My (Highly Subjective) Saddle Preferences

S-A Saddle Detail

Because we often have a couple of bikes here on loan, and we also do a variety of different types of riding (from multi-modal commuting with folders to day tours in the country), I end up riding a wide variety of saddles on a regular basis. In the process, I’ve developed some general impressions and preferences that might be useful in your search for the perfect saddle.

For the most part, the generic, off-brand saddles delivered on low- to mid-level production bikes range from not bad to pretty awful. These typically have a plastic base with some foam padding and a synthetic leather cover. They vary in design, quality, and comfort, though nearly all can be improved upon with an aftermarket replacement. I don’t know this for a fact, but many of these saddles appear to be designed for comfort on the showroom floor, but because the padding is usually fairly soft, they can become uncomfortable on longer rides. They’re certainly worth a try, but if you’re riding the stock saddle that came with your bike and you’re having saddle issues, an upgrade may be in order.

I’ve had good luck with the Brooks B17 over the years. For decades it’s been a popular saddle among long distance riders who aren’t concerned with weight (primarily tourists and randonneurs). I find the B17 fairly comfortable, regardless of what bike it’s on. In other words, unlike some other saddles, I can run the B17 both on bikes with the bars higher than the saddle and on bikes with the bars below the saddle. For me, it’s not absolutely the most comfortable saddle, but it’s a versatile saddle that works well for many people.

The Brooks B67 is my favorite saddle for bikes with high handlebars. High bars place the rider in an upright posture, rolling the hips back and placing weight on the sit bones. The B67 is wider than the B17; this added width combined with the sprung frame does a good job of supporting the pelvis and absorbing road shock. Some people may find the B67 too wide, particularly on bikes with the handlebars set near saddle height.

My personal favorite saddle for bikes with bars at or below saddle height is the Selle An-Atomica Titanico. The S-A is a leather saddle with a slot. It’s similar in size and shape to the Brooks B17 but the leather is much softer. The effect is less like a traditional saddle and more like a sling; I find it exceptionally comfortable, but others don’t like the feeling.

No less an authority than Kent Peterson recommends V-series WTB saddles. I don’t currently ride a WTB, but I’ve ridden loaners outfitted with their saddles and have found them to be comfortable. They’re available in a nice selection of widths which is a real plus. I may look into a WTB the next time I need to replace a saddle.

More important than any of the above is how a particular saddle interfaces with your physique. A generic saddle that fits you perfectly may end up being more comfortable than a Brooks or S-A that’s a bad fit. Unfortunately, you have to put in a fair amount of time on a saddle to know for sure how it will work for you.

30 Responses to “My (Highly Subjective) Saddle Preferences”

  • Andy says:

    I think my saddles are both Selle Italia. I grabbed one in the clearance bin at a bike shop for $20, and have put several thousand miles on since and it works great. I had a similar looking one with stitches on top that was simply awful though. My go-fast bike has the original saddle though, which always worked well for me, which is surprising because it’s nothing special either. I’ve done up to 147 mile rides on it without issue though.

    While some of the big name and very expensive saddles do seem to work well for many, I wouldn’t say that they are the only ones worth buying. I considered buying a Brooks before, but heard from several people that even after patiently waiting for the break-in period to end, they still weren’t happy after a few thousand miles. Maybe if I only did 30 mile rides that could be worth the wait, but when I’m on a 100+ mile ride, I need to know the saddle will work and can’t be bothered with a break-in period. Maybe if I had a separate commuter bike I would try it out, but until then I’m all set on my cheap saddles.

  • pete r says:

    I rode the same Brooks B17 for many years. Ended up giving it to a riding buddy after I purchased an S A Titanico. This is the best saddle I have ever had. The most comfortable for long distance riding. On trips we average over 100 miles per day with zero issues. Most of my friends with “nice looking” saddles can’t walk at the end of the day.

  • Pete Pesce says:

    Over the winter I had a professional fitting done for my Sam Hillborne. (Yeah, I know, would have been smarter to do it BEFORE I bought the bike, but that’s not how I roll.)
    One part of the fitting was a measurement on the sit-bone measuring device (a gel pad on a board – not really high tech). I discovered that my sit-bone width indicated I needed a much narrower saddle than I had been using. This was surprising to me as I’m a pretty big guy, and assumed I’d have wider sit bones. Most bike shops have these devices available to use for free if you are buying a saddle.
    I had been using a Brooks B-17 standard (about 170mm wide) but bought a WTB and a B-17 narrow after the fitting, both around 145-150mm. I prefer the look of the Brooks, but bought the WTB so I could get a sense of the new saddle width without having to wait for something to break-in. The WTB was instantly more comfortable than the old Brooks. I’m in the process of breaking in the new, narrower, Brooks, and hope that will be better still.

