After having conversations with friends about getting into cycling, the first thing that turned them off about cycling was how uncomfortable bike seats are.
It made me think, how do you find the best bike seat? Finding the best bike seat will take a combination of knowing your specific sit bone measurements and bike riding style. You want to consider the seat shape such as nose-to-tail length, side-to-side width, and transition curve that’s optimal for comfort and performance. Also, knowing how much padding, or lack thereof, on the seat will determine how comfortable your ride might be.
When you’re putting in long hours on a bike ride you want to ensure you have the most comfortable bike seat possible. Wearing cycling shorts and adjusting your bike might not always cut it towards enduring an extended amount of time in a seat.
So, in this article, we will consider what you need to know to find the best bike seat and how to make your rides more comfortable.
Measuring The Width Of Your Sit Bones
Before choosing your bike seat you want to make sure to find out your sit bone measurements to determine the proper seat width.
There are a number of methods to measuring your sit bones and some of which can be done from the comfort of your home.
Most cyclists who want to get the “best fit” on their seats will either have a professional fitter perform this at a local bike shop or take the do-it-yourself (D-I-Y) approach.
What you’ll expect from a professional fitter is the use of a “sit bone measuring stool” which will be padded with either a gel pad or corrugated cardboard on the sitting area of the stool.
The fitter will have the rider sit on the stool and padding and make an indention in the cardboard or padding while mimicking your riding position.
The riding position you mimic will give you a varied measurement from narrow to wide, so the fitter may ask you to mimic the position you will be riding in the most.
TIP: It would be ideal to mimic different riding positions and measurements and find the average of them to give you a better idea of what seat will work for you.
With very few tools such as a marking pen, measure tape, and ruler, the fitter can then measure your sit bones from the padding using the center points of the sit bone indentions.
Now, if you want to try measuring your sit bones at home you can easily do this as long as you have a hard surface to sit on like a stool, chair, or hardwood floor.
There are a lot of DIY methods for measuring your sit bones, but I’ll share what I’ve found online and on Youtube that no one is talking about.
How To (DIY) Measure Sit Bone Width For Seat:
1. Create padding with homemade playdough (You can watch the YouTube video, here)
2. Place the playdough between two pieces of Saran Wrap and roll out the dough until it’s about 2” thick
3. Place the playdough wrapped padding on a hard stool or hardwood floor and cover it with a thin linen towel or hand towel (Ex: Paper Towel, Bounty, etc)
4. Sit on the padding with your back arched and mimic your riding position
5. The two circles are your sit bone indentions. Mark where the center is in both circles and measure the distance between the two in millimeters (MM, NOT inches)
As you can see, measuring your sit bones from home is as easy as they might measure you in a bike shop and you may not even break a dollar.
Measuring and knowing the width of your sit bones are not only important for seat selection but you may find this helpful when choosing cycling shorts.
I was once informed by a cycling shop salesmen that the best cycling short is the one that fits and protects your sit bones.
I thought this was super helpful and a great tip for new cyclists shopping for cycling shorts for the first time.
While performing your sit bone measurement it’s also important to know your flexibility as this will have a direct correlation to how comfortable you’ll sit on the seat.
Riders who are not as flexible with be sitting more upright, therefore, creating a narrow sit bone indentation. Others may be more flexible reaching halfway down their body, creating a bit wider sit bone indentation.
Those riders who are very flexible and can touch their toes may tend to sit more comfortably on the seat no matter how narrow or wide their sit bones are.
The best thing you can do for your sit bones is to choose a seat that fits your riding position and takes the pressure off the crucial parts of your body, which will provide the most comfort.
Choosing The Right Seat Shape
You might consider the shape of your seat as another way to finding the best fit. This is because some seats are made specifically for female riders and others are best for different types of riders.
The main goal of choosing the right seat shape is to reduce the pressure peaks on the most sensitive areas of the crotch while riding.
Don’t let the gender of the seat discourage you from trying it as some female seats have worked very well for men.
Consider Your Riding Position:
You might have a combination of these riding positions, but just apply the type of riding you do most, like road, triathlon, mountain biking, or touring when selecting your seat shape.
TIP: The more aggressive rider you are, the narrower the seat.
Seat shapes vary from flat to curved tails, hammock/ sling or cutout channels, and short to long or split noses.
For most leisure riders, the seat you’ll be most comfortable with will have wide-curved tails, with more padding than standard seats. The nose will be short and little to no curve on the mid-channel (transition curve) from the tail to the nose.
Some seats for leisure riders might be the following:
- WTB DEVA thin line gel- wider seat, more cushion – for upright riders
- Selle Anatomica – wider seat, can work with a variety of riders, has tension adjuster which can make the seat hammock or curved in the middle area
The fitness, performance, and aggressive riders usually fall within one type of seat category.
