Whether you’re a brand mountain biker or a seasoned pro, you know that being uncomfortable in your seat makes for a bad ride. Just take one look at a mountain bike saddle and you know it’s easy to go wrong. The margin for error is slim – literally!
Continue reading to find the best ways to make your mountain bike seat more comfortable.
The BEST ways to make a mountain bike seat more comfortable
1. Find the right seat width, length, and shape
People come in all shapes and sizes, so why should we have to use the seat that came with our bike?! That’s why picking a seat with the correct width, length, and shape for you is important.
How to find the right seat length for your mountain bike
When it comes to seat comfort, the shape and size of our pelvic bones will have the greatest impact on which seat is comfortable for you. To start, you’ll need to find the width of your sit bones. Most bike shops have a gel pad that you can use to get this measurement, but you can also do it at home as well.
The DIY route:
1. Take a piece of aluminum foil that’s approximately 2-feet long and set it on the step of a carpeted stair (carpet is key).
2. Sit on the foil, and lean forward to mimic your riding position.
3. Lift your knees to mimic where they would be in the upward portion of a pedal stroke.
4. Carefully stand up, and then use a ruler to measure the distance (in millimeters) between the two deepest depressions in the foil.
Once you’ve got the measurement, add 25 mm – 30 mm to that number. Using a small range takes the pressure off getting a perfect measurement in the previous step, and can also help to point you in the right direction if you find yourself between saddle sizes.
As an example, let’s say that your measurement came out to 110 mm. That means that your ideal saddle width would then fall between 135 mm – 140 mm. The average mountain bike saddle measures in at ~145 mm wide, but there are plenty of wider and narrower options available.
How to find the right seat shape for your mountain bike
Now that you’ve got the proper seat width figured out, it’s time to take a look at seat shape.
The main factor that you should consider when selecting shape is your own physique. Are you a lean individual with tones legs? Then you can probably get away with a seat that is flatter and slightly wider by the nose because you have more room to spare without rubbing your legs raw on the saddle.
Riders with larger, or more muscular legs, would be better served by using a saddle with more top curve to reduce the amount of rubbing while still providing ample support.
How to find the right seat length for your mountain bike
Compared to saddle width, picking the saddle length is a little more straightforward. In general, longer saddles are better for climbing, while shorter saddles are best for situations requiring more aggressive handling.
The average saddle for men is ~270 mm, while the average saddle for women is ~260 mm. This moderate length is good for most, but you may want to opt for a longer or shorter version depending on your primary style of mountain biking.
2. Properly mount your seat on the bike
Just because you’ve got the perfect seat picked out for your mountain bike doesn’t mean that you’re done! You also need to ensure that it’s properly positioned on the bike to avoid issues. The seat’s height, fore/aft, and tilt all need to be considered.
The simplest guideline for setting the seat’s height requires you to first sit on your bike. Have a friend hold the handlebars to steady it, or mount it on a trainer so that you don’t fall over.
- With the pedals straight up and down, extend your leg on the down pedal side.
- Reach down with a straight leg until your heel just touches the pedal.
- If your leg is not straight when it contacts the pedal, then the seat is too low. If your heel was not able to reach the pedal or you had to strain to reach it, then your seat is too high. The height is perfect when you are just barely able to touch the pedal with your heel.
One thing I should point out is that this seat height is for optimizing pedal efficiency in cross-country riding. A lower saddle height may be more appropriate for extremely technical sections or difficult descents. This is the time where a seat dropper post can feel your best friend!
Similarly, the optimal seat tilt will often be tied to your type of riding. However, most rider’s find a neutral i.e. flat seat to be the most comfortable. Those spending a lot of time climbing may find a slight downward tilt to more comfortable. Rider’s spending more time on steep downhill or gravity often prefer the seat slightly tipped back (up).
If you’re riding on an appropriately sized frame and the fork is set up properly, then chances are your seat can be mounted dead center on its rails. However, rider’s with long arms may find that they need to push the seat back to get the proper distance. Short-armed riders would do the opposite and move their seat forward.
Keep in mind that it’s not just the saddle fore/aft positioning that should be leveraged to control distance here. Stem length, as well as handlebar positioning, can also play a factor. At the end of the day, you want to do your best to center your body’s weight on the bike.
3. Gear to take the pain away!
If you’ve been cycling this whole time without padded shorts then I’d call you borderline crazy! This wonderful piece of gear places padding in your delicate regions and does wonders to absorb the impact of riding.
These can be found as liners that are meant to be worn underneath your regular outfit, or you can find tight-fitting outer layers.
Along with padded shorts you should also consider investing in some chamois cream. Not only does this cream help prevent rubbing and chafing, but it also has antibacterial properties. Bacteria build-up is a common source of saddle sores, and not something you want to try out if you can avoid it!
How to treat saddle sores
As with many medical conditions, the best treatment is prevention! However, if you do end up with saddles sores here’s how you can treat them.
- Take time off – Look at saddle sores like any other injury. They need time to heal. Take a couple days off to rest and recuperate. Try avoid wearing overly tight clothing that would cause additional friction in the area. If possible, try to limit how much time you spend sitting. Lie down, recline back, etc… anything that helps take pressure off the area will help.
- Keep the area dry and clean – Because bacteria is one of the common sources of saddle sores you want to keep yourself very clean during the healing period. Make sure you bathe at least daily, or more frequently if you do end up working up a sweat doing something. In between bathing, try to keep the area dry. No hot tub soaks for you!
- Find a good antibacterial cream – Talk to your pharmacist to get a recommendation for a good over the counter antibacterial cream. Once again, bacteria are a common cause of saddle sores so a little medicated cream to help drive them away can help.
Most cases of saddle sores clear up after a few days of rest. However, if your saddle sores are causing you a lot of pain when walking or sitting then it’s probably worth consulting with your doctor. They can prescribe stronger treatments to get the sores cleared up, and you back on the bike faster.
If you found this article helpful, I’d recommend also taking a look at this article from DIYMountainBike. The author, David, covers 10 additional ways to make your bike more comfortable.
- Is there a difference between road and mountain bike saddles? While some manufacturers may manufacture mountain bike-specific saddles, they generally are the same. You should focus on selecting a saddle that’s appropriately sized for you.
- Why do some saddles have holes or grooves in them? The purpose of these holes and grooves is to relieve pressure to the crotch area.
- How much do mountain bike saddles cost? Saddles have a wide range in price and can cost anywhere from $35 – $400. However, you can find excellent saddles around the $100 mark that will last the lifetime of your mountain bike.