There is much that is counter-intuitive about cycling. Cyclists have a much lower maximum speed than other road users, but in a place like Manchester can easily match or beat the journey times of those travelling in a car (or bus). Riding on the pavement or in the gutter away from the other traffic makes you more likely to become a victim of motorist negligence than riding with the traffic (although proper infrastructure would be even better). Riding with a helmet makes you more likely to become a victim of motorist negligence, and increases the risk of neck-injury if that happens, without providing any useful safety increase overall. Finally a soft saddle will make your arse sore a lot more than a firm one.
This enormous squishy saddle came with my Yuba Mundo. It is made by Selle Royal and conforms to what most people would consider a “comfortable” saddle. It is currently living on the Twenty as I only use it for short rides and the cushy saddle is useful for the Twenty’s other use; loaning to friends, specifically those who cycle very little.
This is a Specialized Indie XC saddle, part of the Body Geometry range. I use this type of saddle on my Yuba Mundo and formerly on the Kona Africa Bike and Revolution Cuillin Sport. It is much less soft and squishy, with just a bit of padding and a cut out in the middle. This type of saddle is mainly ideal for bikes with a “lean-forward” riding posture such as mountain bikes, although if angled oddly can be quite nice for an upright bicycle too.
This is a Brooks B66 leather saddle, as used on my Raleigh DL-1. It has no padding, only the slight give of the leather, which is slowly moulding to the shape of my derriere with use. Even when it was rock hard it was quite comfortable.
Finally this is a Real MAN ® Saddle, made from solid Canadian granite. One day I hope to be man enough to ride one of these.
The science bit:
The soft saddle is comfortable for short rides because the sit bones are supported by the compressed gel in the saddle. Newer riders often prefer these saddles because it takes time to develop the muscles needed to support a part of your weight with your feet and hands whilst riding. It is uncomfortable on long rides because the gel is compressed by your sit bones (which are ok to bear a load). The displaced gel which isn’t underneath your sit bones starts to put pressure on various junk-regions and other soft tissues, restricting blood flow and resulting in pain after riding. This tends to apply to those seat covers available in bike shops too, the best option is just to toughen up by riding. These soft saddles also often have a very wide nose which leads to chaffing of the inner thigh on a longer ride (it will destroy trousers in the longer term too).
It is possible to retain some padding without sending your fun-zone into hibernation with a saddle such as the Specialised Body Geometry ones. These have a cut out in the centre which stops the displaced gel or padding from putting pressure where it isn’t wanted. In my experience this type of saddle works best on a bike with a forward-leaning posture, such as a racing or mountain bike, due to the increased use of the arms to support your weight meaning that you put less of it on the saddle. There are also stretched leather saddles with similar dimensions for use with this riding posture.
The Brooks has the least padding of the saddles (except the Real MAN saddle) but it has a huge following of people who find them the most comfortable saddle around. I am becoming one of them as my B66 breaks in more. The lack of padding means that your sit bones make contact but nothing puts pressure on the rest of you. The leather means that it becomes personalised over time, which is the same reason why I have always preferred shoes and boots to trainers. The B66 is wide at the back to support an upright and feet-forwards riding posture, but leather saddles are available for all shapes of bike. The width of the saddle tapers off quickly at the nose, to avoid the problems with the nose of the Selle Royal saddle (oddly Selle Royal also own Brooks). As a rule of thumb, get a wider saddle if you ride an upright and go narrower if you ride in a more forward-leaning position. These saddles are great if you want your saddle to get better and more personal with age and use