Experimenting with bike saddles, or seats

We have our new bikes, and we are beginning to make them our own. This means adding a few things, like lights front and rear for night riding, and a back rack for my daughter's bike (mine will get one, too, but I need to find the right one), and adjusting whatever is adjustable—the front stem, the height of the seat post, and . . . the saddles.

Bike saddles are challenging. Chip Haynes, who wrote the marvelous The Practical Cyclist, says this about bike saddles, or seats:

  • "If you ride your bike every day and never, ever, even so much as think about your bicycle's seat—then you have the right seat. Congratulations."

He also points out, as many people do, the difficulties of finding the right seat, with this observation:

  • "Just one ride is not enough to really tell if a seat is going to give you trouble. Sometimes seats can be devious little things that wait to turn on you when you least expect it. Ride the bike every day for a week, and if you're still happy with the seat, then you've got the right seat. If not, back it goes!"

Okay. We have the goal. Now how to accomplish it?


The seats on our new bikes are good quality and look just fine. We didn't know much about bike components when we started this process of finding what's turning out to be our new primary mode of transportation. We've learned a lot in acquiring our bikes. We do have frames of the right size, and bikes of the right style for us. Moving along to seats. . . . Here's what came with the bikes:


They are WTB Comfort V seats. I'd link to information on the seat, but bike saddles seem to be infinitely morphing. When I search for information on the seat—even with a full set of model descriptors from the bike catalog—I get things that look similar but not identical. Anyway. My daughter and I find that they are not comfortable for very long. We keep feeling like we're sliding forward off the front of the seat (regardless of the angle it's set at or how far forward or back it's resting on its rails) and that we're trying to sit off the back end to compensate. Essentially, the first sit-down is fine, but after a half-mile (1km) or so, we'd rather ride without putting any weight on the seat, which isn't the goal.

The seats on the bikes with the too-small frames were great. We never noticed them.


The seat was an Avenir Cross Comfort and it came with the bike. Raleigh USA distributes Avenir saddles (these were [Raleigh OOPS] Diamondback Maravista hybrid bikes [Raleigh owns Diamondback, thus my choice of the wrong word], and as I've mentioned the only problem we had with the bikes was that we were sold too-small frames, which over time resulted in much inconvenience and some discomfort, because we could never get the seats in the right position and our knees hurt).

The seat on my old Motobecane was horrendous, but I didn't know I could replace it. I rode the bike a lot anyway, but I would have ridden it even more if I'd been more bike-savvy and known what to do about the seat. The two bikes I had before that were in the dark ages; I was also ignorant about having any choice, but their saddles worked just fine.


The good news is that most manufacturers of bike saddles appear to have 30- or 90-day "comfort guarantees"—they don't guarantee the saddle will be comfortable, but they do give the purchaser the option of returning a saddle during a speciic time period if it isn't. You still have to figure out which saddles to try; lay out the money at least temporarily; spend a lot of time with allen wrenches putting seats on and off your bike (and adjusting the position of each seat, fore and aft, up and down); and remember to return what doesn't work. But the system does help.

We have discovered that there are "men's" and "women's" saddles, just as there are "men's" and "women's" frame styles, although who rides what happily (in frames and seats) may correlate to gender and may not. We were interested to note that my bike frame (17", women's styling) and my daughter's frame (19", men's styling . . . they don't make a 19" women's frame, or she would have preferred one, for ease of mounting and dismounting) came with the same (men's style) seats.

Here's a comparison between the (men's) seats that came on the bikes (left) and a women's style seat (right), which is slightly wider at the back and shorter at the nose:


The correct seat for a given bike depends on the rider, the type of bike, and the style of riding, so we can't just try to locate seats like the ones on our old bikes. We are both riding in more "aggressive" positions than we used to, now that we have frames of the right sizes and can get the seat heights set correctly. That means we're sitting differently on the bikes and what worked then probably won't be right now.

So the quest for comfortable seats has begun.

We started by trying the Serfas Women’s RX (RX-922L), 16 oz., 454 g., 10 x 7 in., 25 x 18 cm, lycra covered, which my daughter likes better than I do, although I like it better than the original-issue WTB seat:


We also got a similar model, the Serfas Women’s Dual Density (DDL-200), 16 oz., 454 g., 10 x 7 in, 25 x 18 cm, fabric cover, which I like a little better than the RX, although it's still not comfortable enough to forget about (it just got installed on my daughter's bike last night, so we don't know what she thinks about it so far):


It was the demo seat in the photo of the men's/women's differences. After reading a bunch of online reviews, I'm trying out the Bontrager InForm R, which comes in three sizes, set to match different people's posteriors:


It's obviously less cushy-looking than the other seats. In fact, it has enough less padding that I have to extend my seat post an extra few centimeters to get the correct seat-to-pedal length. Yet so far, it's the best saddle for me of the group we've tried, but I haven't quite forgotten it's there. It's also true that this is a new design and I've read that it's optimized for road bikes, so the design might not be correct for my riding style (closer to mountain-bike positioning).

The quest continues, although I'm not sure where to take it next. I'd really just like to ride my bike and not have to think about whether the seat is working or not (mostly not, although the Bontrager's gotten me to "okay").

