Now that you understand how you sit on a saddle and how little padding is needed for a comfortable ride, it’s time to look at the materials used in the saddle’s construction.
The obvious starting point is the rails. Parallels can be drawn between the development of bicycle frames and saddle rail development. At one time both were made of steel, then different materials were experimented with. Entry-level saddles will still likely have steel rails, whereas titanium is now the usual accepted option for lightweight seat rails and for those that want to take the gram count even lower, saddles with carbon fibre rails are becoming more common. Carbon and titanium rails generally offer a bit more comfort than steel rails, but regardless of rail material, if you’re looking at the same model then the shape and profile of the saddle will likely be same regardless.
Carbon fibre’s use in saddles is not restricted to just the rails either. Fizik is one of many companies that is also using carbon fibre in the construction of the saddle’s base on top-end models. Marketed under the ‘Twin Flex’ banner, the Italian seat manufacturer combines different lay-ups of carbon to control how much each seat flexes. Taking the use of carbon fibre to its natural extreme, Fabric has recently launched its ALM saddle where the upper shell and the rails come from one integrated carbon fibre mould.
While carbon fibre may be the go-to choice for weight saving, it’s not always the best option for the upper part of the seat (most commonly referred to as the cover). The smooth finish of carbon on uncovered seats, like the Selle Italia SLR Tekno (which weighs a scant 90g…and costs £304.99), can leave some riders feeling unsettled on the bike as they move around too much. Full-carbon saddles aside, on the whole, the cover of a saddle will be made from a synthetic material.
If you are a rider who moves around on the saddle a lot and you want to change that then some manufacturers have options in place, such as the CPC system employed by Prologo. CPC is described by Prologo as being a 3D polymer that offers not only additional grip but also shock absorption and even increased comfort in hot conditions because it reportedly promotes increased air flow.
Alongside these modern technologies there remains a classic choice that has been around almost as long as bicycles themselves – leather. Today, the best known and most readily available leather saddles are those from Brooks. The key feature of a Brooks saddles is that the leather is used for the seat of the saddle itself rather than simply as a covering over a plastic base. The, admittedly, hard leather is held in place under tension by the rails but through use it slowly beds in and moulds to the rider’s physique, offering customised comfort. Now there is also the Brooks Cambium line of seats that replace the traditional leather upper with vulcanised rubber and cotton, which drops the overall weight, though you’re still looking at a not insignificant weight penalty over a typical racing saddle.