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So far my only approach to buying a seat is "That looks like a good one, I'll buy it and hope it works for me."

That isn't very cost effective... I don't think the bike store will let me return it after I ride around on it for a few hours. Which means if I don't like a seat that I bought, I'd have to buy yet another one just to try it out.

What are some good guidelines for selecting a new bike seat that doesn't feel like I've been sitting on a block of wood? How do you select one that "fits" when trial-and-error isn't an option?

I own a mountain bike and enjoy trail riding, but these days I ride on pavement most of the time.

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A good bike shop will often let you return and exchange a saddle as long as you return it "like new" and maintain the integrity of the packaging. The last time I bought a saddle, I rode on 2 for a couple of days each before settling on the third. My favorite local shop has a liberal return policy though, which I think I've used maybe 3 times in the last 10 years. –  user313 Feb 20 '12 at 20:15

4 Answers 4

Some shops do offer a fit guaranty,it doesn't hurt to ask.Bring in your old saddle and explain to them what doesn't fit.They should be able offer suggestions.This is a classic case where spending a few extra bucks at the local shop can pay dividends later.

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Many bike shops actually offer demo saddles so riders have a chance to try them out without buying them. You should call around any see if any of the shops in your area offer such an option.

If you can't demo the saddle, the first thing you need to figure out is why your saddle is uncomfortable. Saddles can be uncomfortable for two main reasons: because there isn't material where you want it, or because there is material where you don't want it. When you're sitting on your current saddle, where are you feeling pressure. Ideally, it should be on your sit bones. If it isn't, do you need a saddle that's narrower or wider? If you're having issues with numbness, you might find it beneficial to adapt a saddle with a cutout. If you're experiencing chafing, you probably need a narrower saddle with less padding.

You may also wish to examine the angle of your current saddle. A typical rider will want to have the saddle horizontal, but even a few degrees of tilt can make a huge difference.

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+1 for the angle comment. It makes a huge difference. –  Carey Gregory Feb 21 '12 at 1:24

Definitely follow the other answers advice to find a shop that offers demos.

I wanted to add that one of my local shops (that carries Bontrager) has a saddle sizing station that they have you get up on and measure widths/lengths and whatnot. The saddles for this particular sizing tool are Bontrager specific, but wanted to let you know at least. Be sure to wear what you plan to ride in you have a local shop that offers this service as when you get sized, you will want to be wearing the same gear you'll be riding in for the most accurate measurements. Even with this sizing, ask if you can demo the saddle for a week or so.

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First, a technicality, but the part you're looking for is a saddle, not a seat.

Second, the gold standard for commuting, touring, and essentially all non-racing saddles is the Brooks tensioned leather saddle (in particular, the B17 Standard). As opposed to a typical saddle which is a foam core with a plastic shell, a tensioned leather saddle will, when broken in, adapt to the characteristics of your particular behind.

I swear by mine, as do virtually all those I know who have them. If you ride in any brevets (200km+ rides), you'll also note that almost all the participants have them.

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Negative votes for recommending a type of saddle that eliminates the need for trial-and-error since it stretches to fit you, specifically? If you disagree with me, at least post a reply. –  Stephen Touset Feb 21 '12 at 15:36
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A "seat" is anything that one's ass rests on. Nobody likes a pedant. (I didn't give you the -1, so I can't speak for that.) –  Mike Baranczak Feb 25 '12 at 5:20

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