Words by: Liam Woods
Mountain bike seats, or saddles as we call them, can be very tricky and a part that is usually an afterthought on your bike. While it is a critical contact point, it’s often thought to be this crazy equation that takes someone like Elon Musk to figure out. In reality, it all depends on how much you ride and your riding style. We are going to dive into a few different theories about what is important on mountain bike saddles or seats, what is not important, what to look for and why you might want to stay with what you have or look for other options. We are going to be focusing on the more average mountain biker, which we might say is someone that gets in a few rides every week and about 10 hours or under on the bike. If you ride more than that, a saddle choice can be very important and this blog might not be in-depth enough. If you fall into the average rider zone like most of us, take a read at what we think about saddle choice.
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So there are a few different things to look at with a saddle, but first, we are going to quickly talk about some topics before we get into specific features about saddles. The most important is how much time you are spending on the bike. This is huge as it will not only determine what type of saddle you choose, but also how long it might take to get used to it and really how important it is. If you are riding only once or twice a month, saddles will really feel uncomfortable and in that case, I would say just try to get used to riding it for the time being. This relates to the amount of padding you want in a saddle. The less time you spend on a bike, the more padding you will want. As you spend more time riding, and you get more and more comfortable on that saddle, you will find that actually going with less padding and focusing on shape makes a bigger difference. The last topic to touch on is your riding style, and getting the saddle to be as close to level to the ground as possible. I actually go as far as to put a level on my saddle to make the “center” of the saddle level to the ground. This means the tail kinda scoops up and the nose tilts down, but I want the center, or where I sit most of the time to be level to the ground. Now, this changes a bit from person to person, but if you are trying something extreme like super pointed down or up, then you are either not on the right saddle or the saddle height is not close to the right spot.
Now let's dive into some of the features you want to look at in a saddle. Some relate to the topics above, but those are more general and these are things to look for in a saddle. Some of the common ones are a relief channel, which can be a very opinionated topic. You either like the relief channel as there is some science that proves it takes the pressure off precious zones down there, or it can actually cause more discomfort because of a hard edge. Others are width based on your sit bone structure and the overall shape. Some are wider in the rear to support your sit bones, and get thinner through the nose of the saddle. The rear of the saddle can also be the same model but offered in different widths. To get more into that we will talk about an easy way to measure your sit bone width.
The last will be padding amount, as that is a huge feature to look for. For the common rider you probably want something with some medium padding. This will provide some comfort while also relying on some shape to get the best of both worlds. Saddles like the WTB Volt or the Ergon SM Pro fall into this category. If you are closer to the 10 hours a week, you might want to look at a thinly padded saddle, like the WTB Silverado or the Fizik Antares.
When talking about saddle fit, there are three main ways companies go about this, and many combine one, two or three of these into helping you decide what saddle might be best. The most common is the width. Saddle width is very common and also very important. I think most companies have some type of width measurement to determine what you need. An easy way to get a close to accurate measurement is get a large Ziploc of flour or sand, rest that on the ground, ideally maybe utilizing some stairs, with your feet on the ground. This will help you get into the position to expose your sit bones. Sit on that for 10 seconds and then stand straight up. You will see two impressions. Measure the distance between the two low spots. Sometimes it's easy to put in a small marble or ball bearing in there to see where they naturally roll to. This helps get your width and then you can use that measurement for picking the right saddle from the right brand.
The second, which is also very common, is padding. Brands like WTB categorize their saddles by thick, medium, and thin padding. As mentioned above, depending on how much you ride or the style of riding you do will determine if you need more or less padding. Some brands, like Ergon, also offer some gel padding saddles that help make this more clear and you can get the same model but with more padding. I would really take a deep dive into what shape works best for you if you are uncomfortable instead of immediately looking for more padding. The shape and width has a lot to do with that and oftentimes the right blend of shape and width with less padding is the best pick for you.
Speaking of shape... While all of these are important, sometimes you follow the two above and you still can’t find the saddle that works for you. I think in the end shape is the most important, especially on a mountain bike where you are moving very dynamically on the bike. You are not only sitting on the seat to pedal but also moving around, using it to corner, etc. so shape is a bit more important than you might expect. This also includes if you like or dislike the relief channel on a saddle. I personally do not like it, which I think is less common but the pressure spots of the channel actually cause me more discomfort than the channel actually relieves. So shape is important, and it’s certainly something to look at along with all the other topics covered so far.
Since the Ergon SM Pro Saddle came out, it instantly became a top seller for us, so much so we had trouble keeping it in stock to start. The SM Pro is Ergon's top of the line MTB saddle for men. Specifically designed for men and intended for MTB touring, trail and all-mountain riding, this saddle features an anatomically optimized relief channel in the sensitive perineal area and an athletic but light AirCell-Padding. The flattened tail and the Y-shape guarantee full freedom of movement when in the moderate riding position typical for mountain biking.
Building on the popular SM Pro saddle, Ergon released an Enduro version made for more gravity oriented riding with an improvement on shape, padding location and materials. The SM Enduro saddle for performance-focused enduro and gravity riders was developed and race-tested in the Enduro World Series. The SM Enduro has a V-shape and a flat top, providing maximum freedom of movement in technical terrain. To ensure even better bike control with your legs, all contouring edges are comfortably padded.
The Ergon SMC Sport Gel takes on a similar design from the SM Pro but with some gel padding. The Ergon SMC mountain bike saddle is further refined for even more comfort. The orthopedic foam is thicker, softer, and creates a large contact area. It features a flat seat for dynamic sitting in different positions without tilting effects.
The Volt is WTB's most popular mountain saddle. Shaped for speed and comfort, time tested and proven, the Volt makes for an incredibly versatile saddle that has gained endless acclaim among riders. The Volt comes stock on many bikes and therefore many riders have learned to love the Volt and continue to pick it when buying or building new bikes.
The Silverado is one of WTB s most iconic and revered saddle shapes. It’s a very long lasting saddle offered by WTB and is the go-to saddle for many riders. Lightweight and slim, the design oozes speed while proving to be incredibly comfortable. Ride a Silverado and you'll quickly know what everyone's raving about.
An excellent all-mountain and distance saddle, the Pure features a drop nose design preventing hang ups, as well as enough padding for all day comfort. The Pure is a sure bet for almost any rider and an even better bet for bike packers. The thicker padding of the Pure helps riders looking to do multi-day rough rides, or for riders that maybe don't spend that much time on their bike and are looking for some instant comfort.
The SDG Bel-Air saddle is a very iconic saddle, and also one of those that some riders picked years ago and have never let it go. It works well, feels good and can find its way onto many different styles of bikes. The Bel-Air is practical and comfortable with a timeless, clean design for all day comfort. Available with Ti-alloy, solid chromoly, or steel rails.
The Speedtrap is Deity's collaboration with global saddle leader SDG Components. An SDG base topped with a Deity foam mold, the Speedtrap uses the highest quality mid density EVA foam for resilient durability, a soft synthetic cover for minimal wear, and high end Kevlar sides to protect your seat while giving you the grip where you need it.
As you can tell, there is a lot to look for when saddle shopping, but at the same time it might not be as complicated as you think. How much do you ride? What type of riding do you do? What is your current saddle and what do you not like about it? When looking at these questions, you can help break it down a bit and make all this information easier to digest. Three main saddle features, width, shape, and padding, will help get you close to a saddle choice. The rest is just trying and riding them.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.