“I can’t get no satisfaction” sang Mick Jagger. That’s his bicycle saddle above. On his much-loved Condor. He’s had a lot of satisfaction from that saddle, and to my knowledge, no erectile dysfunction. But some American sexual health doctors would have you believe that cycling is an unhealthy a pastime as you’d care to name.
Cycling has long had a love-hate relationship with the bicycle/bottom interface but diligent research will show there’s a perfect perineum perch for everybody. Below there’s a top twenty style round-up of the very best in bicycle saddles, alongside some of the worst (tush topography varies).
But first, let’s catch up with the docs. Dr Goldstein and some of his supporters at it again. In the August issue of Goldstein’s The Journal of Sexual Medicine, he takes yet another potshot at those who he believes choose to pummel their penises, and, presumably, whack their vulvas. Saddles with noses, you see, are evil incarnate to certain urologists.
By definition, urologists are going to see more blokes with erectile dysfunction than the woman in the street. Some urologists blame cycling for a lot of the ED that they see.
In an infamous 1997 article in Bicycling Magazine of the US, then Boston University urologist Dr Irwin Goldstein (now Director, Sexual Medicine, Alvarado Hospital, San Diego, California) said:
“Men should never ride bicycles…Riding should be banned and outlawed. It’s the most irrational form of exercise I could ever bring to discussion.”
This led to “cycling causes impotence” health scares all over the world. Goldstein has since slightly revised his views on this topic but, still, many people have residual memories of the 1997 scare: Cycling causes discomfort; problems in the bedroom, even. The graphic below is from Goldstein’s
Californian clinic and it lists bicycling as the number one ‘sexual medicine risk factor’ ahead of even cancer treatment.
Such scares are a regular in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. And most of the scares are penned by penis expert Dr. Steven Schrader of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati. He has a thing for noseless saddles. His latest article, published in the August issue of JSM, is entitled ‘Cutting Off the Nose to Save the Penis.’
Again, it’s a study of bicycling bobbies, a favourite occupation of Dr Schrader and his researchers. They’ve handled more police pork swords than you’ve had hot dinners.
Dr Schrader said:
“No-nose saddles are a useful intervention for bicycling police officers alleviating pressure to the groin and improving penis health. Different saddle designs may require some re-learning of ‘how to ride a bicycle,’ but the health benefits to having unrestricted vascular flow to and from the penis and less penile numbness is self-evident.”
Dr. Goldstein, wrote an accompanying editorial entitled ‘The A, B, C’s of The Journal of Sexual Medicine: Awareness, Bicycle Seats, and Choices’.
“For the first time, we have a prospective study of healthy policemen riding bikes on the job, using wider, no-nose bike saddles for 6 months. Not only did their sensation improve, their erectile function also improved. Changing saddles changed physiology. This is a landmark study for our field that that is important for future riders, and modification of lifestyle showing improvement without any active treatment.”
Medical attacks on cycling are as old as cycling. Pressure on the genitalia – especially the female genitalia – was seen as suspect in the late 19th century. Not because of damage but because of potential overstimulation. Leading doctors called for bans on women cycling. Such calls went unheeded and the bicycle was a key tool of women’s emancipation giving them new freedom and mobility.
Yet there’s no getting away from the fact that many people suffer discomfort from ‘normal’ bicycle saddles, even ones with cut-outs, gel-pockets, or buttock-ridges. Such discomfort, whether real or perceived, is a major disincentive to cycling.
Cycle makers have known this for many years. Pederson bicycles, patented in 1894, had suspended, leather hammock-like ‘saddles’. Recumbents with their laid-back, deck-chair like seats have long been advocated for those cyclists who really cannot abide mainstream saddles on upright bicycles.
And since the year dot, inventors have been coming up with nose-less saddle designs. Many of these inventors assume they are the first to arrive at the stunning conclusion that taking a saddle’s nose away will alleviate discomfort.
To date, however, none of the noseless-saddle inventors have been able to convince the global cycle industry that their designs are practical for the majority of cyclists. Nose-free saddles may be more comfortable, but a ‘standard’ saddle has a nose for a reason: it aids steering, a cyclist’s inner thighs having more influence over direction and ‘feel’ than most people think.
