Just some of the conventional saddles I have known and not loved (enough).

L to R, Top row: Selle Royal Lookin Gel, Avocet Touring III, Scott SCT-21, Selle Italia FK(!?) cheapie, Velo Titanium

Bottom row: Avocet O2, Anonymous “Turbo Special”, Selle Italia Mythos El Diablo (Claudio Chiappucci), Reydel GTI

You know it's true. You've all suffered from it. It can happen to any cyclist, no matter how new, no matter how experienced. After five kilometres on the bike, or after 50, or after 500... It's “Nailed @rse Syndrome” (“N/A Syndrome” for short) and you get it from your saddle.

The Syndrome’s name originates from my throwaway line in a Sydney Cyclist posting about the 2013 Audax Alpine Classic (AAC), (page 4): “Aside from my @rse feeling like someone had hammered nails into it, I felt surprisingly well afterwards.” A certain journalistic wit jumped on this comment, for more than one reason, though largely as a way to justify his own “BMS Syndrome”: prejudice towards certain saddles of the bizarrely misshapen kind, branded Selle SMP. (“Selle” is Italian for “saddle” and the rest stands for San Marco of Padova, in Italy, where the saddles are made.)

I'll admit I have been somewhat disparaging of bizarrely misshapen saddles (BMS), largely on the grounds of their cost – the higher-end models retail north of $300. Given that everyone's @rse is different, and that there can be so many other contributors to nether-region pain, I surmised that the chances of a BMS offering me anything approaching improved “comfort” was too risky a proposition at that price level.

I weakened when a lower-priced SMP BMS version – the TRK, or “trekking”, model – was offered on the Cell Bikes website for $81, including freight.

I thought it might be suitable on my tourer for which a “comfortable” saddle had proven elusive since I had the bike built several years ago. Indeed, it proved very cushily padded and, despite possessing a slightly wider nose than I think ideal, improved ride quality no end. I am yet to try it on a serious bicycle tour but am highly optimistic. An astonishing contrast to the previous seat, a Lookin Gel model which, though soft to a finger's touch, felt like a brick below my buttocks (sorry, DS, but true!).

After continued unkind remarks from certain quarters on my choice of saddle (also a San Marco model, of more conventional shape, as it happens) for the AAC ...

ABOVE: The San Marco Aero road-bike saddle which, up until this year, I had found least UNcomfortable in my over-40-year cycling career.

...and recommendations from other Audax practitioners, I revisited the Cell site to find the racy SMP Evolution model BMS on offer for a mere $213.99, including delivery. Further resistance was futile. Painlessly racking up more credit card debt, I hoped the product would prove similarly painless to my slowly healing backside.

Within two days a shoe-box sized package arrived. I tore it open with a little tremor of excitement... followed by a sharp intake of breath as I saw just how minimalist is this BMS.

“Designed on your body” read the Italglish slogan on the box-lid. (It also had in French 'Fini les ecrase-”manets”!' Which I take to mean – Google Translate not being helpful vis-a-vis “manets” – “No more crushed nuts.”) I thought: “Not designed on my body, surely?” How is something so narrow, so lacking in padding, so apparently sharp-edged, so seemingly without bum-supportive area – and which appears to have been bent severely in head-on collision with an immovable object – going to improve my ride compared with the road-bike saddle which I've so far found the least uncomfortable in my 40+-year cycling career?

All this led me to ponder: What is it that makes one saddle feel righter or wronger than another? The picture of rejected saddles, above, suggests that skinnier is better for me, given that the El Diablo model was my favoured road-bike seat for over a decade before the San Marco Aero arrived atop my carbon-fibre toy. The Lookin, the Avocet Touring III, the Scott and the cheapie Selle Italia failed due mostly to too-large side projections which numb the buttocks with each pedal stroke. I’d found the too-round profile of the Velo Titanium (appropriately named given its hardness) and the Turbo saddle also caused pain, though I managed a six-month overseas cycle tour, including the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris randonnee, on the Turbo-style Reydel GTI before deciding I never wanted to sit on it again.

Strangely, the genuine Selle Italia Turbo saddle fitted to my steel roadie offers a quite acceptable ride up to and even beyond 200 km, as long as I wear good knicks. It’s perhaps not quite as round as its copies.

So, it seems, probably self-evidently, that the closer the saddle conforms to one’s bum shape, supporting it in many places rather than just at a couple of points, while not having unnecessary projections which contact moving parts, the more likely it is to offer that elusive “comfort” we cyclists endlessly seek. But how do we determine our bum’s shape? Should we generate a plaster cast to take to the bike shop and attempt to match that shape to a saddle? Maybe a little drastic … An SC thread http://www.sydneycyclist.com/forum/topics/road-bike-saddle-trial-in... suggests that Specialized dealers offer a standardised measuring system to fit saddles to riders. This might be a good first step in choosing a seat.

