8 Tri Saddles Tested.
By Tom Demerly.
One of the first impressions you get when sitting on a properly
fitted triathlon bike is increased pressure on the nose of the
saddle as the pelvis rotates farther downward. As the pelvis
rotates clockwise in the aero position the rider begins to sit
on the saddle differently than on a normal road saddle. Because
of this different posture triathlon saddles need to be built
differently than a normal road saddle.
Riding on the nose of the saddle
and feeling increased pressure in your crotch is normal on a
triathlon bike. The majority of the rider’s weight is
on the front 1/3 of the saddle when riding in the aero position.
When bike builders, saddle designers and triathlon bike fitters
began to realize this a new generation of triathlon specific
saddles was born.
Riding in the aerobars means you are riding on the nose
of your saddle
with the pelvis rotated forward and your crotch in firm
with the narrow part of the saddle.
Among the very first popular and
widely available tri saddles was the Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon
Gel saddle. The Azoto was designed in part by triathlon bike
innovator Dan Empfield. Empfield’s insights helped shaped
the design and appearance of most popular triathlon saddles
and that influence is seen in almost all of their designs. Triathlon
saddles generally have a more padded nose and a flatter cross
section to disperse body weight and saddle pressure over a wider
surface area at the nose of the saddle and in your crotch. The
best of the saddles also have subtle differences in the rails
and may be longer to facilitate a wider range of postures. Some
saddles have a host of bells and whistle such as “comfort”
slots or “relief” holes. Some of these features
work better than others, and some create more problems than
they are worth.
Over the past three years we’ve
ridden a wide variety of saddles and fitted thousands of people
on bikes with some combination of these saddles. Some of the
saddles in this review are relatively new, others are tried
and true. These are the eight truly stand-out saddles that best
facilitate the aero position.
A relative comparison of the eight triathlon saddles we've
Notice the difference in length, shape and the location
of the taper in the
saddle toward the nose.
In a survey of eight saddles the one screaming question is,
“Which one is best?” That is a good question,
but one you have to answer for yourself. We’ve narrowed
it down to eight good choices. Saddle choice is highly individual.
What works for one person won't necessarily work for another.
You simply have to ride a few for some time to find your favorite.
Within these eight it is almost certain you will find a saddle
that works for you. No saddle is 100% comfortable and all
riders experience a degree of discomfort, especially at first.
The keys to managing saddle comfort are another article altogether.
However, looking at the saddle as the source of all saddle
discomfort and the potential solution is short sighted. A
number of factors contribute to overall saddle comfort; the
saddle itself is just one of those factors. That is the factor
we are looking at here.
Fizik Arione Triathlon.
The triathlon version of the innovative
Fizik Arione road saddle. This is the first of the 30cm
long saddles. The advantage of a longer saddle is simply
more places to sit. Every rider slides fore and aft
on the saddle during a ride depending on terrain, effort,
cadence and comfort. Extra length means more options.
Extra length also provides the bike fitter with some
additional options for dialing in the rider's reach
measurement. Some riders argue the generous, pointed
rear protrusion if useless. It isn't. You will never
use it until you are on a steep, dangerous, technical
descent such as Ironman 70.3 Monaco. The rear point
does come in handy on those rare instances when a rider
needs to be very far back on the saddle for control.
The nose section is rounded and a nice firmness. Most
people who try the Arione Tri like it and stick with
it. It is well made and elegantly styled. Fizik has
also announced a new version called the Fizik Arione
Tri Carbon with a detailed, perforated upper, carbon
frame and rails and a slightly different appearance.
This new version is slated for Summer 2006.
