Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vegan Options for Classic Saddles

[image via somafab.com]

Though I am personally not against using animal products, some of my friends and readers are - which makes bicycle saddle purchases especially difficult for them. The problem is the basic construction of the saddles: There simply aren't any vegan options on the market today that are made in the same manner as suspended leather saddles, whereby a tough yet breathable material is stretched over metal railings like a hammock. So, what is the next best thing in terms of construction? Since saddle preferences are highly personal, I can only tell you what works for me, and hopefully it will be useful to some of you as well. If not suspended leather, then the next best thing for me is an ergonomically-shaped saddle that is a hard plastic shell, covered with a thin layer of synthetic material and very minimal padding in between. I prefer this construction by far over heavy padding or gel, which I find completely unridable. A number of experienced cyclists, such as Jon Forester, recommend these hard saddles over padded ones - the reasoning being, that the padding/gel bunches up under your sitbones and becomes uncomfortable over the course of a ride, whereas a hard plastic support with minimal padding holds up your weight equally.

[image via somafab.com]

For roadbikes, there are several vegan options available as far as these types of saddles go. Notably, SOMA has recently released the Okami series (above, and the previous image), which comes in black, white, and embossed floral "synthetic leather," with copper-plated rivets. I've heard good things about this saddle, though I personally have not tried it. And it certainly looks classic.

[image via tokyofixedgear.com]

The Japanese manufacturer Kashimax has recently re-issued several colourful models in this tradition, many of which are vegan (just look for the models labeled "plastic" rather than "suede"). Though the Kashimax saddles look scary-long and uncushioned, I've tried one on a friend's bike and really liked it.  

[image via cinelli.it]

Another all-plastic option is the Cinelli Unicanitor re-issue - "the first saddle with a plastic shell in the history of cycling".

[image via cinelli.it]

And a limited edition Barry McGee version, covered with a lightly padded synthetic leather.

[image via chari &co]

Two Italian manufacturers have re-issued their original versions of these classic saddles as well. Selle Italia has released several versions of the classic "Turbo" model. I have ridden on several vintage Turbo saddles and loved them, so this would probably my vegan saddle of choice for a roadbike. There is something about the squarish back, the sloping sides and the down-turned nose that I find very comfortable. 

[image via sellesanmarco.it]

The Concor release by Selle San Marco is a similar design to the Turbo, though I have not tried these personally. And SOMA's Ta-Bo is yet another version.

[image via selleroyal.com]

Now, as far as saddles for upright bicycles go, I am not really sure what to tell you. I have not found a good vegan alternative to a sprung leather saddle, so these are more like "the lesser evil" suggestions. The Ondina model by Selle Royal (above image) is a mattress-style saddle. It is more evenly padded than other models I've tried, and resists bunching up. I have ridden on this saddle and thought it was fine for a short urban ride.

[image via lepper.nl]

I have also tried the mattress-style Lepper saddles (which come standard on many Dutch bikes), and those are similar to the Selle Royal, though with a more boxy profile. They are also usually quite heavy and the springs are enormous.

[image via electrabike.com]

Electra offers a number of vintage-inspired saddles that look the part, and aren't as horrendously over-padded as others I've seen - including these narrower styles that would work well on a mixte. 

[image via electrabike.com]

Electra also sells a lot of colourful models that could work well on a traditional bike. After all, a classic look does not necessarily need to imitate leather. 

[image via nirve.com]

The cruiser manufacturer Nirve offers a number of traditional styles as well, including the riveted saddle pictured above and a number of floral-embossed models.

[image via nirve.com]

And another classic design by Nirve, with the "diamond" pattern popular on cruisers. If you are going for looks alone, there is a great deal to choose from between Nirve and Electra, but ride quality reports for these vary considerably.

If you have experience with any of the saddles listed here, please share your thoughts. And if you have other vegan alternatives to recommend for those who do not wish to buy leather saddles,  your suggestions would be much appreciated. 

53 comments:

  1. thank you so much for this post! i'm a vegan long suffering from Brooks saddle envy...

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  2. Oh,yea! That yellow saddle would look so nice on my bike!!

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  3. The Kashimax would probably be much too narrow unless your bike is a roadbike. On the other hand, there is this!

