This week we’re re-sharing one of our favorite podcast episodes, and we’ll be back next week with an all-new show.
Sean Madsen is WTB’s Saddle Category Manager and is an expert in cycling biomechanics with more than 24 years of experience. Over his career he’s studied and taught bike fitting to thousands worldwide, and he’s helped create many innovative saddle concepts while working with top athletes.
In this episode, we ask Sean common questions about bike saddles including:
- How are bike saddles constructed?
- What are some of the different materials that are used for padding? Are there advantages to using materials like gel?
- What is the purpose of titanium or carbon saddle rails?
- How does bike saddle sizing work?
- Are more expensive saddles more comfortable?
- What’s the idea behind saddle cutouts?
- Why do you think the Volt is one of WTB’s best selling saddles?
- Do men and women need different bike saddles?
- Are saddles generally designed under the assumption that riders will be wearing a chamois?
- Are mountain bike saddles different from road bike saddles?
- How have saddle designs changed over the past few seasons? What’s driving the changes?
- What are some signs that it’s time for a new or a different saddle?
Find out more about saddles and WTB designs at wtb.com.
A full, automatically-generated transcript of this podcast conversation is available to Singletracks supporters.
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Hey everybody, welcome to the Singletracks podcast. My name is Jeff and today my guest is Sean Madsen. Sean is WTB’s saddle Category Manager and is an expert in cycling biomechanics with more than 24 years of experience. Over his career, he’s studied and taught bike fitting to 1000s worldwide. And he’s helped create many innovative settled concepts while working with some of the sports top athletes. Thanks for joining us, Sean.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Well, I know you’ve been with web for a little while now, obviously not your whole career. But I wanted to start out by just kind of giving an overview of of where web is now and sort of their place in the saddle market. So how and when did web TV get into bike saddles, and then specifically mountain bike saddles? Well,
again, web is a new company. For me, I’ve only been there about a year or so. But historically, they’ve been around since the mid 80s. The main saddle designer was a gentleman named Mark slate. He’s also one of the founders of the company. And so they’ve really been in saddle design from the beginning. And they’re born out of Mill Valley and, and that whole mount tam era, the repack, rides and those kind of guys. And Mark was involved with that scene back in the 80s. So they’ve really been at the birth of mountain biking from right when it started. And so that’s kind of where he came out of, and Mark is a heck of a creative kind of tinker. He likes to like, very hands on in his in his creation process of working with saddles. And, you know, a lot of his early prototypes were made of wood and wow, you know, really just, yeah, he really just kind of figured out through iterative process, kind of what worked and what didn’t work and how riders were were there and comfy and, you know, working towards, you know, making a really comfortable saddle designed towards the experience that that he wanted to have, which was mountain biking.
Yeah. Well, I mean, obviously, bike saddles existed before the 80s and before web, but it sounds like you know, this was like a new take on saddles, in some ways, right, mountain biking was a new sport. Was there something that was like wrong with the existing saddles, or something that was missing in terms of like, what people wanted from an off road?
saddle? Sure, sure. And yeah, he definitely, like I said, was very interested in, in making something that was comfortable and work for him. And, you know, like, for an off road saddle, and so, you know, he tended to go a little bit more thickly padded, than what you would find in more of the, the, the, you know, road racing style of saddle that was available at the time, especially because those bikes, you know, 26 inch wheels, with super hard psi, you know, no suspension, obviously. They were looking, they were looking for whatever kind of comfort they could get.
Yeah, interesting. Well, let’s talk in general about how bike saddles are constructed. Walk us through the anatomy of a bike saddle, and let’s start at the cover. That’s the outside part of the part that’s most visible at the top. So yeah, tell us about about subtle anatomy.
