Bike Saddles

For each reasonably decent saddle made, some people will find it very comfortable and some people will hate it. I think the main factors are the shape of the bum, your position on the bike, and the distances you like to ride.

People who like to go fast (racers) generally use narrower, harder saddles than people who like to go more slowly. The idea is that racers are pushing down so hard with their legs, and are putting enough weight on the hands (to get into a more aerodynamic position) that they aren't putting all that much weight on their bums. Thus what they want is something narrow (to stay out of the way their legs as they are pedalling) and light (since they want to keep the bike weight as low as possible). The most recommended saddle for racing men seems to the Sella Italia Flite saddle for men. Racing women tend to like hard narrow(ish) women's saddles, like Terry Vanadium Race.

The strictly casual rider will usually go for a saddle that is moderately wide and squishy, so it feels comfortable when they sit on it. They often don't ride very long distances, so the disadvantages of this kind of saddle don't get a chance to set it. The most recommended women's saddles for this bunch of people are things like the Terry Bella Galla or Terry Sport. Strangely enough, I haven't heard recommendations for men's saddles for this sort of rider. I guess the men are more or less happy with the saddles that come on their bikes.

I fall into an intermediate bunch of people that I call tourists. The tourist tends to ride long distances (up to 100 miles or more), but not all that fast. Since they be spending a long time in the saddle (7 or 8 hours for century rides), and they won't be putting tremendous amounts of pressure on the pedals, they really need a good saddle. Unfortunately, which saddle will work best for you depends very much on the shape of your bum.

The wide squishy saddles don't work for me. The wideness means that they rub against either my inner thighs or the edges of my bum. The squishiness means that my bum sinks into the saddle, putting pressure on the sensitive bits in my crotch. This makes for an incredible amount of pain. The Terry Sport is an example of a good saddle that doesn't work for me at all: the top of it is somewhat soft and rounded, putting quite a bit of pressure on my crotch. I think that men have a very similar problem here, in that wide saddles rub their legs or bum, and squishy saddles put pressure on their genitals, causing numbness.

I have discovered that what I need in a comfortable saddle is one that supports my sit bones, and is narrow enough in the right places to avoid rubbing my bum or thighs. The "sit bones" are protrusions on your hip bones. You can feel them by sitting on the edge of a table or other hard surface. The point about them is that they can take your weight without too much trouble. Note that the area of flesh covering your sit bones will ache if you put pressure on them long enough, but it will be much less painful than if you put the weight on anything else.

Nevertheless, many tourist women get along well with saddle I find too squishy or wide. The most often recommended squishy saddles include Terry Sport and Terry Liberator, while the narrower ones most recommended include Terry ATB Pro, Terry Vanadium race, Sella Italia Turbo, and Avocet O2 Air 40. Tourist men usually go for somewhat narrow, firm saddles. Oddly enough the Sella Italia Flite racing saddle is often recommended. Evidently, for many men, it is the right width to support their sit bones, but narrow enough to not rub. Men with wider sit bones often like the WTB SST. Many men in the UK go for traditional leather saddles, like the Brooks saddle (see below).

I have tried many of the saddles above, and find something wrong with most of them. As I mentioned above, the Terry Sport is too squishy, or perhaps too rounded on top, to support my sit bones. The Sella Italia Flite is to narrow to support my sit bones. The WTB SST saddle supports my sit bones wonderfully well, but the edges rub my bum a bit, and on longer rides this becomes a big problem. I ended up scraping the top layer of skin off part of my bum after a weekend where I did a bit over 100 miles. Yet another saddle often recommended, especially in MTBing circles, is the Bontrager FS +10. I have a cheap, plastic-covered version of this, and it seems OK for shorter rides, but I haven't tested it enough on long-distance rides.

The saddle that works best for me for long-distance rides is an old Specialized mens saddle that I got when I bought my mountain bike. It's pretty hard and narrow, but it supports my sit bones well as long as I get it absolutely level. I recently did a century on my fixed gear bike using this saddle. The fixed gear bit is relevant because I was pedalling at high speeds going down hills rather than holding my pedals level and raising my bum off the saddle slightly. Even with this torture inflicted on my bum, it was OK afterwards. Yes, it hurt, but so did everything else. The point is there was no lasting damage, and when I rode my bike to work the next morning my legs hurt much more than my bum. When this saddle is put on my mountain bike, which has a suspension seat post, I can go any distance without pain in my bum.

Now if that saddle were still available, I'd just go out and buy one for each of my bikes. However, they stopped making it years ago, and I am still searching for a saddle that works as well as that one. In the meanwhile, I swap that saddle around, putting it on the bike I will be using for my next long ride.

Another possibility that I haven't tried yet is a leather saddle. I don't mean one with a leather cover, but a saddle that consist of just a thick piece of leather stretched between a frame, like Brooks saddles. A great deal of men in the UK love these saddles, and some women recommend them too. One advantage is that you can get saddles with springs in the rear, the Conquest (for men) or Countess (for women). Based on my experience with a suspension seatpost, I think that this might help, but I have no experience with this yet.

More bike articles