Monday, December 28, 2009

Bike Saddles, Butt Size and other B.S.

When I found out there was a device that helps size bike saddles by measuring the distance between your sit bones, I thought: "how ingenius!" When I found out that it was affectionately referred to as the "butt-o-meter," I thought: "how embarrassing!" But my fear of pain overcame my fear of knowing my butt size, and I made my way (at the owner's request) to Bike Authority in Broadview Heights to get the dreaded measurement and discuss bike saddles with the people who know best.

As a background, before I went to Bike Authority, I read about triathlon-specific saddles in order to sound educated. The best resource I found was Bikesport Michigan's Review of Eight Tri Saddles. I already had my eye on the Profile Design Tri Stryke. I added the Blackwell Flow to my list (because it was recommended as the best of the eight for women). I also went to the Fi'zi:k Web Site (fun stuff! It asks you to determine which animal you are, leading to choice of saddle). I also noticed a new tri-specific Terry women's saddle (the TRX Gel) but could not find a single review of it. I noticed two major differences between women's and men's saddles: women's saddles are slightly wider to accommodate a (typically) wider pelvis, and positioning of the cut-outs or padding may be different. I gathered other info on tri saddles from these sites: Beginner Triathlete's Selecting the Right Saddle and Coach Tony's Triathlon Bike Fit: Saddle Selection.

Enter the Butt-o-meter. It's a device made by Bontrager for choosing their bike saddles based on measurement. It's a bench with a very thin plastic insert that has thick opaque gel-like-substance inside. When you sit on it, your sit bones make an impression and you can see through to a color-coded measuring plate underneath. I couldn't help but think it was a mood-ring version of the Etch-a-Sketch. The color determines your saddle size. My saddle measurement was 150 mm and my sit bones were approximately 135 mm apart.

So, yeah, I did it, I sat on the butt-o-meter (photo at left), but what if I don't want a Bontrager saddle? They only make one tri saddle anyway and it's not butt-o-meter sized. What now? What I found out from Mike at Bike Authority is what I read in many online resources: butt size doesn't mean diddly. It's a good starting point (and ice breaker!), but bike saddle fit has more to do with personal riding style than your anatomy. What matters most is how you position yourself on the bike and where your pressure points are. My current saddle, the Selle San Marco "Arami," was great until this year when I changed my aero position on the bike. My saddle is now positioned more forward and my handlebars are dropped so my pelvis tilts forward and I'm almost lying on the nose of the saddle. The Arami was great for a more upright position ON my sit bones, but with stitching right down the middle and a narrow nose with very little padding, it is now wreaking havoc. Although I do love the position of the cut-out, something I didn't see on all tri saddles.

On to the hard part(s): saddle choice, cost, and satisfaction. Today I am reminded of the value of having a good relationship with a local bike shop. Not only do they not laugh at you when you ask them to measure your derriere, they don't sell you something just to get the sale. Mike generously sent me home with three different saddles to try: the Tri Stryke mentioned above (which, because of narrow contour, doesn't have a chance in hell of fitting my sit bones), the Fi'zi:k Arione (the same one recommended by Fi'zi:k on their site-o-meter and a standard on many tri bikes), and a Felt saddle that had a similar contour to my San Marco but a wider and flatter nose. My job now is to ride and decide (on one or none). I will blog my evaluation in a few weeks. Photos below.

L-R: Fi'zi:k Arione, Felt 3.3 tri saddle, and Selle San Marco Arami (6 years old):

The Profile Design Tri Stryke on my Cannondale IM 5000:

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