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.
Don't get so frustrated that you end up eating your saddle like Stella here
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.
Hello mountain bike friends, today we are going to talk about mountain bike seats or saddles as people like to call them and I'm going to do my absolute best to demystify the confusing topic of these things and why there are so many options. We're going to cover the most popular ones and what most mountain bikers are using, why you might want to care a lot or care not so much about your saddle choice depending on the type of riding and frequency of riding, and quick interviews with different types of riders. So let's get into it.
Well if you want a cheat sheet on what are just the most popular saddles and best saddle brands for mountain bikes, that's what i'm going to go over right now and a little bit later we're going to get more in depth on why you might choose which model from one of these brands or any other brand. So there are two brands that have just absolutely dominated our top selling saddles forever since the opening of worldwide cyclery nine years ago and that is Ergon and WTB. We do sprinkle in some other brands there like SDG and Deity but Ergon and WTB between their vast amount of models, they've dominated like the top 20 best-selling saddles for us forever. So those are two really key brands that you've probably seen on a whole bunch of bikes throughout history and have been in the saddle game for a really long time making really nice stuff. So which models from each brand are popular? Ergon sm pro, smc sport gel, and the sm enduro. WTB: the volt, pure, and silverado and sdg which is kind of an iconic classic mountain bike saddle is the bel air rl and this is the original bel air design and for some more looks/style points - deity speedtrap. These brands and these saddles again are pretty much just loved by mountain bikers and a lot of people are using them and enjoying them and it's a very common upgrade. People are also getting these, keep in mind a good number of these models have been around for several years so some people are just getting one of these stock on a bike that they bought and they really liked it, they liked how it fit and how it felt and then they just stuck with it for a decade. They just always said I'm getting a new bike, I'm putting a bel air on it. Like hands down, I don't even care, I didn't want to try another one and that is my personal preference, which saddles are very much personal preference. if you find one that works for you that's really comfortable and works great for the bike you ride the type of riding how often you ride maybe just stick with it and don't bother messing around with different ones but those are the brands that are really key to look at in the mountain bike saddle world and now let's get into more details on which models might make sense for you.
The amount of effort and pickiness you put into your saddle choice needs to directly correlate with how often you ride and how long those rides are. So if you're a very very casual rider you're going to want just a more padded saddle because you're probably going to be on a more casual bike or you're a little bit more upright. That's why you see big padded saddles on beach cruisers and city bikes and things like that, and then when you get to the road segment of the world it gets way way more complicated because road riders don't stand up out of the saddle as often as mountain bikers and they're on the bike for an extensive amount of time with no suspension and you know 110 psi in the tire so totally different category. Most mountain bikers, in my opinion, what it seems like ride less than 10 hours total per week right, so most of us i think are weekend warriors even if you're riding three to five times a week you're probably not putting in more than 10 hours on the bike and when you're in that boat it's not extremely important when it comes to saddle choice, granted there are exceptions to this. Some people have more sensitivity down there and different scenarios where you know certain saddles really bother them and other saddles don't. If you're riding sort of you know less frequently like say you ride once a month you're never really going to sort of build up the muscles and get used to that feeling of being in the saddle. So every time you ride you know one hour a month you're gonna have kind of a sore butt and your sit bones are gonna be sore and the more frequently you ride you kind of just get used to that whole thing. So when it comes to padding, a good chamois is key and saddle choice well you could sit and dissect it all day. But my recommendation is if you're only riding you know not very often maybe you know one to two hours a week go with something with a little bit more padding for example ergon has a smc sport gel this is a very nice padded saddle and feels super cushy and it's definitely on the side where it's a little heavier because of that, but people who aren't riding as frequently are going to find this more comfortable. Another very popular one in that realm is the wtb pure. I also personally love the wtb coda. That's what I use on my gravel bike which has no suspension. a little bit more padding and the wtb volt. So that's another you know medium or thick padded saddle. In the mountain bike scene that is very popular because of that you're riding a bit more frequently let's say three to five times you can probably shave off some of that padding and some of that weight and you'll be more comfortable and feel better on something a little bit more stealth and aero and streamline like the ergon sm pros or the wtb silverado. Most saddles, if you look at the different price points, a lot of that has to do with the rail material. So steel chromoly is going to be the cheapest and you have alloy and ti and carbon that's going to change the weight of the saddle and some bit of comfort and flexibility to it. But yeah, saddles get confusing and I've always kind of told people to really try not to overthink it too much. It doesn't matter what you think. Usually what makes you feel more comfortable on your bike is where that saddle's positioned in the saddle fitment and that fit is much more important the more you ride. So if you're on the bike for 10 plus hours don't just watch this video, watch several other videos, read articles, learn about the different fitment systems of sit bones and how you can measure that. Also look into Fizik's whole concept of your flexibility, dive into ergon. Ergon has a ton of interesting education on that stuff because they have some of the most complex and just like intricate saddle designs and innovative engineering in the business. When it comes to that, if you're riding less than 10 hours a week don't get too caught up in it. Check out some popular models, maybe consider what you're using now. If you like it, if you don't like it, you know what you do and don't like it. Some people really like the relief channels in here, again very personal preference, some people really love and swear by this, other people don't really mind it or don't really care for it, some people got a saddle on their bike 15 years ago and it was a bel air and they fell in love with it and that's all they ever want ever period. That's totally okay as well. So factor that in. If you have a downhill bike or a dirt jump bike and you want something flashy that looks really good, Deity kind of crushes it in that realm so to some other brands like chromag hopefully that like demystified it and didn't make it any more confusing. I want to show you guys some interviews and takes on what other people think so candid quick questions where i'm not going to tell a number of our staff what question i'm going to ask them and i'm going to ask them to answer what their favorite saddle is and why in 30 seconds and i think you'll probably find out that not the most common average mountain bikers are not incredibly picky about it and they don't really need to be i like the trough the trough saddles are tough some people again are more sensitive and do need to test out a lot more saddles and really get more deep into the fitment of things and especially no matter who you are if you're riding over 10 hours a week or for really long periods of time you do really need to get into more testing and more fitment related stuff to make sure you're comfortable, you're not cutting off circulation or anything like that. So I'm also going to interview a good friend of mine, Jonathan Lee. This dude is a phenomenal mountain biker, a phenomenal road biker, and puts so many miles in on the bike it is insane. He has much more knowledge when it comes to fitting in saddle preference and choice and that sort of stuff if you're in that 10 plus hour so definitely check out his interview if you do ride a ton um or you're on cross country or road side of things and uh yeah let's go interview some guys and see their quick thoughts on what their favorite saddle is and if they even know or care.