  • Alan says:

    @Pete Pesce

    That’s cool, Pete. A perfect example of fit trumping other considerations. Good luck with the B17 narrow!

    Alan

  • Don Stevenson says:

    I have used all the saddles mentioned, and I swear by WTB. I can give them no higher praise than this: When I’m using a WTB saddle, I never have to think about it. It’s just right all the time.

  • John Ferguson says:

    I think I tried 6 or 7 saddles when I replaced my WTB on my main commuter bike. I ride drop bars and like to move around semi-frequently when I’m commuting, especially at longer distances (50 mile round trip, with a ferry option).

    It really can’t be overemphasized that trying lots of different saddles and spending at least a week fiddling with the position of each saddle will be necessary to find the best fit. Of course, you’ll develop preferences over time. I tried like heck to like the Brooks saddles but it never worked out for me. The B-17 was too wide in the middle and the modern Brooks professional and swallow are too narrow. I finally settled on a Fizik Gobi, which is a saddle marketed as an MTB saddle but it works the best of all I have tried at supporting my sit bones while making room for the fleshy bits. I think I ought to buy a few more in case they change it or discontinue it..

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I’ve had fairly good luck with a B-17, though I find saddle angle is intensely important with this saddle in particular. On my road/cross bike I have a Selle An-atomica, and at first I loved it, but after I while I’m getting the dreaded taint-pinch. One of these days I have to set it up properly or pass it on in favor of something else.

  • john bokman says:

    I have ridden the venerable Brooks B-17s for years and have never had problems with them. I find the “break-in” period to be almost a non-issue. It seems to me, anything which gives support will be hard on the rump, to a degree. The Brooks is initially expensive, but works very well for me. After thousands upon thousands of miles, my saddles are probably the best bargains on my bikes.

    However, I began having back problems in the last couple years (not necessarily ride-related) and thought I’d give the Selle An-Atomica a try.

    While I agree that it’s comfortable out of the box, I have found it less than perfect – and probably would not recommend one to a friend. My chief complaint is that the nose of my saddle rotates from side to side, which feels sloppy, and can make noise. There was a period of unpleasant squeaking (due to the bolt which runs from the nose into the saddle) which I fixed with dry graphite. I find I must tighten the saddle tension frequently because the saddle begins to sag to the point where the bottom begins to touch the rails. I am not a big guy (150 pounds). Unfortunately, this sagging can occur during a ride, when I may not have a wrench with me. When the saddle sags too much, it’s possible to get caught in the slot. Not a pleasant feeling.
    In fact, I’ve wondered if I’ve been missing something. That is, are all the Selle An-Atomica’s like this? Or is mine simply defective in some way?

    In short, it can be a comfortable saddle, but requires much too much attention on a weekly basis. I just want a saddle I hop on and forget about. For me, it’s always been the B-17.

    I’d welcome responses by owners of the Selle An-Atomica. Maybe I’ve been missing something?

  • Alan says:

    Hi John,

    I have to wonder if there’s an issue with your particular saddle. I have two S-A’s, one is the standard and the other is the heavier “Clydesdale” model. I’m around 165 lbs. and I’ve never had to tighten the Clydesdale and I’ve only adjusted the lighter model a couple of times over the past two years. You might want to contact S-A and see what they say; I wouldn’t be surprised if they send you a replacement.

    Alan

  • Lisa says:

    It would be great to have a woman review saddles too.

  • Joseph E says:

    @ Lisa: Lovely Bicycle has a women’s view of saddles: http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Alovelybike.blogspot.com+saddle

    But I would love to hear a female opinion here on Ecovelo.

  • Alan says:

    @Lisa

    I agree! Perhaps I can talk Michael into offering her perspective (though she’s shy about blogging).

    @Joseph

    Thanks for the link!

    Alan

  • Andrew Leinonen says:

    I have a B17 on my commuter/tourer, and I have done a few 100+ km days in a row on it. At that point I was using a more upright setup, and I found that I had too much weight on my sitbones and it got fairly uncomfortable. When I lowered my bars to about the level of the saddle, the whole setup instantly became far more comfortable.