TIP: The more curve in the mid-channel, the curved part between the tail and the nose, means less interference with your thighs when pedaling. This will also reduce chafing in the thigh area.
If you are more fit and have an aggressive riding position, the seat shape you might go for is one that has a flat profile tail, narrow from the mid-channel to the nose, and lightweight.
These are some narrow seats that might suit you:
- San Marco – flat profile
- Selle SMP – Curved seat, cutout mid-channel
- Selle Italia – slightly curved sides, flat profile with minimalist cushion
- ISM Prologue – flat profile
When it comes to triathlons and time trial riders, the seat that best suits them will be a lightweight, split nose seat that has more padding in the nose.
The rider on this seat wants more padding in the nose since they will spend a lot of time there riding in an aero position.
For time trialist or triathletes who aim for more aero riding positions, you might consider the following type of seat:
- ISM Adamo seat – riders who want a more aggressive position; allows the rider to sit forward on the seat
What Size Bike Seat I’ll Need?
After getting your sit bones measured then you are ready to select a bike seat. The sit bone number you get will determine what size seat you need.
The sit bone measurement you get will not be the exact size of the seat you need. When choosing the right seat width you should add or take away a few millimeters off the number depending on your riding type.
For example, you would add +0 mm for a triathlon or time trial bike seat, +20 mm for an aggressive or road racing style bike, and +20 mm (or more) for a sportive or comfort road bike.
We must also take into account that every rider’s preferences will be different and even after determining the sit bone measurements, it is always better to sample multiple seats if possible.
The reason why determining the sit bone measurement is not an end-all-be-all is because the number is only vaguely useful. If you move around in different positions on a seat, your comfort level will vary and can affect how wide or narrow a seat you need.
Now, if you are not able to sample different bike seats, start with a seat width of 160 mm, and from there try a narrower or wider seat depending on your riding style, riding position, and fitness level.
Going back to the seat shape topic, those with narrow sit bones, let’s say between 100 – 140 mm, you may benefit from a flat seat with a width between 155-160 mm
Riders who are not as flexible and have wider sit bones, 130-155 mm and like to stay more upright, might prefer a seat width of 160-168 mm.
Since I have narrow sit bones, a flat seat with a width of about 154 mm, usually works best for me, but I much rather try a wider seat. The reason I may not go with a wider seat is due to the fact that I move around a lot and change positions from standard, to aggressive and aero.
Tip: If you happen to have wide sit bones and experience a lot of pain riding on a seat, you might consider getting re-fitted, then trying a wider seat.
One common problem some cyclists face is getting too narrow a seat with wide sit bones which lacks proper support because their sit bones roll off the sides.
You will start to notice saddle soreness or pain from riding too-narrow a seat within about 5-6 miles.
Pressure may build up in the crotch area and mid-channel which can be unbearable.
If you catch this early on during a ride, you are better off ending the ride and try riding another day just to make sure the seat is the problem.
Some seats do take time to break-in, especially leather seats, but if you experience pain or pressure consistently or it gets even worse then stop using that seat.
How To Make A Bike Seat More Comfortable
Buying an expensive seat doesn’t mean it’s going to have more cushion, nor will buying seats with extra padding, gel, or fabric mean it’s going to be more comfortable.
To make a bike seat more comfortable, less padding and harder material mean more comfort. Seats with less padding allow the sit bones to sit properly on the seat. Those seats with more padding increase pressure on the soft body parts of the rider which causes pain and irritation over time.
It is very common that riders pursue a seat that’s very soft, which can do more harm than good.
A seat that’s soft and very padded will feel comfortable for the first 20-30 minutes, but on a longer ride, it can be really painful.
This pain is due to the cycling motion and the way sit bones sink into a soft seat. The muscles and tendons are compressed and irritated which results in pain.
Seats that provide the most comfort should fit like a pair of shoes. If the seat does not fit you properly then you will experience pain and pressure.
Many cyclists will wear properly fitted bib or bike shorts to make their bike seats more comfortable.
Having the best bike seat along with padded shorts that fit your specific sit bones will provide the most comfort.
In your pursuit to find the most comfortable seat, it might make investing in a more expensive seat.
Some cyclists swear by the comfort of the S-Works Power Seat which is lightweight, made of carbon fiber, and features a cut-out in the mid-channel. You can find out the current price at Specialized.com.
But the S-Works Power Seat is more for aggressive riding positions and race-minded riders. Sitting upright with this seat will be uncomfortable for casual riders.
There’s a German company named SQLab that some cyclists say makes the best seats they have ever tried.
SQLab put a lot of research into creating a seat that distributes pressure evenly to allow more comfort while riding.
Tip: Even with a heavily researched and scientifically back seat, you will experience some discomfort but it will subside over time as the sit bones get used to the new seat.