My newly acquired BMS, is a considerable departure from “conventional” design, almost a clean slate. The only way to determine its tolerability was to fit it and sit on it in my best knicks for a decent ride or three. After a few short rides and tweaking of the fore/aft position and of the angle of the Concorde-esque nose, I’ll admit to being surprised and favourably impressed. After a dozen kilometres, I forgot that it was there. So far, rides of about 60 km each on consecutive days have proven near painless in the @rsal area. The new saddle does not press on sore spots generated by the Aero saddle on the AAC but... is it going to create sore spots elsewhere? The jury can't rule on that until I schedule another ride of more than 100km but chances are at least favourable. Watch this space for BMS updates.

 

POSTSCRIPT, December 2014: Lest anyone think I ended up agreeing with Mr O', I discovered on rides of greater than about 70km the discomfort returned and became worse. It may be attributable to another cause, like knicks, but my solution was to go back to my previously preferred SI Turbo and stick mostly with rides of under 100km. At least BMS saddles seem to have good resale value on ebay. I hope the sucker, er, buyer is enjoying my old one.

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Comment by Snowy_5 on February 11, 2013 at 9:41pm

If anyone had seen the info of perineum numbness.

Comment by Eleri on February 12, 2013 at 5:49am

The thing I find most curious about SMP saddles is that the only difference between the male and female seats is the pink writing.  You'd think we'd want/need different saddles.  

I like the SMP (Lite 209) in my case and I've got them on all my bikes.  Had occasion to ride on one of my reject saddles, a WSD, the other day and remembered pretty quickly why I didn't like it.

I was a bit sore on the saddle at the end of the ACE250 but I think that was climbing. Mind you, everything was sore at the end of that ride.   I don't remember being sore on the 300km ride I did 2 weeks before that.  

Comment by Neil Alexander on February 12, 2013 at 6:36am

@Snowy_5: Good find. If I had read something like that 40 or so years ago, I don't think I'd have started cycling! 

The following from there was particularly interesting:

Saddle shape

Bicycle saddle design has been the target of a great deal of scholarly and commercial research. A number of years ago, bicycle saddles started to be manufactured with cutouts down the middle with the hope that this would relieve pressure on the perineum and reduce compression symptoms. Indeed, in one study, 55% of the subjects ranked the partial cutout saddle as the most comfortable. In a recent study of a new saddle (Selle SMP) with a large cutout and downward facing nose (the front of the saddle), the saddle was clearly superior in preventing vascular compression and penile blood flow occlusion compared with more standard saddle designs.

Comment by Neil Alexander on February 12, 2013 at 6:39am

@Eleri: Sore on the saddle after 250 km? If you believe the journalistic wit (j-wit) who spruiks the BMS solution, you should never get pain there again. Please tell me it was the fault of your knicks...

Comment by Ma Dame Vélo on February 12, 2013 at 8:01am

As you know Neil, I too have three of these saddle - one on each of my bikes - and I never intend to use any other saddle.  They are the business (as Mr O' is apt to say).  

As for taking a cast of your bum to the bike shop, that is not necessary.  The size and shape of my bum has nothing to do with it - as attested by the fact that the petite Eleri is comfortable on the self same saddle.  My theory is that it is only the "sit bones" that should feel the saddle and that is precisely the case with these SMPs.  The rest of my bum seems to be miraculously supported without pain, rubbing or any adverse consequences.  

Heartily recommended by me (as you know) - it has only been your stubbornness that has kept you from buying one sooner - oh ye of little faith.  :-)

Comment by Si on February 12, 2013 at 8:12am

My theory is that it is only the "sit bones" that should feel the saddle

I concur with MBs theory. Luckily for me, cheaper Selle Italia C2 and Gel Flow saddles work well for me. Good knicks are a must though.

Comment by Bill Parker on February 12, 2013 at 8:20am
Might get a TRK then I will be a champion just like Neil, MB, Mr O', Si, Eleri, Et Al....SMP seems to be the common factor, why didn't someone tell me before and I could have skipped all this training since new year
Comment by Ma Dame Vélo on February 12, 2013 at 8:27am

he he thanks Bill - but I am no champion (I only did 2 laps of Mt Buffalo, in longer time than the others did 3 laps) - and it's because I don't train as much as the others.  The saddle does help when you train more though so go for it!

Comment by Robflyte on February 12, 2013 at 8:40am

does it have to have such a droopy nose? Surely that part is not used so why is it there?

Comment by Neil Alexander on February 12, 2013 at 8:52am

@robflyte: It's partly to join up the two bits at that end and partly to help you steer the bike.

I had not realised what a huge role the saddle plays in steering until I tried to ride a bike with a noseless saddle -- this, too, was an attempt to improve comfort. The one in question -- I'll google more for a picture later; so far unsuccessful -- had two separate, forward-sloping pads, hinged to allow them to move up and down along with your legs. Great in theory but, for me, a disaster in practice since it put all weight onto my hands as I tried vainly to stop sliding off forwards and I had to completely and very quickly rethink how to turn the bike before I ran into something. 

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