Saturday, May 18, 2013

Speaking of Saddles

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
Earlier this week I was visiting Cycle Loft - a local bicycle shop known, among other things, for its extensive fit studio. I will be test riding a few of their bikes this summer, and the staff suggested I undergo a fitting session beforehand. As we were getting started, the fitter - Joel - caught sight of the Selle Anatomica I was riding. He asked whether I wanted to use my own saddle, given how particular it was, or try something new.

Today there are lots of high quality, well thought-out saddle designs on the market, in a variety of materials. The trick is to find one that fits our particular anatomy, position and riding style. For the past two years I've been going back and forth between a Berthoud touring saddle and a Selle Anatomica on my roadbikes. These saddles are as close as I've been able to get to being truly comfortable over long distances. But neither is perfect. So I decided to keep an open mind and see what the fitter recommended.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
To start with, Joel measured my sit bones. This is something I've never had done "professionally" before, so it was pretty exciting. Cycle Loft uses the Specialized "Body Fit" method, which, as I understand it, is comparatively un-intrusive (no pelvic fondling, etc.). But there is a nifty device involved. A stool was brought out with a butt-shaped pillow, upon which I sat as instructed. When I stood up, my sit bones left two clear indentations, which Joel swiftly measured.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
The figure was 135mm - considerably narrower than what I thought my sit bone width was based on my DIY measurements (the figure I'd come up with was more like 150mm). But we repeated the process just to make sure and got the same number again - so looks like 135mm it is.

Joel explained that a saddle should be wider than the sit bone width itself. How much wider depends partly on the rider's position and partly on the saddle's shape. As far as the rider's position, the more leaned forward you are, the narrower area of support is needed. That much I'd known. As far as saddle shape, Joel showed me a selection or road/racing saddles and pointed out that on some the sitting surface was flat across, while on others it was rounded, like an arc. For all my careful scrutiny of saddle shapes, this was not a distinction I'd explicitly been aware of before, so I was excited to learn something new. For any given rider, on a rounded saddle the width needs to be greater than on a flat saddle.

According to the fit chart, the saddle width recommended for my sit bones was 155mm minimum. My Berthoud saddle (which is flat) measures 160mm across, and my Selle Anatomica (which is rounded) measures 170mm across. My comfort with both makes sense according to this fit method.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
Next, Joel asked what I liked and disliked about the saddles I normally use. I explained that my saddles are fairly wide across the rear, yet have narrow, racing-style noses. The wide rear and narrow nose combination works for me, because this way my butt feels fully supported but I don't get thigh-rub. Other saddles I've tried tend to be either too narrow or too wide all around, which doesn't work. I also like the feel of suspended leather, compared to other surfaces I've tried.

As far as what I don't like, that is a little trickier to explain. The Berthoud feels a bit too hard, whereas the Selle Anatomica has a bit too much give. And with each, I occasionally - at random times, it seems - feel pressure or pinching in the middle of my "soft tissue." It happens rarely now compared to the problems I used to have, but it does still happen occasionally. We discussed all this in detail, as well as the other saddles I've tried. I described my dislike of gel (I sink into it and feel horrible pressure), my inability to ride Terry saddles (the slots are somehow in the wrong place), and finding the edges of many racing saddles "too sharp" as I pedal.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
After taking all of this in, Joel suggested I try the Romin Evo saddle by Specialized (interesting write-up about it here). It had everything I seemed to need: a rounded wide rear (168mm across), a narrow nose, and a firm, but not rock-hard, surface. A channel down the middle and a curved nose were designed to avoid contact with exactly the pressure-prone spots I'd identified. It is not a woman-specific saddle, but then neither are my own. A synthetic saddle made by a big-name manufacturer, it was not what I would normally gravitate toward, but I'd said I would be open minded, and so I would.

The Romin Evo is now fitted on the demo bike I'm riding. I could not feel it under me on the initial 30 mile ride, but I will withhold judgment until after the follow-up, 100K ride.

But whether this particular saddle wins me over is beside the point. What I appreciated the most was the generally informative conversation with the fitter - who I felt was neutral and knowledgeable when it came to various styles, materials, aesthetics and brands of saddles. I would like to keep learning myself, and at some point to post a comprehensive guide that might be of help to those at a loss for where to start.

33 comments:

  1. I think good fitters are worth every penny they charge. I thought I knew something about bikes and what was best for me, until a conversation with a pro....Wish I would have done it years ago!

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    1. I've talked to a number of fitters over the past few years, though mostly casually/philosophically (as opposed to them fitting me). I've also had feedback from lots of readers about different fitters. Overall, it seems to be a mixed bag. Some fitters have pretty strong pre-conceived notions about what's "correct" IMO and don't focus enough on the individual rider. Others are brilliant at applying their knowledge and experience precisely to the individual rider. The question is how to find the latter kind.

