Longer rides can be punishing on a bicycle, especially with a saddle that is less than optimal. If you're planning a long-distance bicycle trek or some century rides, you'll want to invest in your saddle, since it's the only thing protecting you from the jarring and vibration of the pavement underneath your tires. The best saddles for long-distance rides will be fitted to the width of your pelvis, and they'll usually be made from a single piece of stretched leather, which breaks in to fit you for optimal comfort.
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Pain-Free Distance Riding
The best saddles for distance riding and touring are carefully designed to eliminate issues commonly associated with cycling long distances. Unlike a traditional road saddle, a long-distance saddle isn't designed to minimize weight or place you in the most aerodynamic position. Instead, saddles are designed to keep you comfortable while in an upright riding position, and relieve pain commonly associated with longer rides. Flat seams and rivets eliminate uncomfortable rubbing, and a narrow nose prevents chafing along the inside of the thighs. Many of the best long-distance saddles also have a channel cut out of the center to eliminate any pressure on soft tissue.
Many cyclists swear by time-tested leather hammock style bicycle saddles. These saddles have been used since the turn of the century, and have long been relied on by touring cyclists and long-distance riders for unparalleled comfort. Instead of a traditional foam cushion, these saddles use a stretched piece of real leather that can be tightened or loosened to provide a custom level of support. The leather hammock cradles your legs and moves with you as you ride, providing flexibility to match your pedaling stroke. The leather will also break in over time to match your shape. A broken-in leather saddle is tough to match in terms of comfort and may be the best choice for most long-distance riders, but you'll pay a premium price for saddles made of real leather.
Hitching Up Your Saddle Bags
The best touring-specific bicycle seats should accommodate a traditional saddlebag. These bags have two straps that match two metal clips on the back of traditional leather saddles, and are larger than a modern seat bag. Traditionally made from canvas, these bags have enough capacity for everything you might need on a much longer ride. Since the seat has additional attachment points, the heavier load is well secured and is mounted back far enough to avoid interference with your pedaling stroke.
Fit for the Long Haul
The most important characteristic of a bike seat is the fit. Your seat height should be high enough that your knee is only slightly bent when you're in the lowest position of your pedaling stroke. Once your seat height is set, making sure your seat is the correct width to correspond to the distance between the sit bones of your pelvis is a good way to ensure that your weight is properly supported. Generally, leather saddles come in a standard and narrow measurement, and will break in to suit your dimensions as long as the initial size is relatively comfortable.