicycle saddles go through a lot of abuse throughout their lifecycle. Most of the rider’s weight is on the saddle for extended periods. The saddle cover is exposed to the elements as well. 

Another factor that plays a major role in saddle wear and tear that is less known is the actual position of the saddle on the seatpost clamp. A saddle clamped in further up or at the back is experiencing substantially more pressures on the rails as the riders weight distribution is not balanced. 

As a  part of normal wear and tear, saddles begin to breakdown over time. They start to bend near the flanges and begin squeaking as a sign that the rails are on their way out. However, the most common way that a saddle begins to show its age is when the saddle cover begins to come apart or the seams come apart. Quality saddles should last you a really long time depending on usage and care taken. If ever your saddle begins to show any of the above signs of wear and tear then it is advisable to get yourself a new one immediately. 

The quality of the saddle materials will ultimately play a big role in how long a saddle will last and how much wear and tear it can take.

SUMMARY

The saddle is misunderstood to be the least performance-enhancing component on a bicycle. However, people are first to blame it in case of any inefficiency. There are a few things you can do to get the most out of your saddle.

Always ensure your saddle height is appropriate for you as it may adversely affect your knees and spine. Make sure you get a bike fit done to get the perfect riding position dialed in. In case you’re getting a saddle to compete at a very high level it’s important to get a proper saddle measurement done and have your sit bones measured for precise fitment.

It’ll not only improve your ride but also make it more efficient. Invest in a saddle that’s built to last and suits your requirements. Go through the comprehensive list above to know what you should expect from saddles for your bicycle. 

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