Why Are Bicycle Seats So Small – Bicycles In Motion

Why Are Bicycle Seats So Small

Why Are Bicycle Seats So Small

For those that ride a lot, it is common to question why bicycle seats are so small? If you are wondering the same thing, keep reading to find out exactly why they are designed this way.

Bicycle seats are actually saddles so they are not designed to follow conventional seating rules when it comes to comfort. Saddles are not designed to support your full weight the way that seats are. With bicycles, most of your weight needs to be on the pedals to give you momentum and power, so a saddle is a better fit. Hence, bicycle seats being so small.

There are different sizes of bicycle seats depending on the type of bicycle you have. In general bicycle seats will be small because they are not designed to support all your weight.

This guide will walk you through the benefits and drawbacks of smaller and wider bike seats. If you ride a lot, comfort matters, but sometimes comfort interferes with performance. You need to get the right balance, and this requires the right seat, which will likely be small.

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Bicycle Seat LengthSit Bone WidthRiding Position
Small135 mm70 -100 mmRacing
Medium145 mm100 – 130 mmSlightly Leaning
Large155 mm130 -160 mmUpright
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How Small Should A Bicycle Seat Be

Bicycle seats are measured using sit bone widths. You can determine this measurement using a tape measure. You need to be sitting upright which pushes your hip bones into a vertical position.

Sit upon a piece of paper and your sit bones will leave an indentation. Measure the space between the indentations in millimeters. Add 20 mm to this measurement to get the total width your seat should be.

The size of a bicycle seat will vary but on average they are designed to fit average sit bone widths. For men this is between 100mm – 140mm and for women the range is between 110mm – 150mm.

You don’t want a seat wider than your sit bone width as this can cause chaffing and pressure on your hamstrings. Any smaller than your sit bone width, and the saddle can press against the soft tissues in the pubic area causing nerve damage.

Because comfort is not the goal of most bicycles, the seats will be small. This will allow you to keep most of your weight on the pedals. For mountain bikes, racing bikes and BMX bikes, you will want a smaller seat. The only time a wider seat would be preferred is for touring or leisure bikes where you will be sitting for a long time. Then a wider seat will give more comfort.

Small Bicycle Seats For Men vs Women

Men and women will typically have different seats. This is largely in part because of the difference in anatomy. Men and women have different hips and will have different sit bone widths for bike seats.

Women’s seats are often wider but will be shorter in length to accommodate their wider hips. Men’s seats are typically narrow and longer. You can also find seats that are designed to be unisex, but they will not fit everyone the same.

Studies have found that there is also a difference in the way each gender experiences saddle pressure. As a result of anatomy, men have one center of pressure towards the front of the seat while women have a center of pressure at the front and at two points at the back of the seat.

These two points at the back are the reason women’s bike seats are typically wider. Women still want to be careful not to have seats that are too wide, so as to avoid chafing.

Wide vs Narrow Bike Seat

A wide bike seat is better for longer rides. The longer you sit, the more comfortable you will want to be. This is why you will see wider eat options on leisure bikes as opposed to racing bikes.

You have to be careful with wider seats however, because the wider they are, the more likely you are to experience chafing. Wider seats or comfort seats can also come with more padding which allows for easier pedaling.

This is why wider seats are better suited for leisure-use bikes. The padding in wider seats can absorb shock better to make touring and leisurely rides more comfortable.

Faster rides will want the narrow seat such as the ones you will find on racing bikes. The narrow seat allows you to shift forward so weight can go on your hands and feet. Wider seats get in the way when you need to pedal fast.

Are Smaller Bicycle Seats Better Than Bigger Seats

Smaller seats are better than bigger seats because they do not interfere with pedaling. If you are wanting to ride fast or are racing, you need to pedal more aggressively. This requires a smaller seat that will not get in the way.

It will not be as uncomfortable as you think, as the seat will not be holding all your weight. Racing requires you to lean forward and weight also goes on the handlebars as you lean and on the pedals.

The seat does not have to support as much so benefits from being smaller and out of the way. Should you be looking for a leisurely ride, a wider seat will work better. Or perhaps adding some padding to a narrow seat.

ProsCons
Smaller Seat1) Can pedal faster
2) More lateral control
3) Great for racing
1) Hard and uncomfortable
2) May not support glutes fully
Bigger Seat1) Comfortable
2) Better glute support
3) Better for longer distances
1) Chafing along inner thighs
2) No riding aggressively

Is It Easier To Ride A Bicycle With A Smaller Seat

The seat you have needs to fit the style of riding you so. The faster you ride, the smaller you will want the seat to be. And by smaller, I mean narrower. When you cycle fast, your weight shifts forward reducing the overall weight on the seat. Since it doesn’t need to support weight, it can be smaller. Being smaller will also prevent it from interfering with pedaling so you can cycle fast.

If you are riding more casually, your weight will be more on the seat as you ride in a relaxed almost fully seated position. You will also not be pedaling fast, so smaller seats will be uncomfortable in this case.

The seat can be small and still support the rider if they are seated in an appropriate position. For cycling fast, the narrow and small seat is out of the way but at the same time supports the sit bones as needed.

However, these seats do not provide full support because it is not necessary for that style of riding. A smaller seat is easier to ride with unless you plan on staying seated for a really long time. Mountain biking and BMX performances also have riders on their feet, which means a seat is better off being small and out of the way.

Can You Ride Longer With A Smaller Bicycle Seat

It is not ideal to ride for a long time with a small bicycle seat. The small and narrow seats are better designed for racing when you will not be sitting for long.

Longer distances will require you to be seated and a wider seat, with padding, will be a better fit. If you find yourself with a narrow or small seat, there are ways to make it easier to ride for longer distances.

  • Add a thin saddle padding
  • Do not sit completely upright
  • Do not sit too far forward
  • Take breaks where you stand instead of sit

Ideally you want to have about 30% of your body weight on the handlebars of the bike and the rest supported by the seat. If you can find this correct weight distribution, you will have a better chance of being comfortable over longer distances.

Helpful Tips To Know How A Small Bicycle Seat Can Benefit You

When you are looking at your bike or for a new bike, the seat will play a factor. You may be looking for a comfortable seat but need to remember that smaller seats offer benefits you may not be aware of. To help you decide if a small seat is better for you, remember these helpful tips:

  • Riding style: Do you lean forward or sit upright?
  • Bicycle type: Is it mountain bike, racing bike, BMX, or touring bike?
  • Gender: Do you need a wider seat?
  • Performance: Will comfort interfere with performance?

Final Thoughts

Bicycle seats are commonly called small, hard, and uncomfortable. The fact that they are saddles and not seats helps us to understand why this is the case. Saddles, or bicycle seats, are not designed for comfort. The reason why bicycle seats are so small is to allow for better cycling performance.

Whether you are racing, touring, or performing tricks, pedaling is the key to power and momentum. A bigger seat will get in the way of this. You can always find ways to reduce discomfort, but in the end, a smaller bicycle seat will give you a better ride every time.

Brian Smith

Brian is the founder of Bicycles In Motion and an avid cyclist for 17 years. On the weekends, he enjoys exploring new bike trails and countryside roads to enjoy the outdoors.

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