How do I choose a bike seat? Selection criteria and tips

William Adams
 min read

How do I choose a bike seat? By paying attention to various selection criteria.

how do I choose a bike seatAre you looking for a new bike seat? Is it because the one you’re using isn’t comfortable enough? Don’t worry as you’re not alone.

Comfort is one of the most common issues among cyclists, and we understand that you’re on a mission to find a seat more suited to your body and riding style.

Searching for your new bike seat can be scary because there are so many rules to follow, but we’re here to help!

Comfort is subjective, so what works for your cycling buddy might not be right for you.

Happily, there are a lot of seats to choose from, and we’ve done all the groundwork.

We’re going to help you choose your new seat by assessing materials, cushioning, style, size and type of ride.

How do I choose a bike seat: Introduction

It is important to get the best bike saddle size for your body and weight.

Bike saddles can be found in different sizes to accommodate every body type. To find out the best fit for you is simple!

Just make sure that the seat width supports your ischial tuberosities (aka sit bones).

You’ll want a bike seat that gives support but isn’t so wide as to cause chafing and rubbing.

Remember that male and female saddles cater to the differences in hip-width and sit bones.

However, we do suggest that you try both to ascertain the best fit, even if it’s meant for the opposite sex.

The technical info that comes with your seat will give you its width, measured from side to side across the seat top at the widest point.

In another post, we explained how to find the measurement of your sit bones, but nothing beats sitting down on the saddle and seeing how it feels.

You should definitely pop into your chosen bike shop and try out a few.

You should also have a look at our list of best bike saddles for big bottoms to discover several recommended bicycle saddles.

Some stores allow you to take the seat for a trial run if you’ve bought your bike with you.

Remember: You want a bicycle saddle that is wide enough to provide adequate support, but not so wide that it will chafe.

Read our related article Is a wide bike seat more comfortable? for more details!

Ensure you configure your saddle correctly

Before maxing out your credit card, make sure that it’s not just a case of your current seat merely needing adjusting.

If you’re buying one, avoid potential problems and read on:

  • Seat Positioning. Your knee should be above your forefoot at the 3 o’clock position of your pedal stroke. Adjust the fore/aft position if your knee is too far forward or back by loosening the saddle binder bolt at the top and under your seat. You can then position it as needed.
  • Saddle inclination. It is often best to position your seat so that it is parallel to the ground. To change the tilt, simply loosen the seat binder bolt and adjust.
  • Height of the saddle. Too high a seat will make you shift your weight from side to side. This will cause inflammation to your perineal location, which is extremely sensitive to start off. The right saddle height for road bikes and hybrid bikes means that your leg is slightly bent when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke (approximately 80-90 % of complete extension)
  • Check this out by having someone hold your bike upright while you mount and position the pedals. A lower position is preferable for mountain biking because of rocks or branches on your path, or for long descents. Getting an adjustable seat is recommended for this type of ride since you can make quick changes at the press of a button.

Consider the kind of riding you (will) do

Seats are frequently placed into among the following 5 classifications:

Recreational biking

Suppose you’re using a cruiser, city or commuter bike for brief trips.

In that case, this means you’re in a fairly upright position, so you need a seat designed for recreational cycling.

They are frequently broader with plush padding and/or springs and can be blunter and shorter than other types.

Serious road biking

How do I choose a bike seat for road biking?

Are you racing or clocking up a good number of miles?

Road biking saddles tend to be narrow and long and have minimal padding to maximize pedaling power.

How do I choose a bike seat for offroad mountain biking

You’ll stand on the pedals and stretch to survey the path on mountain routes.

Because of trees, you’ll also crouch down in a tucked position.

These different positions mean you’ll want a mountain-specific cushioning for your sit bones, a durable cover, and a structured shape that will aid your motion.

Commuting by bike

As for road cycling and bicycle touring seats, commuting bikes will have seats with some padding.

If you ride in all weather conditions, you may want to consider the weather resistance of the cover materials.

Touring by bike

For long distances, you’ll want a saddle that falls between a road and a mountain saddle.

Typical seats for this ride provide cushioning for your sit bones and a fairly long, narrow nose.

Decide which materials you like for your bike saddle

The two main parts of a saddle to take note of are the bike seat cover and the saddle rails.

Saddles are made from numerous products that can affect weight, flex, break-in time, cost and weather resistance.

Cover material: Synthetic, leather or cotton

  • Synthetic saddle covers. Most saddles are made from manmade materials, from the molded shell to the foam or gel padding and saddle cover. They are lightweight and don’t require much maintenance or break-in time, making them a popular option for most riders.
  • Leather bike seat covers. Some saddles substitute a thin leather covering for an artificial one but are comparable. Nevertheless, other leather bike seat covers are made entirely from a leather cover that’s extended and suspended between the rails of a metal frame. Check out the instructions before using a conditioner or waterproofer on a leather saddle as some producers advise against it.
  • Cotton bike seat covers. Not very common as a material, these can stretch and move while you ride, giving you more comfort and control in the saddle. Cotton needs less care than leather and less time to break in.