Standard saddles are not instruments of torture for all cyclists and there are many more factors in comfort on a bike than is perhaps appreciated. One anatomic saddle may be comfy for one cyclist, Hell on wheels for another…
Developing numb nuts? Stand up out of the saddle for a while; readjust your wedding tackle; wiggle.
Too much pressure on your perineum? Is your seat-post too high? Could the fore and aft position be altered to suit?
If you’ve had your riding position dialled in by an expert and you’re still uncomfortable on a bike, get to a bike shop with a ‘saddle library’. You need to check out which saddle shapes fit with your particular ‘tween-the-legs shape.
To those minority of doctors who say cycling is bad for sexual health I’d say they ought to bone up on erectile dysfunction and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome – which leads to heart disease and diabetes and other health problems – can lead to erectile dysfunction. The syndrome is caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Not cycling is a far bigger risk to health – including sexual health – than cycling.”
Pro cyclists don’t tend to suffer from ED, yet they spend many hours per day in the saddle. They still manage to father children. Their bike fit is good. Ride for long distances on a poorly fitting bike and undercarriage problems will result. Fitting a noseless saddles isn’t the best course of action, getting a ‘bike fit’ is the first action to take.
Those most of risk of cycling-induced ED are once-in-a-blue-moon cyclists, perhaps overweight and doing a long, sponsored bike ride with inadequate preparation and equipment. These guys pedal for many hours in one position on a badly fitted bike and don’t get up out of the saddle. At the end of the ride, they’re in discomfort. Obviously.
With a comfy saddle, the right position and the knowledge you ought to get out of the saddle now and then, there’s much less risk of over-compressing an area you’d rather not compress. Always bear in mind that the health gains of cycling far outweigh the slim chance of genital dysfunction. Healthier, fitter individuals with stronger legs and pumpier hearts, have better sex lives.
The list below of the Very Best, and Worst, Saddles Ever is, by definition, subjective. My favourite saddle isn’t one that will be comfortable straight off, it needs bedding in (yes, it’s a Brooks). You might not want to know this but I’m also unusual in that my testicular blood-flow is off-the-scale. I’ve had my manhood tested by a saddle-testing urologist-type and he told me: “You have the penis of a non-cyclist.” This was a compliment.
Right, to the saddles:
Brooks, and other leather saddles, are rock hard to begin with, but over time and lots of riding, they conform to your undercarriage shape. The company was founded in 1866 and produces 75 000 hand-crafted leather saddles a year. It may be British through and through, but it was bought by saddle giant Selle Royal of Italy in 2002.
For those without the patience to bed in a Brooks saddle, US cyclist Tom Milton has created a line of leather saddles with cut-outs. The saddles look a lot like Team Professional saddles from Brooks, although Tom Milton has patents pending on his and his wife’s range of leather saddles, each with different profiled, pressure-relieving ‘slots’. His wife is Dr. Bobbi S. Underhill, a paediatrician and osteopath. Milton says his saddles are “the only physician designed anatomic saddle that provides essential pelvic floor relief, conforms to your body shape, and moves with you while you ride, for women, men and children.”
US bicycle and accessories company Terry Bicycles specialises in products for women. It popularised the ‘saddle with hole in’, first for women and then releasing a men’s version.
“The ultimate bike seat for women, ridden and universally loved around the world. For 14 years, Terry has been designing and testing saddles with female athletes, distance riders and recreational cyclists. Introduced in 1999, the Italian-made Butterfly represents the best in all that research and development. Wider in the rear than typical race saddles for good support of a woman’s sit bones; completely cut away through the nose and mid-section, making it flexible and comfortable against soft tissues; low profile, flat top with multi-density injection molded foam that’s a bit stiffer in the rear for more power while pedaling.”
In 1997, following Dr Goldstein’s impotency scaremongering, spine-doc and cyclist Roger Minkow MD helped Specialized to create the Body Geometry range of comfort saddles. Minkow, and others, surmised that cycling was uncomfortable for some people because undercarriage blood flow was being impeded by unforgiving saddles. There was no test for such a hypothesis.
