No two people are built the same, and no one saddle will work for every person, so choosing the best road bike saddle for you will be a personalised approach that will potentially involve a little trial and error.
There are numerous saddle types, including those with central cut-outs, saddles that curve and those that are flat. Some feature a wave profile from front-to-back, while others remain flat in this plane, too. Some saddles are short, while others are long, and most come in a choice of widths.
A well-fitting road bike saddle will put your weight on your sit-bones (or ischial tuberosities to give them their proper name) without pressurising soft tissue areas such as the genitals or perineum. Especially when rotating the pelvis forward, as road cyclists typically will.
A badly fitting road bike saddle will likely make itself known with discomfort at the contact point, but it can even be the cause of pain elsewhere, such as the lower back or knees as your body compensates for inadequate stability and support by overworking the wrong muscles.
Then once you've found the best road bike saddle for your comfort needs, you can start to look at the spec. Budget-level saddles typically use steel rails, mid-tier will use titanium, while the top-spec saddles will feature carbon fibre. Similarly, top-level saddles will use carbon fibre for the shell, while budget options will typically be a type of plastic.
There are thousands of saddles on the market, which can make finding the right one for you a difficult and everlasting process, but thankfully Cyclingnews is here to help.
Scroll down for our pick of the best road bike saddles, however, if you're unsure what to look for, jump to the bottom for our guide on what to look for in a saddle.
Best road bike saddles: our picks
Selle SMP Well
Funny looking, but don't knock it 'til you've tried it
Rails: Steel | Shell: Nylon reinforced fibre | Widths available: 144mm | Price: £110 / $144 / AU$190
Selle SMP has been making saddles for almost a century, and though their saddles may look a bit like medieval torture devices, the long and wide centre cutout that runs the full length of the shell and sharply bent nose have gained passionate following the world over, especially from bike fitters.
Selle SMP's unique design is based on empirical studies looking into ergonomics, eliminating soft tissue pressure and maximising genital blood flow, and if you can get past the odd aesthetic offers a supremely comfortable seat. The Well features a pretty dramatic curve, which is designed to keep you planted on the saddle but also allows you to rotate your pelvis to suit your riding position. It also features generous elastomer padding and features SMP's one piece steel rail.
Cost-effective comfort from this short nose saddle with a wide cutout
Rails: Titanium | Shell: Flexible Nylon | Widths available: 142mm, 155mm | RRP: £79.99 / $100.00
The Line-S actually comes in three different forms, the Elite, Race and Pro. Elite is specced with alloy rails, Race is specced with titanium rails, and Pro gets carbon. At RRP, the Race doesn't make much sense over the Elite, because it costs an extra 25% and the only benefit is a 10-gram saving. However, it can be commonly found cheaper than the Elite, which makes it a no brainer.
Whichever spec you choose, there's a choice of 142mm and 155mm, meaning it should be suitable to the majority of our needs. The wide cutout and its sheer edges might look intimidating, but Fabric's choice of materials and padding really help to prevent pinching or sharp edges.
Value for money saddle with segmented padding and a well-liked shape
Rails: Tirox alloy | Shell: Carbon | Widths available: 140mm | Price: £119.99 / €135
Prologo Scratch is a unisex saddle aimed at on and offroad riding. The Scratch M5 uses a rounded profile and whether it’s this shape specifically, or in combination with the MSS padding but the result is a saddle that is very comfortable for a range of riding from quick training ride to long haul days out.
The unusual segmented foam is more than an aesthetic cue. The segments form the MSS (multisector system), designed in collaboration with the Politecnico of Milano, which breaks the saddle up into independent zones. Each area has a specific level of foam density for tailored support based on pressures that have been mapped when riding in different positions. An unscientific prodding with a thumb doesn’t seem to show any discernable difference in density between these zones although there is certainly a depth change from the front to the rear.