Yeah, so you know, starting at the top and looking at the saddle cover, covers are are really an integral part, obviously, they all play a big role. The the part of the cover that you know, you want to have it so that it obviously protects the saddle that encloses the foam. That’s kind of its function, but it also there’s a interface component to the rider so you can’t, if it’s too slippery, or if it’s too sticky. Those are those are problems and so some some covers have more grip to them than others. And different riders actually prefer slightly different cover materials or different slip factors. A lot of the folks that like to move around a lot on their saddle, prefer a less grippy, more slick, slick surface, and those that tend to stay planted. And there are riders that do both that those that tend to stay planted like a little bit more grippy, it helps them to stay in that one spot on the battle. But then after that, it’s got it’s got to provide protection. You know, a lot of our, almost all of our saddles WCB has corner panel protection for scuff guards. So when the bike crashes or you lay it down, you’re not tearing up the saddle. That’s a big another big consideration for a mountain bike saddle over necessarily a roadside.
Yeah, interesting. Well, let’s talk now about the padding. And, you know, you said that some of the early saddles would they were working to do is add a little bit more padding for mountain biking, what are the different materials that are used for padding in saddles, these days,
the overwhelming choice right now is fun. For sure, that’s a an EPA type of foam, that is injection molded on top of base that is easily made, it’s relative, it’s, it’s very widespread. Now there are some additives that companies will do that they’ll do dual density. So though the two different densities of foam to create softer or harder pockets, but those are fairly limited in what they can do, they can do, you know, basically like a circular spot, or just kind of a an area of a different diameter or a different density of foam. And they’ll also do that with gel. So companies will will put a gel pad, most will do it on the top of the foam. So that’s what the writer feels more immediately. Some will actually do it like on our on our speed saddle, we’ve got three gel pockets, but they’re actually towards the base of the foam, which create a nice flex characteristic of the fun. The challenge of the gel. And this is a an interesting thing that I don’t think a lot of people get I think gel is a liquid right? And so what do we know about liquids liquids are incompressible, meaning you can’t squish it. So So what happens when gel when you sit on it is that it squishes to other areas that you don’t want it it doesn’t just compress. foam. Foam itself is, is air pockets, right. And so as you squish foam, it actually will compress. But the gel won’t. And the interesting thing is gel passes what we call the thumb test, right? When a rider is there at the saddle wall and they’re looking to Pat pick out a saddle, they stick their thumb in it, it feels really soft and squishy, right? And they’re like, oh yeah, that’s gonna be great. That’s when I sit on, that’s going to be great. But it doesn’t always work that way. Because a lot of times, especially the thickly gelled saddles, the real comfort oriented ones, that gel squishes into other areas where you don’t necessarily want it to go when you’re actually sitting on the saddle.
Yeah, interesting. Yeah, it seems like you tend to see a lot of new writers especially look for those like Gil saddles, because like you said, they feel really good in the store. And, you know, I’ve even seen plenty of folks who get like a saddle cover that’s like made out of jail, and they’ll try to put that on to make the saddle more comfortable. And I think, yeah, we’ll definitely talk more about comfort factors later in the interview. Okay, so we’ve talked about the cover and the padding, what’s next in this settle sandwich that we’re talking about?
Well, then you really go down to the base and the base material, what that’s made out of, and the bass is the firm structure that the rails are bonded to, that actually provides most of the support of what you’re feeling out of the saddle, okay. And those are made out of a variety of materials most common, and most, in the lower end saddles will be just be a polypropylene base, and then it’ll be an injection molded polypropylene base. Okay. As we work up into more of the stiffer materials, you’ll get a nylon base, you’ll get a glass filled nylon base, which is even stiffer from that, and varying levels of that all the way up through to full carbon fiber bass, which will be an interesting now carbon fiber is a great, interesting material to work with, because you can tune just like you can in a frame, you can tune how the bass flexes and where it flexes. Right. And so you can make it pretty, you can make it pretty stiff. But you can also put in Flex characteristic to it, which is pretty cool. But of course it comes at a much higher price point.
Right? Yeah. Interesting. And then you mentioned the rails then attached to that base. And we see a number of different materials used for the rails, typically are those going to be like an alloy material like on the lower end saddles?