Cervelo/Selle Italia TT Special (similar to Selle Italia
This is an Original Equipment Manufacturer
(OEM) saddle used by Cervelo on their tri bikes from
the Dual Ultegra to the P3C. It is an excellent saddle
in every respect and works for many customers. At only
234 grams it is the second lightest in our survey, making
it a stand out. The flat and concave nose cross section
deforms slightly under rider weight distributing saddle
pressure very nicely. The nose is flat on the side and
gently curved over the top, flattening slightly under
rider weight. The saddle is based on the Selle Italia
SLR T1 design and even carries the Selle Italia trade
name. It is not widely available as an aftermarket saddle
but comes on Cervelo bikes. Larger Cervelo dealers may
have some extras on hand from saddle swaps. As is typical
with Cervelo’s OEM spec from brakes to wheels,
this saddle represents one of the finest in comparison
to any other. It would (and does) do well as an aftermarket
upgrade. As an OEM saddle, it is another good reason
to consider a Cervelo bike.
A pleasant surprise from this obscure
commodity component supplier. Rav-X is known among retailers
as a good source for high margin items such as tire
pumps and CO2 inflators. Their triathlon saddle is light,
comfortable and uses a shape that mimics the SLR T1/
Cervelo saddle. The cover is a synthetic polymer that
is water resistant and perforated. Basically the saddle
feels fairly similar the Cervelo/ Selle Italia saddle
but is a trifle softer, which may make it a good choice
for smaller riders. Because of the polymer cover the
saddle will scuff easily. At 240 grams and 28 centimeters
it is the third lightest in our survey. In general,
a good saddle for medium to light riders and for both
males and females. This saddle has slightly higher girth
(dimension from top of saddle to bottom of rails) than
other we have used, and this affects your bike fit.
Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon Gel.
The first of the widely available triathlon
saddles. The Azoto is relatively heavy but the increased
comfort is worth the additional weight. A generously
padded nose has a very flat cross section. The saddle
is covered in fabric that holds up well when riding
in wet triathlon shorts. The rear 1/3 is either leather
or some type of synthetic leather such as Lorica. In
general the Azoto is at it best with Average size men
and above. The width of the nose increases under rider
weight making it too wide for people whose thighs are
close together when pedaling. For larger riders, it
is a good choice though. When new the saddle has very
nice firmness, not too hard, not too soft. It does break
down after a couple seasons which is about all you can
expect when the seat is being ridden long miles and
the rider is starting out in wet clothing with most
of the rider load concentrated on the nose. This is
an early triathlon saddle design so the length of the
saddle is pretty standard at 27.5 centimeters and the
rails have a fairly normal range of adjustment. The
Azoto started out as the best (and only) tri specific
saddle but now lags behind some of the other designs
at least in terms of novelty. It is still as good as
the day it came out, and that is pretty good even compared
to a lot of the new comers.
More research probably went into this
saddle than even the first triathlon saddles. The Blackwell
Flow is a result of collaboration with some of the top
athletes in the sport, especially female athletes. While
it is unfair to pigeon hole this saddle as a "Women's"
saddle it does work better for female cyclists than
any of the other triathlon saddles we've tried. Triathlon
fitting legend and technical innovator John Cobb designed
the Flow along with Dave Bunce of Blackwell Research.
This saddle is 100% "form follows function".
In our experience this is one of the very best triathlon
saddles and is even used frequently on road bikes. We
found this saddle when customers recommended it to us.
The Flow is heavy, but it is weight well spent if you
have saddle discomfort on other models. This is an enormous
"problem solver" saddle and should probably
be used by more triathletes as a "problem avoider"
saddle. This is the only saddle we have never had returned
becasue it didn't work for a customer. Everyone who
has tried it, liked it.
Selle San Marco Aspide Triathlon Gel.
