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Saddle Comfort for Cyclists: The Best Bicycle Touring Seats

Is your saddle comfortable?

Over the years, I’ve experimented with, sold and met people with all kinds of different saddles. Unfortunately, there is no ‘go-to’ saddle because we all have different riding positions, different levels of flexibility and variations in our sit bone widths.

All of these factors rule out a wonder-saddle that we can just pull off the shelf and fit on our bikes. Instead, we have to know a bit about seats and how comfort works, and after that, we can narrow our options right down to just a few.

I’ve compiled a list below of 30 saddles that have worked for many riders. But first, let’s learn about discomfort, body positioning and saddle characteristics so you can optimize the saddle shape and style for your needs.

This article was originally published Sep 2015 but has been updated in May 2019.

Why Do We Get Saddle Discomfort?

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Selle Anatomica Saddle. Image: Urbanvelo.org

Arteries and Nerves of the Pubic Rami

Saddle pain is mostly linked to nerve and artery compression, but can also come in the form of saddle sores. Discomfort is recognised through acute pain, numbness and tingling. If you experience any of these, you’re likely putting excessive pressure on sensitive nerves and arteries running along your pubic rami. Pressure here reduces blood flow, stymieing oxygen delivery to tissues and in turn, may lead to broader medical issues. In general, women are more susceptible to direct perineal pressure given their wider subpubic angle which exposes more of their pubic rami.

Saddle discomfort can be eliminated with a more suitable body position, and/or more appropriate saddle for your needs.

Saddle Sores

These skin irritations are mostly due to the continuous pressure and friction between your skin and bicycle seat, but can also be attributed to hair follicle infections and chaffing. You can eliminate saddle sores through a good riding position, a suitable saddle, chamois cream and a good pair of cycling shorts.

I go into much more detail on how to prevent and treat saddle sores HERE.

Bike Fit

Trek Precision Fit

Have you had your bike fitted by a professional?

One of the biggest factors in saddle comfort is bike fit and positioning. First, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct saddle height and position in relation to your pedals. If you’re up too high or too far back, the chances are that your optimal saddle won’t be working the way it should.

You’ll next need to check how your bike fit is dictating your pelvic positioning by going for a ride. Unless you’re riding in a performance position, you’ll want to be sitting towards the rear of your saddle. That’s the widest, flattest part of the seat, and 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. This may be based on your bike setup or even your flexibility.

Lower Back Flexibility

People with flexible lower backs tend to be able to rotate their pelvis up, and use their sit bones more effectively. If you’re less flexible, you’ll rotate your pelvis forward and experience pressure on your nerves and arteries. If this is the case, a bike fitter will raise your handlebar height and give you a saddle which can take pressure off your pubic rami.

Body Position and Riding Style

bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-comparisons bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-transition bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-profile bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-curvature
What pressure zone are you?

Your body position on a bike has a big impact on how you use your saddle. Bicycle saddles are often designed to minimise pressure, resulting in all kinds of different padding types, profiles, curvatures and widths.

The Bontrager diagrams below are fantastic for mapping pressure zones in different riding positions. A good way to determine what position you ride in is to get a friend to take a photo of you while you’re riding along.

In general:
– Comfort/upright body positions require saddles with more padding, more width and a flatter top to support your sit bones.
– Performance body positions require saddles that are lightly padded, curved and narrower to support your pubic rami.

Sit Bone Width

Trek Inform Sit Bone Tool
Bontrager Inform Sit Bone Tool. Image: BikeRumor.com

Everybody has a natural variation in sit bone width. In my experience, you want to measure your sit bone width and add about 20mm to get a suitable saddle width. If your saddle is too wide for your pelvis you’ll experience excessive rubbing. If it’s too narrow you’ll find your sit bones are not cradled well.

In general, the more upright your position is, the wider the saddle you should use. You’ll find saddle widths ranging from about 125 to 180mm. You can measure your sit bones by heading into a bike shop and using a sit bone sizing tool. These are available from Trek, Specialized, WTB and more.

Saddle Firmness

Best Bike Seat
Miles Smith is currently doing over 400km per day, for 365 days on this saddle!

When you’re travelling by bike, you’ll find yourself sometimes doing long days. A general rule is that the further you ride, the firmer you’ll prefer your saddle. Miles Smith is currently attempting the year record (400km every day!) using a plastic saddle with minimal give (it’s simply the right shape). Doing just 80km on a soft gel saddle, you’ll find your sit bones moving about, resulting in undesired chaffing.

