Photo: Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock

How to Choose a Bicycle Saddle

by Morrigan McCarthy Jun 11, 2012
With more than 30,000 miles logged on my fully loaded touring bicycle, there’s one question I get a lot: How’s your bum?

ACTUALLY, IT’S GREAT. (Thanks for asking, total stranger). And here’s why: I use the hardest, smallest saddle I can handle. For me that’s the Brooks B17 Standard.

Brooks has been making bicycle saddles since 1882, when Mr. Brooks filed his first saddle patent after finding his bicycle an unbearably uncomfortable alternative to his recently deceased horse. Brooks saddles today are still basically just a nice piece of leather, which makes them tough, long-lasting, and gives them the reputation of being difficult to break in. Cyclists like to joke whether it’s the ass breaking in the leather, or the other way around.

That sounds nice, you mutter to yourself as you slyly reach for the cushy gel saddle you’ve been eyeing. Wait. Hear me out.

8,000 people searched Google last month for “chafing thighs,” while nearly 10,000 searched for “saddle sores.”

When you sit on a bicycle saddle, your ischial tuberosities (translation: sit-bones) should be the two major contact points. With a soft saddle, the foam or gel becomes compressed, distributing your body weight over more contact points. That might feel nice at first, but over the course of just a few hours your body weight will begin bearing down on parts of your anatomy that are…more delicate, and decidedly not designed for weight bearing.

What about other body parts that could touch your saddle? The inner thighs spring to mind as a potentially unpleasant contact point as your legs pump up and down for hours at a time. 8,000 people searched Google last month for “chafing thighs,” while nearly 10,000 searched for “saddle sores.” There’s a whole market devoted to silicones, creams, and goos designed to provide relief: Chamois Butt’r, Butt Paste, petroleum jelly, and diaper rash cream are some favorites.

Which do I use? None. I wear wool cycling shorts because fabric that breathes + light padding = no chafing. Wool cycling shorts aren’t hot or itchy, they last a long time, they wick moisture away, and (bonus!) they repel odor. Your comfort aside, after a few days of sweaty touring, this last fact will be greatly appreciated by your tent-mate.

More info

Some manufacturers of leather saddles:

I know. Leather saddles are expensive, but they last forever if you treat them right.

You might be able to find one cheaper by checking eBay or asking around your local bike shops and secondhand stores. Often, older bicycle frames come with well-worn leather saddles. A couple years ago, I picked up a vintage white Brooks saddle at a bike swap (with a bike attached!) for $25.

Full disclosure: Brooks England donated saddles to my latest adventure. I felt comfortable recommending them for this article because I’d been using their seats for many years before they sponsored me, and I’d continue to use them even if they dropped their sponsorship. But please don’t tell them that.

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