Absolutely that so they’re going to start at steel, and that’s where you see a lot of the OEM type of saddles that come on on bikes, they’ll be a steel rail, and then they’ll go up to a cromoly. Chrome molybdenum is the next level up some right. Saddles will then have a stainless steel option above cromoly. But that somewhat rare, and then they go to titanium. And there’s actually two versions of titanium, which is sometimes not very well called out, you could have a hollow tie or a solid tie. And then all the way up to, again, carbon fiber. Now, all of these materials act in different ways. So up to the steel and Komali, they’re really a weight difference between them, there’s not really a flex characteristic between them, when you start to get into titanium, now, we do have a lot more flexible material out of the rail. So some of that ride quality, that flex pattern that you feel out of the saddle, can be come out of come out of the rail. Now, carbon is generally very stiff, they actually don’t want those rails to flex very much at all. Because they’re not big enough to handle a lot of flex. So they, the carbon rails will be pretty stiff, but also pretty light.
Okay, so one of the big questions I want to ask you about and something I know a lot of people struggle with, and understanding is how does bike saddle sizing work? Seems like a lot of brands have different sizes to choose from. So how does somebody know what size they need?
Well, that’s a that’s a really good question. And sometimes it can be very challenging. And prior to a lot of the work that I did, developing sizing with my previous work, we didn’t really know and everyone kind of picked a as narrow saddle as possible. But the reality is the, you know, the human crotch is not designed to bear weight. But we’re gonna sit on bikes. Right, but we’re gonna sit on a bike seat. So how do we do that? How do we tackle that challenge. And the goal is, you know, what can bear our weight is bony structure, that’s what’s designed, our bodies are designed to sit on our bones. And so we want to make sure that we are supporting our mass on our, on our bone structure and not our soft tissue. And so that’s, you know, that’s kind of the first goal is okay, I want to sit on my bones. Now, if I’m going to sit on my bones, what are those bones called, there’s, you know, sit bones or ischial tuberosities, if we’re going to be detailed about it. And those issue tuberosities are very variable. So if I go in and measure and I’ve done this, this was actually my master’s thesis for physiology was measuring this, the variety, the variety out there is anywhere between 80 millimeters apart, and 60 millimeters apart. So that’s a really wide ban. Right? That’s a really wide span of, of people. And, you know, that’s where that’s when, when we started realizing that when I published that thesis, and then companies started looking at that and saying, Oh, well, that’s why a lot of people have trouble with saddles. And some people don’t, is that we were making a lot of saddles, and this was industry wide. We were making all of our saddles for one type of person. And guess what? People aren’t one type of people, there’s a huge variety.
And you can’t just look at somebody either and say, okay, like you have wide or narrow sit bones. This is something like internal.
Uh, yes, absolutely. The the variety out there, it there’s no correlation between hip width between pretty much anything and where the sit bones are. I’ve measured, actually one of the widest people I’ve ever measured, at 165 millimeters apart, was an elite female runner that had this boyish figure of like a 12 year old boy. So very slender, very narrow, but her to sit bones are very wide. I’ve also measured, you know, NFL football players that, you know, were massive individuals that had sit bones that were around 90 millimeters that were very narrow. So you really, you really can’t tell. I mean, yes, those are sometimes the outliers and the bell shaped curves of averages, but you really can’t tell. And the goal isn’t to to hit an average, right? Like, you know, one of the analogies I always draw is that the average man’s foot is a 42 and a half. Does that mean everyone wears 42 and a half shoes? Right? No, you know, we want to we want to custom tailor the experience for each rider and each rider wants to know what what works for them and what works for your buddy doesn’t necessarily work for you. And that’s okay, it’s just figuring out okay, I need to support on my sit bones. I don’t want to you know, I shouldn’t be going down. I shouldn’t be having, you know, issues where I can’t sit on the saddle. for an extended period of time, so I need to support those sit bones and I need to get a saddle up underneath those bones that help support that. So measuring is the gold standard, there’s many different ways of measuring, you can measure with, you know, foam pads there, they all have some variety of error. You know, there’s, there’s a couple tools out there that are more digital that that are actually really accurate. When I did my initial work, and all this was actually X ray, and correlating a lot of this stuff to X ray. So we’re able to see some very detailed oriented stuff. But that’s not you know, plausible in a bike shop setting. Obviously, you don’t want to be doing that for for average riders. Yeah. So, you