Read this first about our reviews
The first time you tried aero
bars you probably thought two things: "They really
do make me faster and, now my saddle really hurts- it feels
like I'm only using the front 1/3rd."
When aerobars were invented by Boone Lennon
around 1987 he had no idea the impact they would have on
cycling in general and the sport of triathlon specifically.
Now, 15 years later, it is a rarity to see any bike in a
transition area without the elbow-steering, aerodynamic
So profound is the contribution of Aerobars
that a new generation of bicycles- triathlon specific frames-
are designed around the aerodynamic posture mandated by
Boone Lennon's creation. Dan Empfield (Quintana Roo founder,
Slowtwitch.com Editor) and Ralph Ray were the visionaries
that recognized the need for a specific frame to optimize
the comfort and performance benefits of aero bars. They
brought the sport closer to realizing its potential and
making it easier, faster and more fun for the masses.
As is often the case, however, filling one
need lead to another. Soon after aerobars and multisport
specific frames became de riguer the Werner Von Braun of
triathlon bikes, Dan Empfield, realized the need for a triathlon
specific saddle to go with triathlon specific aero bars
Empfield had been talking about an aerobar
specific saddle design for years. He recognized that a triathlon
cyclist's pelvis is rotated farther forward than a normal
road posture and put extreme pressure on soft tissue areas
not well suited for long term loads. Most of us are familiar
with the sensations associated with riding aerobars: At
first your crotch hurts. Man or woman (it doesn't matter)
you are pulled forward onto your genitals and the pounding
of the road and corresponding downforce caused by pulling
up on your pedals grinds your crotch into the saddle. It
burns, feels bruised and, if your lucky, eventually goes
completely numb so at least you don't have to think about
the pain anymore. But then comes the big worry: Permanent
Several years back Bicycling magazine (Rodale
Press) broke a sensational cover story about "Male
Erectile Disfunction" being caused by bicycle saddles.
The article was written by a "doctor" and featured
graphic and gruesome X-rays of a cyclist's pelvis tilted
forward onto a bike seat with their genitals smashed into
an impossible contortion like something out of a San Francisco
S&M underground magazine. Testimonials from wounded
cyclists recounted horror stories of impotence and permanent
genital numbness in men and women.
The article was paraphrased in The New York
Times and other national publications sending shock waves
throughout the cycling world. Literally overnight men and
women everywhere thought the biggest threat to their sexual
capability wasn't AIDS but a bicycle saddle.
Always ready to turn a need into an opportunity
the bicycle industry responded with a new generation of
"anatomically correct" so called "men's"
and "women's' specific" saddles. These saddles
feature holes, grooves, "comfort channels" and
all manner of distortions to supposedly facilitate genital
health. The cycling industry had discovered a universal
truth of marketing to the American public: The quickest
way to a person's wallet is through their crotch. People
will do anything to save their privates or make them work
better. Like "bike Viagra" these saddles sold
as face as we could unbox them.
The problem: Triathletes
ride on the nose of their saddle.Tthe solution is the new
Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon saddle.
Ironically, the following month Bicycling
magazine ran a retraction to the sensational saddle article,
siting numerous errors and factual inaccuracies that lead
to the exaggeration of the problem and called the good "doctor's"
qualifications into question. It was too late, the American
cycling public was already buying "men's comfort saddles"
and "female specific saddles" at a dizzying rate,
and the industry was more than happy to ring up the sales.
Meanwhile, in the real cycling world, the
new saddle designs were exposed for exactly what they are:
A stupid idea that doesn't work.
In the Tour de France you may notice all the
saddles are basically conventional. There are no holes in
them, no "pressure relief channels" and no gimmickry.
They are just good (or bad) 'ole hard racing saddles. Day
in and day out, for hours a day, the cyclists in the Tour
de France sit on normal looking bike seats that closely
resemble the same saddles used thirty years ago. Tour de
France riders understand more about saddle discomfort (and
comfort) than any other group of cyclists, and they know
the answer isn't in a bunch of dubious novelty "men's"
saddles with holes and slots. The typical Tour de France
rider insures saddle comfort, or at least tolerance, through
building plenty of miles, using the best shorts possible,
using chamois pad cream and selecting a good, firm saddle
design without any holes or channels. Does it work? Put
it this way: Nine-time tour de France rider Frankie Andreu
is expecting his third child. Five time Tour de France winner
Eddie Merckx has two kids. Neither of them ever used "men's
In 1999 and 2000 I tried several different
brands of "men's" saddles designed to relive pressure
from the arteries leading into the genitals and be generally
more comfortable. They felt interesting at first- like they
may even be some kind of an improvement- but they all ultimately
Intuitively the saddles with the holes in
the middle seem like a good idea. After all, you basically
find the part of the saddle that is digging into your crotch
and making your dick go numb and take that part out. It
seems to make sense. The problem is, as soon as you put
weight on the saddle by sitting on it the hole closes up
or the "comfort channel" flattens out leaving
you sitting in a depression in the saddle with the forward
portion smashed firmly against the family jewels. Eventually,
the effect actually becomes worse.