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  4. I have the Selle Royal Ondina on my Raleigh 3-speed. Like you said, it's perfectly fine for short urban rides, and the looks more closely match the original vinyl Brooks mattress saddle than anything else on the the market today (including today's Brooks, which now only produces for the premium market). The Ondina actually looks much better on the bike than it does in the photograph above. It blends well into a vintage bike. I took it for a longer ride once and began to feel seat bone discomfort at about 18 miles or so. That's fine, as I bought the bike for trips within a 3 mile radius.

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  5. I would love to see pics some times Walt D

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  6. I forgot to include Lepper, but now added it to the post. If you're having trouble finding Lepper or Selle Royal, ask a shop that imports Dutch bikes - they should be able to special order them even if they don't carry these models.

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  7. Woah, some of these have way too much foam. I wonder how comfortable a spring suspended semi-firm surface would be on an upright bike. I imagine about as comfortable as suspended leather. There has to be a material that resembles leather which can be stretched over existing Brooks-style rails.

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  8. I have a Selle San Marco Regal with synthetic leather and I love it. I put it on my fixed-gear originally because I got it cheap on ebay and liked the way it looked on my build. Having put around a thousand miles on it (including a few 30+ mile rides and one half-century), I can heartily recommend it (as much as you can recommend any saddle for another person with different sit-bones). It's more comfortable than the vintage Bontrager racing saddle that came on my late 80's Trek, to the point where I'm considering finding another one for that bike--if I can find a version that's not as showy as the white with copper rivets.

    Now that I look again, that Okami looks a little like a Regal clone.

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  9. "There has to be a material that resembles leather which can be stretched over existing Brooks-style rails"

    They used to make saddles like that in Austria, out of a thick elastic material. It looked just like sprung leather saddles, but felt different to the touch. I forget the manufacturer's name now, need to find one of the bikes in my image archive.

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  10. Selle Royal owns Brooks; so, in theory, any shop that can order Brooks saddles can order the Selle Royal saddles too.

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  11. ^ Damn, you are kidding me! I knew Brooks were bought by someone, but didn't remember who it was. I should brush up on my knowledge of mergers.

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  12. ^ Yeah, Selle Royal owning Brooks seems sort of like Jaguar/Land Rover being owned by Tata Motors. If Tata ever breaks the American market I'll never be able to say the name without giggling.

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  13. I used to have a bike with the Concor Selle San Marco and loved it, I may look into that and get one. I tried to fall in love with a Brooks swift a couple years ago, felt like I was sitting on angle-iron and sold it.
    I really like the look of the Brooks Pro, and may try one out again.

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  14. I remembered the name of the elastic suspended saddle:
    Styria Lastic!

    Has anybody ridden on both the Turbo and the Concor? How do they compare?

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  15. Maybe a vintage option? My original schwinn mattress saddle is constructed with similar springs and rails to my leather VO, made with a lightly padded vinyl. It was rusted and hopelessly squeaky, which is why I replaced it - but the comfort was fine. Something like this.

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  16. Melissa, I would never trust a vintage mattress saddle from ebay, unless it was insanely inexpensive. Underneath the vinyl there may/should be a layer of plastic, which, when original would have been somewhat flexible, but is guaranteed to be brittle with age. It may look fine, especially if nobody has sat on it in 30 years, but would likely disintegrate almost immediately after reuse. That's what happened to mine.

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  17. I also know that some vegans will buy a used leather saddle, but not a new one. Though I guess it depends on one's individual politics.

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  18. You forgot to mention the vegan ultimate - a small slab of uncovered carbon. Seriously, I have not found unpadded saddles to be uncomfortable, though they LOOK horrid. One lady at Starbucks, upon seeing my cross saddle remarked, "I hope you only paid half price for that bike because it's only got half a seat!" I think a few companies now use a point system to get the "perfect fit." It's worth a try.

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  19. Steve - What specific saddle do you have on your bike?

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  20. I had the Turbo and Concor, The Turbo was nice, flat and firm, mine was white and scared it all up in a crash. The Concor has a nice lip in the back so you can push against it, has a nice curvy fit to it. I also owned a Concor Regal, that one I hit my carport with, my bike was on top the car and forgot it was up there, tore the seat off the post.