This may be the update of the Azoto form
Selle San Marco. A full 68 grams lighter than its older
brother the Azoto, the Aspide has a trimmer nose, is
slightly firmer and has a minimalist rear section; a
good idea since triathletes don’t sit on the back
of the saddle much anyway. The Aspide seems to be an
answer to the Azoto’s wide nose, and this saddle
works well even for smaller riders. We’ve had
consistent success with the Aspide across a broad range
of cyclists. Although it remains a 27.5 centimeter long
saddle it is an excellent choice and the lightest of
the saddles we commonly use for triathletes. It is fair
to say the Aspide is a more advanced, refined and evolved
version of the Azoto, but the Azoto may remain a good
choice for a larger rider over 170 pounds. The strength
of the Aspide is with lighter to medium riders for whom
the Azoto may have been too wide. In general, a racy,
lightweight saddle with plenty of comfort for most riders.
Profile Tri Stryke.
When it comes to bells and whistles this
saddle has them all: Padded nose, rear-set rail, "comfort"
cut out, venturi design to channel air flow and even
a transition area racking hook The gimmicks all work
on this saddle. This is perhaps the single best saddle
for medium to large riders, especially for riders who
are already suffering from saddle discomfort and/or
numbness. It can be a good saddle for medium sized females
on up, but may be too wide for smaller riders below
130 pounds or with narrow hips. For everyone else, it
is excellent. This is the only saddle I have ridden
with a cut out that I ever liked. The reason this cut-out
works when others don't is the stiffener vanes inside
the cut out that prevent the hole from collapsing under
rider weight. It is an ingenious design that also helps
channel air through the saddle for ventilation. Since
heat is a big factor in saddle comfort this is smart
design. The saddle is softish but has good lifespan.
There is almost nothing to find wrong with saddle. It
is an excellent choice and provides a long, comfortable
platform for powerful pedalling for hours in the aero
position. Highly recommended. The primary version has
titanium rails but a heavier version with Cro-Moly rails
is available as well. Profile recently announced an
updated version with no hole to be released soon.
Blackwell Research ISM Adamo Racing.
The most bizarre of the saddles we've
seen. I almost considered not trying it since it looks
so odd. That would have been a mistake since the ISM
Adamo is a very valid idea and a good saddle. While
saddles of this design seem to be intuitively a good
idea they seldom work well in practice. Think about
why every top rider in the Ironman and every athlete
in the Tour de France uses a conventional saddle- not
a saddle with holes, slots or other novelties. The truth
is, the best saddle design really is a more traditional
one. Comfort holes and "refief" rails seldom
work correctly. With one exception: This one. I did
try the ISM Adamo and it shows promise. For a person
with very serious saddle discomfort from the nose of
the saddle this saddle simply removes the nose altogether.
It actually does work in completely removing nose saddle
discomfort issues. The saddle is very short and is designed
so you sort of sit hanging off the front. I found there
is more weight on the aerobars with this saddle and
that is part of how it works: It takes some of the weight
off the saddle and puts it on the bars. This does affect
bike handling. Pedalling on the ISM Adamo is good once
you find the right angle for the saddle. Be careful
trying to go no-handed though, it is very tricky on
the Adamo since you can't "grasp" the bike
well between you legs for balance and steering. The
two forward protruding "horns" are very flexible
and move independantly as you pedal. I found the saddle
did need to be angled nose- err, where the nose should
be- downward. If you have the angle wrong there will
the prominent sensation of two saddel horns poking the
inner sides of your thigh.Effectively the ISM Adamo
completely replaces one set of problems (the nose hurting
your crotch) with a different (maybe more tolerable-
the two "horns" pushing forward) set. I only
rode the ISM Adamo three times, twice on a trainer and
once outside. It shows tremendous promise for people
with severe saddle discomfort. It is a good alternative
when all else has failed, but because it is a little
quarky to set up and places extra weight on the handlebars
I would only prescribe this saddle if a more conventional
design has not worked out. In general this is the best
of the unusual designs and really the only valid one.
If using a good saddle, good bike shorts, chamois cream
and time in the saddle haven't worked for you, buy one
of these and try it. It could be the answer.
San Marco Aspide Triathlon Gel.
San Marco Azoto
Research ISM Race
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
Site Designed and Maintained by: Intuitive