Opinions about mountain bike saddles are like derrieres. Everyone has one, they’re all different, and no one wants to trade theirs for yours. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best mountain bike saddles.
Some mountain bike saddles are too wide, others too narrow. Some are too cushy, others too firm. Some pinch in the wrong places. And this is just the fit part of the equation. How much does the mountain bike saddle weigh? How tough is it in event of a crash? Will the padding and cover hold up day after day, ride after ride?
One thing is certain: Once you find your personal best mountain bike saddle, it will be next to impossible to change your opinion. That’s why saddles are typically the first thing to get replaced when purchasing a new bike. Fortunately, a wealth of choices exists like never before.
How to Choose the Best Mountain Bike Saddle
The most obvious way to choose the best mountain bike saddle is to test it. But that’s tricky. Mounting a saddle can be time consuming, as getting it positioned just right often takes a fair bit of trial and error. And then you have to test it to make sure it’s the right one for you. In other words, fitting a mountain bike saddle is not like choosing helmets or shorts where it’s easy to try several in quick succession.
To remedy this conundrum, many manufacturers offer elaborate fitting tools that measure your sit bones and register your length and width preferences. These come in particularly handy if you’re shopping online, which is often the case because bike shops typically only stock a few options.
Dialing fit starts with finding the right width, which is typically done through measuring the distance between your sit bones. Because everyone’s different, saddle makers offer a variety of choices. For a guide to sit-bone measurement, check out this video:
Fitting tools are a good starting point but are not foolproof. I tried some out as a test and the success rate was around 60 percent in recommending the right saddle for me. Though for some, fit was not the issue — the saddle design itself didn’t work for me.
Another strategy for finding the best mountain bike saddle is to test ride your friends’. This again is problematic, dependent on bike size and saddle setup. If nothing else, you’ll immediately learn how one rider’s meat is another’s poison. But you will get an idea of the range of options.
Yet another approach is to go to a mountain bike demo day and make a mental note of the saddle(s) you really like.
Finally, check your local bike shop. Some shops offer try-before-you-buy demo programs. Typically they charge for the privilege, but allow you to deduct the payment from the price of a new saddle. Just be prepared to suffer through a couple misses before you find a hit that you like. That’s just how life works in the mountain bike saddle world.
Understanding Saddle Design
Basically there are two approaches to saddle design: flared or dropped wings. Flared spreads out the surface area to provide additional sit platform, while dropped minimizes it in favor of a narrower profile. Which one is better for you depends on how each feels when you sit on it.
You also need to figure out how much cushion you like. Whether too soft or too hard, the feedback to watch for is numbness in the nether region. The right saddle enables long rides (at least an hour) without pain or numbness.
How long the nose extends may also be an issue. Some riders want the nose out of the way as much as possible to avoid snagging their shorts when tackling rowdy trail sections. Others like a longer nose for sitting forward on climbs and grabbing with the thighs in technical descents.
You’ll need to decide whether you want a saddle with a center cutout, which is a channel dividing the saddle lengthwise. The idea is to relieve pressure on the perineum, otherwise known as the “taint.” Because it ain’t… well, you know. Some people are sensitive there, others not so much. Again, you’ll know pretty quick if the saddle isn’t working.
Also consider reinforcement of the side edges. This part of the bike saddle takes the most abuse in the event of a crash. Most saddles offer some sort of protection or beefed up fabric such as Kevlar. But fabric can sometimes drag on shorts momentarily, so some manufacturers have gone to slick sides. And the reality is that when you crash hard enough to noticeably damage the wings, your whole saddle may be trashed, too. For this reason, mountain bike saddle life isn’t the greatest no matter how burly the construction.
Another feature to look for is perforation on the top of the saddle, which offers added comfort and ventilation, but also can collect moisture in the rain. You don’t want to arrive at the trailhead with a soggy saddle.
Then there’s rail material choice, which affects saddle weight. Carbon rails are the lightest, with titanium, vanadium and aluminum close behind. Steel rails are heaviest, but also can lower saddle price significantly. Metal rails also can mean a harsher ride, whereas carbon soaks up trail chatter better.
With all that in mind, here’s Mtbr’s list of some of the best mountain bike saddles available today.
Bontrager Montrose Elite
Bontrager pioneered the narrow-profile, hex-angled tail for mountain bike saddles, which some riders love and others hate. Today, the angles are less pronounced, but most Bontrager saddles still feature distinctive narrow wings. The Montrose Elite is a versatile performer, offering hollow titanium rails, a middle cutout, carbon reinforced shell, and abrasion-resistant edging. It’s happy on both mountain and road bikes.
