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Just what is a comfortable bicycle seat?  Is there one answer?

"A comfortable bicycle seat is not hard to find."

The issue of a comfortable bicycle seat is probably one of the most contested things in cycling. One person thinks a very soft seat is the answer while another believes a rock hard saddle with no padding is the way to go. There is more to comfort than just the design of the seat.  Saddle tilt, height and position are integral parts of comfort in a bicycle seat.  Let's explore the issue a little and let you decide.

Seatpost

Your seatpost can make a big difference in the comfort you experience on your rides.  Check out my seatpost page for more information.

If your normally wear cycling shorts when you ride be sure you are wearing them when making these adjustments or your measurements will be off when you put them on and ride.

Cycling Shorts are made like they are for a reason.  There are no seams in the crotch area to cause rubbing and pinching of blood vessels.  You might want to check out our page about cycling clothing.  It isn't just for looks.

Seat Tilt

Many times the adjustment of the saddle can solve comfort issues you will experience.  My friends and I obsess over the perfect position of our saddles.  1mm here, 2mm there until we get it just right from bike to bike to bike.  If the nose of your saddle is tilted down your body weight is moved forward putting more strain on your arms and shoulders.  If you have the nose of the saddle tilted back you can experience pain and discomfort in your crotch area.

Here are some generalities to help you begin to adjust your saddle position.  First, start off with the seat parallel to the ground.  Put a carpenters level on your saddle if you want to get it just right.  Loosen the clamp and get the seat centered.  Now take the bike for a ride and see how it feels.  Move the nose up or down in small increments to get the position that is right for you.  It may take some time to find out just what works for you but the time you spend will pay you back with a more comfortable bicycle seat.

Seat Height

If you bicycle seat is too low, excessive pressure can be put on your knees.  If the seat is too high, your hips will rock from side to side and this can give you saddle sores.  If you have never had saddle sores, be glad, you don't want them.  Get your seat height right and do all you can to avoid them.
Here are some general tips on setting your height so you can have a comfortable bicycle seat:
  • Sit on your bike with your feet on the pedals.  You can do this on a trainer, have your stoker hold the bike up if you are setting up your tandem or have a friend hold your bike.
  • Pedal backwards and get your feet in 6 and 12 o'clock position.
  • Unclip, if using clip less pedals and put the foot in the 6 o'clock position's heel on the pedal.  Your leg should be extended all the way.  If your knee is bent at all, raise the height.  If you can't reach the pedal with your heel, lower the height of the seat.  Now, when you put your foot back on the pedal in a normal position there will be a slight bend in your knee.
This will feel different at first but give it some time.  You will need to get used to the new position for a while and see if your comfort level increases.

Fore/Aft Position

If you want to really get a comfortable bicycle seat, the horizontal position will need to be considered.  If your seat is too far forward, you will give up leverage and tire more easily.  If your seat is too far back you will strain your back.  Try this simple, yet kind of strange, method to see where your position needs to be.

  • Once again sit on your bike with your feet on the pedals.  You can do this on a trainer, have your stoker hold the bike up if you are setting up your tandem or have a friend hold your bike.
  • Tie a small wrench from your tool kit with a piece of string and tape it to the notch in the side of your knee-cap.  The string should be long enough to hang down past the pedals.  The string should pass right next to the center of your pedal axle.  If the string is in front of the axle, move your seat back.  If the string is behind your axle, more your seat forward.
  • Once you have completed this, be sure you have your tilt correct before tightening everything back up.
Small adjustments in saddle position can go a long way to having a comfortable bicycle seat.  

comfortable bicycle seat, tandem bicycleBicycle Seat Design

The basic bicycle saddle design has differed little since the invention of the safety bicycle. Here's a picture of a bicycle seat from the 1900's.

Bicycle seats in general design really haven't changed all that much. The biggest fundamental change to make a comfortable bicycle seat is the use of a foam instead of springs for taking out the shock. The basic shape is the same. That is generally speaking. Let's take a look at some comfortable bicycle seat examples below and their specifics.

comfortable bicycle seat

Super Lightweight Racing Saddle

The Selle Italia Cx Zero is a perfect example of a super lightweight racing saddle. Believe it or not this is an example of a comfortable bicycle seat.  Made of all carbon fiber with integrated rails, this saddle tips the scales at 81 grams. This is unheard of in terms of lightness!  But then, you'll pay for the weight savings.  Coming in around $450 you are getting the pinnacle of lightness.

Lightweight Racing Saddlecomfortable bicycle seat

This is more along what I ride.  I really like the Selle Italia Flite.  It comes in lots of colors to match your bike.  It's very comfortable on long rides and is pretty light at 220 grams.  I have put many miles on this saddle and it doesn't let me down.

How could either of these be a comfortable bicycle seat you say? It depends on the rider. I prefer a very hard saddle and find, like many others, the super soft models to compress the soft tissues too much and cause perineal numbness. I don't spend all of my time sitting, even on a 100 mile ride (century is another name for this).

comfortable bicycle seat

Time Trial Saddle

Is it really that different, a time trial saddle? You bet! Used for Time Trials and Triathlons, these saddles are vastly different in their construction over a standard saddle. The rider in the aero position these disciplines demand puts the majority of their weight on the front third of the saddle. This requires the different looking padding on the front to protect the riders, "valuables".

comfortable bicycle seat

Comfort Saddle

The comfort saddle is typically a very large, extremely heavy (4 or more pounds on some) saddle. These saddles, despite their name, are not a good choice for very long rides. The softness of the gel gives an initial impression of comfort but over the long run (20 or more miles) this softness leads to pressure from tissues being squished together by the softness of the saddle.

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