17 Nov 2014

17th November 2014 Burning Saddles!

Monday 17th 47F, 8C, light breeze, incredibly dark, very heavy overcast. It is supposed to be less windy today and mostly dry. Though it seems to be raining at the moment and there are rain drops all over the windows. Even at 8am[CET] it is too dark to see much outside. The DMI radar is showing a belt of rain over south Fyn. "It" drizzled on my walk.

Left after lunch into dry but uniform grey. Almost still but enough of a breeze to help me home. Not feeling very energetic at the moment. Probably still weakened by the 'flu. Only 17 miles.

Tuesday 18th 46F, 8C, light breeze, light drizzle, heavy overcast. Why isn't aggressive overtaking of a cyclist or pedestrian classed as threatening behaviour? If I wave an iron bar in the high street the police will be called and I may well be arrested. If a driver uses threatening behaviour with a 40 ton, articulated lorry in the high street he/she goes completely unpunished. Drivers can cherry pick which laws they adhere to with a vanishingly small chance of prosecution. Murder by vehicular "accident" would be a difficult case to prove. The driver can claim the default "avoiding a cat" almost with impunity. Cyclists and pedestrians may not cherry pick. Yet many drivers perceive cyclists as "getting away with murder." Welcome to the twilight zone of "might is right." It never stopped drizzling. Another rest day.

Wednesday 19th 41F, 5C, drizzle with light winds and heavy overcast.

I have retied the B17 'Special' lace yet again. It is difficult to keep the lace taught in the longer term despite my decades of experience with knots. I am using a multi-turn, clench on one end. With a figure of eight knotted loop at the fixed end but the lace is only just long enough. There isn't much room between the inner saddle cheeks either. I chose this lace for its thickness, roundness and attractive colour and  appearance against the leather. The lace has shown no tendency to cut the leather so far.

Tying a saddle flattens the spine. Particularly when supporting the rider's weight. Using your fingers or thumbs to press a saddle top is quite unlike a normal rider's load on the leather. Tying also avoids the need to repeatedly re-tension the nose nut. A sagging saddle seems to force only one position on the rider. [In the middle of the sag] It also increases the relative height of the rear cantle plate and reinforced nose area.

 Pushing oneself backwards brings one in direct contact with the hard rear edge. Pushing forward simply removes the ideal sit bone support and throws all the rider's weight on the soft parts of the crutch. Which is biologically and genetically unintended for such a purpose.

An ideal leather Brooks saddle is at its most comfortable when it is only just broken in but before the spine starts to sag. The widest, flattest part of the saddle, where the sit bones normally rest, has then become pliable enough to spread the load and avoid hammering the bone contact areas. This is when the leather saddle offers some "hammock" style cushioning, increased contact area and local flexibility under load. While the still-relatively flat, saddle spine continues to offer the greater overall surface area to reduce the contact loading per square unit of area.

The Vetta SL was/is the only plastic saddle I could/can ride without instant discomfort. Note its generous width and very flat rear. Its plastic form is covered in thin foam and vinyl. [The foam is rather prone to denting and the vinyl poorly fixed in places] I still haven't confirmed whether this was the lady's MTB model but a solitary website suggests it is. Despite having rather narrow sit bone spacing [according to the memory foam test cushions in the bike shops] I seem to need a wider, flatter saddle to enjoy any degree of comfort. I find a B17 far more comfortable than the slightly narrower 'Professional' model. Why would the small difference in width matter if I have such narrow sit bone spacing??? Good question! Probably because the sit bone spacing test cushions are completely worthless! [IMO]

I am not remotely convinced that the usual test cushions are very useful as a guide to saddle choice. Being set so low on a completely flat bench it is very difficult to lean forwards enough to achieve a normal riding position. Not without one's knees hitting one's chest: Which just means these memory foam testers are more pseudo-scientific bullshit from the same makers of uncomfortable saddles!  

A proper [sit bone] measuring cushion should be fixed on a basic saddle form mounted on very  basic stationary bicycle stand. With widely adjustable handlebars vitally necessary so that the subject can set up a reasonably normal riding position. With their feet still safely planted on the floor for complete control and stability. The question then arises how much lateral curve should the test cushion "saddle" have? The curve across the width is one of the most vital parameters relating to measurements of sit bone spacing.  

Riding high mileages quickens a leather saddle break-in but greatly increases the risk of a sagging saddle spine. Those who complain of discomfort during an extended break in period may not be riding long or far enough to achieve any break-in of the leather.

Tightening the nose tension nut/screw on a leather saddle is often a complete disaster and should be avoided as much as possible! The increased tension just causes the sit bone, support areas to slope forwards. Which is the very last thing you want if long term, high mileage comfort is desired. The ideal form is a sunken, smooth dip just under the sit bones.

