- Noseless Saddles: tested & updated
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.
- Surly Straggler – sparkle monster version of the cross check?
At dirt bike demo at #Interbike2013 the purple sparkle stylings of the hunky Straggler from Surly stood out like a cyclocross sex bomb. As hypnotic as it is in person, there’s 2 big questions:
#1 How is it different than the Cross Check?
#2 How does it compare to the All-City Macho Man/Nature Boy in ride or style? (I’ll leave that for another post)
Surly gets that the Straggler is confusingly similar to the Cross Check and blogged about it.
Since bike nerds love geometry, let’s look at that first:
42cm 46cm 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm 62cm 64cm Seat Tube Length
16.5 18.1 19.7 20.5 21.3 22.0 22.8 23.6 24.4 25.2 Top Tube Length
19.8 20.2 20.7 21.5 22.2 22.8 23.4 23.9 24.5 25.2 Effective Top Tube Length
20.5 20.8 21.1 21.7 22.2 22.8 23.4 24.0 24.6 25.2 Head Tube Angle 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 Seat Tube Angle 75.0 74.5 74.0 73.5 73.0 72.5 72.5 72.0 72.0 72.0 BB Drop 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.8 Chainstay Length 16.5 16.5 16.7 16.7 16.7 16.9 16.9 16.9 16.9 16.9 Wheelbase 38.8 38.9 39.2 39.6 40.0 40.6 41.2 41.6 42.2 42.8 Standover Height 28.7 29.5 30.3 30.6 31.2 31.9 32.6 33.3 34.1 34.8 Head Tube Length 3.6 3.6 3.6 3.6 4.2 4.8 5.7 6.5 7.3 7.8 Fork Length 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 Fork Rake 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 Stack 21.0 21.0 21.0 21.0 21.6 22.3 23.3 24.0 24.7 25.2 Reach 14.8 14.9 15.0 15.4 15.6 15.8 16.1 16.2 16.6 17.0
The Cross Check:
42cm 46cm 50cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 60cm 62cm Seat Tube Length
16.5 18.1 19.7 20.5 21.3 22.0 22.8 23.6 24.4 Top Tube Length
19.9 20.3 21.1 21.5 22.0 22.4 22.8 23.6 24.0 Effective Top Tube Length
20.6 20.8 21.3 21.5 22.0 22.4 22.8 23.6 24.0 Head Tube Angle 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 72.0 Seat Tube Angle 75.0 74.5 74.0 73.5 73.0 72.5 72.5 72.0 72.0 BB Drop 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.6 2.6 Chainstay Length 16.5 16.5 16.7 16.7 16.7 16.7 16.7 16.7 16.7 Wheelbase 39.0 39.1 39.6 39.6 39.9 40.1 40.5 41.1 41.5 Standover Height 28.8 29.6 30.3 30.6 31.2 31.9 32.7 33.4 34.1 Head Tube Length 3.6 3.6 3.6 3.6 4.0 4.8 5.6 6.3 7.1 Fork Length 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 15.7 Fork Rake 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 Stack 20.8 20.8 20.8 20.8 21.2 21.9 22.7 23.4 24.1 Reach 14.9 15.0 15.3 15.3 15.5 15.5 15.7 16.0 16.2
Got that? Good. No? Don’t worry, it’s basically extremely similar and both are fun to ride. If you haven’t drank enough kool-aid to get into geometry to that level of detail – go out and ride the two right after each other. It’s the best way to know which one is going to rock your world anyway.
*Hidden Special Secret Knowledge Bonus: If you’re tall (over 6′) it gets hard to fit regular sized bikes. Surly makes bikes that size unusually well for tall people.
From Surly, “the Straggler, Surly’s long overdue disc brake equipped cross bike. The first thing you’ll probably notice is that it’s got disc brakes. Good, now that we got that out of the way let me point out a couple more things that make it stand apart from our venerable CrossCheck. The rear dropouts have been totally redesigned with a couple things in mind – Disc brakes, rear derailleur, single speed, and ease of wheel removal. The Straggler frame & fork is also ED coated to help to improve the life of your frame. The Straggler fork is using the Long Haul Trucker dropouts, mid blade & crown eyelets to accommodate a wide verity of fenders and racks.”
