What kind of saddle is best for long distance cycling?
What is the best saddle for long distance cycling: Leather, 3D-printed, or something else?
We've spotted the most popular saddles among randonneurs and ultra-distance riders
What is the best saddle for long-distance cycling? To find out, we've made a note of which saddles randonneurs and ultra-distance cyclists are using.
Most of us spend a few hours a week on our bikes. We need to be comfortable on our saddles, but we can put up with any minor niggles. For ultra-cyclists, the level of tolerance is a lot lower. These riders need to be completely content with their saddle fit. Over hours or days on the bike, any pressure points, chafing or numbness will develop from mildly annoying to seriously painful.
The following trends were observed at Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1,200km brevet in France. To enter, every participant must have ridden a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event that year, and generally, participants get in over 8,000km in the eight months leading up to the event. In short, the participants in Paris-Brest-Paris cover more miles each year than the vast majority of cyclists. If anyone is going to be an authority on saddle sores, it's them.
However, unlike you'd see in a road cycling group ride, there were three types of saddle that were unusually popular: leather saddles, 3D printed saddles, and a mysterious saddle called the 'Infinity Seat'.
In fact, they were so popular that we've decided that these three saddles must be the best, most comfortable saddles for long-distance cycling.
Read more: Saddle angle: have we got it all wrong?
Leather (often with cutout)
Leather saddle with cutout gets the thumbs-up from event official
Overwhelming, there was one type of saddle that reigned supreme with the randonneurs. Leather saddles were seen on every kind of bike, from traditional steel randonneur bikes to modern, carbon-fibre roadies.
Many, indeed most, were from heritage brand Brooks England, although there were plenty of alternative brands in the mix too.
Brooks B17 Carved
In touring circles, the Brooks saddle of choice is the bestselling B17 – the classic, non-cutout version. For the more hunched-over position adopted by these riders, though, the cutout version, or 'carved', as Brooks call it, is far more comfortable.
Even some modern road bikes were equipped with leather saddles
The problem with leather saddles, especially for normal cyclists, is that they take a long time to 'break in', several hundred miles in fact. If you're a mile-munching randonneur, that's achievable in just a few weeks. For the rest of us, that could take months.
A particularly well-worn-in leather saddle
Randonneurs are sceptical of new technology. They like steel bikes, rim breaks and mechanical shifting. Nonetheless, there appeared to be one modern fad that had received the nod of approval from the randonneurring community. Modern 3D-printed saddles are a rarity in road cycling circles, but at PBP they were disproportionately popular, with a surprisingly large number of riders opting for high-tech 3D-printed saddle technology.
And yet, a remarkable number of them used expensive, modern 3D-printed saddles.
Vintage road bike with 3D printed saddle
No one brand stood out as dominant, but it was hard to ignore the sheer number of 3D-printed saddles in the field, especially given the tendency of randonneurs to stick with tried-and-tested technology.
3D printed saddle from Selle Italia
In some cases, these saddles were sitting atop bikes that were probably worth no more than the price of the saddle. Clearly, randonneurs understand the value of a good saddle above all else, and in many cases, it appeared to be the one thing they were willing to splash the cash on.
Have you heard of the Infinity Seat? We certainly hadn't. Among the randonneurring and ultra-distance community, though, they're everywhere. It turns out that the Infinity Seat is the 'Official Bike Seat of the Race Across America"
A standard Infinity seat on a suspension seatpost
These strange-looking saddles are remarkably popular, and featured on second-place finisher Marko Baloh’s bike, first-place tandem rider John Jurczynski’s bike, and countless other bikes spotted at the event. Both riders mentioned the comfort of the saddle in conversation, unprompted, so it must be good.
A customised 'home-wrapped' Infinity seat
The saddle comes in a few varieties, some featuring a large cutout, others taking more traditional ‘filled in’ form. Cutout or not, though, these saddles all cut the same distinctive shape. They feature a wide tail, and a deep, supportive-looking camber. Even just looking at them, there’s no denying they look far more comfortable, and far more ‘body’ shaped than the usual saddles we’re used to seeing.
A sleek blue version on podium finisher Mark Baloh's bike
Again, these expensive saddles, retailing over $300, often appeared to be the most expensive part on many of the bikes they were seen atop. Take, for example, this simple fixed gear bike, featuring all manner of homemade hacks and bodges, sporting an expensive infinity seat saddle. It just shows that you can’t put a price on comfort!
A $350 saddle on a cheap fixed gear
How to find a comfortable saddle for you
Often, finding the right saddle for you takes a bit of trial and error. We've got a guide on how to choose a saddle, outlining all the different factors to consider. We've also got some guidance for how to get more comfortable on your saddle. Often, saddle discomfort starts with a poor bike fit. To make sure your bike fits you properly, have a look at Manon Lloyd's guide to getting the perfect bike fit below.
If you're confident with your bike fit and a normal saddle still isn't working for you, perhaps one of the saddles listed above could solve your saddle woes. If they work for the randonneurs, they might well work for you.
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