    I will throw in another vote for the WTB (I’ve ridden the Speed V Comp). If you have are searching for a saddle on a budget, I think they’re one of the best things you can get under $100. (And you can get it online for $25, so that’s saying something!)

  • eddie f says:

    Would love to hear from others who mostly ride the B17, but have something else in plastic/modern that they think competes for their comfort score. Would love to find something lighter that would be a good sub for the Brooks. Maybe a WTB?

    Eddie Flayer

  • Sally Hinchcliffe (aka townmouse) says:

    I love my Brooks B67 but you do have to get the rake absolutely right – the first couple of rides I went out with a spanner and kept adjusting it. From this female’s point of view, the problem is not so much the sit bones, which are very nicely supported from the outset, but the nose of the saddle which can feel quite intrusive if it’s not at the right angle. After 18 months my Brooks is now quite deeply moulded, and I’m wondering whether it will start to develop a ridge along the middle which might become uncomfortable – any ideas on that? That said, it’s currently so comfortable it might as well not be there for all I need to think about it.

    The only other issue with a Brooks is if you leave your bike locked up anywhere unguarded. It’s a bit big to keep taking off and carrying it around, but it’s a bit precious to leave out on the mean streets. I wouldn’t put mine on a London bike, round here I mostly just camouflage it with a tatty-looking plastic bag and hope nobody things to see what’s underneath

  • doug in seattle says:

    Somehow I’ve ended up using a loving the old late-80s early 90s Avocet Racing saddles. I assume it’s largely because an RB-1 I used to ride came with it and my body became used to it. I have one on my camping bike, and it seems plenty comfy on 8-10 hour days in the saddle. They’re somewhat uncommon these days, so I pick them up whenever I see them, so it’s a good thing saddles last for years and years!

    I’ve thought about trying a Brooks, but if I liked it I would probably feel compelled to buy two more so all my bikes would have the same saddle! So I’ll stick with all the $10 Avocets I’ve collected.

  • David Bolles says:

    I have a B17 on my commuter/do it all bike. I have put a considerable amount of miles on it. Most which are commuting miles. Some times I think that a Brooks Flyer might have been a good option too but, I’m content with the B17.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with a variety of saddles. I tried a Fizik but, it just didn’t work for me. Rode on a used cannondale seat for a while and that cause some problems…
    The Brooks has given me no troubles. And heck, it looks terrific.

    Sally mentioned above about not wanting to leave it out on the mean streets. I’m in the same boat. This saddle was a wedding present actually so I’m a little…paranoid about leaving it on my Philly campus locked up. I take the seatpost/seat in with me to class…

  • Alan says:

    Hi Sally,

    You might consider Pitlocks for theft protection:

    http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/pitlock.asp

    They offer a seat binder bolt.

    On the saddle changing form, that’s not unusual for a Brooks. I’d say leave it as is until it starts to become uncomfortable. At that point you can make a small adjustment to tighten up the leather.

    Alan

  • Chris says:

    … Another vote for the WTB (Pure V).

    Brooks’ are nice, but can stain your khakis.

    The old Avocets were nice as well!

    (Alan, I’m assuming the Brompton saddle is about like a WTB).

    Cheers,

    Chris

  • Graham says:

    The odd thing about this blog is that it makes me want to buy stuff. I’m not really unhappy with the saddle that I’m using now, but you’ve got me all curious about the mystical properties of these more expensive ones (even though the WTBs don’t seem all that expensive).

    Clearly I need to start allocating more money for for my bike allowance!

  • Pete says:

    @ Graham:
    I hear ya! Since I started reading this blog, I’ve bought a Sam Hillborne, a Long Haul Trucker, and countless $ of other cool stuff.
    As for WTB saddles, I don’t think they are \mystical\ as much as they make such a wide variety of sizes and shapes it’s possible for many people to find one that works for them.

  • Kirsten P. says:

    Well, here’s one woman’s viewpoint on saddles. Even though I’m 5’8″, 130 lbs. and have never had children, I’ve got really wide sit bones at 150mm center-to-center and 170mm outside measurement. For women, not only is width an issue, but the transitional curve between the nose and the wider area is really critical.

    From what I’ve seen, all wide-ish gel and non-leather saddles have a thick nose coupled with a gradual transitional curve towards the wider rear part, and these two issues conspire to cause thigh chafing and hip rocking even when the saddle is at the correct height. After moving a wide gel saddle back far enough to lessen these problems, I found myself sitting on the nose, which is very uncomfortable. Adjusting to eliminate one problem simply created another.

