How to Choose the Right Type of Professional Bike Saddle
When it comes to bike components, few things are more critical than the right bike saddle. Yes, that ultra-lightweight frame is nice, those perfectly angled handlebars are essential, and your brand new high-end disc brakes give you a performance boost. But if your saddle isn’t right, none of it matters. Your bike will get left in the garage, and you’ll be sitting on your — much more comfortable — living room sofa.
Your saddle choice will determine whether cycling is something you enjoy or simply endure until you can’t take it anymore. Sadly, many riders just assume that pain and discomfort is part of the cycling experience. No pain, no gain, right?
Wrong. If you have chosen a road bike saddle that’s right for you, you can ride hundreds of miles every week with no pain. You can focus on enjoying the ride or improving your cycling skills, not just trying to avoid saddle sores, perennial nerve discomfort, genital numbness and sit-bone pain.
But, as professional cyclists know, it has to be the right saddle. So how do you choose the right type of professional bike saddle? It all comes down to your body type and style of riding. Let’s look at a guide of the four key bike saddle features and how those factors affect your choices in each category.
Bike saddles vary from short and stout with a stubby nose to long, slim and narrow. Some curve over the top where you sit, while others bend inward to cradle your buttocks. Each of these shapes is designed for a different type of riding.
Leisure riders who sit in an upright position and pedal slowly should choose a short, thick cruiser saddle designed to support all of their weight. As your cycling style becomes more aggressive, you’ll want to choose progressively slimmer saddles. If you’re commuting to work for fitness, you may be pedaling harder and leaning a bit farther forward, and a slimmer nose and narrower base will reduce friction on your thighs and pressure on your sit bones.
Road racers will want the slimmest saddle possible, as they lean farther forward and share their weight between the handlebars and the saddle. Mountain bikers will likewise favor longer, narrower saddles, though wider and with more padding (more on that next) than a racing saddle.
Cushioning is, perhaps, the most misunderstood aspect of bike saddle design. Many newer cyclists assume that more padding is always better. But this is not true for every type of cycling.
Upright, cruising cyclists should choose a bike saddle with thick padding. Again, with all your weight over the seat, you want as much support as possible. Leisure rides tend to be shorter, too, and padding works well for short distances.
Gel cushioning is ideal for the most casual riders, as it molds comfortably to your body. It does tend to compress quickly, though, so leisure riders, mountain bikers or commuters who spend more time on the bike will want to choose a dense foam that provides firmer padding and doesn’t compress and put pressure in all the wrong places.
If you’re a road racer or touring cyclist, though, padding is your enemy. For long-distance riding, you want a saddle designed to support your weight, not absorb it. While it can take some getting used to, a no-cushion saddle will break in and mold to your body over time, relieving pressure and providing maximum support.
Whether you’re on padding or not, another general rule is this: the more you weigh and the longer you ride, the firmer your saddle should be.
This becomes particularly important for saddles with no cushioning. Traditional racing saddles rely on a tensioning system — the material of choice is tightened over rails to provide firm support that flexes with your body. Typically, this is done with cotton or leather, but carbon fiber, rubber and other synthetic materials are an option, too.
There are advantages to each of these. Cotton is more flexible and typically requires less break-in time. Rubber is great for all-weather riding. Carbon fiber is ideal for racers or triathletes who want to trim every ounce of weight off the bike.
For maximum long-term comfort and durability, though, leather is the best choice for bike seat material. Tensioned leather saddles offer just the right blend of firmness and flexibility to mold perfectly to your body while giving superior support. And while it’s true that leather typically requires much longer break-in times, Selle Anatomica’s patented manufacturing process produces a softer leather with no break-in period. You can also weather-proof your leather saddle with saddle sauce and a rain cover.
Your sit bones aren’t the only vulnerable area of contact with the bike saddle — there’s also your perineum, the area between your sit bones with a lot of soft, delicate genital tissue. A saddle cutout is a great option for riders who struggle with discomfort in this region.
Cutouts can vary from a small indentation to a long, narrow hole, and they can relieve pressure for both men and women. Because each person’s anatomy is unique, you may have to try a few different styles to get the best fit.
At Selle Anatomica, we have taken the cutout one step further to provide maximum comfort for the widest range of riders. Our patented Flex-Fly slot technology allows the saddle to move freely with each pedal stroke, again maintaining support while offering maximum flexibility and minimal resistance.
Many cyclists labor over their choice of bike without giving their saddle a second thought. But choosing a bike saddle wisely is a way to make sure you actually follow through with your cycling commitment. Don’t rush this choice. The right saddle will make riding a joy.