From my test ride: This is in some ways a trend bike: disc brakes + cyclocross aspects (drop bars) with enough fork/tire clearance to start dropping jargon like Monster Cross! Which is cool, because unlike fat bikes – I’m super into that. Cyclocross is wicked fun, but those bikes also make amazing touring bikes, everyday commuters and trail. What’s not to love?
On the dirt demo trails it was an awesome juxtaposition from some of the overly designed full suspension ulta-whatever bikes that seem to remove the rider from the feel of the road or the bike. The Straggler feels connected, fast & fun. Dig it!
- Functional Bike Desk from Kickstand Furniture LTD
Like the Lock Ness Monster or Yeti, a desk you can spin at while being able to do the computer work that everyone has to do is something that people have talked about for years. Every few years I’d see a prototype (usually in an asian industrial design competition), but otherwise it remained a kind of urban legend. So imagine my excitement when I found an American company that had not only built a prototype, but had gone through production and evolved to a version 2.0 selling for only $349 or $850. No way! I had to try it out.
First: this desk is raw, heavy steel. Astoundingly sturdy. And very easy to put together if you’re strong enough to handle the pieces. And pretty! Tall men (like Wolfpack Hustle‘s Don Ward) mistook it for a standing desk, which it would be good for – but a little too high for a normal size person like me. (5’7″)
Kickstand Furniture is designed by Dan Young and they’ve already been featured in Wired, Grist, psfk, Treehugger, Trend Hunter and the New York Times. So I was super excited when Dan offered to send Red#5 Yellow#7 a bike desk to display during the ‘Bikes in the House!’ show July 12 – Aug 23, 2013.
By now you get the idea. But the fun is in the experience. Here’s a local cyclist checking it out:
- Birdhouse Bike Rack by Dimini Design
Dimini Design is the talented Lauren Thomas, from Toronto Canada. Her ‘Birdhouse Bike Rack’ had already caught the attention of Martha Stewart and several international design publications before being featured in the ‘Bikes in the House!’ show at Red#5 Yellow#7 in Los Angeles.
It’s both a gorgeous and functional piece, made in Canada. The ‘rack’ is designed for small top tubes, the kind you’d see on old steel road bikes and would be adorable way to store a small profile single speed commuter bike. Because of the proximity to the wall, you won’t be able to fit mountain handlebars on this indoor wall mounted wood rack.
The ‘birdhouse’ is perfect for storing a helmet, keys, patch kit or other small things. We were super lucky to have Lauren in LA during the show opening (she was doing a design project in Pasadena!) and was the first person to ring in the show with a group of friends and awesome energy. She does a lot more than just these gorgeous bike racks, so keep up with her design adventures!
- So & So Design from Los Angeles
At first the welded racks seem a bit wobbly, but as soon as you place a bike (or two!) on them, they’re solid. The cute anchor and arrow details are also there to hang a helmet, keys or other things off of, so your place has instantly become more attractive and organized. No more bike pile! They’re ideal for apartment dwellers or renters who can’t drill into their walls, but still want a lovely way to store bikes indoors. They’re made with repurposed materials and though hard to photograph, look pretty fantastic just about anywhere.
Here’s the Anchor rack installed with a Jamis bicycle supplied by Orange 20 Bikes:
We were also fortunate to get their adorable hand stamped wood coasters and a custom hanging lamp, made from recycled bicycle handlebars (and using their gorgeous Edison light bulbs that you can get on their website!) Originally commissioned for the San Francisco Levi’s flagship store, the lamp was one of three light fixtures in the show (with Bo Mopera’s desk lamp and Carolina Fontoura Algaza’s chain-delier)
A Bicycle Gallery
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