Here’s a handy guide explaining what to look for in a mountain bike saddle and how to spot the right one for you…
Saddles are a very important part of the bicycle, you probably worked that out already. Without somewhere to sit and apply power to the pedals, the ride will be short and uncomfortable. The added physicality of mountain biking places extra emphasis on choosing the right saddle.
Saddle technology has some a long way in recent years, with a wealth of scientific brainpower and computer-aided design aimed at solving the question of how to get the right blend of comfort into the lightest possible shape. There are specific versions of most models to suit the specific physiology of male and female riders. In addition, even members of the same sex are built differently, with more or less body fat, bone structures of different widths. Add to this the other critical measure of whether an individual saddle will be comfortable, the flexibility of the rider’s spine, particularly in the lumbar region. The ability to flex and pivot in the hips determines the level of pelvic rotation a given rider can achieve; this controls the position of the crotch on the saddle… And to think you were going buy the one with the red bits on it, just because it matches your wheels…
Californian XC racer Cindy Whitehead once famously rode the 50mile Sierra 7500 race without a saddle after her seatpost failed in the first mile… Cindy was a legend. Truth be told, she’d have preferred racing it sat on one of these mountain bike specific saddles.
So then, here are seven of the most popular mountain bike saddles from the range at Evans Cycles. Remember, while these are specific mountain biking models, the full range of saddles stocked by Evans Cycles is much, much wider. Just because a particular saddle is very cheap, designed for road bike riding or triathlon or any other sort of riding, doesn’t mean that it won’t work on your mountain bike – finding the best mountain bike saddle for you is the goal, and sometimes that means searching the entire gene pool.
Evans Cycles MTB saddle recommendations – the super seven saddles
Specialized Phenom Comp
The Phenom is the go-to high performance Specialized MTB saddle, with a shape that’s between the flattest and most curved top profile. The Phenom uses Specialized’s Adaptive Edge hull which allows the flanks of the saddle to move with rider’s thigh movements. The hull features a cut out and a channel for pressure relief on soft tissue and nerve endings. Padding is light, relying also upon hull shape and flexibility to generate full off-road comfort.
>>View the Specialized Phenom Comp<<
Race Face Aeffect
This ti railed, flat topped saddle from Canadian component brand Race Face features a very clean and relatively flat upper surface, with no major channelling and no cut outs. The flat profile makes it especially good for riders with a good level of lower back and pelvic flexibility. It’s very easy to move across, to make positional changes as the terrain demands. The Affect uses a medium/firm padding from nose to tail to deliver good comfort for quick blasts and multi-hour rides.
>>View the Race Face Aeffect<<
Charge Spoon Chromoly
The Charge Spoon is one of the best-selling mountain bike saddles in the UK, for good reason too, it’s got a great basic hull shape, with light padding and a broad, lightly curving overall profile that suits pretty much all riders regardless of flexibility. The central section dips to a channel which extends from the tail to the centre of the hull. The shallow Chromoly steel rails are long enough to provide good adjustability and keep the cost of this excellent saddle low.
>>View the Charge Spoon Chromoly<<
Fizik Tundra 2 00
Where high tech design and cutting edge materials meet, there is Fizik, an Italian saddle brand who push the boundaries of what is possible with bicycle saddles. The Tundra 2 00 is their most advanced mountain bike saddle and uses a full carbon fibre hull and rail assembly to reduce overall weight to ‘not there’ levels. The racing orientated Tundra 2 00 is no arm chair; padding is thin and relatively dense, relying upon built-in hull shape and flexibility to generate the lion share of the comfort. An out an out cross country racers saddle, it’s designed to win races of around two hours.
>>View the Fizik Tundra 2 00<<
Selle Italia X1 Lady Flow
Proof that great saddles needn’t require a second mortgage to buy, is the flat profiled X1 Lady Flow, from legendary saddle makers Selle Italia. Ideal for all forms of mountain biking, the nylon and Rylan base is light and relatively flexible, the pressure reducing slot was first adopted by Selle Italia and is the core of their ‘Flow’ as in blood flow technology. The padding is evenly firm form nose to tail though slightly deeper in the main ishial pressure areas. Chromoly rails keep the price extremely attractive.
>>View the Selle Italia X1 Lady Flow<<
Fabric Cell Radius Elite
Fabric are a team of designers and engineers who ask why and why not a lot. Why not use the same air cell technology as found in leading running shoes to create a mountain biking saddle that can offer the same floaty levels of comfort as the globally popular trainers. The curved top Cell Radius is ideal for low flexibility riders and uses a Hex air-cell design to produce excellent comfort. The rubber TPU cover is waterproof and ideal for life on the trails.
