Your saddle is one of the first components that you get comfortable with when getting used to a mountain bike. A good mountain bike saddle goes unnoticed; it’s only the really poor examples that get upgraded. The downside to this is that you can’t always tell when your saddle is holding you back. This article covers the basics of what you really use your mountain bike saddle for, and how choosing your next one carefully can benefit your ride in ways you might not even realize.
Mountain bike saddle fit is arguably the most contentious of saddle sizing arguments, and the one where personal preference seems to hold the most sway. The saddle does more on the mountain bike than on any other riding style, but all ‘behind the scenes’ where it goes unnoticed. When piloting your mountain bike through the woods, you use the saddle as a purchase point to push from when pedalling, and for control when seated and standing, all while needing it out of the way when you move around the bike. So what makes one mountain bike saddle better than the next? It all comes down to fit!
The basics of saddle fit don’t change between mountain, road and hybrid bikes. You still need the saddle to fit properly; to support your sit bones and allow you to move around to more optimal positions for climbing or descending.
Physiology is very important; you want the saddle fitted to you, not the other way around. To this end, Ischial Tuberosity (sit bone) width, back and hip flexibility, and desired comfort level are all important.
Sit bone width: The width of your Ischial Tuberosities (sit bones) is the main determination of ideal saddle width. If you want to find out yours, head to your local bike shop and they can help you out (the test isn’t as invasive as you might think, promise!). Ischial Tuberosities are the bony protrusions at the bottom of your pelvis.
Flexibility: Maybe you do yoga every day and can fold yourself into a pretzel, but regardless of your flexibility level, you have to be comfortable on the bike. Your flexibility determines the riding position that will be the most comfortable for you, and this in turn will dictate your ideal saddle width. You can get professionally fitted to your bike, but without taking that step it’s still easy to determine your saddle needs.
Choose your ideal riding position on a three-point scale: aggressive, moderate, or upright.
The reason ride position is important to know is that your sit bones are angled, so the more upright you sit, the wider their effective width where they meet the saddle.
Once you figure out what your desired body position is, it’s a good idea to check that your bike actually is set up like this. By changing the handlebar, stem, or stem adaptors on your bike, you can easily change the ride height to be more or less aggressive.
WTB make a saddle fitting tool which will help identify your sit bone width on the bike. The benefit to this tool is that it takes saddle position into account as well as static sit-bone width- both the above measurements are taken into account with the fitting. The tool slips onto your current saddle, and will show you where your primary contact areas are, so that you can choose a saddle that maximises padding in high-pressure areas, while reducing unwanted saddle contact in places where it will get in the way. Head to your local Live to Play Sports dealer to try one out!
The specifics which set mountain bike saddles apart:
Mountain bike saddles are generally shaped slightly differently from road or hybrid saddles.
Width: while the riding-position width doesn’t generally change between a properly fitting road and mountain saddle (since your sit bones don’t change width), the amount of material in the saddle is generally smaller in a mountain saddle. Mountain saddles are designed to have a narrower profile to allow the rider to move around the saddle for technical trail sections. While some road saddles will have flat or ‘spiked’ tails, mountain saddles are rounded so that baggy shorts won’t snag when returning to a pedalling position from a descending position.
Angle: Saddle angle is possibly the most contentious issue, and we don’t presume to tell anyone that their preferred position is wrong, but understanding the benefits of different positions will help get your saddle set up to maximise power output and comfort. As with road and hybrid saddles, most mountain saddles are designed to be set up level with the ground. This allows the rider the greatest range of movement on the saddle, and to be more comfortable in a range of positions. A position with the saddle angled upward gives the rider some control advantages when tackling aggressive downhill terrain, while a dropped nose allows the rider to shorten their effective leg reach more efficiently from a seated position.
Fore/Aft Position: The trend in mountain bike saddle setup has lately been to move the saddle forward on the seat post rails. The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First, this position keeps the riders weight centered on the bike, increasing front wheel traction for control on climbs, and secondly it allows more efficient power transfer from the quads, for increased power in short steep climbs.
Dropper Posts: Dropper posts are a mainstay of mountain bike technology these days, and understandably so- allowing riders greater control uphill and down. While dropping the saddle out of the way for descents is very helpful, the ability to change saddle height while climbing is similarly helpful. A slightly lower saddle position allows riders access to better short-burst power, makes movement around the saddle easier, and lowers the riders center of gravity for better stability. Modern saddles allow riders to take full advantage of these benefits, making those agonizing technical climbs (slightly) easier.
Personal preference: Personal preference is a very important factor to consider here. With as many riding conditions available as there are riding styles, everyone has different requirements of their saddle. Comfort and control on the trail are the most important attributes to look for in a saddle; you aren’t going to have as much fun or go as fast without both.
Remember that your bike should fit you, not the other way around. If something isn’t comfortable while you’re riding, don’t feel that you have to change how you ride to get comfortable- make sure the bike is fitted to you properly first. In an ideal world, you shouldn’t be thinking about bike fit at all when you ride, only enjoying the experience of being out there. If you head to your local bike shop to get your bike properly fitted, you can let the professionals do the fitting work for you, so that a bad fit doesn’t get in the way of a good ride.
Saddles to consider:
Sizing: 135mm, 142mm, 150mm
Padding: Low to keep weight and excess material down
Shape: Curved and mid-length, suited to a slightly nose-up position.
LTP part number: 659900-09-21
MSRP: $58.99 – $326.99
We hope you’ve found this saddle width guide helpful! There are a large number of articles written to further inform you on saddle choices, and no saddle choice should be complete without consulting the experts at your local Live to Play Sports dealer. By ensuring that the saddle on your bike is the correct width and shape, you can know that you’re set up for maximum comfort and safety while riding. For more tips and tricks, follow us on Instagram and Facebook.