There are many components on a bike that affect your comfort when riding. One of the most important of these is your bike seat or saddle. Choosing the right bicycle saddle can make the difference between riding in comfort or riding in agony. If you think about it, you will spend a lot of time in the saddle so you want to ensure you have a comfortable bicycle seat. What makes a bicycle seat comfortable? The answer depends on many different factors. These include factors related to the seat of the rider and the type of riding. When thinking about the seat, you will want to consider materials, shape, and the amount of cushioning. You will also want to take into consideration your normal riding position, the type of riding you typically do as well as your size and shape. We’ll walk you through these points so you will be better prepared to select the most comfortable bicycle seat.
Saddle Parts and Terms You Need to Know
At first glance, it may seem that bicycle seats are simple and essentially the same. But that could not be further from the truth. There are many components that go into a bicycle seat. Becoming familiar with the components of a bike seat will help you choose the one that is best for you. Following are six bike seat components that you should be familiar with and take into consideration when choosing your next bicycle saddle.
The foundation of the seat is known as the shell or chassis. This is a hard base that controls the shape of the bike seat and how much it will flex. Materials used in seat shells range from plastic to polymers that are reinforced with fiber to carbon fiber. Just like bike frames, the price of a seat varies based on the type of material used. At the lower price points, you are likely to find plastic saddles while the most expensive shells are often made from carbon-fiber. Why spend more on a carbon-fiber seat? Again, just like bike frames, carbon-fiber can provide strength without added weight.
As the term suggests, the seat cover goes over the shell and is the material that you sit on. There are several options when it comes to bike seat covers. These range from leather to synthetic and even cotton.
Synthetic seat covers are by far the most common. They are easy to care for, don’t require any break-in period and are lightweight.
Some riders really like leather seat covers because, after a break-in period of about 200 miles, the seat starts to “fit like a glove”. One downside of leather is that it requires more maintenance. Leather is not waterproof so if you ride in inclement weather, you will need to treat the leather to keep it in top condition.
Cotton seat covers are less popular than synthetic but do offer some advantages. Just like your favorite cotton tee-shirt, cotton covers offer some stretch which improves comfort. There may be a break in period but it is much shorter than the time it takes to break in leather.
Regardless of the cover material, since this is the part of the seat that you come into contact with, you’ll want to inspect closely to see if there are any seams or rough areas. These can make a comfortable seat uncomfortable and even ruin your shorts.
When it comes to bike seats, there is a wide range of cushioning options both in terms of the amount of cushion and the type of material used. Beginner riders often think the more cushioned the more comfortable but this is usually not the case. The reason is that the material compresses which can result in pressure points. Some riders even opt for no cushioning at all. They believe that with a properly fitting seat, no cushion is needed to attain comfort when riding.
The cushioning material used in bicycle seats is most often gel or foam. There are pros and cons to each. Gel is preferred by many riders as it conforms to your shape. The disadvantage is that it can compact faster than foam. Foam provides riders more support versus gel. This can be a benefit on longer rides and for heavier riders however, some find the extra support provided by foam is a bit less comfortable.
A bike seat with a cut-out is deemed more comfortable by some riders and this style has gained in popularity. The idea behind the cut-out is that it reduces pressure and improves blood flow. If you have a problem with numbness when riding you may find that a seat with a pressure relieving channel can help.
We’ve gone over the various parts of the seat and now we address the material used to attach the seat to the seat post clamp. These are known as rails. Several different materials can be used for rails. The type of material used in rails primarily impacts the price. However, rails can indirectly impact comfort. It is the rails that allow you to move the bike seat forwards and backwards which, in turn, changes where your bones meet the seat.
At the lower price point you are likely to find steel alloy rails. Moving up the price range you may find manganese alloys, titanium, and carbon-fiber. Generally speaking, the more expensive rails will also be lighter. A few pros and cons of the common rail materials are provided below.
- Steel is strong but one of the heaviest materials used in rails.
- A bit lighter are alloys. Rails constructed out of alloys tend to be lighter without sacrificing strength.
- Titanium is both light and strong. It also absorbs vibrations which can help make your ride more comfortable. The downside of titanium is that it is very expensive.
- If you don’t mind spending on your bike seat, carbon-fiber is a good option. It is exceptionally light and does a decent job of absorbing vibrations.
