Words: Neil Webb
Having somewhere to perch your backside that is the perfect balance between support and comfort is the Holy Grail when sitting at a desk or lounging in front of Jeremy Kyle. It should be no different when you’re sitting on your bike. With a plethora of choice on offer, there will be a saddle that suits you, no matter the shape of one’s derriere.
We all have different-width ‘sit-bones’. The ischial tuberosities are the parts of your body designed to bear your seated weight. Most cases of saddle-related discomfort arise because the load is carried on the soft tissues between the sit bones rather than by the bones themselves. Also bear in mind that the perceived width of your rear end has little to do with the actual bone structure. Good bike shops, and some brands, offer test ride programmes so you can try before you buy. Even the winning saddle in this test may not suit your shape.
What to look for
Checking saddles in a store can be a minefield but one thing not to get too obsessed about is the ‘squidge factor’. We have all done it, gone round, digging thumbs into saddles exclaiming how hard or soft they are. What you need to be aware of is that it’s the shape of the base that has more effect on the comfort — how well suited it is to your anatomy.
A channel or cut-out down the centre of the saddle is designed to relieve pressure on nerves to prevent the uncomfortable ‘numbness’ sensation that can occur when riding for a long time. If you do suffer with this, make sure any saddle you are considering includes this feature in some shape or form.
Saddle rails make up a large percentage of the weight of a saddle. While not the be-all and end-all, a lighter perch is something that you should consider and can have an effect on the ride of your bike. When you’re out of the saddle, extra mass swaying from side to side is never a good thing.
Our 7 of the best
Selle Royal Lookin Sport £39.99
Rather than fill the test with all pared-down ‘racing’ saddles, we thought we would include at least one with a nod to extra padding. It’s over 4oz heavier than anything else on test, but the thick gel padding suited a couple of very upright riders on shorter rides. After an hour the extra padding actually became detrimental, lacking the support of saddles using base shape for comfort.
Madison Prime £39.99
Sharing colour and manufacturer with the Charge, we expected great things from the Prime. We weren’t disappointed in the main. It has slightly less — albeit firmer — padding, and as such lacks a little of the width up front but only the largest of riders noticed this. The hollow chromoly rails also lacked a little of the buzz-reducing quality. Despite a few minor niggles, it sits very close to the top of the saddle tree.
Prologo Kappa £49.99
Like the Charge, the Kappa features titanium rails. These no doubt reduce weight and add comfort, but the semi-round shape did not suit heavier riders. The channel up top was complemented by a cut-out in the base that allowed the padding to deform more than expected, taking the pressure off the perineum. The finish of the saddle was excellent, suitable for higher-spec bikes.
Velo Senso Miles £43.99
The rails fix to plastic arches rather than directly to the base, allowing extra shock absorption. Another nod to additional flex is the hexagonally perforated base. The gel padding also incorporates hexagon shaped holes. While this theoretically increases airflow, it did allow some road spray to seep into the chamois. Some riders really disliked this and the narrow base displeased a few others. Well made, though.
Charge Spoon £44.99
As well as being lighter than chromoly, the titanium rails absorb a little of the road buzz. Combined with a seemingly perfect balance of padding quantity and base flex, they make this a very comfortable seat. There is enough width at the nose to shift forward on steeper climbs or going hard without being ruined. It’s fair to say we liked the Charge Spoon. A lot!
Specialized Romin Comp £59.99
The only saddle here to have its entire central section missing. Some riders felt the edges of the gap and others disliked the road spray issue. For the numbness sufferers and the mid-to-low-flexibility riders, the cut-out and curved base shape was fantastic. Others took a couple of rides to get used to the sensation of sitting on rather than in, then raved about it. The rest could never get on with the feeling of ‘edges’.
San Marco SKN £54.99
San Marco’s SKN has followed a very different tack. Rather than relying on the base itself, the two rear ‘lobes’ are not joined at all, allowing each sit bone to move independently. The flat shape suited the toe-touchers rather than the less flexible, more powerful riders who felt it flexed a little too much. But the Kevlar corner protection for keeping the saddle in good nick got a universal thumbs-up.
While we always knew that some saddles would only mate well with particular riders due to bone anatomy and flexibility, what surprised us was how some were actually almost universally liked. In particular, the Specialized suited our ‘numbies’, the Senso our ‘narrow boned’ and the SKN our ‘flexers’. The Prologo suited too many groups to be pigeonholed, but didn’t quite offer the comfort of our standout performers and cost at least an extra 10 per cent.