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    2. No kidding about pre-conceived notions! The first fitter I went to put me on a heavily padded saddle with a hole in the middle and was shocked that I didn't like it.

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    3. References!

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  2. Be aware the textured surface on the EVO can abrade shorts and padding at the upper inner thigh area. If your shorts show pilling, apply chamois lube to the sides of the saddle nose.

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    1. Good to know.

      FWIW my leather saddles are absolutely smooth and my shorts still pill and abrade. In fact I've worn a hole through my winter tights (Capo) after 2 winters.

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  3. A great service. I learned what I like, narrower Brooks saddles and very little padding on my shorts, through expensive purchases and luck. Who knows, there may be other saddles I prefer, but at $150 and up for other saddles... The risk a fitter takes is someone 'showrooming': purchasing elsewhere after the fitter's efforts. The only way around that would be a fitting fee that could be deducted out of purchasing price.

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  4. You might enjoy "The Four and a Half Rules of Road Saddles". It was originally written by a women's bike club 7 or 8 years ago, then researched and re-written by Cervelo. http://www.cervelo.com/en/engineering/ask-the-engineers/the-four-and-a-half-rules-of-road-saddles-.html

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  5. I have a lot to say about this later. Weekend posts argh.

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  6. I have exactly the same saddles you do - a Berthoud on my Bike Friday and the Selle Anatomica Titanica X on my Americano. Honestly, the Titanica X is the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden on. My determination if a saddle "fits" is if I can ride for six to seven hours in non-padded shorts and not be sore.

    But I am very impressed with the Berthoud. I used that on my last two century rides along with a 50 mile hill climber this afternoon and all is well in the "downstairs" department. It's actually more comfortable without padded shorts if that can be believed. I wonder . . . should I try out the Romin Evo? It's a lot lighter than either of my two favored sit-upons.

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    1. 100 miles on the Romin Evo. Of all the leather saddles I've tried, it is similar-est to the SA. The regular Titanica, I haven't tried the X.

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  7. Hmm... The Berthoud and Selle Anatomica saddles are so completely different, I am not sure what to make of it that you like them both equally and are able to "go back and forth" between them!

    (PS: please update your Gilles Berthoud review. I think the old one was written after just a short test ride.)

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    1. Yes, they are very different. But they do have the wide rear/ narrow front ratio in common and for me that has proven to be a crucial feature for saddle comfort.

      I'll post an updated Berthoud review.

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  8. Had a similar fitting done on a Specialized "assometer" and came up with a (different) Specialized saddle than you but one with a similar shape. For me, it is perfect - by far the best saddle I have ever used. Hope you like it!

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  9. I'd hold off on the saddle guide for a while...there's a lot going on that's missing, represented by your comment above regarding smooth saddle/abraded shorts. btw it's b/c a combo of having a lot of sag on your SA, thereby flattening it giving it a sharp edge, and the amount of fat and muscle on your though close to the crotchal area, which of course changes depending on how much you ride. Ultimately the ideal saddle changes depending on this more than anything.

    To James' question and your preferences - these are good saddles but if you sit and spin for 12 hours at a time (who sits on anything that long an expects comfort?) on leather you will find these too hard I think. They are sport saddles, not endurance/touring saddles. You are supposed to stand a lot, hammer on the rivet, push back against the back stop.

    I don't know how one can expect leather cut outs to not pinch your stuff - you're putting it directly in the mouth while it flexes!

    The Bike Rumor article, once again, is very poorly fact-checked; the Romin is a late iteration of cut outs, the Toupe being its direct precedent.

    Instead of gabbing and thinking about your internal life the entire 200k next time perhaps verify the above by putting your hand under your saddles and feel that they go flat when you sit on them and there's a distinct ridge there that can cause friction depending on thing size and how you pedal, whether you're knees in, knees out, bow legged, knock kneed, have a big gut...there are too many variables to quantify to even start a comprehensive guide. Anyone who needs a new saddle and/or bike should consider traveling to a good fitter/dealer with a comprehensive satisfaction guaranteed policy and get their info/stuff there.

    I've found many, many people trying to intellectualize this stuff have little idea how to prioritize what when riding style/athleticism isn't taken into account.



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    1. Yeah, the saddle guide is a long-term plan.

      Agree with pretty much all your points, especially re riding style, technique, fitness, etc.

      One thing that occurs to me though: I don't sit the entire time, I stand on descents. Not stand-stand, but like hover above the saddle toward the back. So the butt/saddle do get some rest, especially on descent-rich rides.

      100 miles on the Romin Evo today. Not bad at all, though very different from what I'm used to.

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    2. I do the hovering descending sometimes but standing pedaling can open up your pelvis so's you can stretch your back/hips/neck.

      Other bennies as well.

