Saturday, January 2, 2010

Saddle Wars, Week 1

It's been six days since I brought three bike saddles home to test (read the blog article). Cold and snow has forced me to do all my rides on the trainer -- at the very least, it gives me a consistent riding position for evaluating fit and comfort. I rode each saddle at least once and I am beginning to understand why this process is so hard (finding the right one). I was convinced that the Profile Design Air Stryke would be the saddle I liked least. Despite its well-cushioned wide nose and generous cutout, its width ensured that my sit bones would almost never come in contact with the saddle. The other two saddles -- the Fi'zi:k Arione and the Felt 3.3 -- had a much wider profile in the rear. Like other tri-specific saddles, they were also slightly wider, longer and flatter in the nose region, but neither had a cut out or cushioning like the Air Stryke.

In order to make a fair evaluation, I know I should ride each saddle more than once. Most saddles cause grief on the first ride -- after all, it's a very sensitive area, there's skin and soft tissue and bone -- and that's the WOMEN we're talking about. I can't even imagine what the MEN have to deal with. I decided to start with the saddle that would cause me the most anguish both mentally (because it looks like the perfect tri saddle) and physically (because of my anatomy) - the Air Stryke.

Test ride 1: After about 50 minutes of steady riding with constant adjusting, I was not happy with the Air Stryke -- mostly because of the rear/butt region. The cushioning was nice, but it wasn't nearly as comfortable as it looked. I swapped it for the Felt before I finished my first test ride. Ahhhh, ten minutes on the Felt saddle eased the pain.

Test ride 2: After one hour on the Felt, it was no longer comfortable. I tried to stay mostly in the aero position on this ride. After about 40 minutes, the cushioning on the Felt had become a non-entity. It has a better fit in my sit bone region, but that's useless if the aero position is uncomfortable. In an Ironman, I am in this position for five to six hours.

Test ride 3: After one hour on the Fi'zi:k, I now know what the word "burn" means when used in conjunction with describing saddle pain. For me, this saddle has no endearing qualities -- too bad it looks so nice. The cushioning is about equal to the Felt, and, although it looks flat, I feel there's a slight convex contour that runs longitudinally down the center of the saddle. My crotch was on fire by the time I finished the ride.

Test ride 4: My old saddle was now beckoning to me from the shelf. I resisted and switched back to the Air Stryke. What a difference three rides makes. Now, the Air Stryke is my favorite of the three. The cushioning is just what I need to remain in the aero position for long periods of time, and I've decided that I love having a generous cushioned cutout. What worries me is what will happen on rides when I can't stay in the aero position and my sit bones need a place to... em... sit.

So, should I keep looking? I remembered there are other saddles that resemble the Air Stryke. Maybe their contour is different or they come in a women's-specific version (read: wider rear). I went to Google, again, and researched tri-specific saddles. Based on reviews, I found the following of interest: the Forté T1 Tri Saddle, two from Selle San Marco, the Aspide and the Arrowhead Gelaround (which looks a LOT like my Arami), and the Adamo from Blackwell Research.

I'll ride what I have a few more times to finish my evaluation. I feel I need a few more data points. Currently, the Air Stryke would be my choice, but it's definitely not perfect. At least I have narrowed down features that work for me. Feel free to offer advice - it's always welcome, here or on Twitter (@junglejeanne).

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