However, went the theory, scoop out some of the saddle and there would be less arterial compression. Saddles with holes was the result. This was not a new technique, saddles-with-cut-outs have existed from the end of the 19th century. But Minkow applied anatomic knowledge and used his ergonomic experience to fashion lumps and bumps on the holey saddles, and the Minkow Wedge was born.
Still, there was no test for whether these supposed ergonomic saddles were anything of the sort. Then came Dr. Sommer, a urologist at Koln University in Germany. He found a method of measuring undercarriage blood flow by attaching a plastic ring to a volunteer’s penis. The ring was wired up to an oxygen meter.
For the first time, the effects of cycling on poorly designed saddles was measurable in a lab. Using Sommer’s work, Minkow was able to pinpoint the undercarriage areas which would benefit the most from excision of material.
“In 1997, the design of Body Geometry saddles was said to be a marketing ploy to sell saddles. We knew this wasn’t the case but couldn’t prove it,” said Minkow.
“We used to think it took an hour for a cyclist to lose blood flow, we now know it takes about 60 seconds.”
At a trade show launch, Minkow held up one of the new Body Geometry saddles to demonstrate how it’s critical to get the right shape of saddle cut-out and how the sides must be bevelled and not vertical.
In 2005, Specialized extended the Body Geometry range of saddles by making them available in three widths to accomodate as wide a cross section of the population as possible. All rumps are different, not just in a ‘does my bum look big on this’ sort of way but the width of people’s ischial tuberosities – sit bones – can vary widely. Bike shops stocking Specialized saddles are equipped with butt-measuring equipment to fine tune every saddle-fit. These measuring devices are gel pads that the customer is asked to sit on and show, roughly, where their sit bones are and which of the three saddle widths will suit them best.
”Looking for a Smooth Bike Ride?” asked the headline from a Spiderflex press release in 2004.
“Pleasure riders and commuters will be pleased to know that Spiderflex Bike Components has put the fun back into bike riding. With a new saddle design that is both ergonomic and comfortable, this bicycle seat smooths out those rough trails and pot holes that your body wants to forget…The saddle’s unique patented ergonomic design features durable, all-weather polyurethane seat pads, a high-grade polished stainless steel frame and a heavy-duty suspension system for long, comfortable rides.”
This saddle is said to “lead the industry.” At $89.99, the Spiderflex saddle is at the top end of the internet-only saddle price range.
The E3 Form saddle is the work of Joshua Cohen, US author of ‘Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat’.
From the side it looks little different to most roadie saddles but from above the differences are much more apparent. There’s no central hole although there’s very definitely a nose.
US distributor Performance Inc. said the saddle “has been clinically shown to increase blood and oxygen supply to the genitals by an average of four times over a traditional tear-drop shaped bicycle seat design while riding in an aero, drop bar position.”
The base of the E3 Form saddle has been designed with ‘the appropriate varied wall thicknesses to create optimum compliancy. A saddle’s base design and shell compliancy have a greater impact on comfort and shock absorption than padding does.”
According to Performance, “Excessive amounts of padding or gel can create pressure on the sensitive nerves and arteries in the perineal area. This is because excessively soft and thick material moves to the areas of least resistance when it is compressed, creating uncomfortable compression and friction where it is wanted least.”
The E3 Form, though, has “just enough padding to ensure a high level of comfort; without exhibiting any negative characteristics commonly found on highly-padded saddles.”
It’s now available for just $29.99, down from $79.99.
Cohen’s fantastic book on the subject of saddle comfort is about to re-released:
“I am about to release the second edition of my book, Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat. I re-wrote much of it and added a lot of current research about women’s saddles as well as noseless saddles. I also added many more pictures to explain the concepts better and have all of the most recent research articles included.”
Ergo LLC of Seattle commissioned Young PR to distribute a press release in 2004 which recounts how an American couple used The Seat noseless saddles on the 7200-mile Tour d’Afrique ‘race’. The Seat – costing $19.98 to $39.98 – is a design that has been “recognized internationally”. The release was littered with references to “sexual dysfunction” caused by “saddles with horns.” Designed by Tom White, former head of industrial design for Boeing, responsible for “human-interface design management”, he is also the designer of the first Rubbermaid Mobile Tote Trash Can and the Bell Helicopter tilt rotor fuselage.
