Monday, August 15, 2011

Selle AnAtomica: My Impressions

Seven, Fizik, Selle An-Atomica
[Edited to add: This review is of the older generation Selle Anatomica Titanico; the review of the current model can be found here.]

Some time ago I bought a red Selle Anatomica Titanico saddle, initially to go with a vintage bicycle I had at the time. But when I was loaned a Seven roadbike earlier this summer, the Selle Anatomica migrated onto it instead: It promised to be more comfortable than the bike's native racing saddle and was a perfect match for its red decals. This is how I had the saddle set up on the bike, and I put about 700 miles on it.

Selle An-Atomica After 400 Miles
Founded in 2007 by the now deceased avid cyclist Tom MiltonSelle Anatomica is a small American manufacturer of leather saddles. The company is now run by the founder's sister, Meredith Milton Evans. Notably different from the other leather saddles on the market, Selle Anatomica offers several potentially attractive selling points. One is the long "anatomic" cut-out, which they claim allows the two sides of the saddle to move independently, thus relieving pressure on soft tissue. The other is the "watershed leather," which refers to the saddle's treatment with a waterproof top layer. The saddles are available in a variety of colours, and there are separate versions rated for heavier and lighter riders. You can read more about the design and specs here.

Selle An-Atomica After 400 Miles
I purchased my saddle in Spring 2011 and since then a couple of changes have been made that I find somewhat confusing but will try to summarise. Selle Anatomica now advertises being made with cro-moly rails, so I am not sure what the rails on my saddle are made of. They also changed the weight criteria, so that what were formerly called the "Clydesdale" saddles and recommended for persons weighting over 180 lb have now become their regular saddles and are recommended for persons over 140 lb. If I understand these changes correctly, then what is now called the "Titanico" model is a slightly different product from the saddle I own, and the version I own is more comparable to what is now called the "Titanico Legacy." However, based on my conversations with the manufacturer I am not entirely certain of this, and I hope that she might clarify in the comments.

Selle An-Atomica After 400 Miles
My impressions of the Selle Anatomica underwent several stages. Initially, the saddle felt so comfortable that I could hardly believe it. The tension of the leather was just right, there was no pressure anywhere, and the cut-out slot worked as advertised. The leather was softer, more pliable and more "hammock-like" than other leather saddles I'd tried and I could feel it moving with me, as opposed to my body moving against it. There was no chafing or soreness what so ever, and there was no breaking in period. It was almost too good to be true.

This Fits Everything Needed to Fix a Flat??
Then, after about 100 miles, I began to feel a sharp pinching pain in my "soft tissue." The pain would come and go, seemingly at random, and felt as if someone took a pair of pliers to a fold of skin along my crotch. Eventually I realised that the slot somehow began to close in at its narrowest part, pinching my skin right through the padded bicycle shorts. Soon after that I also noticed that (after only 150 miles), the saddle had sagged dramatically. At the time we were unable to determine whether it was the actual leather that sagged, or whether the bolt controlling the tension had unscrewed. But in retrospect it seems to have been the latter, because once we increased the tension and screwed the bolt in tightly, it did not sag again nearly as much.

We assumed that tensioning the saddle would also solve the pinching problem, but the occasional pinching persisted. We tried bending the leather inward in the part of the slot where it pinched, but that did not help. After some investigation, it turned out that a few others reported this same problem with Selle Anatomica saddles, and the recommended solution was to use a knife to enlarge the slot in the spot where it pinched. Just as we were debating whether to do this, the pinching suddenly stopped on its own around mile 400. I kept waiting for it to return, knife at the ready, but it did not. With no explanation, the saddle suddenly felt as good again as on the day I got it. For the remaining 300 miles I rode on the saddle, there has been a gradual and slight loss of tension, but no further problems.

Selle An-Atomica After 400 Miles
Having ridden with this saddle in the rain multiple times on a bike with no fenders, I can confirm Selle Anatomica's claim that the saddle is absolutely waterproof. The rain just rolled right off without getting absorbed into the leather. However, the "watershed" layer eventually began to wear off - not from the rain, but from my contact with the saddle. You can see this in this picture, which was taken after 400 miles. On the manufacturer's website, it is suggested that the top layer could wear off over time as part of everyday use, and that eventually the owner may need to send the saddle back for re-waterproofing (which is done for an extra fee, as far as I understand). It is not specifed for how many miles the "watershed" leather is designed to last before the top layer needs to be reapplied.