Overall the SQLab seats have a great reputation and have received rave reviews.
Additional tips to make a bike seat comfortable:
- Avoid seat cushions
- Get a bike fitting
- Check seat height
- Check seat angle
- Try bare shell seats – May only work for a few
- Swap for the female seat – If you are a male try a female-specific seat which is wider and usually more comfortable
- Try cutout or seats with pressure relief channels
If you are in a position to get a professional bike fitting, ask if they also provide a wide range of seats to swap out until you find the right one.
Trying out various bike seats and allowing time for your sit bones to adjust will take time on your quest to find the most comfortable bike seat.
Take the time to start out riding shorter rides with a new seat and eventually go on longer rides to help break-in the seat allowing your sit bones to get comfortable.
Best Bike Seat
For many cyclists, the best bike seat is very subjective and I know that a bike seat that might be the best for me may not be the best for you.
Still, many people have asked, “what’s the best?…” question a lot. After careful research and competition analysis, I’m here to provide the best bike seat for mountain biking, road, aero/triathlon, and casual riders.
Specialized Phenom Comp
Why we picked them: The Specialized Phenom Comp is one of the best all-around seats that’s comfortable and versatile for mountain and road biking. It’s also reasonably priced for the value you get. This seat is a favorite among mountain bikers especially because of the comfort and cutout mid-channel to reduce pressure underneath the crotch.
This seat is relatively round on the tail and the sides of the seat are tapered in such a way that it won’t snag your shorts or rub against your thighs like wider seats. It’s also slightly curved in the center and complements the round tail as it swoops down.
The material of this seat is made of a carbon-reinforced shell with thin padding that will be just enough to provide comfort on longer rides. This bike seat is medium-sized in terms of width and length and comes in 143 mm and 155 mm.
What could be improved: The number one complaint but not really a deal-breaker is the weight of the seat. (This may be a deal-breaker for those who are weight conscious) Carbon is one the lightest materials but even though the seat is made of carbon with carbon rails, it weighs in at 254 g for the 143mm and 260 g for the 155mm seat.
Tips: Before buying an expensive seat with carbon rails, check your bike’s seat post and clamps for compatibility.
Compared to the competition: Despite the weight of the seat, this bike seat is very durable and comfortable than one might expect from a mountain bike seat It is on the medium size compared to the competition like WTB and Fizik, which tailor their seats to a riders flexibility and wider sit bones.
Another competitor is SQLab seats which are designed not only for performance but to comfort riders sit bones using active-seat technology.
Specialized really delivered on this seat with is a comfortably shaped design and overall performance which would be great for any riding type. I don’t think you can go wrong with this seat and for most who just love the brand, it’s a worthy investment.
Why we picked this: If you’re the type of rider that likes to sit in his/her seat where your sit bones are cradled in the seat, this will be the most comfortable bike seat you’ve ever ridden! Unlike a flat seat, you won’t be moving too much on this seat as it keeps you in the proper position for road cycling.
So. you don’t just sit in the back or front of the seat but your sit bones fall in a perfect place. The seat is very curved so it’s important to find the right angle position that will suit you.
This seat fits most riders in different disciplines. Whether you’re an aggressive rider, race competitively or ride just for sport, this will be a comfortable bike seat for you.
The mid-channel cut out from the back to the nose helps avoid any pressure in the crotch area.
Selle SMP Dynamic’s seat padding is made of elastic memory padding material that adapts to the users’ build. This will ensure that the seat will not lose shape over time.
What could be improved: It’s a one-position seat, so if you want to sit forward or towards the back your options are limited. You could simply adjust the angle of the seat to accommodate your needs but for beginner cyclists, this could be a task to get right.
If you prefer more padding, then this seat isn’t for you. The padding is thin and firmer than standard seats made with more padding.
But less padding and firmness means lightweight and is great for road or mountain bike racing.
Compared to the competition: The Selle SMP Dynamic bike seat is completely different than traditional bike seats on the market today.
It’s compatible for both male and female riders and not gender-specific.
This seat is more stiff and stable, yet more flexible than other bike seats being that it’s handmade in Italy with the finest materials, like nylon-12 and carbon fiber.
Selle does not use a testing system to determine the best measurement of a rider’s sit-bones to fit a bike seat.
It’s encouraged that a rider is fitted by a professional fitter who will try different Selle seat models and choose the best one for you based on a number of tests.
ISM Adamo Road
Why we picked this: The ISM brand has been around for quite a long time and one of the favorites among triathlon and road cyclist.
ISM makes different performance bike seats for triathletes and is priced competitively. It’s fairly comfortable and places less pressure near your sensitive areas.
If you ride a traditional bike seat and you experience pain, numbness, discomfort, or even frequent saddles sores, then this seat might be for you.
