We’ve assembled a dozen of the best saddles and ridden the backside out of our shorts to test their performance
Are you sitting comfortably? There are few components on a mountain bike as simple as a saddle, yet at the same time so crucial to our enjoyment of a ride.
An uncomfortable saddle is literally a pain in the bum, and has the potential to wreck a big day out or expensive riding trip by causing discomfort, chafing or numbness. And, just as importantly, a badly chosen saddle can also inhibit movement when you need to perform a make-or-break manoeuvre or trail challenge.
Thankfully, finding a perch that won’t cramp your style, or wear down morale on a long ride, doesn’t cost big money. Indeed, with that in mind, we’ve assembled a dozen of the best saddles between £25 and £85, and ridden the backside out of our shorts to test their performance.
The material commonly used for support in a saddle is called EVA, or foam rubber. It’s lightweight, slow to break down, and has good shock absorption properties.
Some saddles also supplement the foam with a gel pad, which is essentially a viscous material suspended between the base and the cover. It conforms to the contours of your body and generally supports rider weight across a prescribed area.
Some manufacturers produce saddles in different widths to better support different pelvis sizes. However, saddle comfort is a bit more complicated than that, and can be affected by the shape, length and even the angle you’re sitting at.
Generally, wider saddles are more comfortable, but they can introduce more rubbing or resistance against inner thighs during pedalling, or when moving about on the bike.
Add some grit and grime into this equation, and the shoulders of wider saddles can often be eroded by continuous use.
Saddle length can enable significant positional and weight shifts from front to rear, especially useful when climbing.
Longer-nosed saddles should be comfortable enough to wriggle onto, but they can inhibit side-to-side movement across the top tube, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re a more dynamic rider.
The cheapest saddles have solid steel rails. These are the heaviest, but manufacturers can save weight by using hollow steel, titanium or carbon rails.
The price goes up as you move through the materials but so does comfort — titanium has a natural compliance and carbon rails can be engineered to provide flex, improving comfort.
If you have an issue getting your seat high or low enough in your frame, especially when using a dropper post, it’s worth measuring saddle depth. There can be up to 1cm difference between saddle profiles.
An often-overlooked aspect of comfort is flex within the chassis of the saddle. This is frequently more important than a squishy, deeply padded top.
Basically, if the frame of the saddle has good shock absorption properties, there’s less need for thick cushioning. A firmer saddle chassis also plays a role in efficiency during powerful, seated cranking.
How we test
Our test saddles clocked up the miles attached to various test bikes, drawing on the feedback of the mbr staff and experienced test riders. This gave us a broad spread of opinions on comfort for, let’s face it, what can be quite a subjective component.
As always, our tests are built on years of riding experience, but we backed this up by rating each individual saddle on the same bike with consistent tyre pressures and suspension settings, while wearing the same liner shorts to single out the subtle differences between individual brands in terms of comfort and cushioning.
Ergon SME3-M saddle
The relatively long, broad nose is noticeably comfortable when leaning against inner thighs for stability on aggressive off-cambers, too.
It’s one of the cheaper Ergon saddles, but the SME3-M is still at the upper end of this test, and we noted the finish did get a little more scruffy and abraded than the other saddles.
Fabric Scoop Radius Elite saddle
Fabric’s sleek, beautifully packaged Scoop is something of a benchmark perch.
The smooth, minimal finish is the result of a three-part bonding process that melds the waterproof cover to a coloured base, uninterrupted by any stitching or staples, which makes it a cinch to keep clean.
Fizik Gobi M5 saddle
Manganese rails save weight, but it has a more rounded crown and more aggressive tail trim than most broader, flatter-backed saddles here.
For efficient, unrestricted pedalling, and ease of movement off the back on technical descents, the Gobi is very highly rated.
Joystick Builder saddle
Joystick is shaping into a brand with some well-thought-out gear for real mountain bikers — it’s clear a lot of rider input has gone into this seat, and that has paid off in terms of usability.
