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Buyer's guide: the best road bike saddles

Cyclist magazine
2 Oct 2020

Riding a bike needn't be a pain in the butt, just ensure you make the effort to find the right bike saddle

Getting the best bike saddle can transform your riding experience. And you won’t necessarily need to spend bundles either – as it’s largely shape and not features that dictate comfort.

Supporting you hour after hour, while you put your body through a whole stack of stress, finding the right one is crucially important. Basically, it boils down to two things – width and purpose.

Getting the right width between your sit bones (or ischial tuberosities) is a good place to start, as it’ll give you an idea as to whether you want a wider or narrower saddle.

The second consideration is purpose – what do you want the saddle to do? You might be after a broad and well-padded option for endurance riding. Or perhaps you’d be better served by a stubby number for getting low on the drops?

There’s a wide variety of shapes and styles, too. Viewed from the front profiles are broadly defined as being either flat, semi-round or round. Viewed side-on, they tend to then come either flat or scooped. Then there’s the choice of with or without a cut-out.

Finally, there’s padding. More padding tends to feel comfier when you first hop on. However, it doesn’t always equate with more comfort, as it can create pressure points on longer rides. This is why pros tend to ride such minimalist saddles.

Ultimately, getting it right is a matter of trial and error. However, let our guide steer you in the right direction with eight of our favourites…

The best road bike saddles

1. The best saddle for when you’re not sure of what to choose – Fabric Scoop Race

Saddles are a personal choice, but the Scoop has scored highly with almost every one of our testers. Its understated looks are matched by a simple design whose smooth profile is likely to get along with the majority of bottoms while also fitting the aesthetics of most bikes.

Available in three shapes dubbed flat, shallow and radius, these suit positions from flat-backed to more upright. We tried the middle ‘shallow’ option. Its relatively gentle curvature and medium padding were an instant hit for day-to-day riding.

Just as the basic model can be tailored to different ride positions via its profile, so to can each saddle's construction be tailored to the constraints of your wallet.

We tried the mid-level titanium-railed Race model. Starting at £35 for a steel rail 'Sport' model, and topping-out at £200 for the full-carbon 'Ultimate', all are likely to keep your posterior perky for miles on end.

2. The best saddle for head-down racers and time triallists – Specialized Power Expert

Specialized’s innovative streak has led it to become one of the saddle market’s key players, largely thanks to its Body Geometry programme. Latest to come to the line is the stubby Power range, of which the Expert, with its hollow titanium rails, is the cheapest.

Shorter and broader than previous offerings, the design is said to concentrate on getting the best possible contact points for the sit bones for long-ride comfort. Using a medium density foam and a broader, longer channel, this should mean you don’t need to move around so much.

This is also why it’s shorter, as you won’t need a long front section, which helps keep weight down to circa 235g. The Power Expert sees Body Geometry technology taken to the next level – and at a fair price, too.

3. The most versatile and ergonomic saddle – Ergon SR Comp

Given its name, it’s unsurprising German brand Ergon goes big on ergonomic research. Its SR Comp saddle doesn’t look too wild, but there’s a lot of thought poured into it. For a general-use saddle, when first sat upon, it can feel a little under-padded.

However, its clever shape and mix of orthopaedic comfort foam with OrthoCell pads soon won us over. Like many saddles, the SR has a central channel to relieve pressure on the perineal area. Quite subtly integrated, it does its job, yet unlike some we’ve tried its edges are unlikely to rub anyone up the wrong way.

Decently long, it’s a good saddle for those that like to move about a bit, something aided by it largely flat profile. These same characteristics also make it good for mixed-terrain use, and it’ll be as at home on a gravel or cyclocross bike, as it is on conventional a racer.

Available in two widths, both use titanium rails which boost comfort and cut weight.

4. The best endurance saddle – Fizik Aliante R1 

Despite low overall weight, both the scales and your eyes will tell you this is no Skinny Minnie saddle. Instead, the Aliante is one of the more endurance-focused saddles in Fizik’s extensive range. Happily, for most riders, it’s a case of all the right junk in all the right places.

