There are many ways of ensuring cycling is not a pain in the butt. Proper bike fit is key. But how do you tell one ‘comfort saddle’ from another? Price and shape are not the only determining factors.
Tush topography varies. One anatomic saddle may be comfy for one cyclist, Hell on wheels for another...
In an infamous 1997 article in Bicycling magazine of the US, Boston University urologist Dr Irwin Goldstein 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 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.
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. Leading doctors called for bans on wom en cycling. Such calls went unheeded and the bicycle was a key tool of women’s' emancipation giving them new freedom and mobility.
Despite the claims that riding on bicycle saddles would lead to impotence, the world population did not suffer.
And today, there are few complaints that China, still with more cyclists than anywhere else despite the meteoric growth in car ownership, suffers from a lack of babies due to urological problems brought on by bicycling.
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.
At every trade show there are always one or two “saddle innovations” from inventors keen to stress their noseless/ball/super-wide/hammock-like/buttock-ridge saddle is the end to bum discomfort as we know it.
Perhaps, but 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.
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?
Such finesses are the stock in trade of professional bike shops. Before splashing out on the latest noseless/ball/super-wide/hammock-like/buttock-ridge saddle (available only via the web, possibly), or crying off to urologists, cyclists would be best to seek out a cycle sizing and comfort specialist at a good, local bike shop.
How to protect your 'pound of flesh'
Or, how I got hooked up to a penile oxygen flow meter in the home town of William Shakespeare. This new test - developed in Germany - has helped Specialized tweak its Body Geometry line of saddles to make them more ergo than ever. Erectile Dysfunction be gone.
In Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice', Shylock demands a "pound of flesh" from Antonio. In the Bible, and in Shakespeare's day, 'flesh' was a euphemism for penis. If bikes were around at the time, no doubt Will would have ridden one and he would have penned a sonnet or two about saddles.
Had he suffered any cycling-induced Erectile Dysfunction (ED), maybe an Elizabethan bike shop would have directed him to get a proper bike fit, to ride often on the pedals, not always the seat, and to fit an ergo saddle to protect what Shakespeare would have called his "pizzle"?
Earlier this year it was my pizzle on the line. It was wired up for science in Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of the bike- less bard. I was at a dealer training event for UK stockists of Specialized bikes and equipment. Specialized had flown in medical experts from the US and Germany to demonstrate why the company's Body Geometry products - shoes, mitts, bar tape, saddles – aren't much ado about nothing, they can be proven to be effective in live lab tests.
Since 1998, Specialized has sold more than 2 million ergo saddles featuring the 'Minkow wedge', a design said to maintain blood flow through the perineal arteries. The perineum is the soft spot between the base of the penis and the anus. The perineal padding protects the pudental nerves and blood vessels which thread through your ischial tuberosities, ie sit bones.
The Minkow Wedge has been much modified since 1998, with the latest Body Geometry saddles having been sculpted with a scalpel and tested at the urology department of the University of Cologne Medical Center [ http://www.medizin.uni-koeln.de/.../urologie ]
The scalpel wielder was the eponymous Dr Roger Minkow, an ergonomics specialist from California. As well as his work for Specialized, Minkow has designed comfort products for United Airlines and other well-known companies.
He started working with Specialized in 1997. This was the year that Boston urologist Dr. Irwin Goldstein caused a worldwide media frenzy after he told 'Bicycling' magazine that cycling caused impotency. [ http://www.derri-air.com/article1.htm ] "Men should never ride bicycles," he said. "Riding should be banned...it's the most irrational form of exercise I could ever bring to discussion... The bike seat is archaic. It's unanatomic. The perineum is an intricate neurovascular complex, but there are no shoulder pads or helmets to protect it."
Minkow surmised that if cycling was uncomfortable for some people because undercarriage blood flow was being impeded by the saddles of the day, new ergo saddles would be needed. He cut chunks from a Turbo saddle and visited the 1997 Interbike trade show. Here he met Ed Pavelka, one of the two writers of the 'Bicycling' feature and showed him the modified saddle. After the show, Mike Sinyard, founder and president of Specialized, called Pavelka and said Specialized wanted to address the ED issue.
