Saddle Quest—Part II

Saddle Quest—The Search for the Holy Grail, part 2
(part 1 is here)

 

Other Comfort Factors

 

 

Long ago, I switched from a 23c to a 25c tire and inflate them only to 100 PSI for the softest ride possible (I’m 6′ 4″ and weigh around 185 pounds — a wider tire is recommended for “heavy” cyclists like me).

Early in the 2010 season, I upgraded from a half aluminum, half carbon bike to a full carbon bike. There was a little difference in comfort.

I have tried several brands of shorts and bibs, including Canari, Bellwether, Craft & Airus. Frankly, there wasn’t much comfort difference. The important thing is to find a pair of shorts or bibs that are tight fitting and, if you are using shorts, remembering to pull them up during a ride, so you don’t get folds in the fabric or chamois.

Sit bone width. Mine are 117mm apart (with an arched back, sitting upright). This is another part of the saddle comfort equation. According to Specialized, your individual width is important, as they have made that part of their marketing campaign. By the way, most Specialized saddles appear to utilize a “flat” shape. Read more about this later on this page.

Salves or chamois creams are another factor in comfort. Andy Pruitt, in his book “Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists” suggests using petroleum-based lubes as they have more staying power (p. 90). That would point towards Vaseline, Bag Balm or Lantiseptic (Lantiseptic “Skin Protectant” is thicker and contains 50% lanolin, whereas their “Therapeutic Cream” is slightly runnier and contains 37% lanolin). Lately, in 2011, I have been  using Bag Balm, applying it both on my chamois and skin for use during rides. If I have redness or any skin irritation after a ride I apply some Lantiseptic cream (after showering) — it is designed to treat diaper rash or incontinence. Also check out this article from the Coach Levi site (Levi Bloom, not Leipheimer).

LLI or Leg length inequality. When I had severe saddle sores, it was always on the same side. I finally went to a physical therapist and determined that one leg was 10-15mm shorter than the other (due to an old traumatic non-cycling injury and consequent surgery to my ankle). Shimming up my shoe a little (about 1/2 to 1/3 of the inequality), between the cleat and shoe bottom, has helped reduce the rocking motion and chafing, which may have been a contributing factor to my saddle sores.

Shorts or Bibs. They are designed to worn sans-underwear. The seams of underwear can chafe. The extra layer can create additional, unwanted heat build up. Try to remember to pull them up tight into your crotch…or else use bibs instead. Shorts need to hug your body tight — be sure your fit is correct and not too baggy. Each model of the Craft line ALL have a slightly stretchy chamois (some brands only have selected models that stretch). That feature made sense to me and has worked for me for the past two seasons (Craft is also used by the Schleck brothers). One new brand-x model of shorts I tested proved to very painful, and upon further review, the chamois was simply a bad design.


 

 

Fizik Antares

 

Other Choices If I could find a ProLink Genuine Gel with the Fi’zi:k saddle feature called Twin Flex, I might be set. (But then isn’t that why unpadded leather saddles work? The leather flexes and eventually gives, whereas synthetic materials do not give. In fact, the foams or gels break down over time, but not the rigid frames causing the saddle to appear more stiff). Twin Flex is a flexible side panel that gives, or “breaks in” over time, providing a custom fit similar to an unpadded leather saddle (more Twin Flex info here, or better yet, visit this article from Bicycling Magazine). Fi’zi:k offers three saddles series — the original flat shaped narrow 132mm-wide Arione, the curved 142mm-wide Aliante and the newest series, the flat 142mm Antares. Ironically, only their top end Antares model has Twin Flex, whereas the narrower Arione series all have it. Logically the wider the saddle (Antares), the more the need for this feature. I would hope that over time they will offer Wing Flex on more of their Antares models. Also, I’m a bit afraid of their top end model, the Antares 00 (a mere 135 grams) as it is SO lightweight, that the padding might be too minimal for my pointed sit bones and, for ultra distance cycling, there might be a durability problem with the carbon rails.

Since I spend about half my miles using aerobars (most of my training is solo), perhaps a time trial saddle might be better. The problem with most TT saddles is width. I’m not sure they will offer my sit bones and surrounding tissue enough support.

Another option I’m looking at is a relatively new unpadded leather saddle series from the French company Gilles Berthoud. They offer pre-softened saddles featuring a unique design with a removable, replaceable leather. These models use Polycarbonate components on part of the frame, which may negate the stiffness of the steel frame. Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly, published a glowing review of one of their new saddles in the Spring 2009 issue of his magazine.

Update as of December 2010 Maybe I should get a Brooks and call it good. That has been the rando gold standard for years. I was told by a seasoned randonneuring friend that you can pre-soften your Brooks by warming it in the oven with mink oil slathered all over it. He says that contrary to popular belief, this will not ruin the saddle. He ought to know, as he has a Swift on each of his four or five Chro-moly road bikes. And he has been riding a lot longer than I. Another method of softening a tensioned leather saddle is found at this blog page by the legendary Lon Haldeman.
But then, on the other hand, one can read online reviews, that even after extensive mileage, some will say something like “the B-17 simply didn’t do the Brooks magic as expected.”

Hmmm….the story continues. It is now the winter of 2010. All the long rides of the season are over (in Utah anyway) — except for the obligatory monthly 200K to keep my RUSA R-12 award alive. By the end of 2010 I will have rode about 8,200 miles. I tried out seven saddles this year. It was tough adjusting to some of them — I have no intention of running that many saddles in 2011.

Meanwhile, the snow is falling in Utah and the rando ski season will be here shortly, with cycling taking a back seat (pun intended) to skiing. No indoor trainer for me this year — just too boring. Cross country ski work-outs will be my primary cardio activity of choice.

