1. Do You Need a New, High-Tech Saddle?1 of 8
A better question to ask is, "What saddle is best for me?" While upgrading bicycle parts like new race wheels or drivetrain components may increase your speed, these upgrades won't matter if you cannot stay on your bike and pedal pain-free.
Some athletes may need to try half a dozen or more saddles before they find one that works for them, while others may find that a minor adjustment to their current saddle's position brings enough comfort for a century ride. Keep in mind that saddle selection is often an iterative process, and minor changes to factors like your bike shorts, cycling shoes, handle bars or stem will affect saddle comfort. So, try to limit external variables when trying various bike seats.
2. Get a Bike Fit2 of 8
Comfort on the bike is greatly influenced by proper saddle adjustment: height, angle and setback. Before you purchase a new saddle, get a fitting on your bike or ask a bike shop professional if your saddle is properly adjusted. A proper fit may reveal why your current saddle is uncomfortable, creating a starting point for shopping for an upgrade.
If you don't have ready access to a shop for help, try this method for determining correct saddle height.
3. Do I Need a Special Saddle?3 of 8
If you do most of your riding on a standard road bike, you'll want to try a saddle that's slightly wider in the rear. This will support you by your ischial tuberosities (sit bones) and minimize pressure on soft tissue.
If you spend most of your time riding in an aero position, consider a saddle designed for triathlons and time trials. Triathlon saddles may be shorter and narrower than standard road saddles, as they're designed to support riders on their front third. When testing either type of saddle, pay attention to comfort while riding on the nose.
Only after you've found a saddle shape that's comfortable should you consider more expensive features like carbon rails or exotic topper materials.
4. Women's Specific Saddles4 of 8
Many women's-specific saddles have wider and flatter tops with a cutout, as well as different amounts of padding, compared to men's saddles. Don't feel as though you must go with a women's-specific option, though. Many time trial and triathlon saddles are not available in women's-specific versions, but can be comfortably used by women and men alike if they are properly adjusted to an individual's riding needs.
5. Men: You Should Not Be Uncomfortable While Cycling5 of 8
An informal poll of seasoned, male cyclists indicated that many had experienced some saddle-related numbness at some point in their cycling career. The men surveyed had received a professional bike fitting and had tried at least two different bike seats before settling on one that was comfortable.
Common solutions to saddle discomfort include adjusting saddle angle, switching to an option with firmer cushioning, using a saddle with a recessed center channel, using a saddle with a cutout in the top or switching to a short-nose design.
6. Try Before You Buy6 of 8
Many bike shops offer saddle demo programs, which is a great way to try various saddles without making a long-term commitment. If you don't have access to a local shop with a saddle demo program, an online saddle demo program might be your next best option. And, if neither of these options is feasible, you can create your own demo program. Buy several different saddles from a reliable online vendor with a favorable return policy and try them. Keep the one that works best for you.
Pro Tip: If you're running your own saddle testing program, you'll need to measure and set your saddle height and setback each time you adjust your saddle, as well as when you swap saddles. Make notes on the adjustments and why each one was more or less comfortable than another.
7. Making the Selection7 of 8
Photo/Sander van Ginkel, CreativeCommons
Once you've settled on a saddle that works for you, ride your bike as much as you can. Some saddles may have a break-in period, and will become more comfortable after some use. Riding a new saddle will also allow you an adjustment period to help pinpoint any additional refinements.
After a short time, you should be all smiles on your new saddle!