"[Sinyard] asked did I know anyone who could help him come up with a better saddle? I said sure, and he lives next door to you in Petaluma, California. I gave Minkow's name and number, and the rest is history," said Pavelka.
Minkow's scooping was not a new technique, saddles-with-cut-outs have existed from the end of the 19th century. But Minkow used his ergonomic experience - he's good with seats - to help Specialized create traditional-looking saddles that were more comfortable for most people than non-ergo saddles.
Time will tell Dr Irwin Goldstein advocated so-called noseless saddles, others said forget road bikes, go recumbent.
In 1997, Goldstein had tested his arterial compression theory only on cyclists in static positions, there was no testing on cyclists in motion. Even now there's no perfect test. Martin Resnick, chairman of the Department of Urology at Case Western Reserve University Hospital, in Cleveland, USA, has said:
"There isn't any clear, definitive data yet, just theory. Truth is, we simply don't know if sitting on a bike and reducing blood supply to the penis for half an hour, an hour, or two hours is even relevant to erectile dysfunction."
Goldstein disputes that. He reckons the latest tests do prove a link between arterial compression and ED.
In his 'Journal of Sexual Medicine', a paper he co-authored in 2005 said that to "better understand cavernosal arterial blood flow hemodynamics at the perineum–saddle interface" the only way to "accurately record cavernosal arterial inflow while sitting on a bicycle seat" would be to use "duplex Doppler ultrasonography in the static condition and during erection."
This test could measure "external compressive forces" but it does not "record cavernosal erectile tissue perfusion". Nor can it test a cyclist pumping away on a saddle.
Goldstein and his students do use a penile blood flow test and this is likely similar to one perfected by Dr Frank Sommer in 2002 [ http://www.bikebiz.co.uk/.../study-sommer-2003-03.pdf ] when he was at the University of Cologne Medical Center. (Sommer has since moved to the University of Hamburg, where he is the world's first professor of men's health).
Andrea Menghelli, PR man at Italian saddle maker Selle Royal believes Minkow is being disengenous when he highlights the Sommer test as a standard to which all saddles must pass.
"That's only one test. Pressure on the nerves is also an important factor, but that's not measurable. You can't design saddles merely by making sure they get good readings using Dr Sommer's testing."
Saddle expert Joshua Cohen counters that argument. The author of 'Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat' said: "It would be impossible for an object as proportionally large as a seat to compress the arteries without pressing on the nerves as well."
Cohen - designer of the E3 Form road saddle - said there has been "an increase in saddle companies rushing to try to find places to get their saddles tested with oxygen monitors."
But, he adds, "it's important to remember that the results of one individual do not necessarily translate to others, and to determine a true effect of a saddle design, a large sample size is needed."
Continuing Frank Sommer's oxygen testing work is Dr Alex Kroekel from the University of Cologne Medical Center. He was at the Specialized dealer event with his Lycra-clad brother – and a bunch of penile blood flow measuring equipment.
Marcus Kroekel, a graduate in sports physiology, is the main guinea pig for all the saddle blood flow tests at the University of Cologne Medical Center. Kroekel Jnr is well used to the undertackle tampering required for the test. Many new subjects get 'performance anxiety' when their pork sword is wired up and can't get enough oxygen to flow when standing, never mind sitting on a saddle surrounded by men in white coats.
I've written articles about this transcutaneous penile partial oxygen pressure test but wasn't personally intimate with exactly what was wired to where. I felt duty bound to volunteer.
Changing into cycling shorts, I went through to the hotel lecture room where the saddle lab tests were conducted at the two day event. There was a table equipped with monitoring devices, a video camera trained on the oxygen levels reader and a huge screen to reveal the results to a small corner of this scepter'd isle. Dr Kroekel was straight to the point: "Let me have your penis."