What is your favorite saddle and why? The ergon sm pro because Nate Hills rides it, he doesn't even wear a chamois.
What is your favorite saddle and why? Whatever comes on my bike I mean whatever comes on my new bike
What is your favorite saddle and why? It definitely has to be the sm pro because Jared rides it.
How many hours a week do you ride?
I would say close to 10 to 20. You're a liar. Yeah not as much as i would like to right now. And saddle choice is entirely because Jared rides it yeah i trust Jared.
What's your favorite saddle and why? I don't run a saddle.
What is your favorite saddle and why? Oh you know i've actually been pressing on my mustang it's been real rough but it's fun. I actually only run the Fizik Antares saddle because when I was racing and riding all the time, that's the only one that did not mess up my butt. And you just rode it ever since? And I've ridden it ever since. I think I've been on it eight or more years now. So those are the thoughts of the average common mountain biker folk now let's go to jonathan lee who spends a lot more time in the saddle on a bicycle than most humans ever will and see his thoughts.
Number one i think the first priority for people should be to film what they're doing right now on the bike and that's pretty easy to do. have your friend film behind you when you're riding or go on a trainer and just film behind and then film from the side if your hips are rocking side to side like that your sit bones aren't properly supported. That's a big thing when you look at the side. If your pelvis is tilted really forward really far back or neutral those three scenarios you want to identify in which one you fall. So number one, first priority should be proper sit bone support they're called ischial tuberosities they're basically the points on your pelvis that make contact with your saddle. They push through your soft tissue and make contact with your saddle - those aren't properly supported, no saddle's going to be comfortable. This happens a lot like on saddles, I know a lot of people like the wtb silverado or something like that but that saddle gets really narrow really quick so a lot of people don't have properly supported sit bones with that. Conversely, if you have one that's super wide your sit bones may be supported but then it's just rubbing into your legs right there like the gluteal crease right below the top of your thighs it's super uncomfortable too. So you need to find how your sit bones are going to be properly supported and there's a super easy way to do it at home. Just take a bag of flour put it in or take a ziploc bag fill it with flour get all the air out of it, put it down on a hard surface and then sit on it and when you sit on it lean forward so that your weight your chest is like against your thighs and then you'll have two bumps in that in that flour and just measure those bumps. If it aligns with the width of your saddle then you're probably in a good place and that's a really good spot. Once your pelvis is supported you'll be a lot more comfortable, less rocking, you'll be able to even put out more power. It's much better but from that point forward it becomes about comfort and if you're an anterior pelvic tilt person meaning that your pelvis is tilted forward like your butt sticking out in your stomach's going forward if that's the case then you're really going to want a saddle that has a lot of open channel and open space in the front and probably a shorter nose. There are a lot of people that argue that you should be neutral or posterior pelvic tilt but if you are what you are just make sure you get the saddle what you need for that if you're posterior you probably want something that has like some curve in it so those like uh really goofy looking like bird's beak saddles or whatever those ones are that might be for you and then if you're a neutral person you might want a flat saddle that you can kind of scoot forward and back on. But the main thing is you know after you get your sit bones supported it's all about finding the shape that's the right comfort and that's where those cut in those cutaway channels come in, the holes, all that stuff. So that's honestly it, it's pretty simple. Take comfort and break it down supporting your sit bones and then making sure that it's not pushing on soft tissue anywhere because of how you're tilted or shaped once you get those things out of the way you'll find a saddle and a saddle there isn't just one saddle for you chances are there's tons of saddles that can work. so you probably don't have to be crazy ultra specific on it. One really good point with this too is the fact that every saddle will feel will feel uncomfortable at first yeah you have to get used to it. So if you just get on your bike and your saddle is uncomfortable, well how long have you been spending on that saddle? Is this a brand new one or have you taken a long time off the bike? Your saddle might be uncomfortable. It's just your body getting used to things and many times I think we change saddles trying to find the perfect one but we never give our body the chance to get used to the saddle that we're using and I think that there's definitely an issue with that. So if you can simplify it and give your body some time, you'll find it the right one. Well I hope that helped you guys understand mountain bike saddles/seats. There's definitely a lot of choices out there so don't get too freaked out and freeze up and decision paralysis like you can with a lot of things in the mountain bike world. It doesn't need to be too complex and you'll probably realize in the mountain bike scene most people kind of pick a saddle, fall in love with it and swear by it and think everything else is terrible. That's kind of like that with a lot of stuff. So drop a comment below what saddle you love and prefer and what you have on your bike right now. Hit that subscribe button and we'll see you guys in the next one.