We spent months putting in the miles and grinding it out in the saddle, analyzing more than 50 of the top models on the market. We selected about two dozen of the best to exhaustively research and test. We developed about a half dozen weighted measures with criteria important to maximizing the cycling experience and graded each of the products against each other within those fields, paying particular attention to comfort and performance. Comfortable saddles are what keep you on the road instead of crying while sitting on an ice pack. Performance is what keeps you in the saddle hammering away as hard as you can without interference from a big goofy banana seat or some other such profane monstrosity. We use these frameworks to narrow down the best qualities and best choices so you don't have to waste your time when you're looking for the next saddle.
The Best Bike Saddles of 2018
|Price||$143.00 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$118.93 at REI|
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|$144.99 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Can relieve perineal pressure, nose suits frequent standing and sitting, good for long rides||Comfortable on long rides, supportive, affordable||Light, comfortable, durable||Relieves pressure, good price, texture prevents slip||Comfortable, durable, versatile|
|Cons||Pricey, can alter riding form, can focus pressure points||Limited colors, bull shape can limit positioning||Lacks versatility||Saddle can stick, excess padding, pricey||Suede like material on nose of saddle|
|Bottom Line||A unique saddle that minimizes perineal abuse while maximizing speed.||A great, affordable saddle for mid- and long-distance rides.||High end road racing saddle at an excellent price.||A sweet cut-out model with generous padding and a sleek racing design.||A versatile saddle with a rounded shape and slight rise at the rear, loved by both the aggressive racer and the casual recreational cyclist.|
|Rating Categories||Selle SMP Pro||Fizik Aliante Gamma Kium||Fabric Scoop||Terry Fly TI||Fizik Aliante|
|Specs||Selle SMP Pro||Fizik Aliante Gamma Kium||Fabric Scoop||Terry Fly TI||Fizik Aliante|
|Dimensions||L 278mm x W 148mm||L 265mm, W 142 mm||L282, W142mm||L 277mm, W 140mm||L 261, W 141mm|
|Target Use (mountain, road, etc.)||Road||Road||Road||Road||Road, Mountain, Cyclocross|
As summer approaches and the roads and trails become rideable, we've updated this review. Now including charts and graphs to help you select your saddle, we've also included new product information. This update includes the Fizik Aliante Gamma K:IUM, Selle SMP Pro, and Terry Fly Ti.
Best Overall Bike Saddle
Selle SMP Pro
Not only was the Selle SMP Pro of the boldest and most uniquely designed saddles in our bunch, it was also the most consistent top performer across our measures, earning it the Editors' Choice award. It uses one of the most aggressive cut-out designs on the market, focusing its firm elastomer foam padding and responsive carbon-reinforced nylon shell support under the solid ischial bones instead of your poor soft (one assumes) undercarriage. It took a bit of getting used to, but after a few rides, it was hard to transition back to standard designs. It also features a downturned nose that mitigates the risk of surprise bottom-bashing (we've all been there) and also serves as a better platform for sliding up and getting down in the drops.
Not only does it have a great sprinting profile, but its wide flanges at the rear offer more support for longer rides and grinding climbs, making it one of the most comfortable, versatile saddles in the bunch. It's true that it wasn't the lightest saddle in the bunch, but its extreme cut-out design requires stronger, denser support than in traditional models and still manages to come in at a respectable 337g, roughly three-quarters of a pound.
Read review: Selle SMP Pro
Best Bang for the Buck
WTB Speed Comp
WTB claims this is their best selling saddle, and we are not surprised. With an MSRP of $40, it is a great buy. The WTB Speed Comp is standard equipment on many new bikes as OE equipment. It offers a classic shape, with a slight rise at the tail and an anatomical groove to relieve pressure on sensitive areas. Our testers found it to provide a high level of comfort, and its middle-of-the-road dimensions fit nearly everyone. It is versatile and at home on virtually any type of bike. The synthetic cover is durable, and a tough rubberized scuff guard at the rear of the saddle further enhances longevity.
It may not win over the gram counters at 362g, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better saddle in this price range. Many saddles in this price range lack durability and quality, but the Speed V bucks that trend. If you are looking to replace a worn out saddle or replace your stock seat with something more comfortable, the Speed is an excellent, affordable option. It also comes in Pro, ProGel, and Team versions, so you can choose the model that suits your needs.
Read review: WTB Speed Comp
Top Pick for Road Racing
Narrowly missing out on the Editors' Choice Award, the Fabric Scoop received one of our highest rankings for performance and was also the lightest saddle in our review, at 176g. Fitting a broad range of riders, it lacks the versatility of the Phenom, but it is an excellent choice for road racing and works for mountain biking and cyclocross.