A short nose saddle that works for both men and women
Rails: Hollow titanium | Shell: Carbon | Widths available: 143mm, 155mm | Price: £190.00 / $275.00 / €239.90 / AU$320.00
In the past few years, we have seen quite a few short-nosed wide saddles with a massive cutout gain popularity, and one of the most widely used is the Specialized Power. Designed initially as a Women's saddle, the Power works well for both sexes, and the snub nose is ideal for those who maintain an aggressive position on the bike.
Specialized has replaced the standard PU foam used on the other Power models with Elaston padding for improved comfort over the standard foam. The Elaston padding is made using small beads that are expanded into foam which Specialized describes as “the feeling of sitting on 1,000 miniature pillows”. Our test model uses Specialized’s level 2 padding which has a slim profile and feels very soft at the nose and progressively firmer towards the rear. Specialized only offer the Elaston padding on the Pro model.
Premium performance saddle with an aggressive profile that doesn’t compromise comfort
Rails: Carbon | Shell: Carbon | Widths available: 149mm | Price: £249.99 / $300
Cadex, the component subsidiary of Giant bicycles, offers a very small range of high-performance carbon products, and within that range sits this striking Boost saddle. It features a relatively aggressive curve profile, which locks you into a supportive powerful pedalling platform. In our Cadex Boost review, it really was love at first sit, but at £249.99 / $300.00, there's no denying this is an expensive proposition.
At 246mm long, it falls into the short-nose saddle category, and there's a centre cut-out for pressure relief. The rear curves upward to urge you into a forward, racy position, and the wings curve off gently to a width of 149mm. For the price, it's unsurprising that the saddle features carbon rails (6 x 9mm) and a fully carbon shell for a total weight of 138 grams.
The adapted TT saddle that has become very popular on the road
Rails: Carbon | Shell: Carbon | Widths available: 142mm, 152mm | Price: £175 / $220 / AU$350
Shimano's answer to the short and wide saddle with a large cutout is the PRO Stealth, ideal for those who are ever searching for a low and aero position on their bike.
Available in two widths, aesthetically the Stealth looks quite similar to the Power; however, the profile is flatter front to back, with a broader nose and slightly softer padding. While the Stealth was initially designed with Team Giant Alpecin as a TT perch, we’ve had pretty good luck with it on our mountain bikes.
Slight wave shaping promotes locked in feel in a short-nose saddle
Rails: Carbon/Keramic | Shell: Carbon composite | Widths available: 145mm | Price: £259.90 / $329.99
The Selle Italia Novus Boost Evo Kit Carbonio Superflow makes a convincing case as far as the best road bike saddles are concerned. Finding immediate comfort with a saddle is a sure sign that it's suitable for a wide range of users, and that's exactly what we found when testing this.
At £259.90 / $329.99, it's at the upper echelons of the pricing spectrum, but the sheer fact that it's widely compatible should mean it's less of a risky purchase.
There's a slight wave to the shape - nowhere near that of the Selle SMP - which helps promote a locked-in feel, however, this does mean the saddle took a lot of fine-tuning to dial in the correct angle.
Style-wise, it's contemporary and futuristic while remaining inoffensive, and the saddle is finished in a material that Selle Italia calls Fibra-Tek, which will aid durability.
Fizik Versus Evo R3 Adaptive
3D printed tech without the price tag
Rails: Hollow Kium | Shell: Plastic | Widths available: 139mm, 149mm | Price: £249.00 / $249.99
Of all the 3D-printed saddles, our pick of the bunch has to be the Versus Evo R3 Adaptive from Fizik. It features the same multi-density padding as its more expensive sibling, but paired with a nylon plastic shell and Kium rails, which bring the cost down at the expense of a little bit of weight. The nylon shell also adds a little bit of flex to the equation, aiding comfort further.
At £249.00 / $249.99, it's still an expensive proposition, but with its 3D-printed tech, it's not only incredibly comfortable, but it also foregoes the lime-green aesthetic.