The Builder is slightly porky but the price is decent for a quality, durable all-mountain saddle.
Kore Durox SL saddle
The Durox isn’t that light, and a couple of testers reckoned it looked a bit like a roadie saddle, but perhaps this explains why it makes for a solid choice for quietly clocking up miles in a more XC vein.
Madison Flux saddle
One thing to note is, if you’re the type to flail around off the back of the bike, the cutaway shaping on the tail can snag shorts more readily.
But overall, it’s tough to knock the Flux for the money — the performance is so good, most riders in search of a comfy trail saddle need look no further.
Nukeproof Vector AM Comp saddle
Firm but fair, the Vector feels quite racey overall, which matches the brand’s enduro and downhill image.
It’s very easy to clean and great quality for the money, but definitely not for those riders looking for a saddle to isolate them from trail impacts.
Pro Vulture CRMO saddle
Where outright comfort is concerned, our doubts proved unfounded, as the Vulture is flexible, soft and cushioned.
It’s likely that having the widest under-chassis cut-out helps it bend inwards, and thicker gel padding also aids in this regard.
Ritchey Trail Comp saddle
For the money, it gets features you’d expect from more expensive saddles, such as a carbon-fibre injected base material, abrasion-resistant side panel shoulders and a patented vector wind housing at the rear of the saddle rails that aims to more evenly suspend and spread rider weight.
SDG Circuit saddle
We like how the SDG has a coarse, textured material that acts as a gripper to stop muddy shorts slipping around.
The titanium-alloy rails, low weight and excellent performance easily justify the SDG’s higher-end price. Just don’t expect super-plush padding as well.
Specialized Henge Comp saddle
We’ve had plenty of saddle time on the flat-topped Henge over the years while testing Specialized bikes. Slightly shorter than average in length, it’s very unobtrusive and prompted frequent rider feedback about how comfortable and invisible it feels while riding.
WTB Volt Race saddle
WTB’s well-priced Volt Race happened to come stock on one of our longterm test bikes, and as such we’ve pedalled hundreds of miles on it with zero complaints.
Immediately accommodating and comfy, it’s a fit-and-forget product thanks to the deep and luxurious foam padding and a deep central depression that reduces pressure.
Saddle group test verdict
We’re all different downstairs. The amount of fatty tissue, muscle definition, and the size and angle of pelvis varies widely between riders, so what’s comfortable for one can be painful to another.
Since saddles are available in a multitude of shapes and sizes, and also made from a variety of materials offering different levels of padding, it’s well worth trying as many of your riding buddies’ seats as possible to get an idea of a design that works for your shape.
All that said, there was a clear consensus on saddle comfort and performance throughout testing, and it speaks volumes that several of us at mbr use the Fabric Scoop on our personal bikes.
Bottom line is the Scoop not only looks great, it provides just the right combination of padding and flex in the chassis, whether you’re stomping on the pedals or dragging yourself up hills. It’s a breeze to wipe clean, and plenty tough enough to keep its looks for ages, and, crucially, never caused any aches or pains for our testers, however long and hard the riding.
Just about the only criticism we can level at it is that it’s a victim of its own success; the design is so slick, you can start to slide around on the cover in extremely muddy conditions.
Plenty of other saddles here are extremely good too. Specialized’s Henge has a deep cushioned feel with useful friction-free edges and offers a unique ability to carry gear underneath as part of the brand’s SWAT storage system.
Of the slightly more original choices, Joystick’s Builder deserves a mention — its unique shape not only looks distinctive, the hooked-down front end is useful if you really need to teeter on the nose of the saddle to grind up super-steep climbs, or knock out a liaison stage in a Enduro event. It also doubles up as a good surface to lean against while controlling the bike down gnarly technical descents.
Finally, SDG’s Circuit is in with a good shout as being the best competitive enduro race saddle here — it’s already survived multiple crashes and is very lightweight and comfortable too. The unobtrusive shape never gets in the way and the grippy fabric cover helps you keep track of the bike in nasty, squelchy conditions.