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  21. Thank-you, thank=you, thank-you for this post!

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  22. don't forget the Cinelli Unicanitor saddle!

    http://www.cinelli.it/scripts/accessori.php?Id=12&lang=EN&IdAcc=269

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  23. My husband is vegan and I think he gave up on the leather ban well before I ever met him. For him, a plastic saddle would be worse because it's plastic, not natural etc.. i bet he would like a wooden saddle. At least he can rationalize that the animal is already dead, should make the most of it and use the leather-or find something second hand or vintage. He's riding a plasticy saddle right now but is looking for the right leather saddle. He tried the b17 narrow super champion special edition and hated it, also tried a selle anatomica which was even wrose. i am always surprised when he drools over leather bar tape though.

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  24. Have used various stretched bovine epidermus-based versions of the Concor for years (not the Turbo though). Its been a trusty saddle for me. Have never taken it for granted, which I feel should be part of the equation. Interesting they have a vegan version now. I guess I just don't understand why non-renewable i.e. petroleum-based plastics, polymers, foams, gels etc can be considered vegan, what with the exploitation inherent in those activities. But I'm not familiar enough with the definitions/boundaries.

    I'm very particular and hate mountain bike stuff, but call me crazy, because I've found Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) saddles (the lighter skinnier ones with downturned nose)to also be very comfortable on my road bikes. This was an accidental discovery where I had to replace a saddle in a pinch and thats what there was available.

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  25. You need to weigh the pros and cons. Pros of a plastic saddle are weight, price (sometimes), and no animal products. Cons include relatively low lifespan (at least in my experience), sweaty butt and possible discomfort, made of petrochemicals probably purchased from a crappy middle eastern dictatorship, and then most likely made in a sweatshop by underpaid workers in asia.
    Pros for a Brooks are comfort, long term performance, natural and biodegradable materials, and they are made by workers in England, who probably get decent pay.
    Cons are weight and price, and they utilize part of a dead animal to make them.

    Make your choice... personally I go for the Brooks. My next choice is Selle Italia's 90s Flite, which they are still making, and after that, the Selle Italia Turbo. I do have a plastic covered Turbo, but it just doesn't feel the same as my suede one.

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  26. Kyle said...
    "don't forget the Cinelli Unicanitor saddle!"


    Thanks, I'll add it!

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  27. The original cheap alternative to leather was the suspended vinyl saddle. Our old Schwinn Breeze has a surprisingly comfortable vinyl saddle which has long springs under the vinyl top to provide extra suppor but is otherwise similar in shape to a Brooks B66. My old Western Flyer 3-Speed has a similar saddle, but it is less comfortable and more squeaky.

    However, I have not found any similar new saddles available in the USA

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  28. I have a Bianchi Record that I have been riding for 25 years. I've used Brooks, Concor and a Turbo on it. The Brooks didnt work for me. When the wings get broken in they sink while the ridge under your perineum stays the same. They always take the shape of a boat anchor for me. I liked the Turbo, found it comfortable for long rides longer than 60miles ~ 4hours. For everyday use I prefer the Concor. It may just be my anatomy but my sitz bones feel more engaged on the Concor. The Concor hits me just inside the apex of my sitz bones and if you feel around there you can find a spot a little to the inside and a little back where there is less flesh over the bone. As long as I don't get bursitis I will be fine. The Turbo has a flatter larger radius and I feel like I have to hold on to keep position when Im cornering. With the Concor my upper body can move around a lot without losing that engagement on the saddle. I also like the flair at the back of the saddle because I can push against it to climb, or to relieve pressure on my perineum. I'm on my second Concor now and Im ready for a third when I overhaul my old Bianchi. I'm glad they are making them again.

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  29. I have one of the leather-look Electra saddles (the one that came with my Electra Ticino). I think the best word I have to describe it is "OK". I don't have major problems with it, despite being a heavy person with a 16km commute, but it's not perfect either. I have nothing better to compare it to, but on longer rides of about 30km it can get wearing (though maybe that's just my lack of saddle stamina). It doesn't breathe at all, so it can be sweaty in hot weather (which I have plenty of living in Australia). I've not noticed any bunching of the padding.