    In contrast, leather saddles have very narrow noses and in the case of almost all Brooks and their knock-offs, there is an abrupt curve between that long narrow nose and the wider part of the saddle. This allows my thighs plenty of room and lets me have the saddle high enough for nearly full leg extension with no hip rocking.

    Since leather saddles have a metal frame, a lady has to choose a saddle considerably wider than her bones to ensure that she’s not sitting on that metal frame. My city bike has a Gyes sprung leather saddle that I dearly love. It has a stout frame and is exceedingly wide at 240mm with a sittable area of 170mm. Two of my bikes have the Brooks B67, and the new road bike will get either the B17 or (gasp!) the B68.

    With regard to the gorgeous and lady-specific B18 with it’s gradual nose-to-tail curve, those are best on extremely slack seat tubes such as English roadsters and Dutch bikes. I’ve got a very wide gel saddle, thick nose, gradual curve and all, on my Dutch cargo bike and perfectly comfortable. Put that same saddle on a more modern bike with steeper seat tube, and I’m in pain for the reasons mentioned above.

  • Alan says:

    Chris,

    Yes, the new Brompton saddle is similar to the WTBs.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    Thanks for the excellent report, Kirsten!

    Regards,
    Alan

  • eddie f says:

    over the past two weeks/5 years, I have been trying to find an artificial/plastic/lightweight substitute for situations where a leather, heavy Brooks B17. i have tried many and have not nailed it down yet. the last two attempts were a WTB Rocket V and the latest is a WTB Pure V. The Rocket was pretty good, but after 20 miles I was having doubts. The Pure V may be the ticket. Wider across the back and a nice sort of curved surface. I am crossing my fingers the Pure could my holy grail.

  • Matt says:

    This is interesting, all the praise for WTB saddles. I never met one that I could stand, though I don’t remember the models. My mountain bike came with one that hurt my sit bones from day one. When I was buying a road bike, the shop lent my a nice Seven to check some fit issues. The WTB saddle was too wide in the nose and was quite unconfortable.

    What has worked for me….a honey B-17 is the most confortable. A $10 TFI Sport has been on my mountain bike for many years. I’d get another one just like it if I could find one. I have a VO saddle (the Model 6 I think, the Swift-like one) that I have high hopes for, but it’s not as confy as the B-17 yet. My wife likes the cheap sprung saddle that came on her Puch 25 year ago. It get’s moved from her road bike to her mountain bike. You gotta go with what works, I guess.

  • matt says:

    I’m not a huge fan of the B-17. I rode one for about a year. At one point I finished the MS 150 after riding with a herniated disc in my back (not too bright, I know) and by the time the ride was over I was completely numb. The numbness persisted for a few hours and I thought for sure my wife would leave me if I told her. Luckily the numbness went away by bed time and I didn’t have to tell her. Needless to say, the B-17 came off my bike the next day. For whatever reason, the Brooks Flyer never caused me to suffer any numbness even though its basically a B-17 with springs, and I liked it a lot. I REALLY agree with Alan about B-67s. I have B-67 clones, Gyes Parksides, on both of my bikes and I DON’T find them too wide, even though my handlebars are at the same height as my saddle. The extra width gives some extra support without getting in the way.

    My favorite non-leather saddle ever was a Look In gel saddle. The gel really cushioned my sit bones and I could ride it for hours with no discomfort. I think I sold it to get my first Flyer. Only problem with the Look In is it was almost as heavy as the Brooks that replaced it.

  • john bokman says:

    Alan, thanks for the advice. I did in fact send my saddle to the company that makes the Selle An Atomica, and upon inspection, they discovered that the saddle had prematurely de-laminated.
    They gave the saddle rails a “new skin”, which is a new leather saddle on my old rails. So essentially I’ve got a new saddle, gratis. Selle an Atomica is a good company. They stand behind their products and are super nice people. If I were in the market for a leather saddle, I’d certainly recommend the Selle an Atomica.

  • Alan says:

    @John

    That’s great to hear. Thanks for following up and letting us know.

  • Brian C says:

    I must admit I have not been a big fan of the brooks, but my mind was changed by a pleasant ride on a bromley equipped with one. Once I convince my partner we need folding bikes for travel, I suspect I will seriously look at equipping a bromley with one…

 
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