The best saddle for mountain biking: 6 steps to the perfect seat!

Identifying your best mountain bike saddle

Finding the right saddle can be a frustrating and torturous endeavor. Saddle problems can lead to pain and discomfort in other areas of your body, often caused by areas of high pressure due to incorrect saddle choice or position.

 

Indeed, the title of this blog is somewhat deceiving: there really is no ‘best saddle’ for mountain biking that everyone can agree on. However, we will walk you thought the steps of choosing a saddle that will become ‘YOUR best saddle’ for mountain biking!

 

1 – Give a saddle some time…at least a week.

If you are just starting out riding for the first time, or it’s been a while since you’ve sat on a saddle, I guarantee you will have some discomfort ‘down there’ regardless of the saddle. That pain is simply due to the fact that you’re sitting in a position you’re not used to. Go for a few rides on consecutive (or every-other) days. It will be painful when you sit on that saddle on Day 2 and Day 3, but by Day 4 your body should be getting used to it and the general pain will subside. If there is still pain by Day 5, this may be more about the saddle.

 saddle

2 – Saddle width…measure your sits bones.

Many saddles come in various widths, which have an enormous impact on comfort, pedaling efficiency, and power output. Your sit bones define your saddle width. To measure, sit on a piece of paper on a carpeted floor. Your sits bones will leave an indentation on paper. Use a measuring tape to measure the space between the indentations in millimeters. Saddle width is approximately sit-bone width + 20mm more. Or you can get a professional saddle fitting…yes, this is a thing! Saddle pressure mapping is the latest in bicycle fit technology.  Saddle pressure mapping not only helps pinpoint which saddle may be best for you, but also helps to uncover and diagnose bike fit challenges such as leg length discrepancy, hip rotation and mobility, weak and/or asymmetric stabilizing muscles, and poor posture.  This device is not just a saddle fitting tool but also a bicycle fitting tool that provides more detail and insight into your riding position.

 saddle pressure map

3 – Saddle length…what kind of riding do you do?

Saddle length has less to do with your body size and more to do with your style of riding: mtb-ers slide up to the tip of the saddle nose on steep climbs to keep the front wheel down, hover between front and back of the saddle when maneuvering through rocky terrain, and lean back on the saddle while manualling down the street in a wheelie. In general, mountain bike saddles are shorter than road saddles since there is much more fore and aft movement by the rider when mountain biking vs road riding.  Gravity, enduro, and trail saddles are v-shaped, with rounded edges and a shorter nose to make it easy to move around on the saddle without hooking the rider’s shorts. 

 saddle long nose

4 – Padding, cover and rails…what’s the tradeoff?

Leather or synthetic cover? A lot or a little padding? Titanium or chromoly rails?

Performance saddles often have less padding to save weight, which is important for racers. Comfort saddles are shaped like other saddles, but usually have thicker foam or added gel. For an occasional rider, extra padding can prevent sits bones from feeling sore after a ride— but spending longer hours on an extra-padded saddle can actually cut off circulation. Endurance racers should look more to the comfort end of the spectrum. If you’re strictly a recreational racer, then you want to look for the most comfortable saddle your budget will allow. Most saddles lie somewhere in between, providing a good level of comfort at a reasonable weight. It's all about finding the right padding for your riding style and comfort level. If you're really wanting to shed grams, you can even get a saddle with a carbon fiber shell, titanium rails, and no padding at all - it will be light, but will cost a pretty penny and will likely not be too comfortable for most of our readers!

 saddle cutout

5 – Cutouts…do I need one?

You don’t need a cutout, but many riders prefer a saddle with a channel or a cutout that prevents pressure on soft tissue. Saddle channels are usually gender-specific—a man’s pelvis is v-shaped, while a woman’s is u-shaped, and gender-specific cutouts can keep pressure off a rider’s soft tissue. Rider flexibility and natural pelvic tilt in the riding position also determine what saddle will keep pedaling efficient and not painful - many cyclists have a forward-tilting pelvis which can affect the soft tissue area substantially.

 saddle cutout 2

6 – Try as many saddles as you can…share with friends!

Ask your local shop if they offer saddle demos.  More shops are doing this, which allows you to demo a saddle for several days, bring it back, try another, etc until you find the right saddle for you. If demos are not available, buy a saddle with a friend who is the same saddle size as you (see above width and length) and you can both test it out. The more butt trials, the merrier!  

 saddle WTB

As personalized as your butt is from anyone else’s butt, that is how personalized your saddle choice will be!

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