Overall, my impression of Selle Anatomica is a positive, but somewhat frustrated one. If the tension remains as it should and the slot does not pinch, it is the most comfortable saddle I have ridden on. If the watershed layer remains intact, it is the most maintenance-free leather saddle I have experienced. However, neither of these factors has been stable for me, and so I would describe the saddle as high maintenance and rather unpredictable. With its price on par with mid-range Brooks and less than Berthoud, personally I would buy Selle Anatomica again and would be willing to fuss with it just to achieve the level of comfort I know it is capable of giving me. But be aware that this is an unusual saddle, and that user experiences tend to be varied - even more so than with the other leather saddle manufacturers. I hope that Selle Anatomica remains in business and continues to streamline its product. With its unique design, it is a welcome alternative to the other saddles currently on the market.

30 comments:

  1. I have one on my ANT Truss bike, so far no issues like yours, mine has maybe 300 miles on it. I do find it super comfy and I like that its made in USA, but on a over 30 mile ride, I prefer my Brooks Pro, that saddle is hard and not so great at first, but somehow feels better on long rides.

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  2. It's too bad nobody sells this with a good return policy, like how some places do with Brooks. Given that peoples opinions are so polarized on this saddle I'd like to have a chance to test it out before plunking down so much cash.

    As it is I'll probably never try one, which is too bad because maybe it's the best saddle I'd ever try. Who knows. Until they decide to have a trial program or something like Walbike does I'm not willing to shell out the cash.

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  3. Sounds like you just needed to threaten it with a knife for it to work.

    I just ordered a SA yesterday for the Schwinn Voyageur I'm building up. It was a big splurge and I'm excited to test it out. I'm okay with fiddling with it a little bit, especially if it fulfills it's promise of being very comfortable.

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    1. Yay Voyageur! I'm in the opposite situation: I have a Voyageur built and I'm trying the SA on it. How has your build and saddle worked out?

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  4. Great review! A very intriguing saddle. I'd be seriously tempted to try one but for the cost, which I believe is $189.00 at Selle An-Atomica's store and commonly $179.00 on eBay. Since saddle comfort is hard to predict, I'd find it very difficult to shell out nearly $200 on a saddle unless there were a generous return policy (such as Wallingford Bike has), or I was confident that the resale market was strong enough that I could recoup much of the cost if I felt I had to sell. In any event, I would love to know what experiences others have had with this saddle. The reviews I've seen have been somewhat variable -- loss of tension seems to be a common theme -- but there are a lot of raves.

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  5. I had one for three years and only had 300 miles on it. I stopped using it after a month. Like you said, it was the most comfortable saddle I could immagine, but the pinching problem made me stopped using it. I thought it was unique problem for male riders due to the anatomical difference, apparently not. Thank you for the reivew, I might use it again to see if it will get pass the pinching stage.

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  6. I like the fact that they do address the "Clydesdale" contingent with their saddle categories, I've been a bit leery of shelling out for a leather saddle because I'm not sure how they'll hold up to my weight.

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  7. I was given one by a friend whose 200+ lbs had sagged it considerably. When I received it the bolt was extended almost all the way. I weigh only 125 lbs so I have not sagged it further. I used it on the SF Randonneurs 400k and 600k this year and found it very comfortable, much more so than the Selle Italia Flite I had been using previously. There were two adjustments I had to make: add a locknut to the bolt to keep it from slipping back, and putting cutout pieces of plastic bags in the nose to keep it from squeaking. Now it is working well for me although the squeak persists from time to time.

    I think that it is a very comfortable but flawed saddle that requires a lot of energy to maintain. I have heard that Deb Banks, who worked with Tom on the Selle An-Atomica, is developing a saddle similar to it but with solutions to many of the current design flaws. I am eagerly awaiting this saddle as I think it will be a great fit for me. I have never had the pinching issue, but I'm interested to know if Deb's new saddle will address it.

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  8. Mine was very squeaky, I contacted them and they sent me a special nylon washer for the bolt, now its dead silent. I also have never had the "pinch" either. I hope this saddle Co. makes it too, so comfy and the look is real steam punk too.

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  9. Dave - Off topic, but where can I find your truss bike pictures?

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  10. Nylon washer for the bolt! Nice.

    I think ours is a little chatty, perhaps more so when it gets wet.

    I should add that adjusting tension is easy on this saddle, you just need an allen and you can see through the whole structure so you know exactly what's going on.

    We were going to chamfer the edges. If that wasn't enough we would start cutting away at the shape, but I wonder if that would result in more stretching. But, ultimately, I think the answer is to get the thicker leather version.

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  11. I was going to mention chamfering and thicker leather. The design is prone to stretch/pinching but also a lot of comfort.

    I see it a as two sides of the same coin.

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  12. Wondering if the pinching problem is apparent wearing normal clothes or with biking shorts/pants?

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  13. MDI - I agree, they should use thicker leather, maybe the stuff Brooks uses from Switzerland.
    Velouria - I could email some, or go dig thru Mikes fliker pics on the ANT sight, lots of them taken at good angles and lighting. I got the bike about 2 weeks ago.
    I love that bike, I look at it everyday and can't believe I have one now.