The appropiately-named Brian Cox is co-inventor of the Comfort Saddle (“a revolutionary breakthrough in comfort,”) as featured on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World in November 2002.
“At the heart of the Comfort Saddle is the patented rQ8 suspension system which moves specifically to match the natural sway of the pelvis. Torsion bar elements absorb shock loads and make the saddle self-centring. The suspension does not require you to balance on the horn of a bicycle seat so the Comfort Saddle has no horn. It can take you over any terrain without risking damage to those parts of your body normally defended by your pelvis, that conventional horned saddles are so perfectly designed to defeat.”
It’s available only from the company’s website – like so many other ‘revolutionary’ bicycle saddles – and costs £39.95 plus postage.
Murray Tour de Force
Graeme Murray of South Africa has been hand-building his “anatomically-correct bicycle saddles” since 1998. He takes the rider’s weight, sex and age into consideration and pads out a custom saddle, unique to each customer. He has made 3000+ of his Orthoped saddles to date, most for leisure-use, others suitable for longer-duration, competition use. In 2001, he developed a carbon-fibre road bike with fully adjustable seat post and head tube as well as adjustable top tube, seat tube and down tube.
Ideal Saddle Modification – ISM
Tampa Bay Recreation is a company founded by Steve Toll of Florida. He patented his nose-less saddle in 1999.
On his website he says that patent filing was important because the bicycle industry “hasn’t seen a major saddle change in years.”
The Tampa Bay Recreation website claims its Ideal Saddle Modification product will “revolutionize the bicycle industry.”
ISM’s nose-less saddles appear to be like other nose-less saddles on the market but the company’s Adamo racing saddle had the design input of John Cobb, one-time consultant to Lance Armstrong. Cobb is a former bike shop owner and wind tunnel testing expert.
The saddle has extended ‘wings’ acting as a nose but the end-point has been clipped off. These ‘wings’ make the nose wider than on most racing saddles. A reviewer for Slowtwitch.com, the triathlon website, pulled in the wings with a zip-tie.
Cobb and Toll sent the Adamo to be tested by Dr. Frank Sommer, who used to be the men’s health professor at the University of Hamburg. Sommer is the urologist who works with Specialized on the company’s Body Geometry saddles.
Toll told me: “We had the saddle tested in the 90, 60 and 30 degree positions. The average numbers were 73.085% for the 90 degree position, 63.642% for the 60 degree position and 61.25% for the 30 degree position. Our prototype tested better and I was disappointed with the results but Dr Sommer advised that anything over 50% was considered good.
“Our saddle is different from all the others and it has been my experience that proper set up and positioning is critical to the level of comfort obtained. I can’t help but wonder if we might have had better results if I had been present for the testing to insure that the test rider was seated on the saddle in the correct manner. I have found that a number of riders are sitting to far back on the saddle and are not achieving the high levels of comfort that they should be. I am receiving e-mails from all over the world about the lack of pressure on the Perineum and the high levels of comfort riders are experiencing while riding the Adamo Racing saddle.”
Air filled saddles
There are a number of air-filled saddles on the market. They are usually inflated with bicycle pumps and can be deflated to just the right level of comfort.
Rich Hobson created his ‘horn-free’ EasySeat saddle in 1982 and says he’s sold 400 000 of them, “and counting.” They retail for $29.95. Adjustable width pads “move independently while pedaling for superior enjoyment.” Easyseat II is produced and part designed by Selle Italia and features a new adjusting system (for cheek-to-cheek precision), vacuum-sealed seat pads and elastomer shock absorbers.
“We sell the best alternative bicycle saddle available,” says Jim Bombardier, president of Bycycle Inc., the Portland, Oregon, maker of the BiSaddle, a noseless saddle with micro-adjustable ‘bun supports’.
“We have done our homework on this design and while it may not be for everyone, it eliminates pressure on soft tissue areas (which for men is the prostate and the pubic symphasis that all the plumbing goes under on the way to your genitals and for women is the perineum where all their genitalia is).
”We suggest riders get a bike fit by professionals and that they raise their handlebars and extend their cabling to compensate for the lack of a nose on the saddle. The problems we address are not going to go away and we think that we provide an intelligent alternative.