The Scoop does not have a full cutout, but it does have a shallow pressure relief channel at the tail of the saddle which gets the job done when down in the drops. The overall construction of the Scoop is flawless. Its attributes favor the rider whose greatest concerns are performance and light weight but is also competitive when it comes to comfort. If you are looking for a high-performance race saddle for your road bike, the Scoop should be at the top of your list.
Read review: Fabric Scoop
Top Pick for Cruising
Fizik Aliante Gamma Kium
The Fizik Aliante Gamma K:IUM was our go-to saddle for the slow miles and mid-distance slogs, winning our Top Pick for Cruising. Fizik classifies it as a bull saddle, meaning it has a swayed midsection or sweet spot to better suit the less flexible guys with more pelvic rotation during riding. The central sweet spot is meant to reduce pressure on the under bits with both the swayed indentation and a flexible carbon layer along just the center of the otherwise stiff carbon-reinforced nylon shell, called Twin Flex.
What it really gets right is padding - just supple enough to cushion and dampen road noise without overwhelming the buns and getting that office chair smashed butt effect. The smooth glide guards at the nose are also a nice addition that will cut down on bib destruction for the oaken-thighed riders who see a bit too much friction on their rides. The saddle is really suited to be a general workhorse that can meet the full range of road pursuits and it does that at a pretty accessible $119.
Read review: Fizik Aliante Gamma Kium
Analysis and Test Results
We've rounded up 17 saddles here, and if the thought of deciding between them is daunting, don't be discouraged - we've included the chart below to streamline the process, at least in the financial aspect. Options here range from sub-$50 to over $250, so there's likely to be an option that fits within your budget. Retail price is on the vertical axis (increasing up), and overall score is on the horizontal axis (increasing right). Note that the group trends flatter at the low-end, then swings up toward the right - that is, performance gains are cheaper in the budget models, but they'll cost you at the high end.
Despite it being the most expensive saddle we tested, our favorite was the Selle SMP Pro, for it's bravely functional design. If you've got the coin, this one will be a rewarding choice. If you don't, the WTB Speed Comp is a solid one to go with, and lacks the sticker shock at $40.
After researching the market options, we purchased the best rated and most popular saddles out there for our expert testers to research and put through the grind on climbs, spins, grinding climbs, A rides, and base miles. Each model was mounted on various bikes and tested by multiple riders to gain a consensus of experiences. We also investigated user complaints and analyzed the construction and design of these products to better understand materials, performance, and longevity. Each model was scored across five separate and unique test metrics, namely, Comfort, Performance, Versatility, Durability, and Weight, each weighted according to its importance. Below, we dive into each metric, explaining why we consider them key aspects of saddles and highlighting the top achievers in every category.
Let's face it: comfort is far and away the most important attribute, particularly for road bike saddles, notoriously laughable objects in the eyes of non-riders. If you can't spend a reasonable amount of time in the 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 a consensus among our testers and spent quite a while researching to try to limit the subjectivity.
The Selle SMP Pro scored highest, followed by the Fi'z:k Aliante Gamma K:IUM, and the Specialized Phenom Expert. The Selle SMP Pro uses a full anatomical cut-out to protect the vitals (arguably vital) and allow free blood flow to prevent numbness. The extreme design relieves pressure from the perineum but necessarily redirects it to be placed along the outer rails. To mitigate the issues that could arise from that, it has a firm padding that remains comfortable, even after hours in the saddle. The Aliante Gamma K:IUM's design approach to comfort differs from the SMP Pro and Phenom, but still manages to register a high ranking here. Minimal and dense padding distributes the load on the saddle, reducing pressure. There was no bouncing around on this seat, and the upward flare at the back helped maintain good positioning in the central sweet spot, which was designed with two layers of carbon, called TwinFlexTM, allowing both support and pressure relief.
We expected higher marks from some of the comfort-oriented bike saddles with thicker padding, but we found the additional padding to cause greater friction and ultimately discomfort on all but the shortest of rides. To some extent, the Terry Fly TI fell into that category, though it was good for rides into the 90 to 120-minute range. Its thick padding was really nice for short, hard rides mostly spent in the saddle, but a lot of standing starts to happen around the 90-minute mark.
The Brooks England B-17 surprised us with its high level of comfort achieved using tensioned leather and no padding - it's no wonder Brooks has been in the saddle business since 1882. The Brooks surprise just goes to show that the answer to a sore bottom isn't always more padding - sometimes the answer is just more time in the saddle, particularly if you're new to riding or it's early in the season. Despite the successes of the traditional model, the Brooks saddle couldn't quite compare to some of the modern shapes and materials used by Specialized, Fizik, Fabric, and the other high-performance road bike saddle companies.
