One of the components capable of making the difference when riding for many hours is the touring bike saddle: choosing the right one can change your comfort during long excursions or short trips. These last years I've seen a lot of people with many types of touring bicycle seats, and I had the possibility to try most of them. Unfortunately, as usually happens, there isn't a universally perfect saddle for every one of us. There are some factors influencing our comfort, so the choice must be made carefully. Following you will find some advice in order to understand which factors to consider when choosing your seat, then a list of the best touring bike saddles.
This article's title is obviously clickbait. As usually happens, when thinking about the bicycle, there isn't the perfect solution that fits for everyone. This is valid especially for a fundamental bicycle component like the touring bike saddle. Each one has different physical traits, which influence our comfort on the saddle. Each one has his/her own flexibility, a different position on the pedals, a different sit bones width. At the end of these lines you will find the list with the 10 best touring bike seats, approved by many bicycle tourists, but first of all, let's see how to choose the best touring bicycle saddle for you.
Problems due to the wrong bicycle saddle
The most common problems due to an incorrect position or the wrong saddle are connected to the presence of nerves and arteries in the perineal area. During the cycling activity, they are compressed, reducing the bloodstream and consequently the oxygen supply to the near tissues. This compression may cause tingling, numbness or stong aches in the genital area, and if not corrected, can cause some undesired chronical pathologies. In general, the pressure on the anterior perineum is stronger for a road bike and chronometer bike and in women more than in men (source: Comfort on bicycles and the validity of a commercial bicycle fitting system, by Henri H.C.M.Christiaans - Angus Bremner).
Another frequent issue among cyclists is the formation of sores in the pubic area, due to the continuous friction between the skin and the saddle. In order to reduce this problem, you might have to change the positioning on the seat, use cycling shorts and buy the right bicycle touring saddle.
Saddle position and type of activity
Your activity with the bike influences your position on the saddle and consequently the area of contact. The aim of a touring bicycle seat is to minimize the compression area and so, depending on your activity, there are different shapes, curves and dimensions. In these pictures by Bontrager you can easily understand the contact areas depending on the bicycle activity (and consequently posture):
On the basis of these data, Bontrager (and similarly other companies), opted for different widths, curvature, and sizes of the different bicycle seats.
The size of the transition:
The curvature of the profile:
Finally, as you can understand from the pictures above, a more comfortable and straight position requires a larger seat with a more flat profile, while an aerodynamic position requires a narrower and curved seat, in order to guarantee less pressure on the ischium.
Sit bones width
Like I said before, the studies about the position and the type of activity are valid, but everyone has his/her own physiognomy and should consider it while buying a bicycle touring seat. One of the factors to consider is the sit bones width. The bike saddle will have to be 15-20mm wider than our pelvis size. In the following picture (this time by Specialized) you have an example on how to evaluate the touring bike seat based on the sit bones width.
As you can notice, in this case, we can differentiate three positions, from the most aerodynamic to the most comfortable, and the more you keep an upright position the more the saddle will have to be wide. In order to understand your position on the bike, you can take a side picture of yourself sitting on your bike, while in order to measure your width you can ask your bicycle retailer, who should a have a specific instrument, or use an easy (but maybe approximative) domestic method. Place some wet blotting paper on a stiff seat (a wall or a flat chair) and put a piece of paper (A4) on it, then undress and sit on the paper, legs slightly up like in the above picture, pressing vigorously, in order to create a cast with your ischium. Now with a pen draw the two dots on the cast and measure the distance between them: the value obtained will indicate the pelvis width.
Our body's flexibility is another fundamental element to be considered and investigated, even more frequently, during our "cycling life". More flexibility, shortly, means a better ability to use the ischium and a minor pressure on nerves and arteries. Viceversa, minor flexibility will cause a forward movement of the pelvis and so more pressure on the pelvic area. In order to reduce the pressure, you can consider raising the handlebar and choose a saddle more suitable for your body.
Height and position of the saddle
I've not mentioned it yet, but these are fundamental elements for your comfort on a bike. The correct position of the seat, in height and related to the pedals and the handlebar is part of the basics in order not to suffer from lumbar problems. You might buy the best touring bicycle saddle, but if your position is wrong, you will not reach the comfort you're looking for. A good biomechanic will surely help you find the right measurements, but if you don't think to invest this money, you might take a look at these pieces of advice in order to understand how to adjust the position on the bike.
Stiffness of the bike seat
When one starts cycling, he/she thinks straight away about the softest saddle: I think this is the biggest mistake for a bicycle traveler. The more you stay on the saddle, the less you have to cause friction to the pelvic area. Consequently, a soft saddle allowing many movements could be dangerous... way better it would be a stiff or semi-rigid saddle. I have personally always traveled with plastic saddles or with a little padding or gel and I never had problems of any sort, tingling or pain.
Best touring bike saddles
Here is the list of the ten touring bicycle seats I chose based on my personal experience and their distribution in the bicycle touring market:
I'm from Piedmont and I'm 30 years old, I have been living and working in Lombardy for a few years. After a start without any competence in this field, I then approached the bicycle world more and more. Today I can call myself a bicycle traveller and videomaker who would never ever stop. I ride my bike trying to understand why it is so beautiful, rich, therapeutic. And every time I try, I do not understand it. So I must leave again...