Cycle touring saddles need to do two things, they must be comfortable for long durations and they should be comfortable in a more upright seating position than road bike saddles.
Choosing a comfortable cycle touring saddle is arguably the single most important decision you can make when outfitting a bike for cycle touring. Riding on a generic saddle or a saddle designed for the opposite sex for days at a time can range from uncomfortable to traumatic. Here lies some quality cycle touring saddle options to protect you from pain and frustration
Get Personal With Your Saddle
The middle of the road kind of saddle that you see in many shop bought bikes is something like a generic looking, unisex mountain bike saddle.
For many people these saddles are fine, not comfortable, but tolerable. They tend to have a featureless cone like shape and a medium amount of foam padding.
However, many people I have ridden with have complained about uncomfortable saddles and I’ve learnt that It’s especially important for women to have women’s specific saddles. A point I was not aware of until cycling with my partner and sister on previous tours.
Get personal with your saddle. Try out as many as you can and when you find one you like, hold onto it!
Cycle Touring Saddles – Mountain Bike Saddle
A good mountain bike saddle will offer much more than the generic kind I described above, they often have a relief line running from front to back taking the weight away from the more sensitive parts of your anatomy and placing it more directly onto your pelvis.
The relief line also helps with airflow and cooling and often the padding material is of better quality. Mountain bike saddles can be great for cycle touring.
Cycle Touring Saddles – Gel Saddle
If you’ve tried foam saddles and continue to be uncomfortable then the next step might be to try a gel saddle. Gel saddles have great shock absorption and cushioning characteristics and they instantly mould to your body giving a custom shape and weight distribution.
There is a downside to gel cycle touring saddles. If left in direct sunlight gel saddles can become extremely hot. The high density of the gel filling lends itself well to storing and conducting heat. I’ve even heard of someone getting burnt from sitting on a saddle that had been left in the sun too long. It’s not a big problem though as it can be easily solved with a saddle cover.
Cycle Touring Saddles – Wide-Cushion Saddles
Wide, soft and squishy saddles are not really suitable for long distance rides or seasoned riders. Extra wide saddles are best for bikes where the handlebars are much higher than the seat, resulting in a sitting up riding position, and short duration low intensity rides for those unaccustomed to bike saddles.
Soft squishy saddles actually cause more discomfort on long rides because there is more friction and heat build up. Also the soft material pushed up into soft tissue rather than firmly supporting you on your bones.
Cycle Touring Saddles – Cut Away Saddles
This is quite a specialist type of saddle that has a cutaway section on top eliminating any pressure from the centre of the seat. Cutaway saddles are best for people that find that all other saddles place too much weight on the front and centre part of the saddle causing pain, tingling and numbness. These saddle are especially targeted towards men.
If I had to recommend a type of saddle for long distance cycle tourers or any cyclist that clocks up over 1,000 a year it might be a leather one.
Leather has excellent characteristics for saddles; leather ‘breaks-in’ and softens in a way that will fit and flex to the shape of your body whilst remaining firm in others that give the saddle integrity.
The inherent porosity or permeability of leather also allows heat and moisture to escape which keeps the rider cool and dry. Leather saddles can often be adjusted by tightening a bolt in the ‘nose’ of the saddle increasing or decreasing tension.
Bear in mind that leather requires more maintenance than other saddles, a coating of wax is needed to periodically condition the saddle and the tension must be increased throughout the breaking-in stage. Leather saddles are also susceptible to water damage especially if they haven’t been treated with wax.
Cycle Touring Saddle – Women’s Specific
The key differences with women’s saddles are that they are wider to better fit a wider pelvis, and they are often shorter and have raised sections at the back.
Women that find men’s saddles uncomfortable should look for a women’s specific design. After fitting a number of women’s saddles the ones made from a firm, almost hard, gel compound have received the most positive feedback along with the leather Brooks B17 Womens.
Radical Bicycle Saddle For When All Else Fails
This interesting option was suggested by Conifir in the comments. In his experience the only saddle he’s ever felt comfortable on is the Moon Saddle.
If all else fails and it seems as though the regular saddle shape and your anatomy are not in harmony then you might like to consider the Moon Saddle.
I would hazard a guess that without the nose of the saddle between your legs you may sacrifice a little control, but comfort is key and I’m sure you would adjust your riding style to compensate.
Thanks Conifir for the excellent suggestion!
I recommend taking a look at Chain Reaction Cycles. That’s where I go to get most of my bicycle components.