Fizik Arione Tri2

Saddle #11 (Fi’zi:k Arione Tri2 Saddle, rating of 8 out of 10) I have heard some much good about Fizik saddles that I had to try one out. I decided on their time-trial or triathlon saddle, having never used a TT saddle. This model was heavenly on shorter training rides, but on a 200K in February 2011, a ride that had a mixture of climbing and flats, it had some issues. At the end of the day I got some long red lines from the edges of the saddle on my legs and buttocks. The plentiful padding on this model was a dream while in the aero position, but for climbing or when sitting upright, when drafting, it was just too narrow, despite having a “flat” rear profile (Fizik Arione specs [claimed] for the record: 199 g, with a max. width of 132mm).

Saddle Width Considerations

As you can see, this saddle is barely wider than my 11cm sit bone width.

Use of the above TT saddle proved one thing for me…Specialized Bicycles are onto something in regards to saddle width. They market different saddle widths according to your sit bone width and riding style. See their “at home” guide on how to measure your sit bones. I have measured mine several times, using a piece of cardboard (which I find works better than the foam pad recommended by Specialized in the prior link) and have found them to be 117mm apart. This is perhaps a little on the narrow side for most male cyclists. According to Specialized I should be using a saddle 143mm wide, unless I ride in an upright comfort position, then I should be on a 155mm wide saddle. This website/PDF file, called Cheek to Cheek, suggests a slightly narrower approach, by recommending you add 10 to 20mm to your sit bones to get your recommended saddle width. Adding 20mm to my width of 117m = 137mm. Looking at the above photo of the 132mm-wide saddle, you can see that leaves little room for any rear-end soft tissue to rest.
Also see my comments on saddle #15 near the bottom of this page regarding widths of tensioned, leather saddles.

 

Prologo Kappa Saddle — A new brand, and a BIG revelation in saddle shapes.

Saddle #12 (Prologo Kappa, rating 8 out of 10) In January of 2011, I purchased a used a cyclocross bike for training on both pavement and dirt roads. A brand of saddle came with this Cannondale bike that I had never heard of…Prologo. I set it aside, thinking it was a cheapy plastic vinyl model which wouldn’t breath. After doing some research, I realized that model was indeed made from Microfiber and although it was comparatively cheap ($70) it was VERY comfortable. The Kappa is classified as a “recreational” saddle by Prologo. Probably the most interesting feature to me was the way this brand presented their saddle line on their website. They have three, instead of two shapes. They offer round and flat shaped models like most manufacturers and, this is what interested me, a “semi-round” series of saddles. And their semi-round models come in different widths too. The Kappa was 141mm wide semi-round model, which according to Specialized website, is about the ideal width for me. I used the Kappa for a few half-day training rides including some off road stuff, and then in March I did a 200K with it. For the first time in over a year, I did NOT fill the pressure from the edges of my saddle on my right upper leg. My sit bones were a little tender, but otherwise the saddle worked. Prior to this, I used one “round-shaped” saddle, the S.I. Turbomatic. I never could get that model to work as it just didn’t seem to have enough padding. Although I didn’t have sit bone or chafing issues, after 70 or 80 miles, I had VERY sore soft tissue problems. This led me to believe that I needed a flat saddle and not a curved saddle, so for the next several months I focused on finding a flat saddle that might work for me…until I discovered the Prologo brand.

Prologo Nago EVO — close, but no cigar.

Saddle #13 (Prologo Nago EVO 141mm-wide model, rating of 7.5 out of 10) After having pretty good luck with the Prologo Kappa “semi-round” model, I immediately opened an account with the U.S. Prologo distributor and brought in several models to sell on my site, including a few of their demo models. The Nago EVO is classified as a semi-round model and I used it for 200+ miles, but the edges of my legs chafed again. Upon further examination, this model visually, is really more of a flat shape than a round or semi-round shape.

Prologo Scratch Pro — Hog heaven….finally, a plug and play lightweight saddle!

Saddle #14 (Prologo Scratch Pro 143mm-wide model, rating of 8.5 out of 10) After resisting round-shaped saddles, I gave in and tried this model. I had a “Buy and Try” model with a steel rail and mounted it up. At first I was worried, thinking it would be repeat of the Selle-Italia Turbomatic — which was a major soft tissue aching problem. My first impression is that my weight was being evenly distributed through ALL my different parts, not just my sit bones. While sitting upright, I found there was a small amount pressure in the center or soft tissue area — but no more than when I’m in my aerobars out on the nose of the saddle. My sit bones seemed well supported too. My legs had plenty of clearance, due to the ESD (Easy Stroke Design) feature. I tried this model on a 200K and it worked flawlessly. A few weeks later, in May of 2011, I used it on a 400K (250 miles) and although I still had some minor redness from chafing, found it to be one of the most comfortable saddle I have ever used. The Scratch Pro has a significantly more padding in the nose than the Prologo EVO, so that time in the drops are while using aerobars was comfortable. In fact, one of their selling features is a graduated density foam, with softer foam on the front nose, increasing the firmness towards the back of the saddle where one’s sit bones apply pressure. I have a 600K and a 1200K coming up, and that will be real test.
I also tried a Fizik Aliante Gamma on a trainer. It is a round saddle with a very similar shape to the Scratch Pro. It is about the same width, at 142mm wide and 265mm long. The overall shape looks and felt similar to the Scratch Pro, but frankly, it seemed just too short after using the Scratch Pro, which is 278mm long. The Scratch Pro seemed to offer more room to move around, especially when using aero bars which puts me out on the nose of the saddle. Theoretically, a round saddle is supposed to keep you in one position, but I found the shape and length of the Scratch Pro enabled me to move around a little to stay comfortable and to occasionally redistribute my weight. If you like the Fizik Aliante, you may LOVE the 143-mm Prologo Scratch Pro. Many of the Prologo saddles, including the low-end Kappa, feature hidden cut outs in the structure of the saddle on the underneath side, which yields a little relief to the soft tissue are WITHOUT the annoying holes found on some models. This is very similar to the Fizik “Twin Flex” feature.
It appears Prologo has hit the mark. They offer a fairly wide, yet round-topped saddle (Scratch Pro is wider than the classic, round-shaped and very popular Selle Italia Flite model which is only 131mm wide). Yet the Scratch Pro 143 model is longer than the Fizik Aliante. After trying the S.I. “curved” Turbomatic last year, I abandoned the idea of using a curved saddle, as this model really don’t offer much of a flat platform for my sit bones. So it took quit a while, after trying many other saddles, before I was willing to revisit the curved saddle idea.
I have used this saddle now for several 200Ks, a 300K, 400K and a 600K. My only complaint is that I get some mild chafing — on the insides of my legs. It is something I don’t notice until after the ride and then the visual redness proves that something is not perfect. Perhaps I just need a different chamois creme or need to reapply more often. No sit bone issues with this model however.

