A New York Times article, published in 2011 captured my imagination: was it true that bike saddle design was damaging the delicate parts of dedicated riders? Was there some secret to weight distribution and anatomy that I was missing out on? I kicked the idea around to some friends, who largely dismissed it was a nerdy old man fad, made obsolete by modern bike saddles that have a cut out center. But by then, it was already known that I was interested in the subject and I’d gotten a few other articles, including a recent scientific paper claiming that women (!) who spent a lot of time riding were losing sensation in their lady parts over time. This additionally perplexed me as my general advice to women beginning to ride seriously is to spend a solid 2 weeks in moderate pain while your body ‘adjusts.’ While the science remains foggy, I thought I’d reach out to noseless saddle companies and figure it out through actually installing them on bikes and riding them around in the real world. I also knew I was going to be laughed at by the 20-30 year old bike messengers, long time commuters and other riders that I encountered everyday living in Brooklyn. So I enlisted help; Lance Mercado, professional bike builder and well respected tough guy. I knew he’d be kind enough to humor me in my adventures and has a basement full of tools, bikes and a first aid kit. It was tough to track these things down: I largely followed the NYT article and found a few ‘directory/blog’ sites. When they had all arrived we started installing them on bikes.
NexRide pivoting noseless saddle.
It might not have been a good idea to start off the the strangest of the bunch, but the designer seemed to understand our trepidation: package the saddle shipped in included a note that said we should ride it a dozen times before making the decision of liking it or not. Ok, fair enough. 12 though? Installing the seat was the most fun we had. It was stapled together and looked very DIY in construction. I worried the nice man I talked to was making these in his garage or something. Worse (or better) we saw where the hardware design had gone through a few iterations to avoid certain genital doom and had a good laugh over the neoprene sleeve that covers up the two rails that attach it to the seat post. But how does it ride? First: most of the reviews I’ve seen are by (let’s be honest) middle aged or older men on relaxed commuter or recumbent bikes. We set ours up on a fixed gear street bike and did errands around Brooklyn. As much as we tried, it seemed like a distraction and was never comfortable – or an improvement over one of our regular saddles. It kinda bummed me out because I didn’t want to say anything bad about the product, but on the other hand, we couldn’t find anything good about it either. Next:
Spiderflex had us in stitches over the “spider” on the back and the web printed on the seat. Spiderman jokes aside, we began riding around on it. The construction quality of the saddle is high and we had no problems setting it up or getting going. Pretty soon it was clear what this seat is: a pretty good alternative for people who would usually ride cruiser saddles. We joked our little butts weren’t big enough for the SpiderFlex, which seems funny when you look at it for the first time and wonder how it’s going to work. I’d describe the ride as “cushy.” Out of all the ones we tested it seemed the most stable and easiest to acclimate to. In part because getting used to many of these saddles calls a lot of things into question: how to sit on them so you don’t fall off – or at least feel like you might.
From Italy (so you know it’s good) the un-saddle was our favorite for testing because 1) it looks like a heart. 2) the construction of it looks like a regular saddle, just sculpted into a heart shape that happens to exclude the offensive “nose” section of the saddle. Why isn’t the detail color pink or red? Anyway, this one was comfortable, but completely changed the position that I was used to cycling in and made sprinting and other urban riding maneuvers basically impossible. If you have a reason for seeking out something that will avoid touching your undercarriage and you’re looking for something to go on long rides along a bike path at a comfortable pace, it makes sense. Their customer service was extremely responsive, but kept contacting me with other products and the rep wasn’t completely fluent in English.
Hobson’s is clearly onto something… In the middle of our experiments I noticed a few bikes in the wilds of Manhattan, that had the look of refined everyday usage: older steel frame, quality parts stripped to the essentials of urban riding. In other words, by just looking at the bike it’s clear that their owners ride a lot and know a lot about putting a bike together. The first one I came across was an ‘adamo‘ (not tested here) with some girly detailing. I scratched my head and thought it unusual. The next one I came across in Chelsea and looked up to see a very large (man’s) bike that was clearly an everyday workhorse… with the Hobson’s saddle on it.
Then, while working at Hudson Urban Bicycles in the West Village, I discovered that Marilyn (a dedicated Times Up! cyclist and volunteer) was desperately looking to replace her old Hobson’s saddle in time to go on an epic bike tour of Ireland. After being unable to find one anywhere and discovering that I had … this …project… that I was doing, she came to the shop and asked me if there was anyway she could buy it in time for her trip. And I was curious to talk to someone (a woman no less!) who rides (a lot!) and has good things to say about these saddles in general and the Hobson’s ‘easy seat’ saddle in particular.
She mostly echoed what everyone says: that pressure on delicates is bad – for men and women – and that she simply found it more comfortable and didn’t care if anyone thought it strange or funny looking. What she did bring up that I hadn’t heard before are the myriad number of medical issues that can suddenly make our delicate parts excruciatingly sensitive; anything from hemorroids to childbirth, surgery, etc. Then it’s less preference and more necessity. Hobson’s sent us two noseless saddles: the regular one that Marilyn loves and another “sport” version (The Pro-HubX2) that has something that begins to look like a nose and somewhat resembles the adamo design, but wider. With the sport version, I felt like it was similar enough to a regular saddle that I felt comfortable riding it, but it appeared to be of a low quality construction judging by the rails and simplicity of the saddles geometry. I was beginning to be less confused by the myriad ways that all these saddles approached the same problem: don’t touch the goods! But still not personally excited to ride a particular one.
In the piles of sample saddles that we got, Hobson’s included the SQ-Lab 611 ‘Active’ (there’s also a ‘race’ version) Saddle. It came with just as many 3D renderings of sit bones and lots of illustrations of anatomy that reminded me of 8th grade science class. Worse it had all the ‘gimicks’ that I didn’t like about other noseless saddles. Though the 611 ‘Active’ is a traditional saddle, it was designed by “Dr. Stefan Staudte, Urologist & Extrembiker.” It pivots. It included a bag of what looked like multi-colored marshmallows for comfort/performance variations in flex. I ignored it for a year until in a crisis, I needed a saddle to go on a last minute bike camping trip. While I was hoping to be surprised by the noseless saddles, this one knocked my socks off. I love it. Seriously, I can’t live without it. It subtly reinforces good positioning, is incredibly light, comfortable and feels like it was crafted to MY anatomy. I also don’t worry about it looking too expensive/nice to ride it on my everyday bike (that gets a lot of miles) and appreciate that it looks like an everyday saddle, while riding like a super comfortable performance saddle.
I love a happy ending!
An update: The big boys get into the game.
Since all this time has past, it appears that larger manufacturers have gotten into the noseless saddle game. Namely fizik, with the 2014 Tritone.
Is it possible that this means that the market has become established enough for the big players to get involved? The difference in the new fizik and the adamo saddles is that they still seem designed for (potentially) aggressive or long duration rides, and with a specific market focus on Triathalon, whereas many of the saddles we tested are designed for recreational riders.
Specialized is not so quietly prototyping noseless saddles at a Tour De France time trial and a high profile triathalon during 2013.
These are the noseless saddles that I’m interested in riding. There’s also the variation in manufacturing sophistication and quality, which is pretty evident. In the end the conversation that I kept getting back to is understanding the needs of the non-competitive older recreational rider. And as much as that’s a worthwhile group of people to get happy about riding bikes, it’s not me or my direct peers. My apologies if I have been unable to properly evaluate these saddles for their intended benefit. My goal was to be an “average” enthusiastic cyclist and to debunk some of the mystery surrounding these products.