”The adjustability of our saddle lets riders find what surface positions works for them.”
If you prefer your comfort saddle to come with a bicycle designed specifically for it, Peter Clutton of Australia has just the job.
His Stylyx saddle is wide and comfy:
“Our claim to have solved the century-old problem of bike-seat soreness may appear somewhat trite to the bike industry…but to the broad mass of consumers it will have a considerable impact when it lives up to the promise.
“When you solve a problem that has been around for over a century you don’t find the answers easily, or do it overnight!
“In fact, we made the same mistake as most other bikeseat designers by thinking we would solve the age-old problem of bikeseat-soreness just by designing a better bikeseat. We were wrong. After spending almost two years making and testing more than fifty prototype bikeseats of widely varying shapes and sizes, we defined a shape that provided correct anatomical support and removed all unhealthy pressure and chafing.
“Then, we set about marketing the seat, only to learn that the seat was just one part of solving the problem. Although initial test marketing of the seat drew very good reaction from some consumers, the overall feedback showed us that there wasn’t even ONE bicycle on the market that automatically placed the rider in the right position to gain full benefit.”
The first model of bike has now grown into a complete range of cycling and fitness products to be released progressively in global markets through Stylyx subsidiaries and marketing partnerships. In the USA, Clutton’s search for the right USA marketing partner concluded when he went looking for an answer to a packaging problem and met up with former “Survivor” cast member, Joel Klug.
With a history of working in the health and fitness industry and packaging solutions, Joel Klug was exposed to a large variety of new products, as most of his clients were people seeking packaging solutions for their latest creations, but none gained his interest more than the Stylyx bicycle.”I have seen literally hundreds of products over the past few years, both in the packaging industry and the health club market,” he said.
“All of them claim to be original or ground breaking and many of the product-owners invited me to get involved with their products, but I have never seen a product before that really provides everything it promises. The Stylyx bicycle is truly revolutionary and flies in the face of a bike industry that has not listened to what the everyday bike rider is looking for comfort, healthy support and easier pedaling. Its hard to understand why solving the seat-soreness problem and making bicycles really comfortable was never approached like this before.”
The super-stylish Flow from Saddleco of California is a mesh road saddle. It is covered with the same elastomer filament fabric used on Aeron office chairs. Flow’s “suspended seating surface…is 100 percent open to the air, which allows moisture to be wicked away from the body.”
It once garnered award after award in the US.
“While we can’t afford to buy a bunch of “medical” opinions, we encourage you to sit on Flow and see for yourself. Ride it around the block, or around France. Feel how light it is. Notice how there aren’t any hotspots as it distributes your weight around the entire saddle perimeter.”
Koobi is a US saddle design company. It gets its skinny saddles made by Italian saddle behemoth Selle Italia. Skinny, yes, but comfy too.
The Koobi PRS saddle offers tunable suspension: elastomer bungs to you and me. PRS stands for Personal Ride System. You get three sets of bouncy bungs, with the bounciest giving you about 10mm of travel. The red bung is 20 percent harder than yellow and blue is 20 percent harder than yellow. Whilst designed with hardtail MTBers in mind, the Koobi PRS is also said to be a fine road saddle.
John Kenny of Stampede Product Marketing Ltd. sells his Rido saddles from his website. At a little over a tenner, plus postage, they are cheap yet are intelligently designed and would cost many times this amount if produced by one of the big bike brands. Using ‘Pressure Shift Geometry’, ‘Monocoque Sculpture’ and ‘SoftGrip’, the Rido saddle, flying in the face of saddle patents since the year dot, is another that claims “nothing presently available offers a genuinely more comfortable…alternative…until now that is.”
Pressure Shift Geometry is said by Kenny to be “a very specific combination of radial and straight contoured planes [which] redistributes the downward pressure of the rider’s weight away from the perineum and onto the gluteus maximus (buttocks), providing a new and unrivalled level of improved cycling comfort with a completely free pedalling action.”
Monocoque Sculpture is a “technological manufacturing revolution, specially developed to fulfil the saddle’s requisite combination of localised flexibility and rigidity and doing away with the need for any superfluous upholstery.”