May 2011 note: Noticeably absent is a test of the new, carefully crafted Gilles Berthoud unpadded, tensioned leather saddles. During the winter of 2011, I brought in a batch of them to sell on my website, but at the time, they were backordered on the titanium models, so I held off testing one until they come into stock in the U.S. Meanwhile, I discovered Prologo. If the Prologo Scratch Pro doesn’t work out, then a Gilles Berthoud leather saddle with titanium rail, which I now have stock on, will be put to the test.

Gilles Berthoud wide “Touring” Saddle

Saddle #15 (Gilles Berthoud Aravis, rating of 9 out of 10) During June of 2011, I rode my toughest 600K to date — a Grand Canyon brevet in northern Arizona.  I suffered some of the worst saddle sores I have had in along time, but I did finish (barely). But there was a reason, which was improper chamois lube…read the last paragraph of this blog report for more detail. Consequently, with time running out before my longest event of the season, a 1200K in Colorado, I decided to give in and try a Gilles Berthoud saddle. I deliberated choose a Gilles Berthoud saddle instead of a Brooks, because my “tech winnie” attitude said that the polycarbonate frame and replaceable leather cover would be a better choice. This was something that Brooks does not offer — my gut instinct told me that GB had come up with a better mousetrap. I choose the 156mm wider “touring” version, because as I flipped over the saddle, I noticed that with the Galibier racing model, my sit bones (110mm apart) would be sitting on the rear part of the frame and not in the soft leather portion of this saddle.
With some hesitation I took this $300 saddle and did what every saddle maker says not to do: coat it with oil. I used a mink oil pre-softening technique as recommended by Lon Haldeman (GB saddles are supposedly pre-softended, but frankly I can’t tell the difference between a new “factory softened” GB and a new Brooks). Within four days I was off and running with a new comfortable saddle that gave me plenty of support for my sit bones. My biggest worry turned out to be a non-issue — using this unpadded saddle in the aero position. I dare say, it was more comfortable than nearly every plastic racing saddle I had tested. This saddle has some flaring on the sides, although not near as much as the Selle An-Atomica. That worried me, as that was my biggest complaint regarding that model. I even made a custom compression strap to “pull in” the side of the saddle, just in case this became an issue on my 1200K. It never became a problem and I never used the strap for the rest of the summer.
This saddle performed without any problems for the rest of the summer, including my 1200K in Colorado. I rode in very cold and sometimes rainy conditions in Colorado and then also a double-century in the 95F+ heat of the Utah desert and the saddle worked perfect. For me it was much more comfortable than the Selle An-Atomica, which was the most comfortable tensioned leather saddle I had used so far. I’m one that doesn’t need a recessed channel or slit down the middle. While switching to the GB saddle, I also starting using Lantiseptic Skin Protectant. And just recently, I have discovered an even better product called Okole Stuff made by Enduro Stuff, which I now carry on my online store. Look for another blog post on this subject some day.
2013 Update: For some unknown reason, the edges of this saddle starting chafing the insides of my thighs (what’s new?). I trimmed off about 1/4-inch of the leather along the bottom, but it made little difference. So once again, I made an over-the-top compression strap, similar to the model I sell for Selle Anatomica. It helped a lot. I need to grab a photo of this and post it, along with putting such an item for sale on my site.

I did not give the Aravis a 10 out of 10 because of two reasons: One, it is leather and is consequently vulnerable to rain and mud (something plastic saddles are basically immune to) and then reason number two; it is heavier than a plastic saddle (by about 150 grams which is the weight of a half a can of Coke).
Meanwhile it is now 2012 and the GB Aravis is now a permanent fixture on my carbon-fiber long distance bike. The Prologo Scratch Pro has been on my either my cyclocross aluminum-frame bike or my newly acquired used Seven titanium road bike, which I use primarily for my “during the week” training rides, both off- and on-road. If I could find a used super-cheap GB Galibier, which is their narrow racing model, I would like to give it a try, just to compare. Meanwhile, I’m a happy camper as my right side sit bone/chafing problems are gone and I can focus more on other details of cycling.

Saddle #15 (Gilles Berthoud Galibier, rating of 8 out of 10) As a weight wennie, I decided to break down and pull a new Galibier out of inventory and give it a try. This is their “narrow” racing model. I gave it my usual hot water, mink oil bath first, to break it in. So far I have only done a 200km ride and a bunch of shorter training rides and I like it. This saddle is slightly narrower than the wide “touring” models, measuring to the O.D. of the leather, it is 152mm compared to 156mm for the Aravis . The biggest difference is that the Galibier tapers down faster and offers less real estate for your sit bones—it just feels narrower because of this. This is both good and bad. Bad because you have less space to rest your parts, but good since it is a leaner saddle, it should minimize any “between the legs” chafing issues. Visually, this model looks like Brooks Swallow, which is advertised as a153mm-wide saddle (December 2012 update).

