This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The great saddle conspiracy

     Back when I started riding seriously, Nixon was hanging onto the presidency by a thread and the Brooks B-17 saddle was the "go to" saddle for any serious biker.

There were stories of "break in" problems with leather saddles, but once that was conquered the saddle conformed to each individual's butt print and they could claim it as their own.  Bicycle shorts amounted to tight wool shorts with a thin leather chamois (like the ones used to dry cars) sewn into the crotch to help wick moisture away.  Then the bike boom occurred, and something when horribly wrong.  Synthetic materials became more popular with seat design, and I think it was a graduation requirement for every MIT grad to design the "latest greatest" torture tool for the discerning masochistic cyclist.   Designs abounded for years ranging from mildly strange

 to completely ridiculous,

but most were just variations of the same thing, using gelatin pads and synthetic or bonded leather covers.

Then the problem became recognized.  These new designs, although looking and feeling very comfy at first touch, did not keep the butt dry.  In fact they served to trap moisture just where you don't want it for hours at a time.  So a new technique was developed to wick moisture, the shorts became spandex and lycra, while the "chamois" grew into a multi layered, scientifically developed 2 inch thick diaper.  And, presumably to keep the diaper dry, wind tunnels were built into the seats

     Now the manufacturers had perfected their craft.  Doctors said the gap would prevent damage to the prostate also and hooray, they had the medical community on their side as well!  Now every $200 saddle could go out the bike shop door promising return sales in the form of hundreds of dollars of team colored shorts with expensive diapers sewn in.  The problem is that most of these saddles did not prove to be very comfortable
Ignoring the idea that this one looks like it has hooks where you don 't want hooks, they still trapped moisture and the shorts just look dumb and dorkey.  I quit wearing lycra when a neighbor's teenage daughter complained, I didn't ask for details.
  I used a Brooks b-17 until I bought a new Trek 560 in 1986, being assured it had a selle italia saddle,the latest, greatest,  anatomically designed, ergonomically perfect seat on the market, I was confident I could let the leather one go.  I soon bought some shorts, and rode until, hearing there was a later, greatest thing ever to end the discomfort--I bought that.  I rode it for several years until the cover tore and bought the newest, latest, greatest thing ever and finally was relieved of the torment when that cover tore.  Sick and tired of the endless merchandise cycle I bought a new Brooks flyer with springs

 and found to my surprise that I was perfectly comfortable without the diapers and I honestly think that sprung saddles eliminate the vibration that frightened the doctors.  Now I am not being a total retro grouch, I have gel
saddles on my winter bike, and my folding bike, but mainly because they are not intended for long rides and the synthetic is safe from the weather.  My road bike, all day city mixte and touring bikes have leather and I still believe it's the best material for riding long distance.  I don't use Brooks brand exclusively, I also have Velo-Orange saddles which I think are a good competitor for the Brooks brand.  Over the years I have never experienced any break in discomfort with the Brooks brand, but the VO saddles can take some break-in time.  It can be aleviated by loosening the tension bolt and the "apron strings" as I think they are just wrapped too tightly at the factory.
Ride leather, be happy!


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  2. Those saddles you've pictured have only appeared in the last decade. They hardly could have influenced the design of bike clothing that first appeared in the late 1970s made with spandex and synthetic padding.

  3. My point is that the use of synthetic materials in the saddle construction traps moisture in the crotch and that created the need for more aggressive wicking properties to be built into the clothing.As I stated: "Designs abounded for decades..."but the use of synthetic materials in saddles really was popularized in the late seventies.


  4. I like your blog, Marc. I'm also something of a "retro grouch" - I still prefer my built-up-in-1986 steel frame Ciocc San Cristobal with friction-shifting Campy Super Record derailleurs to modern carbon fiber bikes with index shifting. I'm not a total Luddite though; I switched to Look clipless pedals after Greg LeMond won the TdF on them and my Ciocc has always sported a (GASP!) computer. I also happen to like my "wind-tunnel equipped" Selle SMP saddle - keeps my favorite "male part" from going numb. Even my trusty ol' Brooks Pro which came on my Raleigh Pro in 1977 and was ridden up until 1986 didn't do that. I guess not all new-fangled technology is so bad after all, but that's just my experience. YMMV.

  5. Now I'm not a total retrogrouch ( I installed a threadless headset once, it hurt a little, was kinda scary really!) there are things that are done well. I've even talked about getting a custom CF frame, but as I told the builder; if I can't throw it to the ground with a sense of confidence, I probably shouldn't have it. I just don't get the preoccupation with racing inspired equipment when I don't race. Things that contribute to comfort allow me to enjoy the sport more, those are usually materials and designs which have been tried and true over generations rather than tested on the latest TDF.

  6. Ciocc Cat,
    Thanks for reading and the compliment.

  7. Great article. Hope you don't think I'm a terrible nit picker by pointing out you spelled prostate wrongly as prostrate (very common mistake)

    1. Not at all, thanks for reading and catching the error.


  8. Nice history of saddles Marc. Great contribution to the issue. I've been enjoying my Selle Anatomica USA-made leather saddle especially since taking the sharp edge off the saddle where it meets the inner thighs w/ a sander! Don't forget about the aesthetic advantages to leather saddles too for those of us who love to look at handsome, well thought-out classic Real Bikes!

  9. Good article but a little jaded. The advances that have been made in bike construction have made bikes more enjoyable to ride. As someone who has ridden steel, alloy and carbon, I'll say they each have their merits and detriments. To say that you should be able to throw your bike on the ground for it to be useful, or that one shouldn't need a racing bike if one doesn't race, misses the point. I ride carbon fiber,.. not because I race but I live in an area with hills 360 degrees around me. Weight matters when climbing hills, particularly for someone like me who weighs 150 lbs. dripping wet. To that point, Brooks saddles are heavy: even heavier are the ones with the springs. I have Selle SMP's on all my bikes because they work for me and they are not the latest and greatest. They've been around for a long time and have a following for a reason. Yes they are expensive but there are also deals to be had on eBay if one is resourceful. All this said, I love steel bikes and the aesthetic they bring. They are just not practical for me at this time. Also being older, steel bikes are not made for people who need endurance geometry unless you have something custom made. To each his or her own, we all do what we need or want to in order to get the most out of this wonderful avocation.