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8 Tri Saddles Tested.
By Tom Demerly.


Read This About Our Reviews First


The new generation of triathlon saddles are specifically designed to sit in the aero posture.


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 contact
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 tested.
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 SLR T1).

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.



Rav-X Aeromax Triathlon.

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.



Blackwell Flow

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.

 

Selle San Marco Aspide Triathlon Gel.
196 grams
27.5 cm.
Cervelo TT Special
234 grams

27.7 cm.

Rav-X Aeromax
240 grams
28 cm.
Fizik Arione Triathlon
254 grams

30 cm.

Profile Tri Stryke
256 grams
29.5 cm.
Selle San Marco Azoto
264 grams
27.5 cm.
Blackwell Research ISM Race
276 grams
24.5 cm.
Blackwell Research
284 grams
27.4 cm.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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