Saddle # 16  (Fizik Kurve Bull, rating of 8 out of 10) During September of 2012 I tried a Fizik Kurve Bull model on a 200K ride with my Seven Axiom SL titanium frame. During the ride, I was comfortable. So comfortable that I set a new personal record…a sub 7-hour time for a solo 200km ride. Afterwards, I did notice some chafing however, so I pulled it. This “plastic” saddle does have a feature called Wing Flex which is supposed to adapt to the ones pedaling stroke. I wonder if it the Wing Flex edges need more miles to break it. This saddle has little padding for ones sit bones, especially when compared to the Prologo Scratch Pro (see above). I may try this model again later on. (2013 update: I been using this on many 200k brevets and have found very comfortable, every since I have shimmed up both of my cleats).

Saddle # 17, 18 & 19 (Rivet Cycle Works Diablo & Independence (two models), 8.5 out of 10). A friend of mine was not happy with his Rivet and loaned me his Diablo, which is their narrow model (fall of 2012). It it advertised as a 155mm wide. The leather was much, much firmer than a Selle Anatomica. I wanted to soften it up so I slapped a bunch of mink oil on it and stuck in a 150F oven for about ten minutes. I rode it on several shorter (2 to 3 hour) training rides, but never got a chance to ride it long. It is a vast improvement over the SAA, but then for me, cut outs have little appeal. This is a good saddle to keep your eye on. All the Rivet models are similar to the Selle-Anatomica but Rivet has solved two problems which SA saddles have always had. They are:
1. The Rivets side flaps are tied together which prevents chafing on the inside of the legs due to the flaring of the saddles edges when it is tightened.
2. The leather panel on the rear crescent wraps well below the top edge, this preventing irritation to your butt cheeks.
I applaud Deb, the head riveter at Rivet, for her thoughtfulness in these design improvements.
2013 Update: I decided to go ahead and bring in Rivet saddles for sale on my site eoGEAR. I try to give full validation to the products I sell, so that meant putting some serious miles on a Rivet saddle. During the late fall of 2012 I finally got my Seven Axiom Ti frame built up. So for the spring of 2013 I put a Rivet Independence saddle on this frame and used it as my primary road machine. The “Indy” is a lot like the Gilles Berthoud saddles…the rear crescent is made from polycarbonate, which lightens the saddle weight and, it should absorb more of the vibrations from the road. Even after breaking in a Independence with Mink oil (in the oven, not immersed), it seemed slightly firmer than my broken-in GB Aravis. I used this saddle on a few training rides, a 200k, 300k and finally on a 400k (250-mile) ride. After the 300k, I decided to design a nose cover and see how it felt. As you can see by the above photo, the strap covers the front end of the saddle. For me, it was MUCH more comfortable with this in place, as the edges of the slot didn’t dig into my soft tissue as much (first I took an Exacto blade and skived the edges of the saddle slot to no avail). But still, after 250 miles, I found myself standing to relief butt pain, more so than with my GB Aravis saddle. Later that summer, during my annual 1200k (750 miles in 3 days), I used my Ti frame with the GB saddle was also in pain, pointing to the Ti frame as the culprit, not necessary the saddle. What I need to do next is try the Rivet on my more comfortable carbon-fiber frame.

Specialized CG-R post made the world of difference to comfort.

Specialized CG-R post made the world of difference in comfort.

2014 Update: Upon comparing my long rides (2013 1200K vs. 2014 1200K, same frame, wheels and saddle) I only stay that the Specialized CG-R seatpost is amazing. Now I believe that nearly any of the Rivet saddles would have received a much higher rating, had I used them with this seatpost. (See this page on this blog for more). In fact, I believe that even a stiff aluminum-framed road frame could be made comfortable for long distance riding with the simple addition of this post. There are a number of suspension posts out there, but they weigh a bunch, whereas the CG-R is about the same weight as an alloy post.

Early in 2014 I received a new design from Rivet — saddle without a slot, but with the other Rivet advantages. This is something I had requested all along. Upon receiving this sample, it was very firm, like most leather saddles. I attempted to soften it using my tried-and-true hot water/mink oil bath. It didn’t make much, if any difference. I dunked this saddle three of four times and applied mink oil to no avail. The reason this model didn’t ”want” to break is, is that the newer Rivet saddles now have a polyester-silk fabric laminate underneath (see photo above). This design (regretfully) has a very similar in appearance and discomfort to saddle #5, the off-brand Origin 8 leather saddle which I tested in 2010. I believe the purpose in the fabric backing is to prolong the life of the leather and prevent it from stretching. This is vitally important in a design that has a slot running the length of it, but honestly, is it necessary for a no-slot design? I have brought this to Deb’s (owner of Rivet) attention and perhaps some day, she will release a 100% cowhide single-layer leather no-slot design.

SQLabs611Saddle01

SQLabs 611 Saddle — A new design from Germany.

Saddle # 20 (SQLab 611 Active Race, 7 out of 10). The folks that distribute my all-time favorite aerobars, Syntace, now distribute a new brand of saddles called SQLab, also designed in Germany. During the summer of 2013 they sent me a 140mm wide model to try out. Their literature is very good in helping you in selecting the right width. They offer differing widths based on sit-bone dimensions, which is similar to Specialized saddle program. This saddle also features a pivoting (left and right) frame, similar to one my favorite plastic saddles…the Fizik Kurve Bull. The biggest difference between the Bull and Active Race is the Bull is curved, whereas most of the SQLab saddles are flat — very flat. The idea is to put the pressure on your sit bones and not on your soft tissue. But for me…the flatness of this saddle “caught” the edges of my inner thighs, yielding an uncomfortable ride. The rep told me that the 150mm model is actually their most popular model. This model came with three rubberized like inserts, which are used according to your body weight (this is similar to the U.S. saddles Koobi, see my test #2). The SQLab Active also has a slight depression in the center, which I liked much better than a full cut-out hole as is the case with other brands.