    Having said all that, I'm currently saving up for a Brooks, in the hope of eliminating the discomfort from longer rides.

    If you have to go without leather though, the Electra saddles definitely have a good aesthetic for vintage and vintage style bikes. They look higher quality than they are, and they look like leather.

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  30. Melissa - I have two Brooks mattress saddles that I really love - they've both got cracking plastic though. One of them is on my sister's school bike (it's a bit tattered, and she wanted it both for comfort and to "uglify" the bike), while the other is sitting in my workshop, having been removed from my Phillips for a new Velo-Orange Model 8.

    Vintage "racing" saddles are a serious option though - I pulled a Cinelli CX off of my Cannondale that I plan on putting back into light use (has a small rip, I'd rather not beat on it), as well as a few other plastic/vinyl saddles that are in rotation.

    That said, the majority of my saddles are leather. Of the regularly ridden in my stable, 6 out of 8 of them have tensioned leather...

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  31. I have a Charge Spoon on my road bike and I love it. All Charge's saddles have a classic look to them, especially the brown ones. To go vegan you must be sure to select the synthetic option.

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  32. Your link to the Styria Lastic ...augh, I don't speak German!

    As a vegan, I seriously appreciate this post.

    My saddle on my touring bike is a Specialized with a cut-out. Not pretty, no, but very comfy for me. I had my sit-bones measured for it, even. I admit, I'm a huge fan of the cut-out.

    My old Raleigh Sports has a leather saddle, one that a friend in Edmonton found for me (I'm willing to do leather secondhand). It's pretty damn old but still works just fine for me! My only complaint is that one of the rivets is uneven and catches on some of my clothes. I might drip candlewax over it to try to smooth it out, as all the hammering in the world seems to do nothing!

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  33. I'm thinking there is a niche market here for saddles made from certified road kill and/or animals that died from other natural causes...

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  34. I'm surprised there is no talk of Selle An-Atomica saddles, I have one and love it, they look great and are 100% made in USA too.

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  35. Dave - But aren't all Selle An-Atomica saddles leather or at least a leather composite?...

    Anon 2:57 - Yum, I'm in!

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  36. They are all full on leather, like Brooks, but comfy out of the box. Its the saddle I will have on my ANT truss bike (I hope to get within a month!!!). I put about 200 miles on it so far and love it.
    The make a water-proof leather too.

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  37. Peppy (l'enfant provocateur cat)March 30, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    So, like, Brooks fur saddles are definitely out of the question?

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  38. DOWN Peppy! DOWN! You are BAD CAT!! You are obviously of the saddle gnawing, sniffing persuasion and your opinion is not of interest here you FIENDISH, un-clever BEAST!! I FART in your general direction...

    Ratone Polidor

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  39. I think all these re-issued saddles are likely to be good choices. I've used all of them when the were current and they all did the job when they fit one's "stuff". I am really glad to see the old Cinelli Unicanitor re-appear, they are the only choice for some old racebike resto's and like all plastic, the originals are getting fragile. I stripped the covers off a couple of damaged ones back then to use on BMX bikes and don't remember them having the cool logo on the shell, thats a good enough reason to go out and buy one.

    I'm also a fan of the Kashimax plastic BMX saddles(thats what they were marketed as back then), they were easily the best lightweight saddle back then and a jillion of them ended up on Mountain Bikes, timetrial bikes and beaters of all persuasions.

    I sympathyze with all the vegans out there who are reluctant to use leather, I don't share that particular view but know what it's like to try to achieve some degree of practicality on an issue of consience. I'm not sure that this is exactly a losing battle but I think it's going to be a long time till there is any material that is the equal to leather in all respects that doesn't also create some nasty problems of it's own. Any one like to have a discussion of what to do about some of the by-products of things like Kevlar? I for one will just keep sending my money to the grizzled gnomes at Brooks and trying to make em' last for a hundred years or so. The Cow is Dead! Long live the Cow!