Selle SMP Strike
Italian saddle company SMP has produced a road- and MTB-racing saddle that has a dipped nose (think Concorde) and a chasm down much of its length. The dipped nose is more like a beak, really. SMP has been making saddles since 1947 and this is the company’s first high-end race saddle. The beak is to “prevent the pelvic organs and genitals getting squashed and rubbed.”
The saddle was the subject of a paper published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Entitled ‘Bicycle saddle with a new geometical concept to maintain genito-perinial vascular perfusion’, the paper was authored by Breda, Piazza, Bernardi and Lunardon, Department of Urology San Bassiano Hospital, Bassano del Grappa Department of Urology SS. Giovanni e Paolo Hospital, Venice; Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care, San Bassiano Hospital, Bassano del Grappa.
“In bikers that cover long distances, we observed an increase of erectile dysfunctions of the penis,” write the authors.
“There are two theories from an etiopathogenic point of view. Certain authors attribute a fundamental role to the compression of the pudendal nerve. According to others, an important role is carried out by the hypoperfusion of penile blood, which may cause a fibrosis of the corpus cavernosum. All these theories converge, nevertheless, in identifying the perineal region as a critical point in which a compression of these structures takes place. Research was therefore oriented towards the realization of a bicycle saddle model that would be able to prevent an excessive perineal compression.
“These authors have proved that to protect penis blood perfusion the important factor is not so much the extent of the saddle padding as its width. A wide saddle furnishes enough support to the pelvic bones and limits the compression of the perineal tissues. The absence of the saddle beak prevents clipping the perineal blood vessels around the pubic arch.
“A saddle with these characteristics, however, is not suitable to professional bikers. The aim of our work has been to identify a product that had the characteristics to preserve penis blood perfusion and at the same time had a geometrical design compatible with the biker’s requirements. The SMP saddle seems to possess many of these requirements, because it has a seat that is uniformly distributed over the gluteal muscles, the ischial tuberosity and the ischium and it keeps the perineal plane free. Furthermore, the saddle beak made, which has an eagle beak shape, leaves the outside genitalia free from compression.”
Selle SMP also make cycle shorts to, er, fit the Strike. They have the added benefit of zippers so you can pee.
Fizik Wing Flex
Fizik launched the Wing Flex in autumn 2003. The Arione road saddle was first seen underneath the bum of Saeco Cannondale’s then star rider Gilberto Simoni during the 03 Giro d’Italia. Simoni had been involved in the saddle’s design and development, including participating in computerised pressure distribution testing at Milan’s Bioengineering Center.
The Arione is “longest in its category” which gives “increased contact surface area: 12% more than standard saddles for better pressure distribution.”
This ‘spine and ribs’ saddle looks like a sea creature. It will be available in March 2009 having been in gestation for more than eight years. Manta’s Jon Catling told me about his design. His saddle “solves the support area problem by providing a larger surface. The surface is made up of a group of articulated levers that independently follow the movement of the rider’s limbs. This allows a much greater supported area whilst not restricting the movement of the rider’s legs and provides improved ventilation.
“The Manta Saddle is an alternative to a fundamentally flawed component in an otherwise sublime and extremely efficient machine.
“Whilst increased area has been used in other saddle designs, it has not been achieved without compromising stability or comfort. In most cases, it has in fact caused more mechanical problems for the rider. The Manta saddle follows the natural movement of the rider’s legs using the principal of levers much the same as in the human body. This allows the support area to extend beyond the small area around the base of the ischial bones, almost as far down the legs as a normal office chair.”
The Manta saddle gives a pressure pattern with the mass distributed over a greater area, fewer high spots and significantly lower peak pressures, said Catling.
Graham Barker, an invention assessor co-author of the UK’s first self-help guide for inventors, A Better Mousetrap, is a director of the company hoping to commercialise the Manta saddle.
Dr Laurence Berman, a consultant radiologist at Cambridge University, (a contributor to Rifkin and Cochlin’s “Imaging of the Prostate”) endorses the Manta saddle. TV boffin Adam Hart-Davis thought it was “an elegant design.”
It’s a saddle without a nose.
“One absolutely should not put pressure in the area that the saddle nose inhabits,” said Catling.