Brooks Cambium. Half old school and half modern.

Brooks Cambium. Half old school and half modern.

Saddle # 21 (Brooks Cambium C17, 8 out of 10). I was really excited when I first heard about the Brooks Cambium. It is made from rubber and is laminated into a fabric-like material. The fabric looks like Canvas duck, giving it a textured finish. The width of this saddle is about 160mm (their name should be C16, not C17), which is similar to a Gilles Berthoud touring series or to a Rivet Independence. During the spring of 2014 I used this model on a bunch of short training rides and then finally a 200K. It felt really comfortable right out out the box. Is this the “one” for me? A plug-and-play saddle as comfortable as leather, but without the maintenance issues of leather? Later in the spring, I was testing a new chamois cream and also took this saddle on a 400K (bad choice…too many variables). It felt comfortable during the first half of the ride, but during the last half it started to hurt a little. I ended with some tell-tale strawberry-texture marks on my underside. I believe the fabric of my shorts was grabbing the texture of this saddle, causing some chafing on my right side. Consequently I set this saddle aside for review later.

Though the rails are not titanium, the weight of this saddle is about the same as most titanium railed suspended leather saddles — a plus in my book — that is less cost, but similar weight to the more expensive Ti models. By the way, the rails of this saddle are similarly spaced to modern plastic saddles, thus accommodating eoGEAR seat bags without an adapter.

Brooks Team Pro

Brooks Team Pro — a slightly narrower B-17.

Saddle # 22 (Brooks Team Pro Classic, 8.5 out of 10). After resisting trying out a Brooks suspended leather saddle, I finally decided to give in. During the late spring of 2014 I purchased a new Team Pro and broke it in using the hot water/mink oil technique. I rode it about 30 miles after the first break in. It felt OK, but a little stiff. After the second dunking, I rode on a 100K (~ 65 miles). It felt very similar to my standby, the GB Aravis (same width…160mm). There is one advantage of the Team Pro, that is the side “skirts” come down further, providing a better clearance to prevent “inside of the legs” chafing. I didn’t use this saddle on any longer rides, but I am very confident that it would provide a good ride for ultra distances. The thing I don’t like about most Brooks saddles is that the rails are far apart, necessitating an adapter for my line of bicycle bags (eoGEAR). The thing I do appreciate on all Brooks leather saddles is that they only use a single layer of thick leather, rather than a laminate as is the case with Rivet and Selleanatomica models.
I like this model, instead of the wider 170mm B-17, as I use the drops or aerobars during much of my riding, so I wanted something that was not too wide for that style of riding.

Important Update—Leg Length Inequality or LLI
During the winter and spring of 2012, on two separate occasions, my riding partners noted that my right hip was rocking up and down a little. In 2011, I had a physical therapist measure my legs and indicated that my left leg was significantly shorter than my right. This was due to an old mountaineering injury and subsequent surgery on one ankle. This is what the experts called leg length inequality (LLI). I attempted to shim up my cleat on this side, but to no avail as the material I was using kept twisting out. Finally, after hearing these comments from my riding friends, I acquired from a local shoe shop a scrap of material called Top Lift, which I inserted under my left cleat. Much, or most of this rocking motion has now ceased and my rights-side chafing issues are minimal. In summary, much of my “saddle” problems were really a LLI problem. In May of 2012 I got a professional bike with a physical therapist (a topic for a future blog post) and he determined that my bike fit and cleat shimming was spot on. What that tells me is that a suspension leather saddle is more forgiving than a “plastic” type and will compensate for either a bad bike fit or a physical problem like my LLI.
Shown on the saddle photo below is a dark spot on the right side, the exact spot where I consistently get chafing. Despite pointing this out to a pro bike fitter, he was unable to recommend a remedy, other than trying to peddle with more even strokes and less “mashing.” I have always know that I had lopsided issues as I only chafed on one side, but upon trying out this new light-colored saddle (Brooks Cambium), it became quickly obvious that most of my problems are not the saddle, the saddle fit, but rather something very asymmetrical with my body! Perhaps I need to get a GURU or RETUL high end machine fit to determine why I peddle with more pressure on only one side.

Another Discovery—Varus
While on a very rainy 400k brevet during a the spring of 2012, I noticed something something that no professional bike fitter picked up on before: that is I have a forefoot varus problem, but only on one side. I was wearing Rainlegs most of the day and the inner side of my Rainlegs (nicker length rain pants), near my knee, was brushing against the top tube of the frame. This is a tell tale sign of varus. Since then, I have added some shims under this cleat and the problem is larger disappeared. This problem, when combined with LLI is most likely the route cause of my “one sided” chafing problems.

What might the future bring in saddle designs?
Currently there are many lightweight, backcountry ski boots and some cycling shoes that are form fitted using heat. Why can’t a synthetic or lightweight plastic saddle be designed using this technique? If someone made one that provided the comfort of my softened up GB Aravis, but as light as a Prologo, it would give it a  score of 10 out of 10.

Summary

As you can see, I tried many different kinds of saddles. For me, saddle choice made a bigger difference in comfort than did the style of shorts, choice of chamois cream, bike fit or even a different frame material.

