You know your bike’s tires, brake pads and chain have a limited “sell by date”: they’ll eventually wear out and need to be replaced. But what about your bike’s seat? Do you ever really need to replace it?
A bike saddle does wear out over time. Depending on the material it’s made of (leather, plastic, carbon fiber) it can crack, break or even rot if left in poor weather conditions. Even if it looks fine on the outside, there’s a chance it could be damaged on the inside, which could make it unsafe to sit on.
So what causes a bike seat to wear out? And how long should you expect yours to last?
This article will answer all your questions!
How Long Bike Seats Last (Usually)
On average, bicycle seats last 2 to 3 years, 10,000-15,000 miles or 400-600 hours, depending on how you track your rides. These are the points at which the majority of manufacturers recommend replacing your saddle.
Of course, this heavily depends on many factors, such as: the type of saddle you have, how often you ride, and the conditions you ride in.
A saddle with a foam insert will behave much like a running shoe: over time, the foam will compress, reducing comfort and support. Barring any damage from a crash, a saddle like this will need to be replaced sooner than a plastic or carbon fiber saddle.
If you’re an avid cyclist who rides multiple times a week, you may reach that 15,000 mile or 600 hour maximum sooner than 3 years. If you only ride a few weekends a month, you can expect to get many more years out of your saddle…if you take good care of it!
A great way to care for your saddle is to keep it clean, dry and out of the elements. No matter what it’s made out of, a saddle will last much longer if it’s cleaned and stored inside away from rain, snow and harsh sunlight than a saddle left outside.
Even if your bike seat hasn’t reached any of these milestones, if it has any visible damage you should consider replacing it or having it professionally repaired right away, as a damaged seat could be causing damage to your body as well!
Major Causes of Bike Seat Wear / Damage
1. Seat Material
Most people will find a seat with a foam insert more comfortable than a hard plastic seat, but this comes with one drawback: a foam-lined saddle will not last as long. Over time, the foam will compress and no longer provide the same level of support and comfort it once did. This is why it’s essential to replace your foam-lined seat at the proper time.
While a hard plastic seat will indeed last longer, I’d still choose a foam-lined seat for its other benefits, even if that means spending money on replacement seats more often. You spend a lot of time sitting on your saddle, so you better make sure it’s comfortable!
2. Exposure To The Elements
Prolonged exposure to rain, snow or sunlight can cause your seat to crack, tear or even rot. Once this happens, the integrity of the plastic shell or foam interior is affected; meaning it won’t be as effective at providing support and comfort as you ride. This is something you’ll definitely notice right away, and it can cause long-term harm to your body.
3. Improper Maintenance / Cleaning
Sweat and water will damage your seat, and even cause it to mold or mildew on the outside…or inside. If you’re good about wiping down and thoroughly cleaning your seat after a ride, you can significantly increase its lifespan, regardless of the conditions you ride in.
If however, you neglect to clean your saddle and let the dirt, sweat and moisture build up, it’s going to become really gross really quick. You can probably recognize that mildew smell on your gear when you’ve failed to clean or store it properly: imagine this coming from your seat throughout your whole ride, and possibly ruining your riding shorts too!
4. Improper Seat Placement
Seat placement is imperative to riding comfort, but also factors into how long the seat will last. If your seat is placed too far forward or back for your riding style, your weight will be improperly positioned on the seat. Since a seat is designed to hold a rider’s weight in a very specific way, this could speed up the wear and tear process significantly.
How to Tell If Your Bike Seat Needs to Be Replaced
Seats can display either external or internal damage. External damage is obviously easier to notice, so let’s start there.
If your seat is cracked, bent, broken, the cover is ripped, or it displays any visible mold or rot, it’s time for a replacement. But don’t just look at the top of the seat: check the rails where the seat mounts to the seat post. If these rails are bent, it means your seat isn’t aligned properly to support you, so it should be replaced as well.
It’s especially important to check for external damage after you crash. Just like a helmet, a seat (and many other components on your bike) may only be able to handle one big impact before its structural integrity is compromised to the point where continuing to use it would be unsafe.
But what about internal damage? If your seat is getting moldy or gross on the inside, use your nose: if your seat stinks, it’s time for a new one. If your foam-lined seat looks or feels lumpy or isn’t quite the correct shape, this means the foam is starting to lose its supportive quality. If sitting on it has always been comfortable but you’re starting to notice pain or general discomfort, it’s probably in need of a replacement.
Another way to tell if your seat is due for replacement is to listen: if your seat makes any odd noises or creaking sounds when you get on or off, it may be time for a new one.
Reasons You Should Replace Worn Bike Seats
First and foremost, a worn out bike seat may be structurally damaged and unable to do its main job of supporting your weight. If a seat were to break further or fully collapse while you’re riding, you could crash and seriously injure yourself.
Injuries aren’t just reserved for when you crash however. Hours spent in a worn out saddle can do a number on your body: from aches and pains to extra stress placed on your muscles and joints, minor overuse injuries can spiral into severe long-term muscle imbalances. Since the body has a habit of working as a cohesive unit, an injury or imbalance in one area will negatively impact every other area as well.
Consider the often referenced example of keeping your wallet in your back pocket. Sitting on a wallet will cause one side of your hip to raise, which forces the spine to curve to compensate…which then forces one of your shoulders to drop lower than the other. All you did was put your wallet in your back pocket, and now you look like Quasimodo…pretty unfortunate.
Replace the wallet with a saddle that’s collapsing on one side and you get the exact same effect, although made worse by the often hunched over position many riders spend considerable time in.
A worn out seat, especially a foam-lined one, just won’t be as comfortable as when it was new. As the foam compresses and loses its original shape, your butt is certainly going to pay the price.
The seat also won’t be as effective at absorbing impacts. This is more applicable on a mountain bike, but road cyclists don’t always experience a completely smooth road either. Long rides spent in the saddle can take a toll on your body, and you need that seat cushioning to be up to the task of keeping you comfortable.
All bikes come stock with a saddle…but this doesn’t mean it’s the best saddle for you.
Many saddles are designed to be gender-specific, as men and women can benefit from different saddle shapes and sizes. The saddle on the bike you purchased (especially if it’s used but even if it’s brand new) just may not be the right fit for you. If you’ve ridden it for a while and have just never felt that comfortable, it’s definitely worth replacing with a style that suits your gender, weight and body shape.
If you need help figuring out how to pick the right saddle for you, check out this article that covers the differences between gender-specific saddles, and this one which explains why some saddles have cutouts!