When it comes to bikes, plenty of attention goes to certain components such as wheels, tires, pedals, brake levers, and all of the other major parts...and rightfully so. For some reason, one of the most overlooked aspects on a bike is the seat, or saddle.
It’s easy to understand why. The thing you sit on when riding a bike isn’t all that complicated, and not all that exciting to analyze and tweak. Still, the very fact that a saddle is what you sit on when riding bike is all the reason to give it a lot of attention, as it plays a big role in your overall comfort.
Bike seats may seem like a simple component, but they come in countless styles, designs, shapes, widths, and more. Finding the right bike seat for your body and preferences can make all the difference in having a comfortable ride that doesn’t leave you feeling sore for the rest of the day -- and the next.
In this article we’ll go over all the different factors of a bike saddle, why it’s important, and what you should look for when shopping for a new seat to put on your own bike.
There are a few things that come into play when choosing a seat. Everything from riding type, to personal preferences, to body anatomy are all crucial aspects that must be considered in your decision.
Bike seats are very different depending on the riding style, and also the bike itself. Road bikes tend to have long, narrow seats with a bit of width towards the back. This is intended to position you a certain way when riding, usually by encouraging you to lean forward.
Mountain bike seats are a little more plush, but not by much. Mountain biking generally requires you to go back and forth from sitting on the seat, to standing up while you pedal, and sometimes hovering over the seat as well. These seats are more cushioned, and have a wider shape to them.
Recreational bikes are much more comfort-oriented, so the saddle on these bikes is very thick, and may eve have additional shock absorption with springs under the seat. These seats are very wide, and provide a lot of cushioning and support.
Here’s the tricky part about bike seats: everyone is shaped differently. Your anatomy and gender can have a big affect on the type of seat you use, as different body shapes require different seat shapes in order to be anatomically correct.
Bike seats are supposed to support your sit bones, providing a comfortable position for them as you ride. Women may require a certain kind of seat with a few tweaks to the shape to give them better support and comfort, and the same with men.
You may have seen saddles that have a slit in the center. This cutaway actually gives the body better support by eliminating surface coverage on parts of the sit bones that don’t need them.
If you’re doing anything other than recreational, casual riding, the correct seat shape is essential for ideal comfort, and preventing things like chaffing and bruising.
Looks still play a role when choosing a bike seat. For instance, if you’re going for coordinated colors, you’re going to want a saddle that matches. If you have some fixed gear road bike that’s all blacked-out, you probably aren’t going to throw a yellow saddle on there.
While appearance is the least important factor, there’s nothing wrong with catering to your own aesthetic preferences, as long as it isn’t at the expense of your comfort.
There are a few more things to be aware of when looking for a bike seat.
Bike seats have different cushioning materials, dependent on their intended use. Foam cushioning is the lightest cushioning you’ll encounter, and is usually what you’ll see most road bike saddles made from. This foam is on the stiffer end of the spectrum.
Mountain bikes seats often use foam as well, but there will be more cushioning, and it will be softer as well. Some models may have a thin layer of gel on top. Recreational seats can have a mix of foam and gel, and are the softest of them all. This is at the expense of support, but that’s not an issue for short-length, casual riding.
The vast majority of bike seats are made from plastic and canvas, although leather seats are becoming more popular. Leather seats can shape to your body better over time, and may eventually provide a better fit eventually. A long break-in period may be required, however, but the payoff can be very beneficial if you undertake long rides on a regular basis.
There really isn’t much in the way of bike seat accessories, save for one common example. Recreational riders can choose to purchase a seat cover for their bike seats that almost always has gel cushioning, adding an extra layer of plushness that makes casual rides much more comfortable.
These are not recommended for road bikes and mountain bikes, however.
Those that are experiencing discomfort with their bike seat should first try some basic adjustments to see if they can fix the issue. Here are a few troubleshooting suggestions.
- The seat may be too high - If your seat is set too high, you will shift your weight from side to side as you pedal, which will definitely cause discomfort. Try taking it down inch by inch until you are no longer swaying.
- The angle could be wrong - You can adjust the seat’s angle by using the posts underneath. Loosen the screw on the posts, and the saddle will tilt forward or back. If your saddle was flat before, try tilting it down just a little, and give it a test ride. Adjust until discomfort ceases.
- Your riding style may need adjusting - The issue might be you, not the seat. Try sitting up while pedaling every now and then, or altering your stance a bit. Sometimes just a few small shifts can alleviate pressure on your sit bones.
Bike seats are tricky, there’s no way around it. Starting off with the right type and shape will give you a head start when optimizing your seat setup, followed by any necessary adjustments.
If things still aren’t working out, you can return the seat and try out a different one. It may be a hassle, but it’s better than dealing with the pain and discomfort of using the wrong seat over time. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t overlook your bike seat -- your rear end will thank you.
This post was last updated on June 5th, 2018 at 01:59 pm