The Best Bike Saddle
What's the best bike saddle? We took 17 of the top bicycle saddles available and put them through the paces to find out. We wanted to know if each could offer comfort, performance, and a competitive weight without compromise. To discover the answer, we rode on these contenders in all conditions and for long distances, from muddy mountain bike races, 100-plus mile road races, to rainy morning commutes. They were rated on comfort, performance, versatility and weight to determine our award winning selection. This review will aid you in your quest to find the best perch from which to experience your next ride.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Lets face it; comfort is far and away the most important attribute. If you cannot spend a reasonable amount of time on a saddle in comfort, its weight and durability are of little consequence. While a bike saddle's comfort can be somewhat subjective and variable from person to person, we sought out consensus amongst our testers. The Specialized Phenom, and Fabric Scoop scored highest, followed by the Fizik Aliante, and the Specialized Power Expert. We expected higher marks from some of the comfort-oriented bike saddles with thicker padding, such as the Planet Bike ARS Anatomic Relief, but we found the additional padding to cause greater friction, and ultimately discomfort on all but the shortest of rides. The Brooks England B-17 surprised us with its high level of comfort achieved using tensioned leather and no padding. But, it could not quite compare to some of the modern shapes and materials used by Specialized, Fizik, and Fabric.
The level of performance a bike saddle can offer is largely dependent on its shape, padding and shell stiffness. A high performance saddle must provide a platform from which the rider can achieve optimal position to apply power to the pedals. The right balance of padding and firmness must be achieved. Too much padding and energy will be wasted through the pedal stroke, too little and the saddle will not offer enough comfort for extended use. The shape of the saddle also impacts performance.
Traditional thinking would be that a relatively flat saddle with a long nose offers the best power transfer. New saddles such as the Specialized Power buck that trend, with a short chopped nose, wider tail and a deep cut out. The Fizik Antares and the Specialized Power Expert scored highest with drastically differing designs. The Specialized Phenom, and the Fabric Scoop Pro followed them closely. The Phenom and Antares are both firm with a flat profile, and with a long, wide nose to provide optimum position for power transfer to a wide variety of body types. The Specialized Power also has a flat overall shape, but has a dramatically short nose and deep cutout to provide greater comfort when the rider is in a low aggressive position.
Many cyclists own multiple bikes and participate in several cycling disciplines. In a perfect world we would use the same saddle on every bike, eliminating the need to acclimate to a new saddle when we swap the road bike for mountain bike. The more versatile a saddle is, the more likely you will be happy using it for multiple disciplines.
We found the Specialized Phenom and the Fabric Scoop Flat Pro to be the most versatile saddles in the test group. Both offer excellent power transfer and comfort, in both a forward performance road racing position and a more upright mountain bike position. Our testers also love both on the cyclocross bike, but generally we would not choose a saddle with a cutout for cyclocross due to mud slinging issues. (A well-placed piece of tape on the underside of the saddle cured this issue.) The Fizik Aliante and the Fizik Antares were also found to be very versatile by our testers – comfortable and well suited to road, mountain, and cyclocross.
Our testers put the review saddles through the ringer. The bike saddles were tested in some of the worst conditions possible. Dirt, mud, rain, and snow; you name it, we rode in it. The saddles baked in the sun on the roofs of our cars, and made unintentional contact with the pavement and trail more than a few times and we did not manage to break the rails or shells on any of our test saddles. The differences in durability we encountered were primarily related to the cover material. The Specialized Phenom achieved our highest accolades for durability. It utilizes a very durable synthetic cover material Specialized calls Micromatrix.
Rubber scuff guards at the rear of the saddle protect the most vulnerable points from abrasion in the event of a crash or accidental drop. The Monte is another standout for durability with tough manganese rails and Cordura scuff guards to ward of abrasion and tears. All of the Fizik Saddles use a Microtex cover and received high marks. The Fizik Arione was given slightly lower marks than the other Fizik Saddles in the review due to increased wear on exposed seams. The Wilderness Trail Bikes saddles all use a similar synthetic cover that we found to be quite tough and resistant to abrasion, landing them a close second to the top offerings from Fizik.
For racers, overall bike weight makes a big difference. A few hundred grams on a climb can be the difference between first and second. For the rest of us, weight can affect handling, as well as our motivation at the end of a long day in the saddle as we face that final climb. All of our test saddles were weighed in house; some came out under manufacturer claimed weight and some over. As a rule of thumb, as the weight of a saddle goes down, the price goes up. The lightest saddle in our test group was the Fabric Scoop Flat Pro, weighing in at a paltry 176g.
This is impressively low weight is achieved by using carbon rails. It is possible to drop even more weight from other saddles we tested by selecting the carbon rail version. The Phenom for example is available with carbon rails, boasting a manufacturers claimed weight of 155g. Also coming in on the low end of the weight spectrum, the Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow Saddle at 229g, and the Specialized Romin at 232g. On the other end of the spectrum the Serfas E-Gel Cruiser Saddle came in at 774g. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the intended use of the Serfas saddle is not racing, its design is focused on comfort for short, non-aggressive rides, and thus makes concessions in the area of weight. Each rider must balance the importance of weight with comfort, cost, and intended use.
Saddlebags are a great place to carry spare tubes and flat repair kits. We recommend the Fizik ICS Saddle PA:K and the Planet Bike Big Buddy.
The Bottom Line
After testing 17 of the best saddles on the market, the three below emerged as our favorites. The Specialized Phenom Expert takes Editors' Choice, while the Fabric Scoop Flat Pro takes the win for road biking, and the Fizik Monte Manganese for mountain biking. If you're in search of a value priced, yet quality saddle, consider the WTB Speed. While we hope we have been able to aid you in choosing a saddle that best serves your needs, we understand that deciding can be difficult. If you're still unsure, check out our buying advice to discover which model is best for you.
— Curtis Smith
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