By now, you’d probably realize that saddles come in all shapes and sizes. Add in different padding levels and materials and suddenly things become even more complicated.
Trying to figure out which saddle to use for your road bike can be a really tough choice. And don’t forget, what works for others, might or might not work for you. So, you need to consider your options very carefully.
I’ll discuss the basics you’ll need to know about saddles such as :
- Shape. The difference between a flat and contoured saddle.
- Width. Why saddles come in different widths and how to choose the right width.
- Length. The difference between short-nose vs regular length saddles.
I’ll also share some of the popular saddles among cyclists today.
A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Saddles for Road Bikes
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Road Bike Saddles Buying Guide
1. Saddle Shape
Flat saddles are well, flat. The main advantage of a flat saddle, such as Fizik’s popular Arione line and Specialized Power, is the ability it gives you to easily slide forward or backward depending on your desired position.
You can easily slide to the back of the saddle and assume an upright position.
Down in the drops?
Flat saddles allow you to easily slide forward onto the nose. This versatility makes them particularly useful on road bikes, on which the handlebars allow for multiple positions.
Some cyclists prefer the stability offered by contoured saddles. Saddles like the Selle SMP Pro are shaped to hold your body into one place, usually at a midpoint between the front and rear of the saddle.
These saddles generally work for riders who are less flexible and stay mainly in the upright position during their ride.
2. Saddle Width
Width is critical when considering which saddle to purchase.
Your body engages with the saddle through your sit bones. If they aren’t hitting the part of the saddle that is supposed to support the sit bones, then you likely won’t have a comfortable ride.
Saddle widths range from 130mm (narrow) to 168mm (wide).
Women’s specific saddles, such as Specialized’s Mimic, are typically wider to suit the body geometry of women.
Others such as the Fizik Arione, in comparison, are just 132mm wide.
How do you know what size is right for you?
Most bike dealers have impression pads that are used to measure the width of your sit bones, or you can take your own sit-bone impression by sitting on a piece of tin foil placed on a carpet.
3. Saddle Length
Saddles will vary in length. As with any other feature of the saddle, you want what will be most comfortable for you while providing the performance you’re looking for.
Longer saddles allow you to slide further forward or backward, giving you more positioning options. This suits riders with increased flexibility who can take advantage of the length.
4. Cut Outs and Openings
Cut-out saddles include an opening or groove in the center. This opening may just be in the midsection or can run its entire length.
The purpose of this ergonomic design is to reduce pressure on the sensitive veins and nerves located in and around the perineum.
They also theoretically improve airflow. Improper sizing with cutout saddles can be particularly uncomfortable for women as they can place too much pressure on some areas while causing other areas to swell through the cutout.
As is the case with most saddle options, whether cut-outs are more comfortable or more painful comes down to personal preference. A good example of cut-outs made right is the PRO Stealth and Specialized Power saddle.
5. Padding Levels
When it comes to padding there is a pretty simple equation – more padding equals more comfort.
Whether it’s an office chair, a seat at a restaurant, or a bike, our bottoms would rather sit on something soft than something hard.
That said, as is most often the case in the world of cycling, comfort doesn’t always equal performance. Padded saddles may provide you with a comfier ride, but they are heavier and bulkier.
Performance saddles for racing are stiffer, lighter, and sparse on padding, which can add significant weight. Saddles with heavy padding can weigh as much as 450g, while the top performance saddles weigh under 200g.
Padding can also add bulk, restricting your ability to slide back and forth on the saddle, a must for riders switching from the back of the saddle for climbs to the drops for an aerodynamic position.
With this in mind, look for a saddle that combines comfort with your performance demands.
6. Shell Materials
The shell is the skeleton of the saddle and decides its shape and flexibility.
Shells are made from either plastic (typical nylon), composite carbon, carbon, or a mixture of them. The shell material determines how much the saddle gives under the weight of the rider.
Carbon shells are stiffer and lighter than plastic shells, making them more performance oriented.
As with most things carbon, they are also considerably more expensive than their plastic counterparts. Composite shells mix plastic and carbon, offering a middle ground for comfort, price, and performance.
7. Saddle Rails
It used to be that saddle rails were made out of one material – heavy chrome-plated carbon steel.
That all changed in the early 2000s as pros looked for every possible way to cut weight from their bikes. Many manufacturers began using lighter titanium to make rails for their high-end saddles.
Some saddles also use Chromoly, lighter weight steel that is hollow. Some manufacturers have even figured out a way to get carbon fiber into the rails by wrapping them in an aluminum coating to protect them from seat post clamps.
Take note that most carbon saddle rails are in fact not round but 7x9mm in shape. While carbon rails offer the lightest option possible, they also require more care. Seat post clamps can potentially crack carbon rails, so they require a torque wrench for proper installation.
Not surprisingly, most saddles are black.
They see a lot of action and thus a lot of dirt and sweat. Black hides all of that.
That’s not to say that you can’t find other options. Many brands offer the more-stylish white saddles. Just keep in mind that they will eventually show their age and turn dirty or yellowish over time.
Short-Nose Bike Saddles
Specialized Power Pro
- Width : 130mm, 143mm, 155mm
- Length : 240mm
The Power saddle is Specialized’s first noseless saddle.
