Above image: Dean Koh

Saddle selection is an area in the bike building process that should never be taken lightly. Choosing the wrong saddle will give you an uncomfortable ride or worse, cause impotence.

So many cyclists have spent hundreds of dollars trying to find the perfect saddle, manufacturers have resorted to providing a multitude of variants that attempt to meet cyclists’ needs.

A quick look at any saddle manufacturer’s website, and you will be bombarded with gel variants, cut-outs, plain carbon saddles, and even uniquely shaped ones.  Below are a few examples:

Above: Selle Italia Max SLR Gel Flow saddle (note the big cut-out in the centre).  Photo: Selle Italia

Above: Selle Italia Man Gel-Flow saddle. Photo: Selle Italia

Above: Selle Italia SLR Tekno saddle with carbon-shell (superlight at 95g but with no padding) Photo:Selle Italia

So how does one go about choosing a first saddle?

It is quite simple. While most of these gimmicks (cutouts, gels etc.) work to some extent, they won’t count for anything if the saddle you purchase is too wide or too narrow for your sit bones.
Known as the ischial tuberosity, sitbones are the key contact points between the rider and his saddle. By choosing a saddle that provides just enough support on your sit bones, you are able to avoid getting saddle pressure on areas where there is blood flow (perineal area).
Above: Female and male sitbone positions.  Image: intrepidcycle.com
As seen in the photo above, females will also tend to have wider sitbones than males. That is why there are tons of female specific saddles out there.  With so many to choose from, it is recommended that a beginner female avoid the male specific saddles.
Above: Selle Italia’s female-specific saddle, the Diva Gel-Flow  Photo: Selle Italia
Without the aid of a professional fit system, the only way to properly select the correct saddle is by trying out as many as possible. Be sure to ask the shop to prepare 3-5 saddles of varying width for you to try out before you take your bike home. Hitch your new bike to a trainer and try riding with varying intensities. Riding at low intensity (i.e. small ring) will allow more of your weight to fall on the saddle and give you a better idea of how well it supports your sit bones. With the correct saddle, you should only be feeling pressure on the area in close proximity to your sit bones. There should be NO pressure in your perineal area at all. If there is some pressure, then this means that the saddle is a bit too narrow. Even a little pressure is not good because this can exponentially get worse during a long ride.
Above photo: Sit bone position on the saddle.  Image: roadcyclinguk.com 
If you find yourself sitting too far forward of the saddle (i.e. close to the nose, or on the nose itself), or find that your inner thighs are severely rubbing on the saddle, then this may mean that the saddle is too wide for you. Try something a bit more narrow.
Once you have selected a saddle with the proper width, you can then try its other variants that have extra padding and cutouts. While they are worth trying out, it is more than likely that you will not need them. Cutouts will not matter for much if the saddle supports your sit bones adequately, and extra padding does not provide much comfort especially for long rides. In fact, moving the a basic carbon shell version of the saddle may be worth considering if you are a weight weenie.