    Spindizzy

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  40. I am a bike enthusiast living at the foot of the Jura mountains not far from Geneva, Switzerland. I'm passionate about bicycles and travel by bike whenever possible. To date I've collected nine of them, ranging from an old Raleigh all-steel beauty with 4 speed Sturmey Archer hub-dynamo through to fully suspended lightweight mountain bike.

    I get an enormous amount of pleasure travelling by bicycle, it's a mindset that is well worth cultivating.

    @aprillikesbikes
    I can only endorse the excellence of the Specialized saddles. I do lots of kilometres of mountain biking on one (format SL) and for me the cut out really does work in allowing blood flow to reduce fatigue.

    The other excellent saddle I have is a Brooks all leather but it's clearly totally unacceptable to mention that in a chat about saddles for vegans. Stick with the Specialized - all synthetic.

    Mind you, vegan sensibilities aside, I suspect that leather saddles have less impact on the planet than the synthetic ones.

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  41. I have been thinking a lot about getting a new, black Brooks pro saddle. I have a hand made (local builder - Assenmacher) frame made of Reynolds pro 532 tubing (English). I have always thought this bike needs a brit saddle, and love the big copper rivits. I'm fearing the break-in of the saddle, please talk me into getting one.

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  42. As a vegan,I've struggled this issue as well. I've been very happy with my Selle SMP Extra for daily use as well as touring on my Surly LHT.

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  43. Ah! This is wonderful. I'm vegan and an on-again-off-again bike enthusiast, so this has been a dilemma for me.

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  44. Thank you for this fantastic round-up of synthetic saddles. I had no idea many of these options were out there.

    We have a cruiser-style bike that we use mainly as a "loaner" for guests and for when our primary bikes are out for repairs. I bought Bontrager's new uber-recyclable Eco Nebula to try it out, and I quite like it, although it's not as wide as many upright-type saddles and has no springs. Now I'm tempted to put a Selle Royal Ondina on that bike instead!

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  45. I've been looking for a brown synthetic saddle that won't look out-of-place on a '75 Raleigh I just acquired (its original brown Brooks saddle is dried out and split). I came across the Origin 8 Classic Lite saddle, the Espresso brown saddle, and the Traitor Diamond Stitch saddle. A bike shop near me has the Traitor saddle so I may try it out!

    http://www.origin-8.com/?page_id=91&short_code=Classic+Lite+Saddle&cl1=SADDLES

    http://www.fixedgearfrenzy.com/track-bike-parts/track-saddles/espresso-studded-faux-leather-saddle

    http://www.traitorcycles.com/NotBikes.cfm

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  46. Thank you so much for tackling the topic in such a thorough way!!
    I will try out Selle Royal's Ondina.

    Only one thing, I believe the Turbo saddle by Selle Italia features a covering in "breathable full-grain leather".

    http://www.selleitalia.com/eng/index.html

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  47. This post makes me SO happy! I have a lead on a vintage mixte that I'm going to try to make an offer on, and it has a saddle on it that looks like it was taken from a hybrid/comfort bike. I think with one of these vegan-friendly seats and standard upright handlebars, I'll be one happy lady!! (It also has straight handlebars, very odd looking.)

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  48. Also check out the Electra Ticino saddle. it is for a more upright bike. a lot (all i think) of the electra saddles are vegan

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  49. I just ordered the Selle Royal Ondina for my '70s mixte. I wanted something good for a relatively upright bike that isn't leather (I just don't want to worry about rain or theft). And the Ondina looks fairly similar to the original stock saddle. This is my around-towner so I don't need to go the distance.

    Thanks for the helpful post!

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  50. For a comfortable vegan saddle, IMO there is none better than the Hobson. I have ridden it for years and I have never had a more comfortable saddle. It has a synthetic leather cover. It has no horn, only slight extensions that help to control the bike a bit. It is not for racing, though.

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  51. Brooks is releasing a vegan saddle this summer, the C17 Cambium.

    http://www.bikeradar.com/road/news/article/brooks-c17-cambium-non-leather-saddle-details-released-37103/

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  52. I just put a Selle Royal Ondina on a Raleigh Twenty. It was a good match for the shape of the (very worn out) saddle that was on the bike before, and it has turned out to be a really comfortable saddle on that bike. Nice to see that after 2 years this post is still helping people find nice saddles!

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