With a carbon shell, hollow titanium rails, and minimal padding, it’s about as stiff and lightweight as a seat can get. Specialized’s patented Body Geometry cut out facilitates blood flow and provides proper sit bone support while a shortened nose makes for a more comfortable ride in aggressive positions.
The Power which weighs 211g for the regular size, is designed for both men and women and comes in widths ranging from 143mm to 155mm to suit a variety of sit bone sizes.
Specialized classifies the padding as level 1, which is the lightest level of padding the company offers. The Power Pros’ light-weight and stiff shell make it ideal for competitive cyclists who can afford its high price tag.
The Power saddle comes in three variants, including Expert, Pro, and S-Works, with each using progressively lighter materials at higher price points.
- Pros : Short-nose design is suitable for the majority of cyclists.
- Cons : S-Works version costs a lot more than its peers.
- Width : 142mm, 152mm
- Length : 255mm
PRO, a company that specializes in high-end cycling accessories, developed its Stealth saddle in partnership with the Giant-Alpecin team, so you know this is a saddle meant for competition.
A reinforced carbon shell provides stiffness, minimizing power loss from flex, while lightweight EVA padding makes for a comfortable ride. The most obvious feature of the Stealth; however, is its large cut-out, which is designed to reduce pressure on the perineum while providing support for the sit bones.
This saddle also presents wider size options than its competitors such as Fizik’s Arione with two width options; 142mm and 152mm.
Despite its slightly larger size and titanium rails, the Stealth is still quite light at 172g for the 142mm and 179g for the large. The Stealth is also compatible with Pro’s accessories, which include racing number mounts and mounted rear cameras.
- Pros : Excellent value for money for a short-nose saddle.
- Cons : S-Works version costs a lot more than its peers.
ISM PR 3.0
- Width : 145mm
- Length : 235mm
With its extra padding, ergonomic fit, and wider profile, the ISM PR 3.0 is designed for recreational cyclists. ISM’s saddles all feature its characteristic noseless split-fit shape, which is designed to keep pressure off the perineum while providing support for the sit bones.
The PR 3.0 offers the maximum amount of padding for ISM saddles including 60-series foam and gel padding. The saddle also offers a wider rear section at 145mm with a shorter length of 235mm. With the gel padding and steel rails, this saddle is certainly heavier than other saddles in this price range.
The split fit makes it considerably more comfortable than other seats when you are in the tuck position. This design feature plus the extra padding makes this a good option for recreational cyclists and triathletes.
If you’re looking for a very comfortable ride and don’t mind its added weight and unattractive appearance, then ISM’s PR 3.0 might be a good match for you.
- Pros : Much heavier than other saddles.
- Cons : Design might be a turn-off.
Saddles Known for Comfort
Selle SMP Pro
- Width : 148mm
- Length : 278mm
One of the more contoured saddles that you’ll find on the market, the SMP Pro from Selle is a split-fit seat designed to provide maximum pressure release to your anatomy.
The most noticeable characteristic of the saddle is its downward-sloping nose. The SMP Pro’s full-length cut-out focuses on transferring the bulk of your weight onto your sit bones, saving the soft tissue of your perineum.
The downturned nose functions as a safety feature, preventing you from inadvertently slamming into the nose when fatigued or riding aggressively. With the wide cut out and a width of 148 mm, this saddle does fit a relatively narrow selection of riders.
In fact, Selle recommends this seat for riders with a pants size ranging from 34 to 39. The SMP Pro is constructed with a carbon-reinforced shell and steel rails with elastomer paddings and a leather seat cover.
- Pros : Downward sloping nose eases the pressure on your perineum.
- Cons : Wavy design might not be to everyone’s preference.
Astute Sky Line VT
- Width : 135mm
- Length : 275mm
If there was an award for the best-looking saddle, the Sky Line VT, from Italian brand Astute, would take the gold medal.
The Sky Line is eye-catching with its sleek look, ventilation holes, flashy graphics, and stitched logo. This just looks like a well-made saddle. It also offers plenty to like in terms of performance. The stiff carbon-fiber-reinforced shell features a cut-away center designed to take the pressure off the perineum.
Padding comes in the form of tri-density memory foam, which means it will mold to your shape, while the cover is constructed from Italian microfiber.
- Pros : Very soft and comfortable padding.
- Cons : Heavier than other similarly priced models.
Brooks Cambium C17
- Width : 164mm
- Length : 283mm
In 1878, the death of leather goods maker Jon Boultbee Brooks’ horse forced him to begin biking to work. He realized just how uncomfortable saddles were and set out to design a better leather version. Since then, Brooks has built a reputation for designing high-quality leather seats.
The Cambium C17 is a departure from that. This saddle is made from vulcanized rubber, which reduces the vibration in your ride. Its rubber construction is also what gives this saddle its all-weather qualities.
The big downside to Cambium’s rubber and steel construction materials is the weight. This saddle weighs in at about 450g depending on the size you choose. It comes with a cut-out option, letting you decide which style works best for you.
- Pros : Durable overall construction with leather all around.