When looking for a new saddle or trying to increase your rear end comfort level…

  1. Analyze your riding style. Endurance roadies that ride for 8 to 24 hours require a different (wider) saddle than a time trialist that is only racing for an hour or two and is always in an aero bar tuck position. The catch-22 comes with endurance roadies, like myself, that do very long rides AND use aerobars. We want the best of both worlds.
  2. Measure your sit bone width. Look for a “plastic” or racing saddle that is about 25 to 35mm wider than that dimension. Curved saddles can be a little wider as they won’t chafe the inside of your legs like flat-shaped models might. If you inclined to try a unpadded, tensioned leather saddle (Rivetworks, Brooks, Selle An-Atomica or Gilles Berthoud), then pick a model that is 30 to 50mm wider than your sit bones. This is because those models have a rigid crescent-shaped frame in the rear, so ideally your sit bones need to nest between the frame edges, not ON top of it (unless you consistently sit slightly forward on your saddles).
  3. Try different shapes. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s curved saddles were about the only thing out there. The advent of the flat saddle is a more recent design feature — I believe the theory is that a flat saddle provides more support for your sit bones. For me, it did provide a nice platform to sit, but I had chafing issues because of the sharper edge of a flat saddle.
  4. Demo different models, either through demo program from a local dealer (at my site eogear.com we have various models you can “rent”) or exchange saddles with friends. For me, I wasn’t able to determine much, until after about 80 or so continuous miles on a given saddle.
  5. If possible, determine if a cut out is important for you. Some people, especially female cyclists, like a cut out or recessed channel on the saddle. Remember, some saddle designs use a more subtle approach, by designing hidden relief features such as softer, less supportive foam in the center of the saddle. Most racing models do not have a cut out.
  6. Look at other factors that might affect comfort like leg length inequality etc. (see inset above).

26 Responses to “Saddle Quest—Part II”

  1. Pat 2 June 2011 at 5:57 am Permalink

    Excellent article. Thank you! I notice you seem to use the Brooks B17 as the bench mark. While these are not rider ready out of the box, what are your thoughts on the B17 once it is broken in?

  2. Richard 2 June 2011 at 6:34 am Permalink

    I have not personally used the B-17, but according to Lon Halderman (PAC Tour), he prefers this model because the leather is thinner than other models and consequently has a shorter break in time. I have also heard many good things about a “broken in” Brooks Swift. Personally, if I decide to try a tensioned leather saddle, it will be a wider, “touring” Gilles-Berthoud model.

  3. Richard James 20 November 2011 at 1:02 pm Permalink

    I have tried the racing Berthoud saddle but it went back in the box immediately after the first ride. It was not wide enough to have more than one position, and IMO it’s not worth hauling around the extra weight compared to a plastic saddle for just one position.

    I now have two Berthoud touring saddles and enjoyed riding my older one at PBP this year. Am aware of three issues with the Berthoud saddles:

    1. Some of them creak if you have the saddle jammed all the way back (common, because they have less range of adjustment in this direction than most plastic saddles)

    2. The bolts holding the hide to the chassis come loose unless you secure them with a thread locking compound (blue Loctite works nicely)

    3. The “organic” dying process is, in a single word, terrible. The natural color is nice (and it changes color during every ride), but black is not nearly as dark as shoe leather (or a black Brooks). At one particularly well known bike shop in Massachusetts I’ve seen a “black” Berthoud saddle that was the gray color of a weathered cedar shingle. You don’t know what you’re going to get until you open the box.

    I believe there is a “stiffener” available to help with the first issue

  4. Brent 27 November 2011 at 9:28 pm Permalink

    Have you tried any of the Fizik Kurve saddles? They have the frame like a leather saddle and seem to have adjustable flex to them.

  5. Richard 28 November 2011 at 8:49 pm Permalink

    Yes, the Kurve line of saddles look VERY interesting. Personally, I don’t care for the center grove which are found on the Fizik Versus, so it is nice to see they didn’t go with that design feature. I checked with my rep and they won’t be shipping individual saddles until 2012. The demo store display is available (which includes samples), but as an online-only dealer, I have no need for it. I just wish the Versus Bull was just a tad longer (10mm)…similar in length to the Prologo Scratch Pro 143, which is my favorite plastic saddle to date. If you wish to try one of these out, please contact me again in January and I may have some demo models and/or models to sell then.

  6. Bob 30 November 2011 at 2:51 pm Permalink

    Richard, did you use a seat post with more set back, such as a V-O model, with the GB touring saddle? GB advertises their saddle as being waterproof, so I am curious why you commented that it is constantly vulnerable to water (being leather). Did you find the waterproofing ineffective, or just not very long lasting?

  7. Richard 30 November 2011 at 6:07 pm Permalink

    I use a conventional carbon fiber seatpost with 20 or 25mm setback — whatever came with the bike. Before using my GB saddle, I soaked it in hot water to soften it up. Much of the dye and waterproofing in the saddle came out into the water bath (the photo on my blog was shot during the second bathing and much of the dye was gone at that point). Of course I added a generous amount of mink oil back into the leather, but like ANY pure leather product, it is going to vulnerable to moisture. Let’s say I did a 600K where it rained much of the ride (24-38 hours typically) — that kind of duration might cause some damage or stretching to a “waterproofed saddle.” I live on the edge of the Great Basin desert (Utah), so we rarely have such continuous summer precipitation. I have used the GB on only one or two rides where it rained for a few hours and have not noticed any ill affects. For most of my wet weather training rides, I use my cross bike (w/ fenders) which has a plastic saddle on it.

