Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A bit about Saddles

Several years ago, I went on a nice long ride with a couple buddies.

About halfway into our ride, Mike's seatpost broke off. I've never seen that happen before or since; seatposts don't normally fail. So, instead of a seat, Mike had a jagged piece of steel tubing sticking up (plus a saddle to carry). Bum-mer!!

None of us was equipped with a spare seatpost. Or even with the proper allen wrench to loosen and remove the old one, for that matter.

We discussed the options. He could wait for a rescue vehicle to return for him, or he could soldier on, standing on his pedals the whole way. He decided on the latter, despite the obvious very real hazard, which was also a strong incentive to not relax or slip.

Mike was a regular Indiana Jones! Imagine being perched directly over that jagged impalement device, depending entirely on your leg strength to survive! He made it quite a few miles - we made it halfway back or so, before he could go no further. Mike waited; Jim and I rode on home, and a rescue vehicle was dispatched.

Yep - a saddle does a critical job, and no bike is complete without one.

But saddles are frequently misunderstood, particularly by non-riders.

When my new bicycle arrived (12 days ago!), friends admired it. But they'd immediately focus on the saddle.

"Do you like that?" they would ask, pointing at the very unusual-looking seat. And then they would ask me why such a nice bike didn't come equipped with a great big, cushiony padded saddle. And frankly, it's not easy to explain to somebody why wide and squishy isn't superior.

I've never given saddles the thought they obviously deserve. Although I know enough to understand that: 1) wide and squishy are not desirable traits in a saddle, except for maybe the most casual and infrequent recreational riding, and 2) you can't expect to be comfortable sitting on any saddle for 20 or 30 or more miles, unless you do it somewhat regularly.

For many years, I've been riding perched on a Selle San Marco (brand) saddle. They have been "comfortable enough," and since they have had the same general shape, they've all fit OK. The critical measurement is the distance between "sit bones" at the base of the pelvis. Since "all pelvises (pelvii?) are not created equal," you'd think that saddles would come in S, M, L, and XL. But instead, the rider is stuck with the subjective task of trial-and-error. And good saddles don't come cheap!

In fact, since I'm "frugal," I'm sure a major reason I've been satisfied with my seat is, I didn't want to buy a replacement!

Ideally, we each oughtta get an x-ray and have an exact sit-bone measurement in millimeters. Then the saddlemakers could provide a saddle width to compare it to.

The new Touring 1 bike has a "Selle An-Atomica Clydesdale" saddle on it, standard equipment. And at the 200-mile mark, I'm quite optimistic that it will be the most comfortable saddle I've ever perched upon. The An-Atomica website is HERE.

Like the more-familiar Brooks saddle, the An-Atomica is made of thick leather which is suspended over a steel frame. Also like the Brooks, but unlike most saddles, there is no rigid, pre-formed base, so the saddle can conform to the rider's anatomy, rather than either matching up or not. The An-Atomica has a "slot" down the middle for pressure relief, and also to allow the sides of the saddle to move more independently. The tension of the leather part can be tightened or loosened for personal preference, and the steel frame acts like a "suspension," absorbing some of the bump-shock, etc. The feeling is almost like you're sitting on a tiny hammock. Very ingenious, and also very logical, if it's well-executed.

The "Clydesdale" refers to being built for >180-lb. riders. The saddle is made in Wisconsin, USA. (After a lifetime of producing wonderful cheese, those Wisconsin cows are given the honor of serving as comfortable saddles.)

That's my "200 mile report" on the new seat. I'll try to follow up after getting more experience with it. But I'm very optimistic. And my derriƩre thanks me every day! (-;

For more info... the late Sheldon Brown provides some great insight on saddles, and how to choose and adjust a saddle HERE.


Clancy said...

Glad you like it. I haven't tried the Selle but am very happy with my Brooks(s). What did the instructions say about leather conditioner/protector?

Bikeboy said...

Clancy, I'll have to get back to you on that. They sent a 4-page brochure that details "fitment" - how to position it relative to the handlebars, pedals, etc. I kinda glanced through it... I believe the best way to "fit" the saddle is through riding and fine-tuning to personal preference.

The manufacturers say it has a "Second Skin Watershed" treatment on the leather; I'm sure that relates to conditioning.

I've always preferred leather-covered saddles, and have tried to keep them out of the precipitation as much as possible. My daughter keeps her bike outside mostly, but puts a shower cap over the saddle! Works good!

Scott said...

Thanks for that! I'm almost hoping my seat post breaks now.

Scott said...

Thanks for the revew! I'm almost hoping my seat post breaks now...

Did I say that out loud?

Anonymous said...

Good luck with that! I've had two fail and a poor response from the "inventor" at the last failed saddle episode. Even when they don't outright rip or pop a rivet they are known to stretch too fast.