I mumbled something about 'best offer I've had all day' and dropped my shorts. Herr doktor asked me to reveal my glans. Gulp.
Craddling my family-maker in his hand, he sprayed the head with an electrolyte solution – it stung – and stuck on a half-inch plastic electrode holder, the main medical use of which is monitoring the vital signs of new born babes.
The electrode holder was sticky. If it's held on with glue, I thought, taking it off again was going to be interesting.
A Clark pO2 electrode - "this will get warm," said Dr Kroekel - was fitted into the holder and four surgical strips kept the holder in place. My penis was handed back to my safe keeping and - now much smaller than at the start of the procedure - it was tucked away in my shorts, but not before Dr. Kroekel made sure it was pointing skywards and not, he demonstrated, folded over like a hooked little finger.
I was now umbilically attached to $30k-worth of transcutenous oxygen measuring equipment, unable to make a run for it even if I'd wanted to.
I climbed on the turbo trainer. My penile oxygen levels were transmitted from my shorts to the monitoring device and thence to the projector. A small gathering of bike shop owners, medics, reps and journalists had collected.
My oxygen levels - measured in tcpO2 - started alarmingly low. I'd seen the test in action the day before and knew anything under ten was v v bad, meaning little oxygen was getting slooshed through my Alcock's canal [ http://www.biology-online.org/.../alcocks_canal ]. In fact, this slow start was the norm. The levels started to rise. I stabilised at 114. This is high. Most cyclists, and many non-cyclists, struggle to get past 70.
Dr Minkow's eyebrows rose to meet my oxygen peak: "We've never seen figures like these before for a first test," he said. I beamed, quipping that I bet he said that to all the boys, but the US and German medics in the room were also surprised at the figure I topped out at. The test no longer hurt as much.
I pedalled for two minutes on a famous saddle, touted for its roadie- friendly, 'medically-proven' comfort factor. My oxygen levels dropped through the floor. By the end of the test I'd lost 90 per cent of my penile blood flow.
The expensive saddle had not been uncomfortable. The LED digits on the big screen had plummeted without me feeling any discomfort whatsoever. No numb nuts, everything had felt fine, comfy even.
Dismounting, the oxygen levels shot straight back up. Mental note to self: when riding, get up off the saddle and honk lots.
Dr Kroekel fitted a Body Geometry saddle to the bike, the '06 Alias. I repeated the test, same position, same two minutes of moderate effort. The blood flow digits fell, by not by much. Just a piddling few per cent, and even that was only when I put deliberate pressure on the nose of the saddle.
The BG saddle had felt no different to the brand-X saddle. Neither had been uncomfortable, but only one thumped the blood flow test.
The good doctors had 'see, told you so' smiles on their faces.
Dr Minkow joked he wanted me to go on tour with the equipment.
"You have the penis of a non-cyclist," said Dr Minkow. This was a compliment. However, I moaned this must mean I don't ride enough. I had expected some level of cycling-induced damage. Dr Irwin Goldstein eat yer heart out!
I ride every day. I do 24-hour MTB races, solo. In my youth, I spent 18 months cycle touring in the Middle East. I never drive when I can cycle. But I have charmed bum-level blood vessels: none of the day- in, day-out perineal pummelling has had a long-term impact on my capacity for horizontal jogging. I laugh in the face of Erectile Dysfunction.
Dr Minkow: "These are very good figures. You have very healthy arteries. You should go home and tell your wife, although I think she already knows." Laughs from the crowd and more eye-brow raising: this is getting good for my self-esteem.
But then comes the hard part. The glans patch has to be removed.
"Is that something you do?" I ventured to Dr Kroekel.
"I can do it, but we find it's best if you do it yourself. Have a shower. Take your time."
Ever ripped a band-aid from an open wound? Marcus Kroekel gets his willy wired for a living. I hope he's well paid.