The reason you might want to try this is that it changes the way we fundamentally sit on the seat, from upright or slightly bent over to an aero position sitting more forward off the glutes and pelvic areas.
The bike seat will position you to be in the most aero position and allow you to put as much power as possible on the pedals during long rides.
ISM’s Adamo bike seats are an advantage for men and women allowing the sit bones to rest more naturally keeping the rider more stable in the seat.
What could be improved: At first, fitting this seat according to your riding style will take some time to break in. It will be quite uncomfortable at the beginning for most road cyclists as it is new and different from standard road bike seats. Making a seat with more flex near the center could help in this regard.
There are about 3 inches of seat length near the tail that’s unused for the most part and will take time getting used to.
Compared to the competition: Setting up a triathlon bike seat on your bike’s seat post can be tricky if you haven’t received a bike fit.
But at least they give you very clear instructions on how to set your seat up on a bike. There is also a fair amount of rail length for multiple adjustments and will make it easier for a bike fitter to get the right seat angle that works best for you.
Compared to the Selle SMP’s bike seat, ISM Adamo’s bike seats are slightly heavier.
Many of the time trial ISM bike seats have a light but thick material on the nose with a tall profile that allows space for your legs to pivot and keeps your thighs from chafing.
Sunlite Cloud 9
Why we picked this: For a reasonably priced, ultra-comfortable bike seat, it doesn’t get better than this!
This seat is very durable, wide, and very comfortable. It will even suit someone heavy like 6’1 – 6’2 and 300 lbs comfortably. But even if you’re not that heavy it will be a fun bike seat to ride.
The bike seat is very squishy with two levels of padding and features suspension springs underneath that absorb a lot of the vibrations and bumps on the road. It will alleviate pressure and pinching with all the padding and contoured shape.
Although riding a bike seat with more cushion and gel padding can be counterproductive for long rides, this is best for someone who rides casually or commutes short distances.
What could be improved: The bike seat is fairly heavy at 2.8 lbs. It’s not for performance or long-distance riding beyond 30 miles, but you can push it there if you like.
The railing system is a bit wide and can be a slight problem fitting on some hybrids and 10-speed bikes. It’s better suited for bikes with suspension posts, cruiser bikes, some comfort bikes, and hybrids.
If they got rid of the suspension and just provide a nice railing system this bike seat would drop weight considerably. It would also be easier to mount on any seat post if it did not have the suspension.
Compared to the competition: Other bike seats of this kind have padded gels that are supposed to be soft but are deceiving after 10-20 miles or so. You’ll start to have soreness and pressure near the tailbone and sit bone areas.
The Sunlite Cloud 9, on the other hand, has been so much more comfortable than regular bike seats that many riders have eliminated, if not significantly reduced saddle soreness.
Some of the materials used on other comfortable bike seats snag or get stuck on your shorts. Although this may not be a deal-breaker, it may be annoying after a while, in my opinion.
Other suspension bike seats have plastic or rubberized bushings which makes the suspension non-adjustable. But with the Sunlite Cloud 9, you can adjust the bike seat easily by twisting the spring itself clockwise or counterclockwise.
If you’re looking for an ultra-comfortable bike seat and one that can accommodate almost any weight load, then you should definitely give the Sunlite Cloud 9 bike seat a try.
How Wide Should My Bike Seat Be?
After figuring out the measurement of your sit bones and whether they are narrow or not, you will need a seat wide enough to support your sit bones properly. You may need to add 20 mm or more to your site bone measurements depending on your riding style.
- If you have a sit bone width of 70-100 mm the recommended seat width is 130 mm to 143mm
- If your sit bone width is 100-130 mm then a recommended seat width is between 143mm – 155 mm
- A sit bone width of 130 mm – 160mm it’s recommended to use a seat width of 143 mm – 155mm and or wider
Even with those estimates, you will need to play around with the width of the bike seat and try what will be most comfortable for you. There may not be just one seat that will do, try as many as you reasonably can. But don’t go out and buy all these expensive bike seats to find the right one. See a professional bike fitter for a comprehensive assessment.
Does Bicycle Seat Height Matter?
Bike seat height matters as it can be the difference between riding comfortably or developing compression injuries or overstretching issues. The bike seat height has a direct correlation to how well you distribute power to the pedals, how comfortable you feel while riding, and your overall performance.
When your bike seat height is too high it can cause lateral knee pain, over-extension, affects your power output, and in serious cases tendon tear or rupture.
When the bike seat is just the right height you’ll notice a slight knee extension and efficient power output while pedaling. The bike will fit you like a glove and you’ll ride comfortably.
Now, If your bike seat height is too low, the main issue that will be affected is power output. You will also notice knee pain in the front and or inflammation of the quadriceps with a bike seat that’s too low.