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Finding the Right Road Bike Saddle

Are you looking for THE road saddle that makes your pastime comfy for your backside? We’ll give you tips on choosing the right road bike saddle.

Even the first Tour de France riders rode with it – the bend leather saddle. Many swear by it even today and put it on every one of their bicycles. The best-known leather saddle manufacturer is the English company Brooks, whose saddles are eye-catching not only because of their materials, but also because of their hammered copper rivets and the little metal logo plate at the rear of the saddle. The British company not only works exclusively with leather, but also uses saddle shells made of natural rubber covered with waterproof nylon for some models. Above all, they are lighter than their leather counterparts, but still weigh a little more overall than the conventional road bike saddle. Traditional leather saddles are also a signature product of Italy, and can be sourced from manufacturers such as Selle Italia. These old-school products can add a touch of nostalgia to old steel racers. What’s more, leather saddles adapt to your body more and more over time – similar to good leather shoes. They develop a patina, become softer and provide more of a tailor-made type of comfort. They are especially recommended if you often travel across long distances.
Think you’ve got a good grasp over the subject of road bike saddles? Well, we’re just getting started! What else to know about road bike saddles:

Many long-distance cyclists still swear by the classic core leather saddle, such as the one produced by Brooks.
Many long-distance cyclists still swear by the classic core leather saddle, such as the one produced by Brooks.

Many long-distance cyclists still swear by the classic core leather saddle, such as the one produced by Brooks.

However, if your main focus is on performance, there are many other aspects you should consider when choosing the right saddle for your road bike.
However, if your main focus is on performance, there are many other aspects you should consider when choosing the right saddle for your road bike.

However, if your main focus is on performance, there are many other aspects you should consider when choosing the right saddle for your road bike.

The Saddle Surface: Microfibre, Kevlar and Polyurethane

Those who like to ride fast rely on classic racing saddles, such as those made by Selle Italia, Specialized
or Fizik. The upper material of the road bike saddles should not only be weatherproof, but also such that you do not slip back and forth over it with your bib shorts. There are a variety of ways to achieve this: many manufacturers use polyurethane (PU) as an upper material, for example. Selle Italia uses polyurethane covers called Soft Tek to give their models more comfort. Other saddles from the manufacturer use microfibre covers that are considered particularly abrasion-resistant and durable (Fibra-Tek) or very light (Duro-Tek). A blend of breathable microfibre and a suede insert that prevents slipping is pulled over the popular Arione Classic at Fizik. The ergonomics specialist SQlab uses tough Kevlar for its saddles on some models.

Saddle Rails Made of Steel, Aluminium, Carbon and Titanium

Saddle rails form the frame of the saddle – they are clamped on the head of the seatpost. Before carbon and titanium, steel was the standard for everything. However, “new” materials do not spell the end for saddles with steel rails. On the contrary: most manufacturers rely on the robust material especially for lower-priced models, but this does not necessarily have a negative effect on the saddle’s weight. However, if you’re building a road bike by counting every gram, saddles with carbon rails or saddles made entirely of carbon are exactly the right thing. However, lightweight carbon also often denotes a weight limit for the rider. By the way, when fitting carbon saddles, always ensure the correct torque by using a torque wrench and carbon assembly paste. Titanium is also a popular material for saddle rails – it is lightweight, extremely durable and can be manipulated very well. To save even more on weight, manufacturers such as Fabric offer saddle rails made of a titanium alloy that are hollow on the inside. Lightweight but stable are aluminium saddle rails, which can be found in Ergowave models from SQlab. Saddles with carbon, steel and titanium rails offer a little more flex and comfort, but the differences are not too severe. Likewise, carbon seatposts provide a stronger flex, and saddle shells made of the same material also contribute to a stronger flex feeling.

Oval vs. Round Clamp

Most saddle rails are round and have a standard diameter of seven millimetres. Saddle rails made of carbon are also available in an extreme oval shape for more stability and stiffness. At seven millimetres, they are just as wide as the round metal rails, but are slightly higher: the standard dimension there is 7x9 millimetres. You must pay attention to these dimensions when you clamp your saddle onto a seatpost. Depending on the clamp type, some seatposts are also compatible with different dimensions.

How You Pad = How You Ride

First things first: how thick or thin your saddle’s padding should be, if you have any at all, is based on your personal preferences. As a rule of thumb, the more athletic and outstretched you are on the bike, the less padding you need. This also allows the muscles in the pelvic area to work without restriction. Less padding and a hard saddle also avoid chafing, as the butt cannot them sink into soft padding. On the other hand, light padding also provides some cushioning. Manufacturer Ergon uses a specially-developed foam padding, which provides better pressure distribution. Selle Italia uses extra padding and a gel insert in the Lady Gel Flow to dampen vibrations and increase comfort. Specialized does away with foam and gel completely on the S-Works Power Mirror: the saddle is made using a 3D printing process. In this process, liquid polymer is given a honeycomb structure that is supposed to provide very even pressure distribution and special degree of comfort.
Once you have found the right saddle, it should not cause any problems for your backside, even on longer rides in combination with padded bib shorts and chamois cream (at least for beginners after a period of acclimatisation).

The Specialized Power Mirror saddle is 3D printed and features a honeycomb structure for the desired comfort.
The Specialized Power Mirror saddle is 3D printed and features a honeycomb structure for the desired comfort.