“Common sense dictates that to put all body weight on such a small and soft, arterially significant few sq cm is not a good thing. When one gets ‘hardened’ to a saddle is when the real damage is happening. However, we have not merely removed the nose (as so many ‘radical saddles’ do), we have safely replaced this ‘zone’, with substantially more area, in the only feasible manner. It is noseless but it is more what it has that sets it apart; I guess noseless could be its category, articulated too.
“It has been tested with a harmless, soft nose just to give it some of the old ‘feel’ of conventional saddles; I prefer it without.”
The saddle is being made in Fife, and assembled in Edinburgh
The Hamoc banana-shaped saddle came about after the male designer – since deceased – made a series of plaster casts of his girlfriend’s pelvic undercarriage. The Hamoc saddle was widely reported to be supremely comfortable for some women riders used to having their genitalia pummelled by traditional saddles.
But only some. For others the Hamoc saddle was far from comfortable.
“Most women have reservations when testing the saddle, due to the shape. However after trying a correctly installed and setup saddle have purchased due to superior support and ultimate comfort,” reported the website for Hamoc, now no longer operational.
Selle Italia Signo
Patented and two years in development, the Signo saddle is “the first example of a new industrial invention based on the ‘articulated oscillating saddle base’”.
The saddle ‘wobbles’ around a longitudinal axis during use. This is said to reduce pressure points, limits inner thigh rubbing, improves leg force and “helps cyclists keep to the rear of the saddle, unlike harder and stiffer saddles which generally cause them to slide forward,” says a statement from Selle Italia. The shell of Selle Italia’s new saddle is free to oscillate around a central pin positioned at the rear of the shell and integral to the rail. The two wings of the rail deform during oscillation and then push the shell back to its central home position.
Academic orgs to have worked on the saddle include the Centre Medico Sporif de la Ville de Lyon of France and the Ergovision lab at the Scrivia valley techno park, Alessandria, Italy.
Selle Italia said these orgs agree that the Signo “is more stable thanks to the excellent quality and workmanship of the cove; promotes a totally natural and non-critical position in the area supporting the ischiatic bones, the impact of which on the saddle is almost totally neutral; accompanies the pushing leg better during pedalling and improves the transmission of force; improves pedal strokes while the leg is rising.”
Signo also “attenuates body/saddle separation and/or jolting; improves shifting of the lower dead centre position of the pedal, thus accelerating that of the upper dead centre position; transmits driving force more rapidly and directly; improves the continuity of prolonged effort, and improves performance and energy exploitation.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
For whatever reasons, commercial failure is the likely lot for most “revolutionary” saddle designs, especially the noseless ones. Is this because they only work for a fraction of the population or because the cycle industry is too timid to spec them as ‘original equipment’?
What some saddle inventors often fail to appreciate is that people are built differently down below: a thin saddle that may be excruciating to one person is comfortable to another. And a wide, noseless saddle may be just the answer for one person but is a nightmare for another.
SADDLES IN HISTORY AND PICTURES
Here’s a wonderful set of pix of recent and historical saddles. And Jim Langley’s site is packed with historical info and fitting advice.
Who’s most at risk from arterial compression?
Pro cyclists spend many hours per day in the saddle but they happily have sex and father children. Perhaps there’s some under-reporting of undercarriage problems – ED in the pro peleton would be bad news for saddle sponsors, for sure – but Specialized’s Dr Minkow believes pros are less at risk because their thighs and buttocks are bigger and stronger than yours and mine. “Bigger muscles add layers of protection,” said Minkow.
Pros also crank out high watts on most rides, almost hovvering above their saddles rather than digging deep into them. And, of course, pro cyclists have the benefit of millimetre-accurate bike fits and get professional help to fine-tune saddle position until it’s perfectly dialled in.
They also know it’s sensible to get out of the saddle frequently, to add in spurts of speed, yes, but also to prevent numbness.
Minkow believes it’s now-and-again cyclists who are at most risk of long-term damage from non-ergo saddles.
‘Charity cyclists’ ride for hours in one position, they are so unused to cycling they assume the discomfort is normal. Nobody has told them to honk. They wouldn’t know an ergo saddle if it bit them on the arse.