My friend Steve is getting ready for the Seattle area bike swap next month. That’s where you trade, buy, and otherwise talk about bike parts and bikes for a couple days in a warehouse. Posting about all the saddles he has (way more than me even) he wrote…
Bicycle saddles, where to begin, definitely my most favorite individual part of the bike. I have an attachment to saddles the way some folks do shoes. Shoes and bicycle saddles provide practical aspects to the user like protection, performance, and comfort. And then there’s the undeniable style aspect- both are a means of expressing one’s own personal sense of style. They reflect one’s values. Like good shoes, a good saddle isn’t cheap. Invest in quality, take care of it and you will likely enjoy years of service. A beautifully designed well-made saddle is timeless. Just like a beautiful pair of shoes.
When I look at a bike in profile and begin to look at the detail –beyond the frame & fork- my eye immediately goes to the saddle first and the handlebar stem next before moving south to the wheels, drivetrain etc. Saddles to me speak volumes about the bike and its intended use. If it’s a new bike the saddle is a reflection on the designer and the mechanic who assembled the bike. If it’s a bike in the field it reflects rider preference. Is it the original saddle or did the rider swap it out and why? While I’m super picky about the fit of my handlebar I don’t have the same emotional attachment as I do towards saddles and stems. It’s not just the aesthetic aspect that drives the emotion; something in my brain is triggered that immediately causes me to envision riding the bike. All those hours and miles sitting on the thing I suppose.
When you design and sell bicycles for a living, saddles are the most often discussed feature, especially amongst the casual, bike-curious population. But even the pros talk about them. It’s pretty obvious why. When someone asks me about choosing a saddle for their bike I often use athletic shoes as an analogy since almost everyone can relate. Some shoes feel amazing right out of the box, others might not feel perfect initially but you know they’re going to break-in and feel better with time; and then there are those shoes that no matter how much you want it to happen, it just isn’t going to happen no matter how much you wish it would.
Once you know what shoe feels best, and the brand that made it, you tend to stick with it. Brand X runs wide and always feels great. Brand Y is too narrow for my foot. That assumes consistency in the last, or form, the maker uses to construct the shoe. Like shoemakers saddle brands also tend to adopt a design language that shapes their saddles across an entire range that is if they have the discipline to maintain it. Easier said than done. Of course, design philosophy and materials evolve over the years mostly for the better, sometimes not-so, but you get the overall gist.
Where the shoe-saddle analogy begins to break down is that most people have a level of familiarity with shoes that they simply don’t have with bicycle saddles. Folks certainly know what they don’t like (that seat hurts my butt) but have no idea of the saddle shape that is going to be most simpatico with their rear-end. The only way to figure that out is through experimentation. Work with a professional bike-fitter if necessary, and certainly take advantage of the brands & retailers who offer a try-before-you-buy saddle demo program. Trust me eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for! Among all these saddles I have some clear favorites and some that just didn’t fit my butt but I kept them for a reason. I’ll take close up photos of some of the more interesting ones for those of you who want to know more of the story.
P.S. these are just the ones in the shop, it doesn’t account for the ones I’m currently riding on a range of bikes. That’s for another day.
I hope to see you at the bike swap. I’ll have a few saddles with me, but not like Steve, he hasn’t even showed us the ones ON his bikes.