Chafing, saddle sores, bruised bum, smashed lady bits…
It’s a little different for each of us, but since you’re here I’m guessing you know it all too well. You’re looking for a comfortable bike saddle for women, because the one on your bike is causing you pain in some very personal places, right? 🙁
I feel your pain! As a long-distance bikepacker and occasional ultra-endurance racer, I sit on a bike saddle for far longer anyone would consider reasonable. A bicycle can be a freedom machine, but when you’re struggling with saddle soreness sometimes it’s tempting to just stay home.
Don’t give up! It is possible to solve saddle soreness, and choosing the right saddle is a big part of the equation.
First thing first: If you’re brand new to cycling, start with this more general article: Bike Seat Pain For Women: An Awkwardly Comprehensive Guide. There are many factors that influence saddle comfort, including some that are much cheaper and easier to experiment with than buying a new saddle.
If you’ve already tried things like chamois butter and adjusting your seat position, you may indeed need a new saddle. Many new bikes come with a “placeholder” saddle intended to be replaced by the rider, and these saddles aren’t usually very comfy. So don’t worry, your struggle is a common one and you’re not alone.
In this post I’ve collected the most comfortable bike seats for women based on survey responses, women’s cycling groups, roadside chats, and personal experience. These saddles are:
- High-quality saddles for women who want to take their recreational riding seriously
- Popular and accessible models that aren’t going to cost an arm and a leg
- Focused more on comfort than shaving grams from your bike weight (though a few do come in lighter models)
- Suitable for serious recreational riding on a wide range of terrain, from road biking to gravel grinding to singletrack mountain biking.
- Good for commuting, long day rides, bike touring and bikepacking, or even short rides for women who just can’t get comfortable on other saddles
- Good exercise bike seats, popular with users of Zwift, Peloton, and other indoor exercise bike and trainer setups
- Sometimes women-specific models, and sometimes unisex saddles that are still popular with women
Read on, my cycling sister! Relief is on the way…
Note: I’m aware that gender identity and sex are different spectrums, so although I use the term “women” in this article for brevity, I hope it’s helpful to anyone who has saddle soreness and thinks their issues may be solved by the bike seats mentioned here.
What Makes a Bike Saddle Comfortable for Women?
Unfortunately there’s no single most comfy bike seat for all women – that would make our lives too easy! Our unique anatomy means we each have different preferences and problems.
So before we dive into the best bike saddles for women struggling with saddle soreness, I’ll briefly explain what to pay attention to when considering a new bike seat.
Sit Bone Width: “Sit bones” are the two bony parts of the pelvis that support our weight in a sitting position. These structures should take most of the weight when sitting on a bike saddle, NOT the soft tissue between your legs.
It’s important to choose a saddle that’s the right width for the distance between your individual sit bones. A saddle that’s too narrow will put more pressure on your soft tissue, while one that’s too wide can cause inner thigh chafing. Women are generally said to have wider sit bones than men, but this is just an average and not true for all individuals.
Measuring your sit bone width (here’s how) will help narrow down the options from a wide range of saddles (puns intended!).
Forward Lean: Depending on your bike setup and riding goals, you may ride in a more upright sitting posture (usually for comfort) or more bent forward over your handlebars (usually to be more aerodynamic and faster). When we tip our pelvis forward, the boney part that contacts the saddle is narrower (this video explains it better) and soft tissue is more likely to contact the saddle.
Women who ride with a forward leaning posture are more likely to need a narrower saddle and perhaps a cutout to relieve soft tissue pain.
Genital Shape: Some folks came up with a theory that female genitals can be grouped into “innies” and “outies” (if your mental image isn’t clear, see explanation here). After mentioning this in the women’s bike seat survey I can confirm that it resonates with a lot of people!
Outies might prefer bike saddles with a more pronounced cutout or relief channel in the center, allowing us to perch up on our sit bones so our soft tissue doesn’t contact the saddle. Details are important though; a cutout that’s the wrong size or shape might just transfer pressure to a different spot and cause more problems than it solves.
Bike Fit and Seat Position: A poor bike fit can wreak all kinds of havoc on your undercarriage, and other important parts like knees as well. A saddle that’s a bit too low or high can have your pelvis rocking side to side as you pedal, causing chafing and pressure. Be sure to adjust your saddle up and down, forward and back on the rails, and also tilted a tad nose-down or nose-up as you explore what feels best.
Saddle Taper and Thickness: Even if the width and cutout are right for you, sometimes a saddle is too wide or thick in the wrong places. This most commonly causes chafing in the inner thigh area or where the legs join the torso. The profile of a saddle – how quickly it tapers from back to front and how narrow the nose is – has an impact here, as does the height of the material and how far it extends above the rails.
Soft or Hard: Before you reach for that ultra-plush cruiser saddle or gel seat cover, know that softer is not always better, especially for long rides. Soft seats allow more movement, which can cause more chafing, and can also put more pressure on soft tissue as the sit bones sink into the padding. Go for the least amount of padding you can get away with, especially as you ride more and the area under your sit bones adapts to the pressure.
Flexibility and Strength: I’m talking about the rider here, not the saddle! The range of motion in your hips and back will influence your pelvic position as you peddle, and core strength helps hold your pelvis steadier in the optimal position.