>>View the Fabric Cell Radius Elite<<
Bontrager InForm Ajna Comp Gel Womens
Bontrager’s InForm Ajna Comp Gel saddle uses their own ‘Posture’ design theory to determine the right saddle. This one is ‘Posture 2’ and is best suited to riders with good pelvic flexibility to achieve aggressive riding positions. The Contour Relief Zone Plus channel and central slot help work to reduce pressure on delicate soft tissue and nerve endings. Hollow Chromoly rails bring strength and lightweight, just the ticket for a hard charging MTB saddle.
>>View the Bontrager InForm Ajna Comp Gel<<
Remember these are just a small sample of the saddles that we have at Evans Cycles, pop in store to get up close with the technology, to find your perfect saddle width, or to sit on a few styles to see what your bottom makes of the various designs!
Basic saddle tech – understanding your saddle
(these pointers are as true for road saddles, as they are for MTB saddles)
If you want to continue your search of our saddle collection, get familiar with the basic technical elements of the saddle that will help you narrow your search down to a manageable selection from which to make your choice.
Slots and holes
You’ll notice that some saddles have holes, or more accurately, slots in their hulls. These apertures in the top surface of the hulls are designed to reduce the saddle pressure applied to the riders crotch, by removing the material in that key central area. In truth, many of the models with narrow slots serve to increase the flexibility of the hull at that point as the pad inside your cycling shorts negates much of the effect. The slots do work, just a bit differently than the way we’re told. Bigger usually works better than smaller.
Channels and grooves
Similar to the slot theory of reducing pressure on soft tissues and nerves in the crotch, the trend towards the use of sculpted channels and grooves in the upper surfaces of saddles has grown to where almost all saddles have some form of profiling. Mostly these run nose to tail in the central portion of the saddle. Scoops and ‘islands’ of raised or depressed padding, on the rear flanks for the ishial or ‘sit’ bones, are also popular.
Bicycle saddles are a very three dimensional product, with an upper surface that is a collection of curves. There are two opposite styles that are easy to identify from their side profile; The very flat topped saddle – ideal for riders with good lower-back flexibility. The very curved topped saddle – ideal for riders with reduced lower-back flexibility. Only you will know how flexible your lower back is and how easily you find the rotation of your pelvis into position for comfortable pedalling.
The hull is the hard plastic or carbon fibre base of the saddle which connects the soft saddle upper with the saddle rails. The shape and materials used in the construction of the hull has a great effect on the comfort of the saddle, as much as the padding and profile of the saddle. Giving the saddle a chance to flex, and move with you is key to making sure that your body is able to mesh with the saddle over the many, many hours you’ll be sat on it.
We’re all different shapes and the width of our pelvic bones is key determining which saddle is the right one. For this reason many saddles are available in multiple widths, approximately from 130mm to 165mm. Evans Cycles can help you determine the saddle width you require in any of our stores.
Again this is going to come down to personal preference. The length of saddles varies. For mountain biking, consider the ability to slide off the rear of the saddle when adjusting your position prior to descending very steep pitches – where a shorter tail might make sense. Similarly, avid climbers might like a saddle with a longer nose to allow body weight to be moved to maintain traction.
With saddle padding, more does not always mean better. The same can be said of ‘softer’. That’s not to say that a sumptuous, soft saddle is wrong. But the emphasis should be on getting the right hull shape, with and flexibility for your body – as key factors determining long term saddle comfort. For proof that padding isn’t the determining element in a saddles ability to deliver comfort, look at leather Brooks saddles – often regarded as some of the most comfortable available, to see that bicycle saddles don’t necessarily need padding to be comfortable. Hull shape and flexibility is a really important detail.
The rails are the small tubes that allow the saddle to fit to the seatpost. They also allow the saddle to be adjusted fore and aft. There is also another job they do, though it’s rarely advertised, that is damping vibrations. Choices are steel, titanium and carbon fibre. Steel is cheap, strong and good at helping dampen vibration, titanium is lighter and more expensive than steel and better at dampening vibration. Carbon fibre is very light, very expensive and similar to titanium in its vibration dampening.
So you can see that there are a few important saddle tech elements that need to be considered, well before you even start to think about colour!
Justin Loretz – @mtbgenie