Rail material: How do I choose a bike seat?

The rails on a bike saddle are connected, and many have two parallel rails that run from the front to the back.

The seat is fixed to the rails, and the latter may vary according to price, versatility, strength and weight.

Here are some examples:

  • Steel: Steel is strong and reliable and is the most common material used. It can be pretty heavy, so you might want to choose differently if that’s an issue.
  • Alloy: Alloys, like chromoly, are a strong material for rails and tend to be lighter than their steel counterparts.
  • Titanium: Titanium is really light and strong, and it does a good task of absorbing vibrations. You’ll need to keep an eye on your budget as titanium rails are expensive.
  • Carbon: Like titanium, carbon is extremely light and can absorb some vibrations. Given its cost, however, it’s usually offered only in the more expensive ranges.

Choose what kind of cushioning you would like

Performance VS cushioning saddles

There are 2 main categories:

  • Performance saddles which have very little cushioning, and
  • Cushioning saddles which tend to be luxuriously padded for more comfort.

Performance saddles are narrow, generally long, and have minimal padding to maximize power transfer with minimal chafing. They are typical of road, mountain and exploring bikes.

Cushioning saddles tend to be wider, with luxurious padding and/or springs to absorb bumps in the road.

Distinguishable by a brief nose, they are typically found on bikes developed for recreational biking and cruising.

We must point out that more cushioning is not necessarily better.

In some cases, an excessive cushion can cause pain and pressure as your body sinks into the saddle.

Gel cushioning VS foam cushioning: How do I choose a bike seat?

The two most common kinds of cushioning are gel and foam. Let’s explain the difference.

Gel cushioning molds to your body and offers the plushest comfort. Most leisure riders prefer this for more casual trips.

Its drawback is that gel tends to compress more quickly than foam, thus losing that comfort.

Foam provides a pliable feel which springs back to shape. Road riders prefer foam since it supports more than gel padding while providing comfort.

For longer trips, riders over 200 pounds or those with well-conditioned sit bones should go for a firmer foam that will not compact as rapidly as softer foam or gel.

Some bike seats, usually covered with leather or cotton, have no cushioning.

It might be uncomfortable while it is still new, but with frequent riding, you’ll find it will break in quickly and eventually mold to your weight and shape.

Some riders say that the “custom-made fit” you get from leather or cotton saddles makes them comfier even without cushioning.

Another plus is that they tend to stay cooler, a guaranteed advantage on long, hot trips.

If a saddle with cushioning hasn’t worked well for you and if you’re drawn to the traditional look of a leather or cotton saddle, you shouldn’t hesitate to try one out.

Saddle pads and padded bike shorts

A saddle pad is an optional add-on that you can place over any saddle for extra cushioning.

Though luxurious and comfy, its padding is not as good as a saddle that’s already padded and could move around somewhat.

This is not a problem for recreational rides, but it could be for a fast or long ride.

Padded bike shorts might be a much better investment if that’s your riding preference.

Do you need a center cutout in your bike seat?

Most bicycle seats are built to protect your perineum, the area in between the sit bones, through which run a plethora of nerves and arteries.

These saddles lower or eliminate the material in the middle of the saddle, relieving pressure on the perineum while offering airflow during long trips.

Since everyone’s anatomy differs, some riders find great relief with a perineal cutout. Others use a saddle that either has a slight indentation in the saddle.

This style can prove advantageous, but at the end of the day, it’s just a personal preference.

Riders who can’t seem to find a seat may want to consider a split seat with side-by-side cushions on a noseless saddle.

How do I choose a bike seat? Final tips for more comfort in the saddle

Even with the best saddle, lots of bumps or long days in the saddle may lead to perineum compression.

While searching for your ideal seat, you may have to consider changing your riding choices.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Read our article Why does my bike seat hurt? to have as much comfort as possible in your bicycle saddle.
  • Check out a full-suspension bike, usually recommended for mountain biking. Alternatively, you might want to try a suspension seat used in recreational and commuting bikes.
  • Stand a little over bumps, using your legs as shock absorbers.
  • Wear padded bike shorts. They can help reduce friction, wick wetness and cushion bumps.
  • Stand up briefly on your pedals every 10 minutes or so.
About William Adams

I’m an engineer and a happy plus-size individual myself. I love to blog online if I can have a positive impact on the lives of others. I help other plus-size people with in-depth product guides to make shopping for products and services less stressful in their busy lives. Read More