Before you started mountain biking you probably didn't give much thought to the seat. After just a trip or two on rough and rugged mountain trails, though, it likely became crystal clear that you need a seat designed for the way your body moves and to absorb shocks from the craggy paths. Ultimately the best seat for you is the one that fits comfortably and doesn't hinder the maneuvering you do with your body.
The rocky trails you ride require sufficient padding that is of lasting quality. After all, the padding is what keeps your derriere from taking the brunt of every bump you encounter. There are two types of padding used in mountain bike seats, and the one you choose is purely a matter of personal preference. Gel cushioning provides superior comfort, at least initially, to foam padding. If you mountain bike on more than just a casual basis -- and if you tend to choose the most challenging trails -- you'll be better off with foam cushioning. It won't compact as quickly as the gel padding and will give you more support.
The shape of your padded mountain bike seat is supposed to make it easy for you to move around as needed to guide and balance your bike. That's why a narrow, streamlined shape is useful for mountain biking. The front should be sloped downward to allow you to move forward easily for a push uphill; the back should be broad enough to comfortably take your full weight as you head down a steep slope.
You have many choices in covering for your mountain bike seat, including plastic, fabric, leather or even Kevlar -- yes, the bullet-proof stuff. Leather is durable and will last longer than most synthetic materials, but it isn't water- or weather-proof and will need maintenance to keep it looking good and in usable condition. If you chose a synthetic cover for your seat, you might want to go with one that is perforated, which provides friction and reduces sliding on the seat. For off-road biking, look for covers reinforced on the corners to reduce wear and the chances of tearing.
When you're shopping for a padded mountain bike seat, remember to check underneath. The rails that secure the seat to the bike post should be made of light-weight, yet durable material like titanium. According to Bicycling.com, chrome-moly is another strong, light material that can be used for bike seat rails. Steer clear of seats that have rails made of carbon fiber, though, as they can be damaged by the sharp clamps on seatposts.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.