Thursday, May 23, 2013

Another one bites the dust

Since I have sung the praises of my Selle Anatomica saddle in the past, in the interest of "full disclosure" I must report another failure.  A month or so ago, I was riding along in my usual fashion, and suddenly I noticed considerably extra  flex, and then it was all over.  The rails broke, again right behind the seatpost clamp.  Since I was still 6 or 7 miles from home, I had to call in the Sag Wagon.  How mortifying!

The saddles come with a 1-year warranty.  The first one - that came as standard equipment on my Cannondale T1 bicycle - lasted 14 months, and to their credit, they replaced it even though it was slightly out of warranty.  At the time, their conclusion was, "Maybe we got a bad batch of rail wire."  The replacement saddle lasted about twice as long.

I didn't expect them to replace it this time, but just the same, I sent an email to them, expressing two things: 1) how much I like their saddles, and 2) how disappointed I am that they don't last longer.

From my letter to them:

I'm both broken-hearted and broken-saddled... because you are right - it is the most comfortable saddle.  However, the disappointment and expense of replacing saddles every couple years is not something I'm prepared to deal with, even if I have to settle for a less-comfortable saddle.

I'm probably at the edge of your demographics - I'm bigger than the average cyclist - 6'2" and 240 pounds give or take, and I'm currently averaging 6000 bicycle miles per year.  (I am NOT hard on my equipment - my riding is essentially all on pavement on a touring-type bicycle, and I do my very best to avoid bumps, etc.  My gear is not misused... unless it's just in the sense that I'm a pretty big guy.)

They sent me a reply.  In fact, I got a message from Carol Milton Hosmer, who is identified as the president of the company on their website.  She gave an interesting explanation:

"... our saddle is like a pair of shoes.  It will take you only so far and then something is going to give out.  You cannot buy one pair of leather shoes and expect to wear them for an entire lifetime.  As with everything in life, there are trade offs.  In our case, the saddle is supremely comfortable, but not perhaps as durable as you would like.  We are striving to strengthen our saddle, but not at the expense of comfort – a difficult trade off indeed. ... We want you to be a satisfied customer, but 11K miles may be the limit of our saddle, given your size and riding style."

I'd agree with her assessment... if it were the leather part of the saddle that was failing.  Indeed, no two pieces of leather would be the same, and leather is subject to stretching and fatigue.  So is steel, or any material, but not to the point where failure is an inevitable event!  If every saddle I've used over the years ended up breaking, I'd probably feel different... but in my 27+ years of transportation cycling, I've broken TWO saddles - both Anatomicas.  And some have gone considerably farther than 2 years and the corresponding miles... albeit less comfortably.

Furthermore, I don't think the frame material is a major factor in the "comfort" of the Anatomica saddle - if they made the frame stronger (and perhaps a bit stiffer), the negative impact on comfort would be negligible.  Or so it seems to me.

What do you think?  Are my expectations too lofty?  Am I being unrealistic?

Over the winter, I'd purchased yet another Anatomica saddle on sale; it's installed and we'll see how it works out.  If it fails after a year or two, as much as it hurts (literally!), I will not replace it with yet another.  (Supposedly they've recently switched to a more robust cr-mo steel for the frames.  I'm hoping I get lucky this time, and that it lasts so long I forget all about the woes of the past.)

Last weekend I rode 17 or so miles (Pedal Power Parade, and trip to and from) on a more conventional saddle - different bicycle - and my tailbone was both numb and sore at the end of the ride.  I've not tried a Brooks saddle, but they're supposed to be pretty sweet after the break-in period, and I've not heard of their rails routinely breaking.  If the 3rd Anatomica fails, I'll probably give the B-17 a try.


David said...

I'm really sorry to hear that. I started bike commuting about 2 years ago and go about half your milage down here in Florida. Just after Christmas I bought one of these saddles based on your recommendation and the sale they had going. I don't expect the same type of failure you had as I'm less than 170 pounds, but I have found that the sides of the saddle dig into my thighs. I recently modified mine by punching small holes in either side and lacing a shoestring between the sides. This seems to be working well at this point.

I hope your current saddle lasts better for you.

Bikeboy said...

David, thanks for the reply. I'm honored that you bought your seat based on my recommendation; I hope it lives up to your expectations. (I've seen the treatment you describe on a few Brooks saddles over the years... some of them tend to "curl up" on the sides, I've noticed.)

The Anatomica rails are much longer than on conventional saddles, going all the way from front to back. So, they probably tend to flex more. I, too, really hope this one lasts me a good long time. (They offer a frame replacement for about $80 - which is cheaper than a new seat, but also suggests they are subject to breakage. Particularly by us "clydesdale" riders, I imagine.)

Ride careful! (Florida is statistically one of the more dangerous states for cyclists. Probably on account of your demographics of "senior" motorists, and motorists who are distracted by babes in bikinis, huh? nudge-nudge, wink-wink)

Clancy Anderson said...

Steel Rails should not break in the period of time. My mileage doesn't compare either and I ride a few different bikes on a regular basis. I am a Brooks fanatic and have bought both new and used saddles. I have never had any issues. I wonder if titanium rails would be stronger? They certainly cost more.

Scott said...

Brooks evangelist here. Granted I'm 90 pounds lighter than you and have never experienced the issues you have with saddles or rims breaking.