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Advice for Choosing the Right Bicycle Saddle

It would be wrong to assume that some level of discomfort while using a bike saddle is natural, because the right saddle would never make you feel uncomfortable in the first place. Here are some things that you must consider while buying a new saddle for your bike.
Rohini Mohan
Did You Know?
Most saddles are designed for people who have a sit bone spacing of 125mm - 148mm.
The shape and make of your bicycle saddle will depend on the type of bike you own. A lot of newbie cyclists do not pay much heed to the design of the saddle while buying a new bike. However, eventually, every cyclist realizes that it is extremely important to be seated on a comfortable saddle that does not poke, hurt, cause numbness, or saddle sores while riding. While a lot people find the saddle that came with the cycle comfortable enough after breaking it in, others simply can't get used to it.

You may need to replace your bike saddle if it continues to be uncomfortable, despite having tried using it for several weeks. It is important that you learn more about some common saddles shapes and their purpose so that you can make a more informed decision while choosing the perfect saddle for your bike.
Saddle Shape and Purpose
Wide Cruiser Saddle
Wide bike saddle
Cruiser saddles are wide and have a short nose. These type of saddles are used in cruiser and certain hybrid bikes that are meant for casual and slow use. Since the posture remains upright while riding these bikes, the seat supports much of the cyclist's weight for longer durations. Thus, the saddle must be wide enough to comfortably accommodate the sitting bones or sit bones or sitz bones (ischial tuberosities). The weight of the cyclist is focused more on the rear part of cantle. On the other hand, the sit bones will tend to hurt and become numb if the saddle of the cruiser bike is too narrow and not broad enough. Such saddles also have plush padding to provide greater cushioning to the cyclist. Therefore, look for a wider and cushier saddle for your cruiser bike.
Medium-wide Saddle
Cutout bike saddle
Medium to narrow saddles are ergonomically designed for hybrid bikes and mountain bikes, and are meant for faster riding, touring, commuting, and fitness purposes. These saddles may have a cutout that helps ease the pressure between the sit bones. These saddles are sleek, and have strategically placed padding that provides adequate cushioning to the sitting bones without becoming too soft. Comparatively lesser padding is needed in these type of saddles because the cyclist does not sit upright and needs to lean slightly forward in order to ride with greater speed. Therefore, since the body is leaning forward, comparatively lesser space is needed for the sit bones to rest comfortably on the saddle. The cutout in the saddle lowers the pressure from the center of the seat, thereby making it easier for men and women to cycle comfortably. Recent years have seen dramatic variations in the shape and design of cutout saddles for men and women.
Narrow Racing Saddle
Narrow bike saddle
Even though tapered bike saddles look really uncomfortable, they are designed to make pro riders comfortable while using racing bikes. Since riding a racing road bike requires taking up an aggressive riding position, most of the cyclist's weight is supported by the pedals, and the low and bent handlebar, whereas the remaining weight is supported by the saddle. Therefore, since the sit bones barely make contact with the saddle, racing saddles do not require a wide cantle. Secondly, the tapered and long nose of such saddles, allows the thighs to move faster. Narrow cutout saddles are often used on road bikes for racing.
Factors to Consider While Choosing a Bicycle Saddle
Cycling-specific Saddle
Now that you know that the shape and design of a saddle varies according to the type of bicycle and style of cycling, you will need to assess which shape of saddle to opt for. Thus, if you own a cruiser bike and intend to use it for leisure riding, such as grocery shopping or riding to work, you will need a saddle that is sufficiently wide and well-padded. Similarly, decide whether your bike requires a medium-wide or narrow saddle, depending on the type of cycling you intend to pursue.
Try It Before You Purchase
It is preferable to test a few saddles before investing in one. The reason being that, even though you may be trying out saddles meant for a specific style of cycling, you may not find the saddle comfortable enough. Unless you sit and try out several saddles in an actual bicycle store, you will never know whether it's wide, firm, or strong enough. Do not buy a saddle until you're absolutely sure that it's perfect for your use. It is inadvisable to buy saddles from online stores, unless you're buying the same make and model that you have used in the past, or tried out at a dealer store.
Perfect Width
There are a few ways to check if your sitting bones are comfortably rested on the saddle. Many bike stores have 'Body Geometry saddles' by Specialized, that can be used to streamline your options by measuring the width of your sitting bones. However, if you avail this service, make sure that you do not end up buying a saddle that is too narrow or wide for your liking. Another way to go about finding your perfect fit is to measure the width of your sitting bones by using a tape or memory foam. You will need to add 2 cm to the indentation measured so that there is some extra space on the saddle for the sit bones. The measurement recorded by you must be used as a tool for buying a comfortable bike saddle.
Adequate Padding
You must test the saddle by pressing your thumb on it to check its firmness and if there is any padding. As mentioned earlier, racing bikes require the least amount of padding, whereas mountain bikes and hybrids require a thin layer of padding. The wider the saddle the more padding is needed to make it easier for the sit bones to rest.
Gender-specific Cutout/Cutaway Saddles
Many gender-specific bike saddles have been designed while keeping the male and female anatomy in mind. Therefore, you may choose one of these hybrid designs that are intended to ease the comfort, and make cycling more enjoyable and safe for the cyclist. These saddles are designed with cutouts and cutaways that are meant to ease the pressure on the genitalia, and avoid long-term numbness and dysfunction.
Adequate Suspension
Go in for saddles that offer greater suspension so that they are able to absorb much of the shock and vibrations experienced while cycling. These features are a must for riding through rough and uneven terrain. Using a saddle with excellent suspension will help prevent unnecessary aches, pains, and muscle strains.
Material Used
The material with which the saddle is made can help determine its longevity, effectiveness, and cost. For instance, even though a leather saddle is very comfortable, it is not weather-resistant, and may get damaged because of the constant exposure to sweat. The materials used for making the shell, cover, rails, and suspension must be considered before purchase. Carbon fiber saddles are expensive and last through 1-2 seasons, whereas titanium and steel-railed saddles are comparatively cheaper and last comparatively longer. A good quality saddle can cost anywhere from USD 50 onwards.
Lastly, any variation in saddle height also impacts how comfortable you feel while riding. Therefore, you may need to raise or lower the saddle to attain the desired comfort.