Friday, August 7, 2009

New Bike - New Seat

I recently regaled you with tales of my new bike. Short version - 2009 Trek Madone 6.9 from a warranty replacement. Speaking of which, here is a shout-out to Trek and Two Wheel. From finding the crack to having a new bike was amazingly fast and hassle free. Just what you would hope a warranty experience would be; except that I can't think of any that actually go that way. Love the bike.

But, my seat was broken down from many miles and hours, not to mention my Clydesdale Plus size heiny. I had been riding a Selle Italia Trans Am Gel Flow, or something. I started riding this seat a long time ago and actually bought three of them, so that I have one on my trainer, one on my rain/cyclocross bike and one on my main bike. So, deciding to try out new seats seemed like a big deal to me. I wanted to dive in and find what worked. And now, I am going to share my experiences with you except I want you to keep in mind one thing - you should ignore every word I have to say. Instead, you should just try a few seats and find what works. There are lots of different types of asses, bone structures and riding positions. As a result, there is no seat that "works" for everyone or even most people. You gotta find your seat through trial and error.

Here are my trials and errors.

Fiziks Aliante S - Rider 1 described his experience with this seat. It is part of the group of seats that Two Wheel has to test ride. Rider 1 described this seat as one that you sit "in", rather than sit "on". It has a bit of a hammock sense to it. I suspected that it would not work for me, but I also wanted to try the style, so it was the first seat on my new steed. This was a seat that I had to adjust and adjust and adjust. I couldn't get it quite right; it was either too nose up or nose down. With the nose down, I seemed to be falling off the front and had to forcefully push back up onto the seat. With the nose up, it became apparent immediately that this taint the seat for me. I mean, it put pressure on my perineum. When I finally got the seat in just the right place, it was tolerable, but it was obviously not the right seat for me. My guess is that this type of seat works for lighter people and I can see that the seat would provide a good base for the right person. I think the support would also help with the overall control of the bike, as you would be well connected to the bike with the contact of this seat.

Fiziks Arionne - This was seat two in my seat odessy. It was like Homer's Odessy, except much less adventure and notably less than 10 years. The Fiziks Arionne is a very "pro" seat. It is long and lean. For me, who is rather more long than lean, it was a bit too narrow. Unlike the Aliante it was very easy to adjust. It was "right" almost straight away, because the seat is very straight across the top. When I sat upon it, it was clear that it was in the right spot and reasonably comfortable. It was, however, not enough seat for me. The Aliante seat is 135 mm wide at the widest part. The Arionne is 128 mm wide. The Bontrager seat system suggested that I needed the widest of their three seats at 154 mm. Even though these pesky milimeters are rather small, when you add them up, it turns out that it makes a difference. In this case, I could rather noticably detect that I was sitting on the outside of the seat and that it was not offering enough support. Unfortunately, the longer I sat on the seat, the more noticable this problem became. In fact, I was rather looking forward to ending my ride. Rider 1 had a similar response and, in fact, if you look back at his description you will see that he felt compelled to mention his taint over and over. I would do the same if he had not done so quite ably. Again, this turns out it taint the seat for me.

Fizik Vitesse - The Vitesse seat comes in a couple of versions, which are all women's seats. Unlike some seats designed for women, this seat does not obviously appear to be one for women. In other words, it isn't pink, it doesn't proclaim on the side that it was designed by and for women, and it doesn't have a vajayjay shaped cut-out. I have to confess that if I had known it was a women's saddle, I would not have picked it to try, but it didn't look gender specific and it looked like a shape that might work. In fact, a helpful Two Wheel dude told me that a prior employee at Two Wheel has one on his bike, as does every member of his family, male and female.

When I got on this seat, it wasn't love at first sit, but it was a long way from hate. I did a longer ride on this one, around 2 1/2 hours, than the prior seats and I was glad that this was the one for the longer ride. It fit me much better than the longer and narrower seats I had tried. This seat looks reminiscent of the Aliante, but less of the hammock approach. So really it rises towards the tail but is flatter at the nose. All in all, this seat was not a bad one for me. I finished the ride pondering whether to just ride this seat or whether to put on the last seat I had borrowed to try. It didn't seem perfect, but it was much, much closer. In fact, I found that I was riding for extended periods without thinking about the seat at all, which really should be the goal, and I thought I could work with this one. However, wanting to try the Bontrager seat, I removed this and moved on to the next saddle.

Bontrager RXL 154 mm - Bontrager makes three saddles for men, the R, RL and RXL, and it makes each of these in three sizes, 128 mm wide, 146 mm and 154 mm. Bontrager has a website devoted specifically to this seat (Link) and they have a study that says their seat distributes your weight better over the whole seat and still maintains appropriate blood flow, while cut-out seats concentrate weight in two spots which can lead to discomfort (even though they allow blood flow). This micro-website is very complete and reasonably convincing, but honestly, only after I rode it. Prior to that I assumed it was mostly marketing hype and that no matter what the study said, the only way to know if it works is to go ride it. And, to their credit, Bontrager offers a 90-day money back guarantee. If you buy one and don't like, you can bring it back for a full refund, no questions asked. That is impressive and important. I feel lucky that Two Wheel has some test seats and I have a good relationship with them so they were willing to work with me to try out a number of seats, but even if you don't have that relationship, the money back guarantee would make me confident of trying out one of these seats.

To get the right size, you sit on a bench that has a bunch of squishy white gel in it, which indicates where your sitz bones are (this is not a technical term, I don't think. I should check with Dr. Spalm, but he is in a no stimulation therapy pod today - don't ask . . .). The website says that your overall size doesn't indicate your pelvic structure, but I was not suprised to find I needed the largest size. This also confirmed my feelings about some narrower saddles.

So, the adjustment from the Vitesse to the Bontrager required me to raise the seat mast, because the Vitesse sits very tall on its rails, while the Bontragers are all low. The differences between the R, RL and RXL are 1) price, 2) overall weight, 4) materials (plastic base vs. carbon composite base) degree of padding. The more you pay, the less padding. I went with the RXL because the padding was more similar to my old saddle and I thought the stiffer carbon base would stand up better to my weight.

When I got this saddle on, I almost immediately forgot I had a new saddle. I rolled out and after the first five minutes I kept forgetting that I was trying out saddles and found myself thinking about all the random and specific things I usually ponder on the bike. This saddle looks wide at the back and very flat. For those of you who need visual cues:

From Product Testing

I thought that after trying multiple saddles that I would either have a hard time deciding or ultimately decide to special order the latest version of my old saddle. I was pleased and surprised to find that I found a new saddle that was immediately comfortable and, at least for the two 1+ hours rides I have done, still comfortable. I think the proof will be a 3-4 hour ride, but that will have to wait a couple of weeks while I do some family vacationing without my bike. In the meantime, I have the comfort of my money-back guarantee to know that when that ride comes along in August, September or October, I still have the option of taking it back and starting over. I'll let you know.
Rider 3


  1. we must learn some thing from this story....
    so that we couldn't bother


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  2. Nice! I have one of the Bontrager RXL Saddles too. I reallty like it.