12/16/15

Finding What Matters Most in Life: The One

I’m talking about the right bike saddle, of course.  My apologies to those who arrived here thinking I was going to be writing about love and relationships. Don’t go away just yet. I have noticed that if you substitute "relationships" for the word "saddle" below there are strong similarities between finding the right bike saddle and finding that The One. So if you are still looking for The One, or want to make sure you have the right One, keep reading and insert  “relationships” anywhere words are underlined. The key to two of life's most important decisions in one blog post.*  

After many miles of riding with painful saddle sores, trying many different saddles, and hearing other cyclists’ contradicting opinions, advice and dogmas about what makes a good saddle, I am happy to announce I have my own presumptuous opinion to profess.  

Going on an extended bicycle tour and not hearing about how wonderful traditional Brooks leather saddles are at least once would be difficult. When discussing saddles you will also be told that everyone is different. You just need to keep trying saddles out until you find the right one. So reluctantly, I did, spending about $300 in the process. I did get about half of that back on EBay. 

Since 2013 I have tried 8 different bike saddles of varying price ranges and qualities, five of them for more than 500 miles and three of them over thousands of miles.  I only consider a saddle tested if I ride it for more than 200 miles in a week.  So after a lot of pedaling and pain I feel I have put in an honest effort to find The One.  In addition to the saddles listed below,  I test rode several WTB and Adamo models at my LBS prior to departing on my first tour, none of which swept me off my feet.  The list of the others:

  1. Planet Bike ARS, $25 on Amazon
  2. Brooks B17, $80 (used), $100-150 new
  3. Bell saddle from Walmart, $15
  4. Specialized Avatar 143 saddle from the Yellow Bike Project in Austin, TX, $20 plus the Bell saddle from Walmart.  Around $75 new.
  5. Brooks Cambium C17 Carved, $130 online.
  6. Phorm S310, $13 from REI on clearance.  Around $40 regular price.
  7. The Vader saddle, $12 from Amazon
  8. Prologo Kappa, came stock on Cannondale CAAD10.  Can be found for $40 online.

After riding 2,800 miles on the Planet Bike ARS saddle, I can definitively say that a soft gel saddle does create friction and saddle sores, as common cycling wisdom says. After getting on a Brooks B17 for 200 miles in 3 days, I can tell you that a hard leather saddle that is not properly broken in, while not causing saddle sores, will bruise your ass.  I got the two firmness extremes out of the way first.  A Walmart saddle kept me on the road after the Brooks bruising, and the Specialized Avatar got me another 10,000 miles with bad sores only after 70+ miles/day for 3-4 consecutive days.    

My next trip I decided to bite the bullet and spend the money on a Brooks Cambium Carved C17, which had the promise of the same esteemed comfort of their traditional leather saddles, but no break in period required.  Turned out to be largely true, though I did get some minor sores.  Unfortunately they cost 15% of what my entire bike setup did.  More on expensive Brooks Saddles in another post.

Then I got a promotional email from REI, which I usually ignore, but decided I might as well see if they have any bike gear at a good price.  They were selling the Phorm S310 for under $15. The similarity in the width of the Phorm S310 (175 mm) to the Brooks Cambium (162mm) caught my attention as I noticed the Brooks Cambium felt considerably wider than my other saddles.  For $13, worth a try. 

Turns out, I like it.  I like it a lot. No sores, even without padded shorts after long rides. So at last, here is my opinion on the features, in order of importance,  you should look for when searching for The One:

  1. Sufficiently wide (160mm+) to distribute pressure evenly. 

  2. Firm, to prevent friction, but not rock hard to prevent bruising.

  3. A slot to keep pressure off sensitive areas, increase air flow, and maybe cut down a bit on weight. 

  4. A reasonable price, so you don't have to to cut your next trip short.

I hope this saves you some time, money and pain. Good luck. 

*Disclaimer: To date I have had much better success with bicycle touring than relationships.

2 comments:

  1. Hey Dan-
    Ergon makes some really nice saddles, SME3 is my choice... but I am a mountain biker, still very nice tho!

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    Replies
    1. Hey Joe, good to hear from you. Thanks for the tip. Ergon is new to me, but look like they have a line of saddles for road and touring as well, with lots of positive reviews. Hope to cross paths soon.

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