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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

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