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.

Views: 4079

Comment by John Knight on February 12, 2013 at 9:16am

Interesting Neil,

There is a definite growing band of SC SMP groupies.

On Saturday at the post ride coffee we talked saddles for a few minutes. My Toupe seems to be a winner for me. One guy was trialing an SMP saddle (of unknown model) complaining that no matter what he did he couldn't get comfortable on it.

It's definitely horses for courses thing and maybe I should have tried an SMP. But maybe it wouldn't have worked for me.

I also concur with MB and Si on the sit bones.

My new Toupe is 155mm wide, but narrower and pointier at the front than my old San Marco which was only 135mm wide.

On any decently long uphill when my legs get a little weary I can push further back on the Toupe and hook my sit bones right up on the back of it - There I can feel my glutes engaging and giving other muscles a bit of a rest. I couldn't do that on the skinny rounder style saddle.

Mine is the one on the right!

So far, the longest ride I've done on it is 65km and it felt great - no chafing (which I found to be an issue on the skinny saddle as it slid further and further up my #$%^&). I do know it's there and I do feel it under my manparts, but with the really firm support right across the back of it, I do not think I will have issues on longer rides.

Comment by Rob Berry on February 12, 2013 at 1:12pm

What is wrong with a saddle that does actually mold itself to the ideal shape for your particular rear?

Comment by Neil Alexander on February 12, 2013 at 1:27pm

I had one. It didn't.

It was very heavy.

It needed all sorts of care and attention, lotions and potions.

It wasn't supposed to get wet. I tired of carrying around the shower cap for it.

I gave it away. (I still have the tin of Proofide if you can use it. N/C)

Comment by PeterT on February 14, 2013 at 1:16pm

I suppose SMP  saddles must be very very very good to ride on... personally I can't do it... - it fails the 'window reflection' test quite badly.

Comment by PeterT on February 14, 2013 at 1:21pm

oh yes, back to the most important point , saddles are just part of the trinity of bars and tires... for detailed analysis refer to : http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/comment-page-8/#8

Comment by Ma Dame Vélo on February 14, 2013 at 2:05pm

What is wrong with a saddle that does actually mold itself to the ideal shape for your particular rear?

- because although it might mold itself to my rear it will still have a pressure point on my "non-rear" and that is what is so great about the SMPs - there's nothing there!

Comment by Colin on February 14, 2013 at 2:15pm

My Brooks molded itself perfectly to my rear, complete with a nice high central ridge to go into my crack. It was a lot more comfortable before the molding.

Re the saddle nose being used for steering - I discovered this when a too-loose seat post caused the saddle to twist with any lateral pressure. A disaster. I crashed. The turned down nose of the SMP makes sense to me - good for steering, but out of the way of your soft bits.

Comment by Bill Parker on February 17, 2013 at 6:55am
Of course you can Peter, I have just ordered mine, Canterbury is very diverse and accepting these days and might even be ready for a SMP BMS? You could always claim it is part of some charity event and get sponsored perhaps.
Comment by Bill Parker on February 17, 2013 at 12:05pm
iPad thinks (knows) it is smarter than me and had changed a word in previous that reversed meaning but it can't yet ride a bike. Order is in so we are in the maximum anticipation phase before delivery and realisation that just a new seat won't make me a champion. Did put the new skinny tires on (700x35) and reckon I am 10% faster already, hoping seat will give another boost as well as armchair comfort levels. Stay tuned.
Comment by Bill Parker on February 21, 2013 at 9:47am

My TRK arrived, it does have a lot of cushy padding, might delay installing to extend the anticipation period.


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