The level of performance a bike saddle can offer is largely dependent on its shape, padding, and shell stiffness. A road bike saddle must provide a platform from which the rider can achieve an optimal position to apply power to the pedals. The right balance of padding and firmness must be achieved to hit the sweet spot necessary for a high performing product. 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 ideal is a thin layer of firm, responsive rubber foam that won't depress too much when force is applied but doesn't feel like a bare carbon or plastic shell, which might prevent you from pressing in and getting after that attack.
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 Specialized Power Expert had one of the top scores. More traditional saddles like the Fizik Aliante Gamma K:IUM can still manage to perform at high levels, indeed scoring in the upper quartile of the cohort despite its laid-back style for cruising.
The Specialized Phenom and Scoop scored alongside with more traditional nose designs. The Phenom is 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.
The biggest surprise in this measure was the SMP Pro, which had a downturned nose that helped out on the sprints and efforts. Its rigid nylon 12 carbon shell allows both great positioning in the drops and solid anchoring to help direct power into the pedals and bike instead of padding or lost in rocking. Its wide rear also served as a steady platform for those longer rides and grinding efforts while retaining the narrow nose for efforts.
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 training bike for the racing bike. We focused on the major road pursuits: cruising (the seasonal century and long, slow base miles), sprinting (crits and single-day road races), climbing (grinding out categorized climbs in the saddle), and touring (we're talking panniers; sabbaticals; Gofundme campaigns). The more versatile a saddle is, the more likely you will be happy using it for multiple disciplines.
We found the Fizik Aliante Gamma K:IUM to be one of the most versatile saddles in the test group. It scored alongside the Selle SMP Pro. Both offer excellent power transfer and comfort while tearing it up out on the flats, in the hills, and down in the drops. Their narrow noses allow you to get a lot of kick from the drops and have just enough padding not to overwhelm when sitting on the back of a group in cruising mode or destroying those knees on power climbs. Our testers also loved the Terry Fly Ti for a lot of the more intense efforts like hard, fast rides, and short climbs. It also has a long, narrow nose that allows the rider to get small down in the drops and its supple padding facilitates that on non-epic efforts.
Our testers put these saddles through the wringer. The contenders 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 accidental contact with the pavement 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 or design. The Specialized Phenom achieved our highest accolades for durability. It utilizes a very durable synthetic cover material Specialized calls Micromatrix. The only issue we had with Phenom was related to dirt build up in the micro-perforated cover, but this can be remedied with a soft brush when washing.
The plastic shell on the Phenom extends past the cover at the rear of the saddle to 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.
For racers, overall bike weight makes a big difference. For weight weenies, it's an even bigger difference. A few hundred grams on a climb can be the difference between first and second. For the rest of us mortals, 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.
The lightest saddle in our test group was the Fabric Scoop, weighing in at a paltry 176g. The Scoop's impressively low weight is achieved by using carbon rails and cutting out a lot of the extra padding. As a rule of thumb, as the weight of a saddle goes down, the price goes up, with the exception of the SMP Pro, whose price reflects design. However, even the Selle saddle comes in a carbon rail version that will drop another 50g if you're willing to pay the premium of about $2 for each excised gram.
As with the Selle, it is possible to drop even more weight from other saddles we tested by selecting the carbon rail versions. The Phenom, for example, is available with carbon rails and shell in the S-Works version boasting a manufacturer's claimed weight of 153g. Also coming in on the low end of the weight spectrum are the Terry Fly TI at 236g and Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow Saddle at 229g. Surprisingly, both use fairly thick padding but still come in among the lightest.
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. Specialized also makes saddlebags as part of their SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) line. The Specialized Mountain Bandit would be a nice addition to the Phenom Expert saddle.
Selecting a saddle for your bicycle can be a daunting and perhaps painful process if you spend too much time with the wrong product The range of saddle styles and intended use along with their reputations, research and theories, stories, and marketing is vast and confusing. We have done our best the cut through the muss to give you our straightforward assessment, careful to point out the flaws while highlighting the qualities that would be most helpful to riders. We have taken 20 of the best, most popular saddles available and researched, analyzed, and tested them head to head on multiple bikes and in a broad range of conditions. We hope that our hard work and meticulously acquired knowledge can help guide you to the perfect saddle for your needs. For all the details on every saddle we tested, see the full product reviews, and check out our Buying Advice article for a step-by-step selection process.
— Ryan Baham & Curtis Smith