Williamette Week Online Critical ASS
I LIKE BIKE
THE QUEST FOR A FRIENDLIER SADDLE.
BY CHRIS LYDGATE
clydgate at wweek.com
Technology has been good to cyclists. Metallurgical breakthroughs have given us flexible, lightweight frames. Computer-aided design has given us gears that don't slip and brakes that don't squeal. We've got high-impact shock absorbers and low-friction hubs and Kevlar tires.
And then there's the saddle.
The saddle has always been the bicycle's Achilles heel--an instrument of torture to rival anything dreamed up by the Marquis de Sade. From the crude equilaterals of the penny-farthing to the sleek parabolas of the Tour de France, conventional saddles share a fatal flaw--a hard-nosed horn that grinds against those tender parts that least like to be ground against (by a bicycle, at least).
Bicycle saddles are coming under renewed scrutiny: Last month, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction among bicycle cops; a study at Boston University concluded that professional cyclists are four times more likely to suffer from impotence than other athletes. And it's not just a guy thing. Riders of both genders may suffer numbness, ache and related crotch distress.
Now a Portland inventor has come up with an unorthodox solution--a split-surface platform designed to reduce pressure on the soft tissues that lurk in your nether regions. "It's a radical concept," says Jim Bombardier, president of Bycycle Inc. "But nothing else out there fits the curvature of the pelvic girdle." A computer consultant by profession, Bombardier set out on his quest for a better saddle in 1997, after his fiancée shelled out $1,000 for a new bike so they could go riding together. Around the same time, he began to experience a discomfiting numbness in his nether regions. He tried a couple of "alternative" saddle designs, but none seemed to solve the issue.
"You could say I was creatively constipated," says Bombardier.
With missionary zeal, Bombardier plunged into the science of seating. He observed dissections at the school of anatomy at Oregon Health & Science University. He studied skeletons. The problem with conventional saddles, Bombardier concluded, is that they provide only minimal support for the ischiopubic rami and their buddies, the ischial tuberosities--better known as the "sit bones." Conventional saddles also compress the soft tissues--including delicate veins, arteries and nerves--that run from your perineum to your crotch.
Bombardier's goal was a seat that mimics the flying V-shape of the sit bones. The problem is that no two Vs are exactly alike. In fact, there's a wide profusion of angles, though men tend to have narrower girdles than women do. After innumerable prototypes, Bombardier developed a radical solution: split the saddle into two halves--each contoured to hug a tuberosity--and make the angle adjustable, so that riders can customize it to their own unique shape. The result is the BiSaddle.
Priced at $69.95 and weighing 30 ounces, the BiSaddle resembles a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Shorter than conventional saddles, it's made of a visco-elastic elastomer with the approximate consistency of a bouncy rubber ball.
Adjusting the BiSaddle to fit your bike and your butt requires patience. You may have to tweak the height of the post, the angle of tilt and the position of the handlebars, for starters. After you've got that straight, you still have to fiddle with the BiSaddle itself, so that its two halves provide maximum support for your sit bones. Once the preliminary tinkering is out of the way, the first few rides may be a little, well, strange. The BiSaddle fits so snugly into your tuberosities that it feels like you're being goosed. (Bombardier calls this sensation "cupping your buns.") The saddle also requires you to adopt a slightly different posture when you pedal. This is hard to explain, but it's a little bit like walking in a new pair of shoes.
I did find some loss of power when riding uphill, though this was compensated by extra momentum on the way down. However, this is likely due to adjustment issues, Bombardier says. "People don't have a clue what their pelvic anatomy's like." Some riders take as many as 100 miles to arrive at the optimal fit.
But after four or five days, the BiSaddle proved its merit. I put it through its paces on my regular two-mile commute, which involves several bumpy intersections where I usually stand on the pedals to avoid a crotch-mangling experience. The BiSaddle absorbed the blows without complaint and left my private parts unpummeled. In fact, after a few days, I began to realize that I was no longer experiencing the low-level, half-conscious residual ache I got from my old saddle. Eventually, I began to forget I was using the BiSaddle at all--a positive omen, because the best saddle is the one you don't even notice.
The BiSaddle isn't for everyone. If you're comfortable with your current saddle, it's probably not worth the expense or the hassle. But if you're worried about bicycle-induced crotch issues, or just tired of that residual ache, the BiSaddle is definitely worth a look.