The Specialized Power Mirror saddle is 3D printed and features a honeycomb structure for the desired comfort. © bc GmbH

Length, Width and Shape of the Road Bike Saddle

On a city or touring bike you adopt an upright posture, which makes wide, well-padded saddles suitable for distributing weight evenly. The situation is different on a road bike: even if you choose a road bike with comfort-focused geometry, you adopt a relatively outstretched riding posture compared to that of an everyday bike. That's why road bike saddles are generally relatively long and narrow, so that your legs and pelvis have enough freedom of movement. Which saddle shape suits you depends, among other things, on your individual mobility. If you are very flexible in the hips and can bend your upper body far forward, the majority of your weight rests on the front part of the saddle and thus on your pubic bone. At the same time, arms and hands do more in the way of support work. Relatively long and narrow saddles are suitable for this type of posture, which at the same time have a slightly raised back. This prevents you from sliding back and forth on the saddle and adopting a relieving posture. Consequently, this saddle shape helps you channel your energy directly to the road. If you are less mobile and sit more upright, then your ischial tuberosities (also called the sit bones) are put under more strain. For this reason, you should opt for a slightly wider saddle. If the saddle is too narrow, pressure is distributed over the perineal area, which can lead to pain and numbness. In addition to mobility, the distance between your ischial tuberosities plays a decisive role when buying a saddle. As a general rule: if you can feel your sit bones at the beginning of a ride, the saddle width is correct. You can easily determine your sit bone distance at home with the measuring cardboard from SQLab.

Road bike saddles tend to be long and narrow in shape so that you still have enough freedom of movement in the relatively outstretched riding position on your road bike.
Road bike saddles tend to be long and narrow in shape so that you still have enough freedom of movement in the relatively outstretched riding position on your road bike.

Road bike saddles tend to be long and narrow in shape so that you still have enough freedom of movement in the relatively outstretched riding position on your road bike. © bc GmbH

There is a Hole in the Saddle – What Are Recesses For?

Imagine pedalling hard and reaching deep into the lower handlebars for the final sprint. In this posture you put extreme strain on your perineum (lat. perineum): the friction and pressure can cause long-term discomfort in the perineal and urogenital tract. To relieve this sensitive area, there are saddles with a cutout. In general, however, determining the most suitable cutout depends very much on personal pressure sensitivity and your actual posture. Gender can also play a role. Women often have a more flexible pelvic area and can subsequently tilt their pelvis further forward. The Koblenz-based ergonomics specialist Ergon, for example, offers the SR Pro Women with a long cutout positioned far to the front, along with wide saddle flanks to distribute pressure homogeneously. In the men’s version of the saddle, the SR Pro Men, a relief channel with a small recess is located much further back.

The recesses in the saddle reduce the pressure on the perineal area.
The recesses in the saddle reduce the pressure on the perineal area.

The recesses in the saddle reduce the pressure on the perineal area. © bc GmbH

Different Road Bike Saddles for Men and Women

This issue raises the question: do men need different saddles than women? In terms of recess, gender-specific saddles can be helpful. Many manufacturers, such as Fizik, offer women's versions of their models. The Luce Carbon for women is not only wider overall, but is also readily available in two different widths; in addition, the very slim saddle nose is supposed to reduce friction on the thighs. Selle Italia also offers women's models in its range, which feature a generous cutout and additional padding. However, this does not automatically mean that women generally need more padding or softer or wider saddles. SQLab, for example, offers saddles completely without cutouts and as unisex models. Instead, the German ergonomics experts from Taufkirchen rely on the sit bone measurement and the step saddle concept they developed. The lower saddle nose is intended to relieve sensitive areas.

Start Horizontally – Saddle Angle and Posture

To feel comfortable on your road bike, it is not enough to have the right saddle: it must also be correctly adjusted. Basically, you should align the saddle horizontally and only make changes (e.g. angle or height) step-by-step starting from this position. In this article we have summarised what you can do yourself – apart from professional bike fitting – to adapt your bike to your needs. As a rule, about 80 to 90 percent of the pressure on the road bike saddle is placed on the sit bones. The rest of the pressure is transferred to the soft tissue in front of the sit bones. You can influence this kind of pressure distribution by experimenting with the saddle angle. Don’t forget: every new adjustment should be tested for several kilometres – not just for a lap around the field – before you adopt or discard it. If you want to delve deeper into the matter of individual bike adjustment, we recommend the Ergon Fitting Box Road.

Special Saddles for Triathlon, Aero and Track Bikes

Some professional cyclists, such as seven-time time trial world champion Tony Martin, put grip tape on their saddles to maintain an ideal, aerodynamic position while racing. This might be a bit overkill for most amateur riders, but if you own an aero or triathlon bike and have sporting ambitions, you will definitely need to install an appropriate saddle. Triathlon and time trial saddles are shorter than normal road bike saddles and have a relief channel to make riding in the extreme outstretched position as comfortable as possible. Thanks to special mounts on the saddle, the bike can also be hung on the stand in the transitional area, and a water bottle can also be attached.

A Saddle for Every Demand – Long Distance vs. Performance vs. Gravel

When looking for the right saddle, the main area of use is an important factor. If enjoying long distances on the bike is your thing, then comfort-focused marathon saddles with a light amount of padding are a good as well as affordable choice. If you are sporty and ambitious, comfort and padding take a backseat to weight, which certainly plays an essential factor. Carbon speedsters like the SLR C59 are certainly worth considering, although your wallet will take a hit from such models. If you often ride your gravel bike off-road, the saddle padding can be more generous in order to better absorb shock. The sides should also be abrasion-resistant and the nose of the saddle should be large enough to allow the bike to be easily guided off-road with the thighs.

Useful Accessories For the Road Bike Saddle

Whether you’re on an after-work ride or randonneuring, both large and small saddle bags can be attached perfectly to the back of the saddle. They are usually attached to the saddle rails and to the seatpost with hook & loop straps, and not only offer space for tools and repair kits, but usually give you an option of attaching a battery-powered rear light.

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