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  10. Lovely Assometer!

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  11. Those who must know their inter-ischial measurement who do not have a LBS or fitter nearby with one of those groovy Specialized fixtures could avail themselves of some wet sand.

    I have cut down severely on my collection and currently have three leather and four plastic saddles my friends can try. Doesn't count duplicates of very similar saddles or saddles mounted on bikes. Doesn't count oddities like the Campy Electra or antiques. Only counting road saddles. Swapping them around amongst friends is the usual method. Or I always thought it was.

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  12. I always thought anyone trying to figure out a "system" for recommending saddles, was, as they say around here,"peeing up a string". It just never seems to work very well and the successes are used to validate the fails and put the blame on the rider for being a wuss.

    I have to say though,that the Specialized system actually seems to be a useful tool. The bike shop that's part of the company I work for uses it, and after getting measured, the system recommended dimensions that agree pretty well with what I find comfortable. I wish there would have been something similar available at the shops I used to work at.
    It's easy to explain and use, and since the measurer needn't touch the measuree, it wouldn't make even most shy people uneasy(that is if the almost, but not quite grown-up boys who run the shop wouldn't have stuck a homemade "Ass-O-Meter" label on it. Boys are dumb).

    I almost traded an Ideale Mod. 90 alloy railed saddle for a new Berthoud today at Cirque-du-Cyclisme, partly because of your review and partly because the looks have sort of grown on me, but the guy didn't have a black one.

    Spindizzy

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  13. Oh yeah, About rounded saddles, it's like straddling a pipe. I won a spiffy FSA saddle once and was surprised that they were giving something quite that expensive to those of us so far down the results. As it turns out it was because the person giving the prizes(Hmmm, could it be, SATAN!)hated us and wanted us to be unhappy. I still have it, all shiny black, superlight and rounded like a rolling pin. Truly an example of the fabled "asshatchet".

    Spindizzy

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  14. I've never had much trouble finding saddles (knock on wood) -- it's shorts that are troublesome for me. (And yes, definitely the shorts, as the issues are with chafing places that don't touch the saddle.)

    And a fat gal, no saddle will not hit my thighs -- what works is one where it's an even glide, which will eventually do in shorts but doesn't bother me. The clamp can also be an issue -- my Brompton occasionally gets me there. And the width of one's butt has very little relation to sit bone width -- I've never has mine measured, but I'm happy on a 150mm saddle (Fizik Vesta).

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  15. "It's easy to explain and use, and since the measurer needn't touch the measuree, it wouldn't make even most shy people uneasy(that is if the almost, but not quite grown-up boys who run the shop wouldn't have stuck a homemade "Ass-O-Meter" label on it. Boys are dumb)."

    Boys are not dumb. And, in my case, it was a girl who told me the unofficial name of the Specialized seat sizing system.

    Anyhow, the system appears to work, and that is what matters...

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    1. Yeah, you're right, too broad. How 'bout, boys can be dumb.

      To do something as juvenile as to put a big "ass-o-meter" label on something you are going to ask customers to sit on with the aim of taking their money at the end, seems a little dumb to me. At the very least unprofessional and disrespectful. What percentage of customers would we want to ask to "Put your ASS on this for a minute"? 100%? Probably not.

      I'm a dumb boy too sometimes but I don't think we need to coarsen the level of discourse everywhere, all the time.

      Spindizzy

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  16. Forgive me for being cynical, but it is not exactly shocking that a store selling Specialized saddles, with a Specialized measuring system, would recommend a Specialized saddle. I have used Specialized saddles, and while I like them, I like my Brooks B17 best.

    My own suspicion is that people experiencing soft tissue pain are either 1) not properly fit for their bike (most likely), or 2) they unreasonably expect complete comfort on long rides in super aggressive positions.

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    1. I don't blame you for being cynical. But it was not their only recommendation, and they certainly carry other brands of saddles. However this specific model had specs that seemed tailor-made for what I was asking for, and it happened to be made by Specialized.

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    2. Some saddle issues have NOTHING to do with #1 or #2.

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    3. @self propelled - fair enough. I could have stated things better, which would have been to say that there are saddles that get replaced when it was not the saddle that is the problem, but something else such as #1 or #2.

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  17. Isn't the Assometer a breach of the Assos brand?



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  18. After your post about Rivet Saddles I asked on the SF Randonneur forum about these saddles (having some issues of my own). I received glorius feedback including Deb Banks contacting me directly and offering to loan a saddle to try out. What great service. Little did I know they were located in CA and she's a SF randonneuse!
    DD

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  19. Curious to hear if you are still using this saddle and how it compares to your Selle Anatomica Titanico on long rides. I have used the SA saddle for double century without any significant discomfort but am looking for a synthetic saddle that might come close to that comfort level. So far haven't found any that I liked quite as much.

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