- Cons : Heavier than other similar models.
Saddles for Aggressive Riding Positions
- Width : 132mm
- Length : 298mm
You’ll find the Fizik Arione on many bikes ridden by WorldTour pros, which gives you a good indication of its quality.
Fizik’s Arione line is designed for what it calls its snake type rider. Riders classified as snakes are flexible enough to sit at any point on the saddle comfortably. With dimensions of 298x124mm, the Arione is long, narrow, and flat, allowing for unhindered movement up and down the seat whether you’re climbing, riding in the pack, or ducking a headwind in the drops.
The Arione comes in five different models, with 00 being the top of the line. Carbon rails and shells, along with minimal padding, make the Arione 00 one of the lightest saddles you can buy at 140g.
The Arione R1 model offers similar features but with a more flexible composite shell, making it less expensive and a little heavier at 163g. Arione also comes in R3, R5, and R7 models, with each offering the same shape at lower prices with less expensive materials and total weight.
- Pros : Very lightweight at 140g (for the Arione 00 model).
- Cons : Long nose might not be the most comfortable.
Fabric Scoop Race
- Width : 142mm
- Length : 282mm
Fabric’s Scoop line of the saddle is focused on providing a seat type that fits all shapes and types of riders. The Scoop comes in three different shapes of varying contour including flat, shallow, and curvier radius.
The flat option is designed to suit more flexible riders while the radius version fits more powerful less flexible riders. The shallow offers a midpoint between the two.
The Scoop is one of the narrower saddles on the market at 142mm wide. Designed to meet the needs of both road rider and rugged mountain bike riders, the saddle material consists of a nylon shell with Chromoly rails and a waterproof microfiber cover.
The saddle is still relatively light compared to others at this price point at 244g. Color options for the Scoop Elite include white and black with options for a black, red, green, or white shell.
- Pros : Excellent value for money.
- Cons : Overall construction and durability is average.
Prologo Scratch 2
- Width : 134mm
- Length : 275mm
The first thing you’ll notice about the Prologo Scratch 2 is the series of 10 grip pads that stretch from the rear to the midsection of the saddle. What are they for?
They’re designed to grip your shorts and keep you from moving around on your seat while climbing or riding aggressively.
Prologo says they also facilitate better air circulation and absorb shocks. The groove that runs from the rear to the middle of the saddle provides comfort by removing pressure from the perineum.
This is a saddle that provides comfort and performance from the central position. Prologo varies its foam density on the Scratch 2 going with a lighter density in the middle to reduce pressure.
The Scratch 2’s nylon shell sits on steel rails, giving it a higher weight of 234g. A different version offers carbon rails, cutting that weight to 185g, at a significantly higher price.
- Pros : Grip pads prevent you from sliding up/down the saddle.
- Cons : Not ideal for long rides.
Women Specific Saddles
Selle Italia Diva
- Width : 135mm, 152mm
- Length : 270mm
Selle’s offering for the women’s specific saddle market is one that goes for comfort with plenty of gel padding, a slightly wider rear, and a large cutout.
The Diva’s shell is comprised of a 10% carbon composite with hollow steel rails and an elastomer suspension, giving you just enough flex for shock absorption.
Gel inserts sit on top of the saddle under a cover made of beautiful and breathable full-grain leather. The stitching and embroidered graphics make this one of the more stylish saddles on the market especially if you go with the white color option.
While adding significant comfort, all of that padding and leather does come at a cost in the form of weight. It weighs 265g.
- Pros : Gel inserts provide added comfort.
- Cons : Heavy.
Specialized Power Mimic
- Width : 143mm, 155mm
- Length : 240mm
A couple of years ago, Specialized conducted some pretty in-depth tests to overcome the comfort issues women have had with saddles for what seems like forever.
The Mimic is the result of those tests. The saddles employ what it calls the Mimic technology, which uses a shallow channel that runs the saddle’s length with layers of different materials to minimize the swelling of soft tissue.
With the Mimic, Specialized also includes its performance technology. The saddle includes a carbon-fiber shell with hollow titanium rails for added stiffness and to cut weight to just 219g.
In keeping with its goal of fitting women’s anatomy, this saddle comes in various sizes, including 143mm and 155mm.
- Pros : Gel inserts provide added comfort.
- Cons : Expect to pay slightly more for the Specialized brand.
Fizik Luce R5
- Width : 145mm, 155mm
- Length : 281mm
Fizik’s women’s specific saddle, the Luce, is all about shape.
It features a wider sitting area that narrows dramatically toward the nose for optimal weight distribution and less friction while pedaling. Simultaneously, a cut out in the saddle’s midsection takes the pressure off the soft tissues.
The Luce mixes performance with comfort in its shell, made of carbon-reinforced nylon and thermoplastic elastomer. This design is intended to allow the saddle’s wings to flex for comfort while minimizing power loss.
Rails are made out of steel allow while the cover is a flexible synthetic material Fizik calls Ischialflex. The Luce comes in two sizes, 144mm and 155mm. A carbon version is also available in the same sizes but at a higher price point.
- Pros : Wider rear end provides support for the sit bones.
- Cons : Can be slippery when wet.