by Chris Weiss
Finding the right bike seat is an important but challenging task. On the one hand, bike seats have the tendency to be chronically uncomfortable, so deciding which one will break the mold can be difficult. On the other hand, you'll be stuck cycling on your bike seat for hours at a time, so breaking that mold is exactly what you need to do. Break down your search of bicycle parts and accessories by a few key factors, and you'll find the right seat for you.
Locate a seat that is designed for your style of cycling. Often, the most comfortable seats in appearance -- big, flat, padded spring seats, for instance -- are quite uncomfortable when you're actually riding. That's because that type of seat is designed for cruisers and casual upright riding, in which you keep your body straight. If you ride or race road bicycles or mountain bikes, you won't be sitting straight up, and that style of seat will be rather uncomfortable. In general, narrow seats are better for faster riding, in which you're leaning your weight forward, as the seat will allow your legs to pedal freely, while wider seats are good for upright, casual cycling and commuting.
Measure the width. A problem that can cause discomfort is when the seat padding is too wide or too narrow and doesn't properly center your sit bones (ischial tuberosities). These two bones are easy to locate in your posterior and are the points that will bear the pressure when you sit down, so you want them properly supported by your bike seat. Your sit bones should be centered in the padding on each side. Measure the distance between the bones and compare to the seat width.
Shop by gender. Like bike frames, bike seats are designed for men or women individually and are structured differently to meet the different needs of each body type. Women's seats are generally shorter and wider, while men's seats are longer and narrower. Although each person has his or her own specific dimensions, shopping by gender is a good starting point.
Look at the design of the seat. If there's a specific problem that you're seeking to address, chances are good there's a number of seats out there designed to address it. If you frequently experience pain and numbing in the crotch, look for a seat with a channel or cutout that can help alleviate the pressure. If you often chafe your legs on the seat, look for a narrower seat nose.
Have several seats on hand. Many of today's bicycles are equipped with a quick-release seat post, meaning you can quickly change seats on your bike depending on what type of riding you'll be doing on your outing. The more options you have available, the greater chance you'll be riding on the perfect seat for whatever your needs are that day.
Be sure to properly adjust the seat as this can play as much of a role in your comfort as the seat itself. Consider purchasing a pair of padded bike shorts to increase your comfort level.