How to find your perfect saddle

Of the three touchpoints between you and your bike, the saddle is often the most difficult to get right. You’ll be sitting on it for hours on end and there’s little you can change besides shifting your weight around and out-of-saddle riding. So finding the right saddle for you is really important for your comfort as you ride. Our head of bike fitting, Nas, gives his advice on fitting your perfect saddle.

saddle choices - lady on bike cycling away

First up, it’s important not to consider saddle comfort in isolation. Nas has found that in many cases it’s an outcome of a correct bike fit and the right choice of other equipment. Wearing the right clothing, including a pair of shorts or tights with a quality pad is an important starting point. 

Clipped-in shoes also mean that there’s more pressure on the feet and less on the saddle and setting a good foot position with a well-supporting shoe can help alleviate saddle discomfort by setting the legs so that they’re correctly aligned and you pedal efficiently. Nas says he’s sometimes found that riders complaining of saddle discomfort find that changing their shoes, not their saddle sorts things out.

Close up of road bike - setting a good pedal position

Setting a good riding position is also important. Many beginners are supporting themselves on their saddles rather than distributing their weight more evenly between the bike’s touchpoints. That means that they’re likely to need a more padded saddle than a racer or a more experienced cyclist in a more flat-backed riding position, so assessing the type of rider that they are is an important starting point to sorting the saddle puzzle and choosing the correct saddle too.

Riders swapping from a hybrid to a drop bar road bike may also find that there’s a difference in saddle comfort and the type and shape of saddle that they need.

It’s also important to understand what a rider who is having saddle issues thinks is wrong. For example, if they have discomfort on one side of the saddle, is there some asymmetry in their body or their riding position? 

Changing the rider’s position on the bike will also change the pressure distribution on the saddle, so a saddle model that’s comfortable and set up correctly for one bike set-up may not work as well if your ride position changes as a result of adjustments that you make or a bike fit.

sadlle mapping

Saddle fitting systems

There are several different approaches to saddle fitting that are advocated by different brands. To work out the optimum saddle width, some systems use a pad that you sit on to determine the sitbone width, although Nas points out that this doesn’t tell you the best shape of saddle, amount of padding and other parameters necessary to select a comfortable saddle.

The Fizik system which starts off by determining how flexible a rider is based on how far they can bend is a good starting point to choose a saddle type, but again doesn’t give you the full picture. 

Pressure mapping is yet another option, where a pad is used to assess where on a saddle most of the rider’s weight is borne. Again, this gives some useful information, but even small changes in overall bike position can change pressure distribution, so that the result changes. 

All these approaches can be useful and may be used by Nas as part of an overall bike fit, but aren’t the full solution to choosing the best saddle.

saddles pearson cycles

Saddle brands to consider

We stock saddles from a number of leading brands in store and fit Bontrager saddles to our own bikes. Most saddle brands offer their saddles in two or three widths, but Bontrager saddles are available in up to four different widths and two lengths. There is a range of different models to suit different riding styles and at different prices, so there are plenty of options to find the best saddle for your needs.

Bontrager also has a good offer to test ride a saddle and see how you get on with it. You can use it for up to 30 days to make sure that you are comfortable, but if you don’t feel that it’s right for you, you can return the saddle for an exchange or refund. Trial periods or test saddles are something that other saddle brands offer too.

Nas also recommends considering saddles from Pro, Brooks, Specialized and Fizik. 

saddle brands

Saddle designs for comfort

Many saddles, rather than having a classic long shape with a flat top surface now include features designed to improve comfort.  

The most common is a central groove or cutout. It can help if a rider is experiencing soft tissue discomfort as they ride, but isn’t a cure-all. A cutout will mean that more weight is carried over a smaller area on the outside edges of the saddle. Too wide a cutout can mean that this can become uncomfortable for some riders, so suitability depends on the rider, their shape and size.

Ergon and Pro saddles have a wide flat area at the rear to support your weight and a small channel at the front to provide pressure relief, which some riders may find ups their ride comfort. Brooks’s rubber saddles can stretch out to fit around you over the whole of the saddle top, so you don’t need to sit in one place for optimum comfort.

Short-nosed saddles are popular and may work for some cyclists. They make it easier to sit in one position, as there’s less room to move around. That may be an advantage for some, a disadvantage for others who find they need to move on the saddle as they ride to maintain comfort.

fizik saddle

3D printed saddles are another option that’s become available recently. They have the advantage that they spread the rider’s weight more evenly and mould to its distribution. The material from which they are made also holds the rider’s shorts better, so there’s less tendency to slip around as you ride and the saddle doesn’t get slippery if it gets wet or sweaty, unlike most normal saddles.

It’s worth considering a 3D printed saddle, although it’s an expensive solution and will not be right for all riders.

Finally, there are split nose saddles. They’re a popular alternative to traditional saddles on time trial bikes, where the ride position is very far forward, so that a lot of weight can end up resting on soft tissues rather than the sitbones. They might be a good choice if you have particular soft tissue problems or, for men, prostate problems. 

split nose saddles

A split nosed saddle means that you can’t sit on the saddle in the same way though and you will need to adjust your position a lot. Most split nosed saddles are quite narrow too, so you may not have optimum sitbone support.

A saddle isn’t for life

Nas points out that, with you sitting on it for hours, your saddle will deteriorate over time. The padding may become compressed and the shell may warp, so that you end up sitting in a dip. Over two or three years, that may mean that your saddle becomes uncomfortable, in which case it’s time to replace it.

A new for old purchase of the same saddle should sort this, if you were initially happy with your saddle choice. It’s worth considering fitting the same saddle to all your bikes if you have multiple steeds too. 

man and women riding a bike through wales

If you do decide to change saddles, bear in mind that the saddle stack - the distance from the rails to the top of the saddle - could be different for a new model. You might also sit differently on it, either further forward or back than on your previous model saddle. It’s worth checking that the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket spindle to the top of your saddle hasn’t changed. You may need to adjust the seatpost length to compensate if it has. 

So in conclusion, Nas counsels against buying a new saddle in isolation if you are experiencing discomfort. It’s worth considering if you’ve got your other touchpoints and your ride position right first and making sure that your bike fit is right in the round, or you may be disappointed.

If you’re not certain what saddle you need or have problems with discomfort when on the bike, come and see us in store or make an appointment to speak to Nas and his team for more advice. We don't offer a saddle fitting service in isolation, for the reasons outlined above, but can make suggestions and help with saddle selection as part of a bike fit.

Read next - How to set your perfect saddle height.

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