Finding a bicycle saddle that is comfortable for you can be difficult and frustrating. If the saddle is uncomfortable then your ride experience may be completely ruined and it might cause you to dislike cycling, or to even stop cycling altogether – which is a really bad situation!
A saddle (or seat as many people also say) can be too wide or too narrow. If it’s too wide, it may cause chaffing on the inside of your thighs, and if it is too narrow for you, your “sitting bones” in your pelvis may go over the edge, making the seat very uncomfortable or even painful to ride. The correct width for you depends on your anatomy, riding style, and personal preferences.
Generally, women need wider saddles than men, but of course, we all have individual body shapes, so it is not certain.
So, take a seat, or a saddle, and let’s look at some solutions to make your cycling more comfortable.
Does your saddle feel uncomfortable? The basics on saddle width fitment.
Let’s see how you can determine the perfect saddle width for your needs. There are three main factors you need to assess:
- Your sitting bone width
- You seating position when riding
- How frequently you cycle
- The rule of 20
As mentioned before, generally women require a slightly wider saddle than men, which we will get to in the example below.
Sit bone width
This is the base measurement for determining your correct seat width.
To measure this, take some corrugated cardboard (not flat cardboard!), a pen, and a ruler.
- Lay the cardboard on a wide, flat raised hard surface (such as a step, stool, bench) where your thighs can be raised to about 30 degrees above horizontal.
- Sit on the cardboard with your thighs raised for a few minutes (2-5 minutes depending on your weight and the hardness of the cardboard). You will see some indents on the cardboard – put a dot at the deepest point.
- Measure this distance between the two dots – this is your sitting bone width.
Your seating position
The seating position is important as the further forward your back leans on the bike, the contact point of your pelvis on the saddle changes. And the further forward you lean, the narrower the seat required.
You can also think of it this way. For athletic riding, you lean forward, and much of the weight is put on your hands, while in a relaxed riding position you sit more upright, and more weight is carried on your sit bones.
So check the figure with how you sit on your bike.
So, how do these riding positions affect your recommended saddle width?
- For athletic riding position, change nothing on the seat width.
- For a moderate riding position, add 15mm to the width.
- For a relaxed riding position, add 30mm to the width.
A saddle is designed to carry a part of your body weight. The remainder is supported by your legs & feet and arms & hands. The more you cycle, or the fitter you are, the more your muscles are trained to support your body, and you apply less weight on the saddle.
How often do you cycle, or how cycle fit are you?
So, if you are not “cycle fit” or are looking to take recreational rides, I suggest adding 10-20mm to the seat width guides below.
The rule of 20
In order to get the ideal saddle width, you also need to add 20 mm at the very end.
For me on my city / hybrid bike:
Sitting bone width: 105mm
Riding position: Moderate: +15mm
Cycle frequency: frequent, so no change
Rule of 20: +20mm
Seat width required = 105mm + 15mm + 20mm = 140mm.
I actually have a 135mm wide saddle as sometimes I ride a bit more athletically, and I find it perfect.
For my wife on her recreational eBike:
Sitting bone width: 120mm
Riding position: Relaxed: +30mm
Cycle frequency: infrequent +10mm
Seat width: +20mm
Seat width required = 120mm + 30mm + 20mm + 10mm + 20mm = 200mm.
My wife has a 195mm wide saddle installed on her bike and loves it. The bike originally came with a 150mm wide seat and she hated it.
With this new information, if you need a different saddle width then it’s suggested to try a few different saddle options for long rides. Around the block is not long enough to know if the saddle is really comfortable, unfortunately.
Ignore options to add padding or gel – these are not going to solve your discomfort for a long period of time, it might feel good for the first few minutes, but afterward, you might be back to being uncomfortable.
For more information, Selle Royal has made a great study on this topic, as you can see here, although they, of course, suggest buying their saddles afterward. Also, as usual Sheldon Brown is a fantastic resource for bicycle knowledge, and also for saddles.
In more detail: what is the best saddle for various types of cycling?
As mentioned, you need to check your own size and seating position, and here is a guide for factors for seat width for different types of cycling.
MTB – XC / Enduro: Athletic, frequent cyclist = sitting bone width + 20mm
City/Dutch bikes: Relaxed, frequent cyclist = sitting bone width +50mm
Hybrid bikes: Moderate, frequent cyclist = sitting bone width + 35mm
Road bikes: Athletic, frequent cyclist = sitting bone width + 20mm
CAUTION: Some road bikes such as TT and triathlon bikes use an aerodynamic position not shown above. This could make the seat even narrower, but if you have issues with your road bike please see a specialist bicycle store.
Gravel bikes: Athletic, frequent cyclist = sitting bone width + 20mm
Trekking bikes: I’m not touching this – too many personal choices here!
How to best position your saddle
Another reason the seat may feel uncomfortable is that the saddle is actually incorrectly positioned. There are three factors to correctly position your saddle:
- Forward/rearward position
- Tilt angle
Typically, it’s best to place the saddle as centrally as possible. If you feel too far from the handlebars or are leaning forward too much, perhaps move the saddle forward slightly.
As you can see in the picture below, I have the saddle slightly forward because I have a high ape index, so have a smaller frame for my height, and still feel too far from the handlebars with the saddle pushed back. If this is not enough, perhaps you should better change the handlebar position which we covered in this article.
Of course, if you feel too close to the handlebars, you can also move the seat slightly rearwards.
Normally the saddle should be set flat. I prefer the saddle slightly upwards at the front (a few degrees) to stop me from moving forward when I pedal hard. But the best is just to set it flat to start with.
Setting the seat height correctly
You can use two methods in order to find the perfect saddle height for you.
Pedal height method – better for frequent cyclists
Ideally for riding, you should adjust the saddle to match your pedal stroke. This ensures maximum efficiency when pedaling (less effort for you!) and less stress on your body. The problem with this method is that many modern bikes have pedals higher from the ground, which means you cannot touch the ground with your feet when you need to stop. You can put your foot on a raised surface (I just used curbs normally), but not everyone is comfortable with this.
- Adjust the seat to a suitable height for you and sit on the bike supported so you don’t fall over
- Put your pedal to the bottom (furthest from the saddle) and place your foot on the down pedal in the normal position you use when riding. Your leg should be almost straight, with about a 5 degree bend, but not fully straight.
- Adjust the seat height until you get there. It might feel weird for a few rides, but you will get used to it, and will hate ever riding a bike with a low seat again!
- Ground height method – better for some recreational cyclists
Touch the ground method
As mentioned, if you are not confident to dismount from the saddle each time you stop, it’s better to adjust the saddle height so your leg is slightly bent when your foot is resting on the ball on the ground. While this method may boost your confidence, it can lead to some knee pain when you’re exerting power.
This may be a good initial setup for a beginner cyclist or an infrequent cyclist, but if you ride long distances on a regular basis, you need to use the first method if you want to spare your knees.
Be aware if you feel some discomfort with this position it might pay to learn to dismount the saddle when stopping and raise the seat height.
Extra tips for comfort
Most saddles today use a plastic base with a “gel” (it’s really foam) pad on top.
Traditionally hammock-style leather saddles were used which mold to your shape, and these become far more comfortable once they are worn in if they are the correct width. If you can afford a leather saddle, it’s recommended to try it!
Suspension saddles and seat posts
Some recreational bikes and city bikes already have suspension installed in the seat or the seat post itself. This small amount of padding reduces the impact of any bumps on the road to your rear-end, further increasing your comfort. Especially for recreational and less frequent cyclists, these options are a good idea.