  8. Todd Hayes 21 March 2012 at 9:53 am Permalink

    Just one person’s experience with Berthoud in the rain: In tests I performed in the garage, water did not soak into the leather. I used this Ti-railed Berthoud in a 200k that had heavy rain for several hours. The saddle was broken in before the brevet, and treated with Berthoud goo ($16) top and bottom. I weight 153 lbs. After the ride there was clear flaring of the sides of the saddle, and the black dye was faded off the nose area. Water soaked in. It requires a waterproof cover. The Berhthoud literature included with saddle tells how to dry a wet saddle. Riding with a cover on it might cause irritation. It is a heavy saddle as well, for Titainium (rails only). I do not understand why Brooks, Rivet, Origin 8, et al do not make a tensioned leather saddle with lightweight metal frame, bolt, nut and nose piece.

  9. kane freehold 25 April 2012 at 11:18 am Permalink

    Is there a reason you haven’t tried/reviewed any of the shorter “hornless” or “noseless” saddles? They look strange, some look quite “amateurish”, but perhaps we need to think *far* outside the box in order to find a new approach? So far have only been able to borrow one to try out, the “horseshoe” saddle. It has too way much padding and weight for practical distance riding, and it seems ridiculously wide, but I have found it unexpectedly rideable (after numerous adjustments on height and angle), at least for up to 100km. Would love to try something similar, but narrower and less padded; just haven’t seen one anywhere. kanesf. West Texas Cycling Assoc.

  10. Richard 25 April 2012 at 5:03 pm Permalink

    Two reasons I have not tried them:
    1. I use aerobars almost exclusively on event rides (my day to day training bike doesn’t have them). As I understand it, those type of saddles are designed for a very upright position, so using that type of saddle would most likely chafe the back side of legs as I lean way forward in the aero position.
    2. The nose of a traditional saddle provides stability and safety. When I stand up a little on a coasting descent, or in cross winds, I like to stabilize the whole bike between my legs if necessary.

  11. peter lecain 6 May 2012 at 2:20 pm Permalink

    Richard, When we spoke on 5-5-12 I mistakenly said the Brooks Pro was 155mm wide. It is more like 160.
    Brooks makes a narrow version that is that wide. By the way the Team Pro I used on yesterday’s Backroads of the Great Basin 300k was brand new and not pre-treated in any way. I have found that for my anatomy the B-17 works best with the bars only slightly below them. For me, 2″ is about the limit. The Team Professional sits 4-5″ above the bars on my bikes. I recommend looking @ the Brooks website for details of the complete Brooks line. For me comfort of their saddles has more than offset their lack of lightness. It has been my experience that a B-17 will flex slightly like you GB saddle does.

  12. Bill 27 May 2012 at 7:19 pm Permalink

    Ifound your article very informative. I currently use a Fizik arione but on longer rides or rides that have a fair amount of climbing, I also get soreness or bruising on the sit bone area. After reading your article I am leaning towards a purchase of a Prologo Sratch Pro but was also looking into the Fizik Kurve Bull. Have you since had an opportunity to ride one (Bull) and if so how does it compare to the Prologo Scratch Pro? Also, there are several versions of the Scratch models. If I do go with the Scratch (Pro), is there a comfort difference between the Pro, the Scratch hwd, and the Scratch Pro TS that I should consider?

    thanks, Bill

  13. Willem 31 October 2012 at 3:47 pm Permalink

    As for unequal leg length, I have the same. For my loaded tourer my frame builder modified an spd mtb pedal to raise it by 5 mm on both sides: http://www.m-gineering.nl/mindexg.htm (see photo gallery). Beyond that, I could not agree more on the virtues of a good leather saddle.
    Willem

  14. Richard 1 November 2012 at 9:27 am Permalink

    Hello Bill,
    I finally got in a Kurve Bull and rode it a few weeks ago on a 200K. During the ride it felt fine, but then afterwards, I noticed the “same ole” chafing issues on my right side. It is very minimally padded and has thinner coverage for your sit bones where they can depress it easier. For me, I think the issue is the flaring of the edges near the bottom curved part of the saddle—the Wing Flex feature is supposed to compensate for this and maybe I needed to put more on miles before that part of the saddle started “giving.” In summary, I still like the Scratch Pro better. I use the wider 143mm model. I’m not sure what all the differences are. They offer 2 or 3 different rails which should have no bearing on comfort.

  15. Phil 28 January 2013 at 1:54 pm Permalink

    My first and so far only brevet season was the 2011. In 2010, I abandoned my MTB while training for El Tour de Tucson and purchased a Specialized Tarmac. I rode thousands of miles in training.

    In 2011 I rode the 200, 300, 400 (dnf hypothermic just before Picacho) and 600 on the stock racing seat. Did my butt ever hurt at the end of each brevet, and for weeks following the 600. Although the saddle fits well, never again will I use it for long distance.

    After researching leather seats, I purchased a GB Aravis. I rubbed it down with GB wax top and bottom, let is soak overnight, wiped it off, then rode. The first few rides I had some friction in the middle, but since then wow. I rode the Route 66 400, half of it with the fast guys, and it gave me zero problems. I remember smiling gratefully as I climbed the last long hilly stretch toward the finish, tired from testing myself earlier, but my crotch content.

    Next up was the GC 600k, which I didn’t finish due to goofing around too much at rest stops and not finding the water up Crook’s Trail. I finally packed it in that night so Susan could close up at a decent hour. I was fine physically and the seat was fantastic.

    Even after 1 1/2 years no riding, after a two hour spin sans lube I had only minor chafing. Of course, lube from now on. (My thighs are large.) The last few rides I tried Chamois Butt’r and it worked, but a guy in town who supported RAAM riders, in a 2010 talk aimed at El Tour riders, said his team used huge amounts of petroleum jelly. That’s what I use and it works great. Doesn’t soak into the skin. Messy as anything. (I carry a few plastic bags for application.) Cheap. So far it hasn’t ruined any riding shorts.