Tying the saddle, with a lace, seems to overcome the re-tensioning problem by actually raising the seating area triangles. This much is all too obvious if you simply squeeze the saddle cheeks together until they meet the frame rails. Tensioning a leather saddle at the nose only causes indented "creases" which pass right through the seating area at the rear. I call this a "delta form" and consider it highly undesirable. My Brooks "Professional" was so maltreated and has still not recovered despite repeated soaking and reshaping with packing under the leather top.

Anyone would think it possible to design a much better saddle in a cheap, stiff, man-made material simply by gently sinking the sit bone support areas slightly. Yet the manufacturers insist on building their saddles on a stiff, moulded plastic or CF base always with smoothly curved top surface. Leaving no room for the potential extra thickness of cushioning material on the sit bone support areas. The default curve is only a desperate attempt to try and support a wider range of sit bone spacing without admitting it is a complete disaster for most riders. The curve actually forms a wedge which tries separate the sit bones. Being stiff bone they do not want to be separated! All the smooth curve does, in practice, is to cause heavy localised loading and increased discomfort! The saddle's resistance to the sit bone loads is always perpendicular to the applied load.

Over a century of leather saddle experience is being completely ignored by every artificial saddle manufacture I know of. A comfortable, just-broken in leather saddle is quite wide at the rear, almost flat across the back but has has the vitally softer and slightly sunken sit bone areas. Leather saddle's comfort levels are legendary amongst high mileage riders. Not simply because they are made of leather but because they take on the shape of the rider over time. Everything else about leather, except appearance, is a disaster waiting to happen. They are ridiculously heavy, badly non-waterproof and subject to further, unwanted change/breakdown over time. Worse, they cannot be frozen in time at their very best [and most comfortable shape.] From that point on it is all bad news.

How difficult can it be to duplicate this "just broken in" classic leather shape with modern materials? Most "modern" saddles haven't changed since the bare plastic Unica Nitor broke the universal leather mould back in the 1960s. Another half a century of experience has simply been thrown away in the search for easy profit! Note how prices for short-lived, uncomfortable, plastic based trash continue to escalate well beyond the price of skilled, hand made, selected leather saddles. Keep taking the money!!!

A bare, saddle shaped, low temperature, thermoplastic saddle base could be warmed with a hair dryer or heat gun. Then sat on in the rider's desired position. Probably while wearing, thin but lightly insulated shorts to avoid burns to the nether regions. The plastic instantly becoming a perfectly rider-specific and comfortable shape as it cools. Without the need for the trashy cover materials and "Patented" variable density foam presently used to decorate the ridiculously overpriced, non-human formed, default curved, plastic bin fodder!

The plastic could easily be be moulded thicker at the rear and spine but left thinner and much more flexible at the vital, sit bone support areas. Thereby further increasing comfort. The bare plastic form could easily be textured in the mould to suit the particular rider's taste for degree of "slipperiness" when sat on. The downside is that the crooks producing their endless ranges of inhuman, non-human saddles would quickly find a shrinking market. The endless quest of every cyclist for a comfortable saddle might finally be over.

Saddle soreness is by far the major cause of cycling discomfort and arguably the reason most people give up cycling altogether. Or is the major factor which greatly limits their maximum possible riding distances before their pathetically designed saddle "cuts them in half!"

Yet these same pseudo-science manufacturing frauds keep churning out variations of the same bit of overpriced, upturned, plastic roofing gutter by the million! Saddle design and manufacture is not remotely rocket science. Today's enthusiastic cyclist probably has as many discarded saddles as I do. Now close to 30 and still counting. All of them too uncomfortable to ride for long distances even in their best bibs.

In my own extensive experience even a regular a bike/trike rider's crutch does not toughen up by very much. Nor do artificial saddles ever break in. [At all!] So one goes on searching in vain for something which seems to match one's own personal sit bone geometry. Only to find that particular model is now discontinued as the bullshitting hype rises to a raving crescendo in the subsidised, magazine reviews and the graphics grow ever more lurid. The fact that the Tour Pros get free saddles in exchange for hype/sponsorship should be outlawed by the UCI. But you always get the crooked politicians you deserve.

All saddles could be thin, bare, ultra-lightweight, carbon fiber reinforced, thermoplastic plastic "plates" with gently rolled edges. AND, be as comfortable as a perfectly broken in B17 at 1/4 of the retail price. But let's not let good design get in the way of profit.

"To ride a bicycle is to be badly beaten and robbed."  

Meanwhile, back at the pig ranch: Only 15 miles today. It was dark grey, but dry, with a light easterly wind. Modesty prevents me from sharing a picture of the vast bin bag  dangling off the saddle almost to the ground and filled to the brim with empty boxes. Not much weight involved but it brings a whole new meaning to; "getting one's leg over." <cough>

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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