Bicycle seats come many different shapes and sizes. Most seats are made of seat rails (the metal frame that bolts to the seat post) a plastic shell (this determines the shape of the seat), padding to displace road or off road shock, and a cover that has been glued over the shell and the padding.
Seat rails are usually made out of chromoly steel, but aluminum, carbon fiber, and titanium are also used. Steel rails often incorporate a spring system to aid in the displacement of road shock. Springs are popular on comfort style bikes where weight is not the primary concern. Aluminum is used to save weight and increase stiffness. Carbon fiber is used to save weight and can be designed for stiffness or comfort depending on how it has been formed (carbon fiber is very expensive). Titanium seat rails are very popular because they save weight over steel rails and they dampen vibrations extremely well. Most high performance seats have the option of being made with steel rails or titanium rails. The titanium versions are lighter but more expensive.
Seat shells are made out of plastic for the most part. Some ultra light saddles use carbon fiber for the shell. On some very inexpensive seats the shell is made out of steel (ouch). Looking on the underside of a seat can tell you a lot about how much thought has gone into seat design. If the shell has different thickness and/or has cut out portions, it is a sign that the seat may offer better comfort for you.
Padding on inexpensive seats is a single layer of foam rubber. More advanced seats offer multi density foams and gel inserts for more comfort where you need it.
Some of the materials used to cover the foam are lycra, vinyl, cloth, and leather. Frequently kevlar is incorporated into cloth covers (especially on the corners) to add strength in the event of a crash.
Men's and Women's Seats
Men's and women's seats are designed differently. In general men have narrower pelvic bones than women and there are differences in the length and depth of the shape of a seat to accommodate this. Some men prefer women's saddles and vice versa. There is no problem with this as long as the rider is comfortable.
Seats designed for the racing or fast touring cyclist may look uncomfortable to a novice rider, but, because of careful sizing and weight distribution to the handle bars and the seat, those narrow saddles are actually very comfortable even after upwards of 100 miles (obviously these narrow seats are not for everyone).
For the recreational rider, who sits in a more upright position, a softer and wider seat is the most popular choice. Sitting more upright takes strain off of your shoulders and lets you enjoy the view, but it puts most of your body weight on your rear end. Seats with thick padding and springs in the seat or seat post help to displace the bumps from the road.
Doctor Designed Seats
Seats are starting to be designed by doctors. Some people in the medical profession have suggested that bicycle seats may be linked to erectile dysfunction. Doctor designed seats are made to relieve genital numbness. These seats often have a cut out section or groove in the center that allows for better blood circulation and takes the pressure off of your tail bone, reducing back pain.
The All Leather Brooks or Ideal Saddle
It is still possible to get a new "classic" leather saddle. These seats are designed to conform to your anatomy after months of riding. They are the cycling equivalent of a baseball glove. The break in period is difficult, but once you get it to fit you, there is nothing like it. Leather saddles are even available with titanium rails for the rider trying to save weight.
BMX and Freestyle saddles
BMX And Freestyle saddles are designed for durability rather than comfort. 20" bicycle riders crash and drop their bike so much that a well padded seat wouldn't last long. Many inexpensive seats are made entirely of hard plastic, not giving much comfort. The nicer saddles have light padding to cushion a landing and hard plastic for durability.
Which one is for me?
No one can tell you what you will be comfortable sitting on. At Cycle Path, we will give you our best opinion on which seat might suit you. If you purchase a saddle from us and you find that it just isn't quite right, we will exchange it until you are as comfortable as possible.