Best Bike Saddles for Women
In no particular order, here are the bicycle seats most commonly recommended as comfortable by female cyclists. This list is based on several hundred survey responses, online research, personal experience, and chats with other women during my pedal-powered travels in the US and overseas.
The Terry Butterfly is a popular women’s bicycle saddle designed for endurance riding. The design is flat and moderately padded, with a thin gel layer and moderate cutout. The most affordable version ($89) has chromoly rails, while more expensive titanium and carbon versions cost more but weigh less. There are even some pretty colors and patterns, if you’re into that. Terry also has a Butterfly Century model with a larger cutout that looks especially helpful for outies.
Selle Italia Diva Gel SuperFlow
Selle Italia describes the Diva Gel SuperFlow saddle as “race ready” with a bit of extra padding, including silicone gel padding designed to dampen road vibrations (which is part of why it’s an excellent choice for gravel and dirt in addition to pavement). The top is flat, the cutout is moderately large, and the saddle itself is fairly low-profile given how comfy it is, allowing plenty of room for pedaling without chafing. It comes in two sizes, so choose the one that works for your sit bone width.
If the Diva is close but not quite right, the slightly different shape of the Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow might work better for you.
Selle SMP TRK
Selle SMP is known for their contoured, drop-nose saddles with large cutouts, and the SMP TRK Gel is the version designed for long-distance riding. There’s also a non-gel model, the SMP TRK, for those who want a bit less squish. Both come in two sizes, medium and large, to accommodate varying pelvis widths. Though this is technically a unisex saddle, many female riders recommend it, in part due to the large cutout.
The contoured shape encourages a consistent riding position, so this saddle may not work as well for mountain bikers who need to shift their position for different terrain. It’s also a fairly heavy-duty, thick saddle that could cause problems with inner thigh chafing if you’re prone to that.
Specialized Power Comp MIMIC
Specialized’s MIMIC series was developed and tested with the specific goal of reducing soft tissue pain for women. Woohoo! The Power Comp with MIMIC saddle offers the most affordable price ($130) and comes in three different widths. Two more versions, the Expert and S-Works, offer titanium and carbon rails respectively for lower weight and higher performance.
At first glance the MIMIC saddles might look less comfortable due to the shallower cutout, but the channel is designed specifically to support soft tissue without squishing it, thereby minimizing swelling. It might not work for everyone, but among the women I surveyed a strong majority were satisfied with their MIMIC saddle.
ISM PR 1.0
ISM is known for their unique split-nose saddles designed to minimize soft tissue pressure and nerve compression. They require a slightly different alignment and position on your seat, but once used to it many women (and men too – these saddles are unisex) have found ISM saddles to be a game-changer.
The ISM PR 1.0 (PR = Performance Recreation, 1.0 means less padding) is a good all-around comfortable saddle for long rides. Other models are available with different shapes and amounts of padding for specific styles of riding, so check out their saddle guide before you choose. ISM saddles are not gender-specific, but they come highly recommended by many women who haven’t been able to solve their saddle pain with traditional saddles.
Brooks B17 Short Carved
Brooks leather saddles are a classic, but they’re not for everyone. Many long-distance bike travelers and bikepackers swear by them because of how the leather molds to your body over time, but they can take several hundred miles of riding before they break in enough to be comfy!
If you do want to try a leather saddle, Brooks offers several models. Some women prefer the shorter model with a cutout, known as B17 Carved Short, but there are also standard length and non-cutout versions available (for detailed differences, see my post explaining the Brooks B17 differences).
The cutout is not as pronounced as the other models in this list, and outies may feel too much pressure on soft tissue, especially as the saddle conforms to their sit bones over time. Leather saddles also need a bit more care than other materials, so be prepared to protect it from rain and apply leather treatment periodically.
If you’re set on a leather saddle but Brooks isn’t working for you, Selle Anatomica also makes high-quality leather saddles intended for long-distance riding. Their touring bike saddles come in three series based on rider weight, with cutout or without, and different rail materials and weights.
Some folks love Selle Anatonica and can’t stand Brooks, and vice versa. The only way to know for sure is to try, and unfortunately leather saddles can’t usually be returned because of how they mold to the rider’s body.
How to Shop for a Bike Saddle
Now that you have all these new saddle ideas, how should you choose between them?
The worst saddle issues tend to show up deep into a long ride, and the chances of getting a perfect fit on the first try are slim. You’ll likely need to try a few saddles to find your perfect fit. Here are some ways to do that:
Online: You could order online and hope for the best. A reasonable return policy should allow you to put the saddle on your bike and at least go for a short ride around the block before making up your mind. REI in particular is known for their liberal no-questions-asked return policy. Some manufacturers have a demo program if you shop directly through their website.
Local Bike Shop: Some bike shops will let you try a saddle for a few weeks before committing. Others have a “saddle library” where you can borrow a number of models for test rides. Even without these options, buying in person can improve the chances of your new saddle working out. Shops can measure your sit bones, assess your style, and make recommendations to help narrow down the options.
Buy or Sell Used: If you’re on a budget, buying a used saddle on eBay isn’t the worst idea. If it works out, great, and maybe later you can upgrade to a new one. Conversely, if your new saddle doesn’t work out and is too worn to return, consider selling it on eBay to make back a bit of what you spent.
Once you have your new saddle, congratulations! Now head over to Fixing Saddle Pain for Women to fine-tune your setup with shorts, chamois cream, seat position, and more.
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