Saddle Shape

Noseless Saddle
Bicycle saddles have a ‘nose’ for both balance and bike control; the benefits of the nose are often most noticeable when descending. Some brands forgo a saddle nose in order to reduce pubic rami pressure, but the reason they aren’t widespread is due to the importance of bike control when riding a bike!

Women’s Specific Saddles

SMP Dynamic Lady Saddle
Women have different downstairs regions. We know that. But how different are women’s saddles?

Women’s saddles are often wider than male offerings, but interestingly the difference between male and female pelves isn’t actually that significant. If you compared bell curves of pelvic widths for males and females, you’d find a huge overlap. The major differences found in anatomy are almost all soft tissue related.

Cutouts to the saddle nose are generally more important for women who employ a performance position on their bike. This is due to the subpubic angles of their pelves which are wider in women, making soft tissue compression more of a risk.

If your bike offers an upright/comfort position, you’ll experience less soft tissue pressure and don’t need to limit yourself to just women’s specific saddles.

Cycling Without Padded Cycling Shorts

Padded cycling shorts are not mandatory, and can certainly be left at home if you set up your touring bike accordingly. You’ll need to employ an upright/comfort body position, putting more of your weight on your sit bones and less on your pubic rami. Couple this with a slightly wider saddle with a bit of ‘give’, and chamois-free riding may be possible!

The more performance-oriented your position, the more likely you’ll need a set of padded shorts to help you out.

The Best Bicycle Touring Saddles and Seats

Here’s where I’d start for a universally comfortable saddle:
Best Performance Mens – WTB Rocket V – $53 on Amazon
Best Comfort Mens – Brooks B17 – $76 on Amazon // Serfas RX – $56 on Amazon
Best Performance Womens – Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow – $116 on Amazon
Best Comfort Womens – Brooks B17 Imperial S – $106 on Amazon // Serfas RX – $56 on Amazon

Brooks Bicycle Touring

If you think these saddles may not suit you, I’ve met a lot of people who’ve had success with the following:

Performance Men (Posture 1, 2 or 3)
Bontrager Montrose – Popular MTB saddle
Brooks Cambium C17 Carved – Firm saddle that flexes with your sit bones – $83 on Amazon
Charge Spoon – Popular MTB saddle – $32 on Amazon
Fizik Aliante – Popular upright road saddle – $99 on Amazon
Prologo Zero II – Popular road saddle – $89 on Amazon
SDG Belair – Popular MTB saddle – $35 on Amazon
Selle Italia Gel Flow Man – Popular upright road saddle – $108 on Amazon
SMP Pro – Mark Beaumont’s favourite saddle for his around the world records – $239 on Amazon
Specialized Phenom – Often good for both men and women
Tioga Spyder – Miles Smith’s year record saddle – $84 on Amazon
Velo Race 3D FC / Senso Sport IIO – This is my personal touring/bikepacking saddle of choice
WTB Rocket V – Popular MTB saddle, more padded than the Silverado – $53 on Amazon
WTB Silverado – My personal MTB saddle of choice – $35 on Amazon

Upright/Comfort Men (Posture 4 or 5)
Brooks B17 – The most common bicycle touring saddle for men – $76 on Amazon
Brooks Flyer – A sprung B17 for a little extra comfort – $105 on Amazon
Rivet Cycle Works – Leather saddle available in three widths 
Selle Anatomica X2 – Another widely popular leather touring saddle – $159 on Amazon
Selle Italia FLX Gel – This Italian saddle manufacturers upright riding option – $27 on Amazon
Serfas RX – Very good value and widely comfortable – $56 on Amazon

Performance Women (Posture 1, 2 or 3)
Bontrager Ajna – Popular road saddle with minimal padding
Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow – A little extra padding, but still designed for performance positions – $116 on Amazon
Specialized Ruby – Highly popular road saddle with minimal padding

Upright/Comfort Women (Posture 4 or 5)
Brooks Imperial B17S – A common leather touring saddle for women – $106 on Amazon
Rivet Cycle Works – Leather saddle available in three widths
Selle Anatomica X2 – Another widely popular leather touring saddle – $159 on Amazon
Selle Italia FLX Gel – This Italian saddle manufacturers upright riding option – $36 on Amazon
Serfas RX – Very soft saddle with a long cutout – $56 on Amazon
Terry Liberator / Butterfly – Soft saddles with cutouts – $72 on Amazon
WTB Deva – Padded saddle that’s good for men and women – $49 on Amazon

Saddle Summary

You should now be armed with enough knowledge to make an informed decision on which type of saddle will suit you best.

Remember that body position, sit bone width and your lower back flexibility will hugely dictate optimal saddle shapes. For upright body positions, you’ll need to employ a saddle that’s a bit wider with more padding. Firmer saddles are often better for distance riding in sportier positions when coupled with padded shorts. Before you start making saddle changes, make sure to optimise your saddle height and bike fit.