    Anyhoo, just chiming in for the GB saddle. Guess I was fortunate to find comfort with the first aftermarket saddle. It still feels hard when I press with my hands, but with my 205 pounds resting on it, it feels wonderful.

    Phil

  16. Dwight 14 March 2013 at 9:42 am Permalink

    Tried a Scratch Pro, narrow version, and find it to be very comfortable and have used it soley on my road bike for two years. Because I had successfully ridden an Aliante for three years, I demoed the wider Scratch Pro but could tell no difference so have stuck with the narrow version.

    Am thinking about finding even better comfort and have been considering a leather saddle. Since you and I like the Aliante well and Scratch Pro the best, your review of the Aspin has peaked my interest and have found a Berthoud Aspin to demo in early April. Also interested in any further experience you have had with the Rivet as I am also interested in a slotted saddle. Have looked at the Selle An-Atomica forever and a girl riding buddy has one and loves it. However the rail breakage and leather sagging issues kept me away and then the disruption of the company due to the death of Tom Milton. New Selle An-Atomica real leather saddles are tempting and was wondering if you would test this stiffer version? Would really prefer a USA made product if possible.

  17. Dwight 14 March 2013 at 9:50 am Permalink

    Actually, demoed the wider Prologo from you last year and am line for the Aspin; great demo service and you seem to have the saddles I am most interested in.

  18. Craig Hicks 15 May 2013 at 1:01 am Permalink

    On the Selle web site, the Selle An-Atomica Titanico is recommended for lighter riders and Selle An-Atomica Titanico X for heavier riders. The difference between the two saddles is extra material to support the leather on the back side. It sounds like your description of the Origin 8 “I assume this is to add strength (instead of using a better quality leather?)”. Would you not recommend the “X” for this reason? I notice you have it on your web site.

  19. Richard 15 May 2013 at 8:47 pm Permalink

    The SAA saddles have two layers of leather on certain models for heavier riders (as you mentioned). The Origin 8 had one layer of leather and a second layer of synthetic material (it appeared) laminated to it, instead of two layers of leather. The second layer didn’t appear to have much give. SAA now has a new model called the TruLeather Vintage which is stiffer than the Watershed version they have sold for years. It may actually require some break-in time, unlike the Watershed version. The new Rivet saddles also use a dual leather approach. Frankly, I like the simplicity of the Gilles Berthoud single “super thick” leather concept, as I worry about the laminated layer pulling away.

  20. darell 4 July 2013 at 5:59 pm Permalink

    *please* try a Rivet Pearl or Independence. I found the Diablo to be too narrow, and could not get comfortable. If you were at all happy with the Diablo, do yourself a favor and try the two wider ones. You’ll be happy you did. I know I am! (So far three Pearls and one Independence… still more bikes to upgrade!)

  21. Richard 5 July 2013 at 11:17 am Permalink

    I also have tested the Independence (on a 200K & 400K earlier this season). I used it on a newish (to me) Ti frame bike and found that I had less chafing than the Gilles Berthoud wide model. But on the other hand, I suffered more soft tissues pain, especially since I use aerobars. (I find myself using aerobars perhaps 1/3 of the time on long rides, depending if I am riding solo or with a group, when I do not use them much). The soft tissue pain may be due to a change in frames though. It appears that I am feeling more road vibrations on the Ti frame than my carbon fiber model! More on that later as the season progresses.

  22. Michelle Hersh 6 June 2014 at 9:10 am Permalink

    Hi-
    Still haven’t found the right saddle after 3 years of searching. The B17 is perfect re chafing, but I am not
    getting support for my sit bones and the left side of my rear really hurts. I am going today to see if a wider B68 could work. This is SO FRUSTRATING!!

  23. Rando Richard 9 June 2014 at 8:04 am Permalink

    Michelle,
    I recently broke in a Team Pro (160mm wide) and immediately used on a 100km (65 mile) ride. It was every bit as comfortable as my beloved GB “touring” width saddle. Have you visited my page on how to quickly break in a leather saddle (hot water & mink oil)?

  24. Bob 25 June 2014 at 8:11 am Permalink

    Michelle, I totally empathize. I still cannot go beyond a 600K brevet at this point due to saddle pain. It is not chafing, but more like bruising at the sit bones (or just 1/2 inch forward of them, primarily on the right side). I’ve tried B17 and Selle Anatomica Titanico X saddles – same results. No point in even signing up for a 1200 until this is resolved. I did like the B68 (Brooks has dropped it, but the B67 with springs has the same top) – longest event was 400K (that saddle does work fine with drop bars if they are level with the saddle). Again, the right side was getting pretty sore by the end of the ride. Lantiseptic or Okole work well to minimize friction, but I need a solution to the bruising caused by repetitive stress (pressure on sit bones).

    Appreciate all of the evaluations and testing you have done, Richard. I am curious as to the effect on leather saddles from Lantiseptic and Okole, as both eventually seep through even thick pads on shorts and leave the saddle kind of greasy.

  25. Rando Richard 26 June 2014 at 8:03 am Permalink

    My leather saddles start out with a ton of mink oil on them. And then I don’t let them dry out by appyling more from time to time. Consequently, I really haven’t noticed any negatives affects from greasy chamois lubes.

  26. Rando Richard 26 June 2014 at 11:10 am Permalink

    I forget to mention, and need to add to this post…but the Specialized Carbon CG-R seatpost IS THE BOMB! It will greatly reduce the buzz you feel in your saddle and perhaps relieve sit bone pain. It is available only in 27.2mm and runs about $200. I do not sell them. I added it to my Seven Ti frame and now I can use that frame for rides 300km and longer without my butt feeling like Jell-o at the end of the day.


Leave a Reply