How to Choose the Right Ebike Seat
Now that you know about the important components that go into a bike seat, we will switch over to tips for selecting the right ebike for your riding comfort. Much of what impacts seat selection and comfort has to do with the type of riding you will be doing. We’ll discuss five different types of riding you might do and how that impacts bike seat selection.
Recreational cycling: This type of riding usually involves rides of shorter distances and mostly flat terrain. Bikes used on recreational rides often position the rider to sit up straight. Bike seats for recreational cycling tend to be wider with cushioning and sometimes include springs.
Road cycling: Bikes designed for road cycling typically have skinny tires and rides are longer distances on multiple types of terrain, usually on paved roads. Since these are longer distance rides on relatively smooth roads and riders want to go fast, seats are usually lighter in weight and longer and narrower in shape versus recreational saddles. Road cycling bike seats usually have less padding so they can seem less comfortable and a little more difficult to get used to. A tip is to start with shorter rides and skip a day or two between rides. Doing so will help to alleviate soreness.
Mountain biking: Mountain bikes usually have wider tires, such as Himiway fat tire electric bikes. This type of riding is quite different than recreation or road. Mountain bikes are built for rugged conditions and to accommodate the rider’s constantly changing positions. A narrower shaped saddle can better accommodate position shifts than one that is wide. It is important for seats on mountain bikes to be durable and weatherproof since riding conditions are often more challenging. The weight of the bike seat tends to be of less concern for mountain bike riding.
Bike touring: One way to think of bike touring is as hybrid riding. Bike touring often includes rides of varying distances and multiple days in a row. Roads are usually paved but some off-road riding is possible. A saddle that incorporates features from both road and mountain bike seats is usually best for long-distance bike touring. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of cushioning and a fairly long, narrow shape.
Bike touring can be a healthy and great way to see the country. For ideas on bike touring in California, check out this article.
Bike commuting: Yes, a few people still commute to work. Usually, these rides are of a shorter distance and usually on paved roads. Seats for commuter bike rides tend to be like road riding but extra padding or cushioning is often added as riders are typically not going as long of distance. Some commuters are hardy and ride rain or shine. If you plan on riding regardless of the weather, you’ll want to select more durable and weatherproof materials for your seat.
Commuters often want or need to carry work materials with them. A few strategic accessories can make your bike commuting more comfortable. Find 5 ebike accessories for commuting here.
Rider factors: There are two rider specific factors that can have a big impact on comfort. These are the width of your sit bones and your riding position.
The Width of Sit Bones. For maximum comfort, select a bike seat that accommodates the width of your sit bones. Men’s bike saddles tend to be narrower while women’s saddles are designed to accommodate wider hips. But comfort is what counts. Try out different saddles, including men’s and women’s to find the one that is right for you.
Riding Posture. Another rider specific factor that impacts comfort is the position you ride in. The type of bike seat that is comfortable when sitting upright will be quite different than when tucked into an aerodynamic position. In an upright position, more pressure is put on your sit bones. A wider and more cushioned seat is often the preferred style for this type of riding. When riding in a tucked position the pressure is transferred to the front of your pelvic area. In this position, a narrow shape with cut-out can provide maximum comfort.
How to Ride Comfortably
If you are a new rider or you don’t ride regularly, it is likely you think your bike seat isn’t comfortable. Of course, it is all relative. Let’s face it, your bike seat is never going to be as comfy as your favorite lounge chair. But there are things you can do to increase comfort. Part of the comfort formula is to ride regularly. This helps to get your behind used to your bike seat. Also, start small. Don’t go on long rides multiple days in a row. Just like resting muscles, rest your behind between rides. Then gradually increase. Your behind will thank you.
Another tip to keep your rides comfortable is proper tire inflation. Over-inflation can make for a bumpy ride and even lead to flats. Under-inflation can negatively impact pedal stroke and make you work harder than needed. Make sure you know how much to inflate your tires and check them regularly. A good bike pump will make this easy.
An enjoyable bike ride is a comfortable bike ride. One of the easiest ways to maximize your comfort while riding is to select a comfortable bicycle seat. If you do any amount of riding you will spend a lot of time in contact with your bike seat so you want to optimize your bike saddle fit. There are many types of bicycle seats and factors that come into play when finding a bike seat that will be comfortable for you. There are factors related to the seat as well as the rider. Seat selection will depend on the type of riding you do as well as your size, shape, and personal preferences. Sometimes it just takes time to get used to your bike seat but if you aren’t happy, test out different shapes, sizes, cushioning and materials. There are plenty of options to choose from so no need to compromise.