When I used a "men's" saddle with
a small hole in the middle and a "comfort groove"
I got a series of saddle sores on either side of my crotch.
Despite using excellent shorts, chamois cream and everything
else to provide saddle comfort this "men's" saddle
was tearing the skin in my crotch up. I was no more or less
numb than when I used a conventional saddle. When I finally
went back to a standard racing saddle (Selle Italia Flite)
I couldn't believe how much of an improvement it was over
the ridiculous "men's" model.
I learned what most cyclists already know:
The novelty "men's" and "women's" saddles
really don't work. At best, they are a temporary solution
for cyclists still getting used to sitting on a bike seat
until they get acclimated to sitting on a proper racing
saddle that will provide adequate support and disperse load
over a wider surface area.
In the mean time Dan Empfield had not given
up on his idea of a "triathlon specific" saddle.
The need was clear: People who ride on aero handlebars commonly
slide forward on their saddles using mostly the nose. The
effect is like a two-hour visit to the proctologist while
doing a 40-mile ride. The saddle is going up your butt with
the nose absolutely crushing your privates. Man or woman,
the effect is universal: It hurts. Since so many multisport
and triathlon cyclists are new to the sport they were unaccustomed
to high degrees of saddle discomfort, let alone that special
brand of discomfort from riding the nose of your saddle
while in the aero position. These new triathletes were ripe
candidates for the current generation of phony "comfort"
saddles. Like P.T. Barnum said, "There's one born every
minute". Oddly, new triathletes seemed oblivious to
the fact that Tour de France riders and elite professional
triathletes were not using these ridiculous "man's"
and "women's" saddles with the holes and gooves.
saddles with grooves and holes seem like a good idea, but
really don't work as well as the Azoto. Click here to see
After several years of contemplating designs
and fabricating prototypes Dan Empfield joined forces with
one of the world's leading saddle makers, Selle San Marco,
to produce the first really effective saddle designed to
be used in the aero position: The Selle San Marco Azoto
I have ridden the Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon
saddle extensively on many different bikes on different
terrain and in different clothing. The effect is clear:
The Selle San Marco Azoto triathlon saddle
is the biggest contribution to saddle comfort for triathletes
ever. It is the most comfortable saddle I have used and
the only one that can be effectively and tolerably ridden
for extended periods in the aero position. The net result
is: Greater comfort and improved performance. Since you
don't have to stop pedaling every few hours to let some
blood return to your crotch you can keep pedaling, so the
seat actually makes you faster.
The Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon saddle
is a highly sophisticated design. It uses some interesting
materials that make it perfectly suited for the unusual
needs of triathletes.
Firstly, the Azoto is designed to be ridden
for a long time in the aero position by men or women. Saddles
are a highly personal thing. What works for one person may
not necessarily work for another. But the Azoto has worked
for more people than any other saddle solution we have tried.
Out of well over 100 saddles sold we have received only
one return (from a very small rider about 100 pounds who
complained the nose was "too wide"). If we could
get more, we would have sold 200+ by now. We even debated
the wisdom of publishing this review since supply on the
saddles has been short and demand so high. But the Azoto
works so well it is destined to be the standard "triathlon
The thick 5 cm. deep nose of the
Azoto Triathlon houses multi-density elasto-polymer gel
padding. The only saddle designed specifically for triathletes.
When Empfield set out to design the Azoto
for Selle San Marco he recognized the problems inherent
in the current generation of novelty saddles with holes
and grooves. He also was more familiar with the saddle requirements
of the aerobar cyclist than anyone else. He also knew that
triathletes have another unusual requirement in their saddles:
Since they get on their bike after a race with wet clothing
from the swim the saddle needed to be resistant to water
and comfortable when soaking wet and being ridden in only
a swimsuit. This was a tall order, but he and Selle San
Marco have succeeded in dramatic fashion.
The Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon uses a
"nose first" design that incorporates a firm,
multi-density elasto-polymer gel well in the nose. This
is where triathletes sit on the saddle, grinding their privates
down with every pedal stroke and little bump they hit. The
gel-well is 5cm. (about 2 inches) deep and extends back
12 centimeters n the saddle to a point behind its lightweight
titanium rail forward attachment point. This area of the
saddle is covered with a slippery neoprene. The thinking
is simple: If you can't put bike short fabric on your body
(because you're wearing abbreviated tri shorts or a wet
bathing suit) you put that fabric right on the saddle over
the gel. It works perfectly. Even thought the nose of the
Azoto is blissfully wide and supportive, the sides are smooth
and slippery. You can ride the nose for hours without problems.
The shape of the Azoto is another revolution.
The nose is squared off as viewed from the front. Unlike
other saddles that have a very round cross section in their
nose the Selle San Marco Azoto is designed to support weight
on its nose. Other saddles are designed to hold the rider's
weight on the back of the saddle. Look at an Azoto from
the front and you'll see the total surface area you sit
on at the nose is almost 30% greater than a Selle Italia
Flite or other saddle (including "comfort" or
"men's" saddles). Again, the nose is specifically
designed to ridden with aero bars.
popular saddles compared with the Azoto on the bottom. Click
here for more specifics.
Another interesting feature of the Azoto is
the weird little chrome-plastic cover under the nose. I
don't know if it was intended for this, but the "hook"
formed by the protrusion of this weird little chrome piece
makes racking your bike from under the saddle in the transition
area a breeze!
As you move back on the Azoto saddle the fabric
changes to Lorica. Lorica is a space-aged synthetic leather
much better suited for triathletes than real leather. Lorica
breaths as good as leather, takes stitching better and is
much more water-resistant and color fast than dyed leather.
This is another stroke of genius on the part of Selle San
Marco and Dan Empfield: They selected a fabric that works
perfectly when you have on wet clothes after you come out
of the water.
The tail of the Azoto saddle has a slight
spoiler effect when installed correctly (more on that in
a minute). This certainly helps when climbing seated, generally
the best climbing posture on a triathlon geometry bike.
Since tri bikes have a steeper 78-degree seat angle you
really have to push back on the saddle to get good leverage
on the pedals when climbing. The Selle San Marco facilitates
that by enabling you to push all the way to the rear of
the saddle and use the "spoiler" for leverage.
This means installing the Azoto is a bit tricky. When we
received our first Azoto saddles a few months ago we installed
them like a regular racing saddle, using a bubble level
to make the nose and tail of the saddle on the same plane,
perfectly level. We quickly learned this is wrong. If you
orient the saddle perfectly level the nose has the effect
of being too high. After hundreds of miles of experimentation
we learned the ideal orientation (at least for us) was to
have the saddle angled exactly 4 degrees downward toward
the nose. This has the effect of making the nose platform
flat or parallel with the ground with the tail (Lorica)
portion angled slightly up like a spoiler. This is where
you get maximum comfort on the nose gel-well and best climbing
leverage from the tail of the saddle.
The Azoto saddle measures exactly 126mm wide
and 275mm long, or 5mm longer than a standard racing saddle.
These dimensions are appropriate. The saddle is 5.5cm. deep
at its thickest point, slightly deeper than many current
lightweight racing saddles such as the Selle Italia Flite
and Selle Italia SLR. The rails are titanium to keep the
weight to 273 grams on our test models. Sure, this is a
bit heavier than some of the lightest saddles out there,
but in the interest of comfort it is weight well spent.
If you are more comfortable on the saddle you can pedal
a lot harder for much longer and go a lot faster. The saddle
sells for around $120.
I currently own three Selle San Marco Azoto
Triathlon saddles, one on each of my triathlon bikes. I
consider the saddle the biggest multisport specific innovation
since the aerodynamic handlebar and triathlon specific frame.
In fact, the Azoto saddle is the one piece of equipment
that completes the triathlon evolution. Now all the pieces
fit together, the aerobars work with the frame and the saddle
works with the rider.
The saddle is so much more comfortable than
a tradition road or "men's" comfort saddle with
holes or grooves that I will never switch back. I can ride
flat-out for 40 miles in the aero position with substantially
less discomfort, increased power and no numbness. We are
hearing similar reports from female cyclists as well. Even
in a Speedo swimsuit the saddle is more than tolerable:
It is comfortable. On long rides it is luxurious.
If you value your saddle comfort and are sick
of phony "comfort" and "men's" or "women's"
specific novelty saddles we recommend you try the Azoto.
There hasn't been a saddle innovation this significant since
the invention of the aerodynamic handlebar.