If you’ve got a saddle that you love and think people should know about it, drop a comment below.

Head HERE For My Article On How To Prevent And Treat Saddle Sores

  1. For me getting the right saddle was key to my comfort riding my road bike and I won’t be leaving home to cycle the 6600km across Canada on a touring bike without it. I would say I spend 98% of my time sitting on the saddle and have no problem whatsoever with discomfort. The 100km feels as good as the first 10km.

    I can’t speak for the men but as a woman getting the pressure off my sensitive bits stopped all the pain from numbness due to lack of blood flow from the pressure of the saddle. I don’t even bother with chamois cream any more. Everytime I rent a bike I’m reminded how much of a difference my saddle makes (mine is the Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow Saddle).

  2. I’m a postural 4; 63 years old and ‘new’ to riding in that altho I’ve owned bikes all my life, only during the past two years have I gotten a comfortable one and hit the road some—which means 3x/wk ~20miles out/back. I didn’t consider $$ leather or old-style sprung saddles, so looked at ‘modern’ designs. With one exception all were too narrow for my bone measurements, including well-reviewed WTBs. So I ride a Serfs RX 912V in stretch-fabric shorts (unpadded).

  3. Interesting that right at the top of the list is WTB’s Rocket V. I’m a large framed man and I ride a WTB Pure V which is essentially (at least from the look of it) the same basic shape as a Rocket V but in a slightly wider saddle. I could see how a slimmer man (such as yourself, Alee) would find the Rocket a more comfortable fit. The Pure V fits my butt perfectly and I can ride it for hours at a time.

  4. Hey Alee, you should check out sqlab saddles. I went through basically every road saddle I could find and almost had to give up cycling. Then along came the sqlab saddle. I’m on a 610 on a road bike but am looking to get a touring bike soon and won’t be looking anywhere else!

  5. Is there such a thing as a hybrid saddle? I don’t stay in any of these positions constantly. I have a hybrid bike, and I live in an area that is very hilly/mountainous and very windy. I put aerobars on my bike because I need them for the strong winds, and inclines. I’m going for distance, and so far the only thing limiting me is my saddle. Sometimes I sit upright, sometimes I’m in the aerodynamic position, and often I will cover all five positions depending on the challenges I’m facing. I’m on my third saddle and I just cannot find one that doesn’t hurt when I change positions. Is there one that allows for many position changes during the ride?

  6. I would recommend looking for a saddle that is quite flat in that case. Without knowing how you sit on the bike, I think you should take a look at the Bontrager Montrose, PRO Falcon and Specialized Phenom. These saddles work best when your handlebars are the same height, or lower than your saddle.

    What saddle have you liked most? How upright is your positioning?

  7. I’ve used the Selle SMP TRK, and the Selle SLK Gel Flow, (and the saddle that came with the bike. I can’t even remember what that was.) I haven’t like either of the Selles. Now, with your feedback, I’m thinking that the SMP TRK is too curved, and maybe even too soft? I ride mostly, and pretty much equally in positions 1 and 4, then 2 and 3, and 5 sometimes, but seldom. I’m going to research the saddles you’ve mentioned now. Thanks for answering so quickly!

  8. The SMP is sometimes a great saddle if you’re not varying your position much. Get your sit bones measured and try out the Specialized or Bontrager saddles. Both brands offer a 30 day comfort guarantee, so if you find them uncomfortable you can send them back. If you’re in position 1 quite a bit, also check out the Specialized Power. It has a short but padded nose like a tri-saddle, although it’s a little narrower so it’s good for regular road riding too.

  9. Wow, how to find the right seat when everyone is built different
    without going through many$$ worth.

  10. Hello, does anyone have experience with Brooks Cambium C17? I really don’t know which saddle to choose between the C17s, C17s carved, classic B17s? Also for touring I received controversial opinions about having a brooks with springs or without for touring. Some people say it’s more comfortable with springs and other say it’t better without. What’s your experience and advice, please?

  11. Although I don’t have specific experience with all of the Cambium range, the best saddle for you will depend on your anatomy. The most popular Brooks saddles, the C17 and B17, are similar in geometry and feel. As are the C17s and B17s, albeit in the shorter women’s fit. The cutout in the ‘carved’ saddle doesn’t do anything negative, but will result in a less firm ride than without. This could be the better saddle for those with very upright positions as it offers a more supple feel. If you’ve used and liked cutouts before then definitely go carved.