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  14. Velouria - If you go to:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/antbikemike/5971241348/in/photostream/
    then hit on all the older pics you will see the bike.

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  15. I don't have any issues with chafing, so I think I need the cut-outs. It's just that my sit-bones that get sore after about 30 miles. I have a Terry brand gel saddle that my brother gave me off of an old bike, and it works the best so far out of all my saddles, but I wouldn't say I'm in love. I'd like to try a leather saddle, but I'm not excited about the price, given that it seems like such a gamble. I too wish there were a try-before-you-buy option. Seems like second-hand might be a good option, but then the saddle is probably already broken in for someone else's shape. Based on this review, I'm tempted to try the non-cut-out version at some point.

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  16. Brooks Imperials have a lacing system at the edge of the saddle sides to ameliorate this problem by tensioning the saddle across ways. How effective it is I have not heard.

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  17. Dave - Thanks, very cool! Interesting to see the shifter on the rear stay; can you reach it all right?

    I don't think thicker leather would necessarily improve this saddle. The whole point of how it works is that the leather is pliable and moves. Unlike Brooks, SA encourages adjusting the tension, so that seems to be a big part of it.

    The SA slot is very different from the Brooks Imperial slot; the latter is much smaller and is not designed for the two halves of the saddle to move independently.

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  18. Any ideas on how to soften up a Brooks saddle? The one I've got on my Surly is more narrow than the Oma's and supposedly better for the drop-bar riding I'm doing on it -- but nowhere near as comfortable yet.

    (Sorry for the alternating id - Blogger is being balky - this is aka EmmaJ/ imaginarybicycle)

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  19. I recently acquired an SA for my upcoming maybe-Century. I'm still fiddling with it but so far it's not all that comfortable. I wonder if I'm at precisely the wrong weight, because the one I got (I guess the Titanica) is recommended for people 140 pounds and up--and I weigh 140 pounds right now. I'm not feeling any give at all, even though I've loosened the bolt a bit.

    Maybe it's too soon but I'm thinking the combination of human variation and somewhat unpredictable leather means this is a saddle for people with at least a little experimental money to burn.

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  20. Greg - Yes, the pinching would be even worse with normal clothes; the padded shorts at least dulled it a bit.

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  21. If anyone wants to sell a used one, I would be interested in trying it.

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  22. I ride is cycling and normal baggy shorts with never a pinch.
    Velouria - Its very easy to reach my "suicide shifter" on the truss bike, looks very cool to me too. I have now outlined the lugs in red to match the rims, looks killer.

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  23. I don't think the pinching has anything to do with clothing, but everything to do with how the leather moves underneath the rider - which can change over time. I think that GR Jim's overall assessment is pretty accurate - the very aspects that make this saddle so comfortable are the aspects that can cause this problem.

    Dave - I think the shifter looks great, now curious to try it in that position!

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  24. Browsing your past posts about saddles - thanks for that thorough women's issues post! - I see that you are not as happy with the Brooks B17S as you were at first and that it developed issues as you rode loner distances. (As it has for me, having followed your example and chosen the same saddle.)

    It's not unridable but it's not reallly comfortable. Is there any way - lacking a crystal ball - to know if riding it more will soften it up enough to fix the problem as happened with the Anatomica?

    In case I have to replace the Brooks, are there saddles that seem to do especially well for women riding with drop bars - besides the Selle Anatomica or the Gilles Berthould 'Marie Blanc'? Did the Brooks Colt turn out to be a better choice?

    Thanks for any suggestions!

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  25. I've had Clysdales for over three years now. Well over 20,000 miles on them. Still trying to get rid of small squeak. Extremely comfortable and ready to purchase another so long as the squeak problems have been addressed and corrected. Need to find out about this nylon type washer SA offers. Maybe that would fix my existing squeaks.

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  26. I have around 8,000 miles on one of mine (I have 3 of them) and I consider the stretching to be normal wear and tear. I've found they stretch more in hot and humid weather, and not at all in cold, so by the end of summer, I always have to turn the bolt a couple of times (no more than that). I have taken a box cutter to all of mine, then a light filing, and they're good until they pinch again, which may not be for years.

    My oldest one is also red, and a lot more of the color has worn off mine, but I love that. I think it gets more beautiful over time, with its history showing. It doesn't look new, but it looks loved.

    Red

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  27. I've just received the new generation version of this saddle, on loan from the manufacturer, and will be testing it over the next few weeks. Will post an update.

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  28. Hi Velouria,
    thanks for your review!
    Could you please tell us what you think about the new generation version of this saddle ?
    Thank you!

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    1. The newer review is here and I will update the post with a link to it as well.

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