Compared to flatter and more austere saddles, the generous padding means instant comfort from the off. The scooped back flares forward, creating the feeling of securely sitting in the saddle rather than perching on it, while there’s still enough length on the nose for those who like to shuffle about while crunching through those winter miles.

To run the risk of being accused of favouritism, I’ve yet to find a duff saddle made by Fizik. All considered its Aliante is likely to prove a crowd-pleasing endurance saddle that will sit well with all but the most aggressive riders.

5. The best minimalist racing saddle – Selle Italia SLR S1

Supremely light, but offering a great deal of support, this is a throne built for speedy riders, specifically those with greater flexibility and narrower pelvises. With edges that cut in from the back, even riders with sprinter-sized thighs shouldn’t find their legs impeded.

Medium in length, its flattish profile has just the hint of a radius, meaning it’s classic in both looks and design. Moderately stiff and with minimal padding, you’ll need to be a confirmed race head to get the most out of it, and we’d recommend getting measured using Selle Italia’s ID-match system before buying.

However, judging by the numbers seen in the pro peloton, it’s a popular choice among the fast men.

Now available with all sorts of cutouts and extras, we’re fans of this longstanding stripped-back S1 version. Probably not one to run on your weekday commuter, it’s best suited to hardened high-mileage racers.

6. The best saddle for endurance and speed combined – Prologo Dimension NDR 

Although historically bottoms have remained similar in shape and size, in recent years saddles have been getting shorter. Prologo’s endurance-focused Dimension NDR saddle certainly fits this trend.

Its minimal 245mm length is coupled to a not-too-narrow 143mm width; the idea being that its lack of length will relieve pressure on sensitive areas when riding aggressively.

Leaving it suited to intense efforts where you’ll be hanging on the drops for prolonged periods, despite its aggressive design there’s still comfort to be had from it.

In fact, it’s relatively well upholstered, with Prologo employing an additional 3mm of padding to this NDR version when compared to the standard Dimension. Further helping keep you comfy is a long central pressure relief cut-out.

Ideal for dig-deep efforts, those after a mixed terrain saddle or who like to move around should look elsewhere. But if you’re happy to lock yourself into position, this is a great option for aggressive riders.

Read our full review here

7. The best saddle for relieving pressure on soft-tissue areas – ISM PL1.1

Arguably the most radical-looking saddle here, ISM has refined its split nose design over many years and come up with a huge range of subtly different options. The PL, formerly Prologue, is designed for the performance rider so has some additional length to it.

This means you have more space on the saddle to use when climbing or descending in a group. This additional length also gives a more traditional look on the bike compared to some ISM models. ISM provides more padding than many without causing issues and the 1.1 is the most padded version of the PL.

Its broader tail section, measuring 135mm, works splendidly for those who roll the hips backwards when climbing. Chromoly rails raise the weight to 352g. Living up to its creator's name of Innovative Saddle Maker, the PL 1.1 offers something special.

8. The best retro leather saddle – Brooks B17 

If you’ve ever heard the old cycling term ‘on the rivet’ and wondered what it was about, wonder no longer – with this saddle it’s obvious, thanks to the way it’s made.

The B17’s leather upper is suspended across its black steel rails, and secured in place with rivets (it’s the one in the nose that you are riding on when pushing hard).

As you’d expect given the construction, it’s heavier than others featured here at 520g. However, as it’s been a mainstay for the UK company for more than 100 years, that appears to be of little concern to its users.

Mostly beloved of touring cyclists and craft ale drinkers, it's the ability of a leather saddle to custom mould over time that's made it such a sustained seller.

Supposedly breaking in like a good pair of boots, many people swear by them. However, an equal number swear at them. Either way, they’re undeniably nice to look at.

Read our full review here.

Read our guides to saddle position, best UK challenge rides and best bibshorts

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