More info: www.trekbikes.com
Brooks Cambium C15 All Weather
Brooks built its legendary reputation by making virtually indestructible leather road saddles whose major nemesis was moisture. The Cambium All Weather fixes that with a weatherproof nylon cover, yet still maintains Brooks’ renowned comfort with vulcanized natural rubber padding. Brooks backs it up with a two-year warranty, extendable to an impressive 10 years with registration (carbon-railed saddles excluded). All that durability comes with a weight penalty (405 grams for steel-railed version, though a lighter carbon is available). But for diehard Brooks fans this is a good compromise when the weather turns ugly.
As its name implies, Ergon is big on ergonomics. The company that pioneered biomechanics in grips has put a lot of thought into this mountain bike saddle, focusing on a flat seat for consistent fit, tapered rear for on-off movement, and wide nose for varying seat position and for guiding the bike with help from the saddle. The SMC4 also offers a generous lengthwise “relief channel” and “pressure-measurement” technology aimed at distributing sitting pressure across the full seating area. A gel core and frictionless side wings complete impressive top-to-bottom (pun intended) attention to detail.
Fabric Scoop Sport Flat
Fabric’s twist on saddle fit is to offer three profiles aimed at different styles of riding: shallow, radius, and flat. The latter, featuring the flattest rear section and lowest amount of padding in an aggressive riding design, is preferable for the demands of mountain biking. But all three offer a waterproof microfiber cover and flexible base with a comfortable foam support. There’s no gimmicks with Fabric — just reliable performance in an affordable package.
Fizik Gobi M3
The soon-to-launch M3’s a feather weight at 200 grams, but Fizik also manages to fold in key features like glossy thigh guides and a flexible wing-tailpiece construction of composite glass and nylon. The design is minimalist, with contoured rather than flared wings and no inner channel. For riders with no fit problems, the M3 looks like a winner.
SDG Circuit MTN Ti-Alloy
SDG offers a classic flared seat-wing design in a lightweight (215g) and rugged package. The sides feature Kevlar reinforcement, the center channel is closed but wide and deep, and the profile is flat with the nose sloped rather than rounded to ease on-offs. The nose also extends further than most, for riders who like the extra real estate. A broad range of color highlights will please the matchy-matchy crowd.
Selle Italia Flite
Perhaps the most iconic mountain bike saddle, the Flite has been around almost since the beginning of the sport itself. It has a classic design (flared wings, slightly depressed center channel and rounded-off nose) that has stood the test of time even as radical variations have emerged. But durability isn’t its forte. I’ve personally gone through one every two or three years. But I like its weight choices. The carbon-railed SLR model runs as light as 135 grams, while even standard Flites check in at a svelte 220 grams. But Flites aren’t cheap, and you have to like their distinctive fit.
Specialized Phenom Comp
A good all-around saddle, the Phenom Comp checks all the boxes for comfort and durability. The side wings are more contoured than most, offering pluses in anti-snag and durability. The center channel is open and continues in padding all the way from the nose to the rear. A flexible carbon shell adds to the comfort factor. Nothing about the Phenom reaches out and grabs you by the lapels, but its reliable form and function are typical Specialized.
More info: www.specialized.com
SQlab 611 Ergowave
This saddle is far easier to ride than to say, but no one with the possible exception of Ergon has focused as much technology on mountain-bike-specific saddles. SQlab’s trademark Ergowave spec is aimed at maximizing comfort by enabling the saddle to move with the rider throughout the pedal motion, from stomping a climb to railing a berm. The saddle nose is elongated and slightly widened for perching on the steeps, while an extremely flat profile makes positioning predictable and comfortable. The center channel isn’t open, but is deep and rounded in a lollipop configuration aimed at greater comfort for all sizes. SQlab is not as high profile as mainstream saddle makers, but fans are almost evangelical about the brand and their products.
WTB Volt Comp
In the mountain bike saddle universe, WTB is as close as it comes to ubiquitous. Their saddles, including the Volt Comp, are attractively priced and rugged. No wonder they are spec’d on some many bikes and a bike shop staple. The Volt’s distinctive seat profile — raised wings and dropped nose — comes with a wide range of sizing as well as rail and weight options. In terms of bang for the buck, the Volt is hard to beat.
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