Maybe I'll install the bell today.


We are riding a lot more than we did on our old bikes: I missed a ride yesterday (my daughter did 15 miles (28km)), but I'm usually getting at least 7 miles (13km) and usually 10 miles (18km) or more. And that's just getting to and from places I need to be.


10 thoughts on “Experimenting with bike saddles, or seats”

  1. I have no idea why the right edges of the photos are being truncated in my browser. I tried to fix them, but didn’t come up with the right answer. Apologies.

  2. Glad you’re enjoying the bike posts! I understand about being intimidated by bike shops. Sometimes the unintimidating ones are the ones that sell a person the wrong size frame. . . . Happened to us just under three years ago. . . .

    I *strongly* recommend that you look for Chip Haynes’ book The Practical Cyclist and check out David Moskovitz’s website The Practical Cyclist http://www.thepracticalcyclist.org/ . I just figured out this morning that there are at least two “practical cyclists.” Both offer excellent guidance for what you have in mind.

    A blog called Bikes for the Rest of Us has some good reviews. http://bikesfortherestofus.blogspot.com/ 
    Craiglist locally has had some ads for bikes just like the ones we are letting go (ours already have new homes), which were Diamondback Maravistas, hybrids that work well on streets or dirt paths. (Diamondback is owned by Raleigh.)
    We found a great, unintimidating, conscientious bike store near us–Loveland Cycle ‘n Fitness. Unfortunately, they ended up not carrying the bikes we ended up liking best or we would have bought bikes there very happily. http://www.lovelandcycle.com/
  3. Now I know why I haven’t replaced the torn seat on my old but very beloved Bianchi commuter bike. It just works! I think I’ll keep it until it falls apart. I most definitely don’t want to have to go through a bike seat search like yours. I hope you find just the right one soon….

  4. Nope! Don’t replace your seat until you are sure you have something that works. And don’t get rid of the old one even then.

    We were looking for Bianchis, but the Loveland shop quit carrying them.
  5. Wow. I had no idea comfortable bike seats were so difficult to find. The last bike/bike seat I had was on my pink bike with banana handle bars…so I think I’ll stick to walking my doggy for excercise.

    Hope you find a comfy one, too.


  6. We’ll get the seats figured out.

    Our dogs are old enough now that even though we walk them twice a day (and a moderately adequate distance) we need a different form of exercise as well! The walks tend to be a lot slower than they used to be.
  7. Wow, I’m not really a biker so this is interesting stuff for me. (I’m considering a tricycle, if that gives you any insight into my balancing abilities!) However, my recent foray into life without furniture lets me know that any chair that makes you forget about the chair is a good one. I can’t believe how hard it is for me to sit on the floor for long periods of time! I am now continually grateful for my bed, my comfy hand me down kitchen chairs, etc. Amazing how we forget about the things that fit us best until we don’t have them anymore. (be they bike seats or chairs…)

  8. I *do* sit on the floor, happily and for long periods of time! Which makes this bike seat thing even worse. I’d rather (FAR rather) sit on a wood floor. Or gravel, even.

    And I love biking.
    I’ll get it solved.
    You would like the correct bike. There’s nothing wrong with a tricycle. A recumbent (pedal from normal seated position) with three wheels would be sweet.
    A friend of mine (textile person) who has had a brain tumor (same kind as Ted Kennedy) can no longer drive, but she’s been using a three-wheel bike to get all over town, including, when she was in treatment, to her chemo appointments. She just bought a new business . . . high-quality bike trailers . . . because she was bored with “retirement.”
  9. Question please: what kind of money is this costing? I’ve been thinking about a bike and have almost decided to go for the cheapest type for the moment, just to get back in the rhythm. But I want to know how much I might need to save up. It’s my understanding it can cost in the hundreds — and I hadn’t even considered the different seat options available.

  10. Costs depend a lot. Bikes do not hold their value especially well, so if you know what you’re looking for (or even if you don’t, and just want to get started again), you can do really well with Craigslist or similar secondhand markets. You can also end up with junk there, but you can probably learn enough quickly to be fairly safe . . . or sell what you came up with for about what you bought it for and try again. We have also bought bikes at police auctions; they tend to happen about once a year and turn over bikes that have been recovered after they were abandoned or stolen but have not been reclaimed. One was just fine. A second needed more fixing than we predicted. Still, we enjoyed the experience and learned something.

    Bikes identical to the ones we had most recently, which were far more than satisfactory in all regards except frame size, can be bought for $150 on Craigslist. Ours had extra equipment: lights, rack, locks. Bought new, yes, that’s several hundred dollars’ worth. They had good aluminum frames, Alivio rear derailleurs, good brakes, and so on. And more comfortable saddles than their replacements.
    Seats or saddles cost $25 to hundreds. There are a lot of choices in the $35 – 60 range. Cost does not correlate with comfort. A $25 could be just fine.
    Local bike shops can be most informative and a good place to buy. Some have trade-ins available. Big box stores are *not* a good place to buy: better to go to the used market and get a better bike for the same money.

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