Cycling is better than not cycling
Harin Padma-Nathan, MD, director of The Male Clinic in Santa Monica, California, and a former student of Irwin Goldstein, has said:
"Will biking cause impotence for the average cyclist? Does that risk outweigh the sport's cardiovascular benefits? The answer is no on both counts."
Richard Lieberman, MD, a clinical associate professor of surgery at The Pennsylvania State University, has said: "I can think of a lot more things that are deleterious to one's health that should be outlawed before bikes. In fact, the overall vascular health of the cyclist may, in a lot of cases, outweigh some of the local deficit that's created."
However, Goldstein and his acolytes continue to push the message that cycling is unsafe.
An editorial in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine - Goldstein's house journal, remember - was written by Dr. Steven Schrader, a supervisory research biologist at the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Introducing papers such as 'Only the Nose Knows: Penile Hemodynamic Study of the Perineum - Saddle Interface in Men with Erectile Dysfunction Utilizing Bicycle Saddles and Seats with and without Nose Extensions' by Ricardo Munarriz and Irwin Goldstein and others, Schrader took potshots at cycling:
"While literature over the last 20 years...has described the perineal problems resulting from compression by bicycle saddles, there continue to be endless testimonials about 'miles of cycling' and 'erections of steel.' While such testimonials are not surprising in the popular press or on the Internet, it is disappointing that such comments have been expressed by physicians and other scientific-based professionals. Some of the testimonials have even appeared on scientific electronic bulletin boards, along with remarks regarding the proliferation of bicycle riders in China without erectile problems. They sound similar to the cigarette smoker proclaiming that they have smoked a pack a day for years without lung cancer."
Dr Schrader has a history of 'cycling is bad for your health' papers.
In 2002, he published a paper on US bike cops. Schrader said the cycling police he tested had many fewer erections while they slept than their fellow officers.
You may or may not want to know this, but bike cops had erections during 27.1 percent of recorded sleep sessions. Coach potato cops had nearly twice as many erections per night, said the doctor.
Schrader stressed the bike trade needs to develop "effective strategies based on sound ergonometrics and urogenital physiologic principles" and testing is needed "to reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction from bicycle riding."
Dr Goldstein goes further: "There are two kinds of cyclists: those who are impotent, and those who will be."
However, as my oxygen readings show, it's possible to be a regular, long-distance cyclist - a 24-hour event soloist, even - and still have "the penis of a non-cyclist." Hey, Dr Schrader, I even have regular "erections of steel", but that's for a whole different website...
Conclusion: Shakespeare wrote that too much booze "provokes the desire but it taketh away the performance." Don't let your saddle do the same thing. Pay for a pro bike fit, get out of the saddle lots when riding, don't assume your comfy, so-called 'ergo saddle' is good for your ass. The saddles that cut off oxygen flow the quickest, aren't rock-hard, 'razor-blade' saddles, according to the Sommer test, it's actually the softest, squishiest saddles. Thinly padded racing saddles are better for blood flow than many spongy 'comfort' saddles: but best of all are anatomic saddles, with grooves, cut- outs, pressure-relieving pads and bases engineered to offer just the right amount of flex. Tush topography varies so don't think a saddle that your mate swears by will be any good for you. It might be, but pay attention the next time you see a magazine article which group tests saddles by sending a journo to Cologne. If you find you're riding with a saddle that is shown to perform poorly in this test, ditch it and buy one of the saddles that excels in the test.
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 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.
'Big boned' enthusiast cyclists may also be more prone to arterial compression because of their sheer bulk. Sparrows like me exert less perineum pressure.
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 Precision specialises in products for women. It popularised the ‘saddle with hole in’, first for women and then releasing a men’s version.
In 1997, following 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.
For 2005, Minkow 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.”
Ergo LLC of Seattle commissioned Young PR to distribute a press release via BusinessWire 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 is littered with references to “sexual dysfunction” caused by “saddles with horns.”
