There are key differences between the many different types of bike saddles that will help you to narrow down your search. Then it’s a case of trial and error until you find the best shape for you.
Saddles come in lots of different shapes and sizes to suit different cycling disciplines and activities. As a general rule of thumb, if you sit in a more outstretched aero position on the bike and are pedaling for speed, a flat narrow saddle is best as you’ll place less weight onto the saddle itself and you’ll have more room to move your legs without chafing. For a more upright position on the bike you will place more weight onto the saddle and so a wider and more curved style will provide the extra support required.
If you suffer from any numbness or pain when cycling, you could try a saddle with a relief channel or cut out. A relief channel is an indent which runs along the middle of the saddle and a cut out is a carefully placed hole in the shell of the saddle. Both of these are designed to relieve pressure on soft tissue and increase blood flow.
The rails are used to attach the saddle to the seatpost. Whilst they need to be strong enough to support the saddle and your weight, lightweight carbon and hollow titanium rails are available, although expensive. Saddle rails should also have some flex and give in them for extra comfort and to dampen shocks and vibrations.
It’s tempting to think that the more padding you have on a saddle the more comfortable it will be. However, too much padding can actually create pinch points and cause chafing, especially if you are riding hard and fast and for long distances, so racing and sportive bikes tend to have a saddle with minimal padding. On the other hand, if you are sitting in a more upright position, pedaling at a more relaxed pace and only covering short distances, a good padded saddle will give your sit bones some extra support and you’ll enjoy a more comfy ride.
Saddles will have a synthetic or leather cover to create a smooth and comfortable surface for you to perch on and to protect the foam padding and shell from the elements. Look out for water resistant treatments for extra protection from rain and splashes and the best saddles tend to have a nylon or carbon shell to reduce vibrations and prevent sag.
Most road bike saddles are sleek and slender with a narrow shape and minimal padding. This setup suits a more outstretched position on the bike and fast pedaling for long durations. For serious racing or performance bikes, saddles can be very lightweight with carbon fibre shells and titanium hollow rails and some saddles offer well placed cut outs or relief channels to reduce soft tissue pressure.
Mountain bike saddles are very similar to road bike saddles with a light and minimalist design with perhaps a slightly wider rear end. However, they need to be stiff and robust to withstand the harsh conditions of off road trails and to survive the inevitable scuffs and scrapes that go hand in hand with MTB riding, so you’ll often see reinforced patches on the back and sides of the cover. Also beware saddles with a very long nose as this can restrict movement on the bike on more technical terrain.
Commuter bike saddles are typically wider and have more padding than road and MTB saddles. This is to provide extra support for a more upright riding position as more weight is being placed on the saddle. The result is a sustained level of comfort whilst you ride. You’ll also find that commuter saddles have a shorter nose, again for added comfort when sitting upright on the bike. Look out for extra abrasion protection to prevent damage to the saddle whilst getting on and off public transport or locking your bike up against rough rails and walls and water resistant treatments to keep your saddle drier in the rain.
Although some women find men’s or unisex saddles comfortable and adequate for their riding, women typically have wider pelvic bones and so can benefit from a saddle that is a bit wider at the back, shorter in length and has specially designed cut outs to reduce pressure on soft tissue.