05 Jun 2024

Bicycle Saddle 101

Two Brooks saddles are shown next to each other where one is significantly wider than the other

It’s time for bicycle saddle 101 – Let’s unravel the riddle of saddles!


Starting with the basics, it’s incredibly hard to find a comfortable saddle. It’s super frustrating, but it can be a long process to find one that works for you. So if you have had trouble getting comfortable, you aren’t alone. But it can also be demoralising to continue to experience pain on a bike. And we don’t like the idea of anyone being put-off riding bikes because of it.

Now another thing we need to mention here is that it will take several weeks for you to get comfortable on a new saddle. By this we mean if you have changed saddles at all. Bought a new saddle and ridden 3 or 4 times and it doesn’t feel any better? May be it even feels worse? Unfortunately that could be a little bit of an adjustment or ‘breaking in’ period. Not of the saddle mind you, that’s breaking your butt in!

Of course there are many caveats to this statement – if you sit on a saddle and it’s immediately awful, get rid of it. But if you fit a new saddle on to your bike & it’s not feeling all that must better than your last, this is sometimes to be expected. Aside from the damage that a bad saddle has done to your soft tissue, it can take a while to notice improvements. Improvements like NOT having a saddle-sore after a 40km ride. Or just generally feeling less sore after riding or while riding. Your body can take a while to adapt to new pressure. Just think of how long it took you to feel fit on your bike!


The dreaded lycra


The next thing we will mention is that all saddles will feel more comfortable if you wear padded shorts. Otherwise known as knicks or chamois or bib shorts, these are the dreaded lycra shorts. The padding in these shorts is designed to protect your soft tissue from your saddle. Essentially giving you an added layer of comfort. And there is a reason all the professionals ride with these. They simply make riding bike’s feel better. Though we completely understand they are not for everyone or even every ride. But if you are absolutely sick of being in pain in the saddle, padded shorts will help.

Okay finally, let’s get to the saddles!


What does a wide saddle have over a narrow saddle?


Two Brooks saddles are shown next to each other where one is significantly wider than the other
The narrowest Brooks saddle next to the widest


Saddles are generally broken down into size and style. The size differences of saddles are most commonly the width and the length of the ‘nose’ or overall length. And usually you will find a women’s specific saddle is shorter & wider than a men’s. This is often good for smaller overall bikes, and for step-through bikes. The wider saddles are also to account for the distance between your Sit Bones. Which is those bony bits you are actually sitting on every day. While there is often very little distance difference between people – a few mm – it can make a difference. For instance you may find a narrow saddle feels like it’s pointing up at your soft tissue between your sit bones. As this is often the highest point on a saddle, where they imagine your sit bones will be. So if your bones are to the outside, this can feel pointy. Whereas if you sit between or on top of the highest point on the saddle you will feel less pressure.


Is a saddle with a cut-out better?


Now we mention pressure, this is where cut-outs and carved saddles come in to play. So many saddles are designed with a central cut-out section. This is seen as a way to eliminate the pressure you feel on your soft tissue between your sit bones. This was for a long time the best possible solution for that pointy pain you may have experienced. Simply remove any place that could be touching on it. However, the absence of something to rest on can create it’s own problems. Often this means your soft tissue will ‘fall’ into the gap, or over a long ride blood will pool in the area not being pressed upon. So now you have a new kind of pain & swelling to deal with!

So as you may have noticed, we aren’t arriving at any hard-and-fast rules for a comfortable saddle. And we haven’t even got to the riding style aspect of this yet. Crazy!


How you ride & what you ride matters


Along with the different widths offered in saddles to account for different pelvis shapes & sizes, there’s length. Now the length of your saddle is closely aligned with your seated position. While many saddles these days are quite short, it’s still common to find long nose saddles for road riding. Road riding is your traditionally ‘aggressive’ position on the bike. Road riders are bent over their handlebars to be aerodynamic, and well positioned to put down power. And to be fast of course. So this position lends itself to a longer saddle because you are sitting on the saddle differently. Where a wide and short saddle might interfere with the inside of your thighs when riding in an aggressive position. So you will often find that a riding style will be mentioned on a saddle. Riding an upright bike will generally be a wider & shorter saddle. And then there’s a whole world of options in the middle for hybrid bike riders, mountain bike riders & touring cyclists too.

What this also means is that a saddle that works perfectly for you on your flat-bar mountain bike might not feel the same on a road bike. Now this isn’t a hard rule, but it is frustratingly common! Even if your saddle does migrate well across bikes, you will often find you need to make different adjustments. Like have it sit further forward or tilting the nose down for a different bike.

So that’s the breakdown of how saddle sizing and shapes will generally work. There will be narrower saddles for narrower sit bones & aggressive riding positions. And wider, shorter saddles for people who sit more upright on their bike or who have wider sit bones. And there’s cut-outs in just about all types to give you more pressure relief.


Are leather saddles the answer to all our saddle prayers?


hands are shown holding a Brooks Leather saddle as a leather treatment is being applied
Leather Saddles need maintenance!


For us at Abbotsford Cycles we also sell leather saddles. These saddles follow the same rules as we mentioned above. However the material nature of leather changes things slightly. Leather is a wonderful material that softens and stretches and moulds with use. Just like a good pair of leather shoes or a good leather handbag. Your leather saddle will mould to your body the longer you ride it. And this process isn’t immediate, we think it takes a good 6 months to notice a difference. And while the leather will mould to you, you will need to take care of it. Leather on a saddle needs to be tough and supple, as it’s exposed to the elements. And because it needs to hold up under your weight, you need to keep the surface taut. Brooks leather saddles have a tension bolt that allows you to maintain the tautness of the saddle as the leather stretches with time.

Now there are some absolutely die hard fans of a leather saddle. There are cyclists who tell us that their saddle feels like sitting in an arm chair. Which is incredible to hear, we love that! And this is the reason that leather saddles have remained popular on touring bikes. Even though bicycle technology has advanced past the old banana hammock style leather saddle, it still has a place. And of course it looks fantastic on your bike. It’s a particular style & works for a lot of steel frame bikes out there. We recommend giving it a shot if you have the time to wait to break it in. In fact, it’s best to break in your saddle before going off on those long rides. Plan ahead when buying a leather bike seat for maximum benefit!


What saddles at Abbotsford Cycles meet these criteria?


Need some concrete examples now? No worries!

An example of the narrow, long saddle that’s designed for an aggressive riding position – the Brooks Cambium C13

A wider, shorter saddle that’s designed for an upright riding position & often the solution for women cyclists – the Brooks B17 Short

A leather saddle that has been the friend of the touring cyclist for decades – the Brooks B17 Carved Saddle

A saddle with a cut-out for greater pressure relief – the Brooks Cambium C17 Carved


And this brings us to the end of Bicycle Saddle 101. We hope you learned something! But more than anything we hope this helps you find a comfortable saddle. Because it’s a long road, and all your fellow cyclists will travel it one day.