- Fizik Antares Versus Evo 00 Adaptive saddle review
- Best 3D-printed saddle: A Fizik vs Specialized head-to-head
What to look for in a saddle?
Choosing the right saddle based on specifications alone might seem like a difficult task, but while the proof is very much in the sitting, the following advice will help you on your way to comfort.
Luckily, many brands offer a guarantee that allows you to try a saddle, then return it, should it fail to comply.
1. How to choose the correct width saddle
Finding the best road bike saddle that fits starts with making sure the seat is supporting your body weight with your sit bones (ischial tuberosities and pubic rami) and not the surrounding soft tissues. This means finding a saddle that is the correct width and shape.
Most bike shops will have a memory foam pad that you can sit on to measure the width of your sit bones. If your local shop doesn't have one of these tools, the same process can be done at home with a piece of corrugated cardboard.
Simply pop the cardboard (corrugated side up) onto a chair, and sit on it (ideally whilst wearing non-bulky clothing) ensuring your weight is put directly through your sit bones. Once they have pressed down on the cardboard, find and mark the centre of each indentation and measure the distance between each. Once you have this measurement (in millimetres), it gives you a rough starting point of what size saddle you are going to need.
However, several factors including your flexibility, how aggressive your position on the bike is, and your pedalling style will also play a significant role in the shape you choose.
2. How to choose the right saddle shape
As a rule of thumb, riders who tend to stay in a more upright position - or are less flexible - tend to prefer flat (front to back) saddles. A flat saddle also makes for a more consistent feel when sliding forward or back on the saddle.
On the other hand, waved or curved saddles are usually preferred by riders who are more flexible or ride in a long and low, aggressive position. Riders who don't move around much on the saddle also usually prefer a wavy or curved profile as it keeps them locked in place.
Many inflexible riders have also found favour with short-nose saddles, as they enable a more forward position without causing discomfort. While shorter in length, the nose tends to be a little wider and therefore also offers comfort when 'on the rivet'.
Many brands are offering gender-specific saddles and have been putting more resources into developing saddles to suit different anatomies. Having said that, we know plenty of women who prefer a men's or 'unisex' saddle, and even a couple of men whose saddle of choice is a women's specific model.
Many of the best road bike saddles feature cutouts or pressure relief channels that run the length of the saddle. The idea here is to eliminate soft tissue pressure by removing the material that would push on the wrong part of your undercarriage.
For some, the cutout is the golden ticket; however, others may find the edge of the channel digs into or pinches sensitive areas.
Unfortunately, there are no hard-and-fast rules on this one but bear in mind that both exist, so if you're having trouble with one, the other might be the answer.
When it comes to padding, less is usually more. Highly padded saddles can cause more soft tissue pressure than their lightly padded counterparts because your sit bones sing into the padding and then some of the support is shouldered by your perineum. On the other end of the spectrum, saddles with no padding at all like the Prologo C.ONE Nack Carbon Saddle are usually overkill unless you ride exclusively on smooth tarmac.
5. Other considerations
Saddles come in a range of prices because of the variety of materials used for the shell, cover, and rails.
Carbon shells will usually be lighter, may offer some vibration absorption and will often be more expensive, and pretty stiff. Saddles with plastic or nylon shells will often be a bit more forgiving and cost less too.
Rail material will also play a role in the design of your prospective saddle but also the price. Carbon rails are the lightest, but they may not work with your seat post clamp because of their oval shape. Titanium rails are a tad lighter and more expensive than those with steel, but steel rails are the most durable.
Most saddles on the market will have a cover made with synthetic leather, and some have reinforced areas or even grippy patches to keep you from sliding around.
Finally, if you get a new saddle, make sure to check your saddle height. Different models can add or subtract a few millimetres from your overall saddle height (from the bottom bracket), which can introduce a whole new set of issues.
It's worth mentioning again that we are speaking in broad terms here, and what works for you will depend entirely on you and your anatomy.
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