The appropiately-named Brian Cox is co-inventor of the Comfort Saddle (“a revolutionary breakthrough in comfort,”) as featured on Tomorrow’s World and on the trade-only part of BikeBiz.com 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 and costs £39.95 plus postage.
The Solution saddle
“Cyclists, Physicians and Magazines are Calling The Solution one of the most important inventions for the Bicycle in the 100 years,” claims the website selling the $49.95 Solution saddle, a tube-on-a-stick. A movie on the Solution’s website says “stop endangering yourself” by using “saddles with horns.” A doctor of “internal medicine” warns of “alarming medical conditions” if you don’t ride with a Solution saddle. The movie wonders why “nobody has thought of this before.”
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 has 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, now of Blackwell Research, 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, see 'penile testing article' below.
Toll told BikeBiz.com: "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,” Clutton promised BikeBiz.com
“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 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 has 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 £9.99 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 is the subject of a paper to be published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, said SMP. Entitled ‘Bicycle saddle with a new geometical concept to maintain genito-perinial vascular perfusion’, the papper is 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.”
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 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.”
In 2005, 6000 team issue Arione saddles were made for global consumption. The saddles – which shipped with team issue Bar:Gel tape kits – sold fast, said fi’zi:k. The saddles are available in the colours of Lampre-Caffita, Team Liquigas, and Team Barloworld-Valsir. The ti-railed Arione saddle and microtex tape kits retail for £94.99.
This saddle has yet to be commercialised and there are no pix available for confidentiality reasons but Manta’s Jon Catling talked to BikeBiz.com 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.
Manta has “five noteworthy cycle dealers waiting to stock the product - tested at pre-production/prototype level.”
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 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,” reports the resurrected website for the company, now in Swiss ownership.
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.”
US saddle supplier SDG has a ‘saddle-rail-seatpost’ combo called I-Beam. This allows for 2.2” to 3.2” of fore and aft travel as well as 130 degrees of tilt, a level of adjustability not found with industry-standard seatposts and saddle rails. Such adjustability could work wonders for saddle comfort. You can’t fit non-SDG saddles to the I-Beam system but this lonely furrow will be ploughed no longer as Easton and Profile Design plan to introduce I-Beam products later in 2005.
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.
Yet with fear of discomfort being such a definite disincentive for would-be cyclists – especially women – might there not be scope for individual saddle fittings? Such a service is available in the world of skiing: skiers and snowboarders happily pay through the nose for customised boot insoles, moulded to the perfect shape thanks to heat-setting foam.
Such customisation is a growing consumer trend. The main Levi jeans store in America offers a made-to-measure jeans-making service. Running shops have floor-mats that analyse foot landing strikes to aid correct fitting of trainers. And German company Xybermind produces ‘Achillex’, a running shoe selection system. This involves placing sensors in the shoes. Once the customer has run a few steps, the computer signals either ‘fit’ or ‘doesn’t fit’, having correlated the shoe with the precise dimensions of the customer’s foot and running style. The system is said to be based on years of biomechanical research at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
Could bike shops of the future make money from taking hi-tech, digital ‘plaster-casts’ of customer’s bums?
Or could diligent research find out whether there are ‘average’ undercarriage profiles and so bike shops could ‘fit’ customers to one of, say, ten different saddle profiles? The Specialized Body Geometry measuring device is a step in this direction.
Some bike shops already offer a ‘saddle library’ where customers get the chance to try out a number of different high-end saddles to find the one ‘right’ for them. A more hi-tech, bum-scan approach could set tills ringing.
However, this is poo-poohed by Bycycle Inc.’s Jim Bombardier:
”Sitting folks in a plaster cast will not work. While you would be lucky to pick up the specific curvature of the bones, you have no chance to discern where that individual’s nerves, arteries and veins run. We are all different.”
SADDLES IN PICTURES
This link has a motley collection of recent and historical saddles. The 'hard to find' column is especially thought-provoking.
For a lecture on 'The Basics of the Pelvis and Perineum' by a professor go to: