Hi, this is Luke at Art’s Cyclery, here to help explain the differences in saddle design so you can select the best saddle for your morphology and riding style.
Before we get started, make sure you understand how to measure your ischial tuberosity, or “sit-bone,” width, which we describe in another video. Once you’ve figured out your proper saddle width as described in the video, you can consider the options of shape, construction, and materials.
Flatter profile saddles (when viewed from the side), tend to find favor among cyclists who ride in an aggressive position, or those who like to move around a lot on their saddle and handlebars. If you are constantly changing hand positions, leaning forward, sitting up, pushing back, and sliding up on your saddle, a flatter profile will deliver a more consistent feel and not create excess pressure in one position over another.
Hammock saddles, those with a dip between the tail and nose, are better for cyclists who tend to stay more or less in the same position. This shape is often favored by cyclists who sit more upright, typically because leaning forward aggressively in the hammock creates excess pressure.
The side-to-side curve of a saddle is important to consider as well. Similar to the nose-to-tail profile, more curve in the latitudinal plane is usually a feature appreciated by cyclists preferring a more upright position, or those that like to mostly stay in one place. The side-to-side curve can help to center your pelvis on the saddle, although too much curve can also press up into your pelvis and create uncomfortable pressure.
One more variable to consider when selecting saddle shape is the radius of the transition curve between the widest part of the saddle and the nose. More curve creates less interference for your thighs when pedaling, reducing chafing. However, there’s a balance between support and freedom of movement that this curve must strike. Don’t worry about this metric until you’ve figured out which nose-to-tail and side-to-side shape works for you.
Channels, or cut-outs, are a popular saddle design feature which may or may not be right for you. Cut-outs are designed to relieve pressure to the perineum for men, and the soft tissue for women. Some riders find that a cut-out actually causes pressure or pinching along its edges. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pre-determine if you will benefit from a cut-out or channel. Generally, shallow channels won’t cause pressure or pinching along its edges as much as a cut-out, but will still provide some pressure relief.
When it comes to padding, less can definitely be more. While more cushioning might seem the obvious path to more comfort, an excess of squish often creates more problems than it solves. As your sit bones sink into excessive padding, more pressure is placed on the perineum, which is what should be avoided. While it may seem counterintuitive, if you ride a lot, look for firmer and/or thinner saddle padding.
Construction materials can play a big part in the way your saddle rides. Carbon or carbon-impregnated shells are lighter and offer a bit of vibration absorption, although full carbon shells tend to be stiff and don’t have forgiving flex like plastic shells. Many shells have cut outs or flex zones to enhance comfort. Rail material will also influence the way a saddle rides. Again, carbon rails are the lightest and will take a bit of the edge off, but require a special seatpost clamp to fit ovalized carbon rails. Titanium rails are lighter than steel, but steel rails are the most durable. The major difference between rail materials is weight.
If that seems like a lot to keep track of when selecting a saddle, focus on the nose-to-tail profile and how much you are willing to spend on materials to save weight. As you gain more experience, you will be able to narrow down your saddle needs.
Check out artscyclery.com and our wide selection of saddles: you’re sure to find exactly what you need at the right price.