    The Brooks saddles with springs are generally not necessary on touring bikes with wide tyres, as the regular ‘hammock’ feel of a Brooks is generally comfortable enough. That said, if your position on your bike is very upright (posture 5, lots of weight on your saddle) you can reduce even more shock via the springs.

  12. I’ve been riding a Kooba PRS Alpha for several years. The shape, design and perineal cutout along with the elastomer suspension make for a very comfortable ride. I just did 100 km from Fairbanks, AK to Chena Hot Springs with no issues.

  13. Hi John. Thanks for the recommendation. Out of interest, how would you describe your position on the bike? If you can use the Bontrager posture rating between 1-5, this might help other readers try the same saddle as you! Alee

  14. Hi Alee, thanks for the great articular, very informative. Could you recommend any cheaper (under £50 / $65) seats for upright bike touring (Posture 4 and 5)? Or is it not worth skimping and paying extra for one of the more top end ones?

    Cheers Jack

  15. I am 5-11 and 147 lbs. I got a Brooks B 17, which usually needs 200 to 500 km to break in. I found that too long and came up with a shortcut that so worked great for me and gave me the perfect saddle for my 2000 km East Africa tour:
    I soaked the new B 17 in warm water for 5 min, mounted the saddle back on the bike, put a plastic bag over the wet saddle and rode the bike on a trainer for 1 hr. The saddle was now broken in and conformed perfectly to my sit bones. Interestingly, It showed that my ischial tuberosities were slightly asymmetrical but the saddle had molded accordingly. This saddle is now super comfy.

  16. I can propose to try SMP saddles.
    Here in Italy these are very popular, the shape is a bit strange and slightly lock you on the bike. After bought it I can ride more than 100km without problems every day

  17. I rode mine in the rain for a few days and it broke in really quickly! Other riders have left their saddles submerged in water for a day or two, before going out on a long ride. But otherwise, apply some vaseline/proofide to the leather under the saddle and that should soften it up. 🙂

  18. Recently had my prostate removed (ouch) and been advised by my Eurologist to change saddles to a cut out design. I hope to continue my biking journeys thru SE Asia once fit enough. Had big problems with bum soreness last year riding thru Northern Laos with the standard Giant saddle on my Toughroad SLR. Any advice as to a suitable saddle gratefully received. My Ht. 162 cm weight 65-67 kg and 68 years of age. Sit bones about 120mm apart. A wee quirk of mine is I had polio as a kid and my right leg is about 13mm shorter then the left

  19. Thanks Alee Ive already researched those three but haven’t been able to have a road test as yet. Local shop only had a SMP EXTRA. Feels a bit narrow as I have to move around a bit to relieve numbness/pain on my left side (my good side that does most of the work) but the overall smp shape/design feels ok after a slight tilt down of the nose, adjusting handle bar height/seat height and distance of seat nose from handle bar. Waiting to try the SMP TRK at the moment but also wondering about the SMP AVANT as an rounder which might work ok on my MTB as well ?? Cheers

  20. Oh. I just found out that if I lean forward somewhat for fitness level, I take some pressure off the tips of the bones. That’s good to know, because I don’t have even a hundred dollars for a seat and who knows how much for a ‘professional’.

  21. I’ve since moved to the Serfa’s MH-RX. I found after 3 years that the 912V was too padded! A slight ‘graduation’ as a rider ;).

  22. Hi Alee Thanks for info on seat. Been a while to get back to you but since i last wrote I feel off my mtb bike in Vanuatu – fractured tibial plateau. Been quite a year !! Now missing a prostate plus 9 screws in my knee. Anyway off the trainer and getting bike fit for next adventure in Thailand/Laos. I bought a smp drakon seat for my Giant Toughroad – firm but ok although only up to 40km in one stretch at this point in my recovery. Might buy the serfas you recommend to see how that compares. Also experimented with narrower tyres I bought to use with the trainer for a wee while.. Definitely quicker on bitumen however too skittish (especially on trails) with or without panniers for my recently challenged confidence level and so back to the original Maxlite 29×2″ Immediatedly felt at one with the bike. I notice Giant don’t fit them on the new TR anymore. Although classed as racing tyre have had no problems with reliability over Laos /Thai hills in 2016. Seem to be a good compromise wide tyre for on/off road at least for a lightweight 65kg like me.. Cheers

  23. German engineering to the rescue! Head on over to SQLab Sports Ergonomics (USA) for saddles that are not just designed for your riding style but designed to accommodate the dimensions of your anatomy. They will send you a free sizing kit to get you started. They specialize in point-of-contact parts: saddles, grips, peddles, etc. The prices are reasonable, the feedback is all positive. Worth a try.

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