know, getting a measurement is, is the first start. And like I said, there’s lots of different ways to do it, you know, working with somebody who’s done a bunch of measurements, so that they can be more repeatable and more accurate in their measuring will help. But again, you want to the goal is to sit on your sit bones, not have any midline pressure. And then from there, there’s a whole nother host of considerations, because that’s just one consideration of, of choosing the right saddle. And that’ll help you get to the right size. Some of the other considerations are soft tissue, right and not meaning perineal soft tissue, but more like, range of motion, flexibility, all these things that can happen and and influence you the way you sit on the bike and, and how you’re using the bike, also, lend a way of how you’re rotating your pelvis. So
if you can imagine somebody who’s got really good, overall flexibility, and they go to, you know, they’re standing up and they go to put their touch their toes, and they can put their palms flat on the floor, and their back is, you know, bent really far over. And that’s, you know, there’s pelvis rotates really far, that’s going to influence how they sit on their saddle versus somebody who goes to touch their toes and can barely touch their knees. Right? Yeah, it makes sense. And so that, that, and it’s really not about their back, it’s more about how much their pelvis rotates. And so we think about, and how does it why does that influence riding is that when you pedal hard, and we’ve all done this, you know, we have to climb up a steep hill, you know, that steep fire road or that steep Grunty climb? What do we do we, you know, we, our torso comes way down, it’s like we’re almost eating our stem right, our stems right up in our face. And we’re, and some of it is to keep the front wheel down. But a lot of it is actually muscle recruitment. So when we, when we do this, what we’re trying to do our bodies inherently in our brains are doing this, we’re trying to recruit more glutes, glutes are the strongest single muscle in our body. And they’re used for hip extension, right. So if I think about the pedal stroke, most of our power comes out of our glutes and our quads, from pushing down, right, we push right down on the pedals. And in a maximal situation and a really hard effort, our bodies automatically find that position where we can where we can grab that power. You know, another another good analogy of visual is doing a squat, right? When you put the weight bar on your shoulders, and you’re going to do a squat, how was your back and your pelvis aligned when you’re doing that squat, that kind of tilted forward and your spine is nice in line, and you’re using those glutes to push that weight back up. It’s the same thing in a pedal stroke, you don’t have a rounded out spine, you know, and kind of slouching when you’re trying to do a squat that turns off your glutes. But that if you if you have the ability to tilt your pelvis forward and really recruit those glutes, that’s going to influence obviously, how you’re sitting on the saddle and where your pelvis is contacting the saddle. So that’s, that’s where we come into saddle shape. And this is, you know, a whole nother whole nother aspect of choosing a saddle is you’ve got width, but then you’ve also have shapes. So saddle shapes, some are really flat, and some have some good contour to them. And how do we choose between the two and that’s a tough, that’s a tough call. And that’s where that’s where the the overall flexibility and stability come into play. So if you have good flexibility, if you have good core stability, those types of things, you chant generally will tend towards a flatter shape, because that shape will allow you to tilt your pelvis forward, what you have the ability to do, and conversely if you are a little bit limited in your flexibility and stability, you’ll tend to gravitate more towards a contoured shape or more you know, if you’re viewing it from the side I had a contoured shape, there’s kind of a hammock in the middle of the saddle, it’s kind of a cup. And it also can have some contour from left to right as well. Whereas flatter saddles, looking at him from the front, there, they’re not perfectly flat, but they’re they’re much flatter than a contour than a contoured saddle as viewed from the side, tip to tail. And that allows that pelvic freedom. But again, if you don’t have that pelvic freedom, then you want more of a cradle which helps support your pelvis in that existing position.
Wow, that’s, that’s so much to think about. I mean, it’s crazy that we expect so much out of a saddle. I mean, it’s got to be able to handle like you said, all the different shapes and sizes of people, but then also considering all the different, like ranges of motion that we go through, even in just a single ride. I mean, from the climbed the descent, you know, pedaling flat? I mean, I’m just blown away that we have even designed saddles that are comfortable.
Yes, I mean, you know, so and comfort is also an interesting thing, you know, going back to the differences in in people and individuals, some people are have very high tolerances, I guess you could say, or they can be very comfortable on things that they shouldn’t be very comfortable on that aren’t comfortable. And that’s been the problem. And that’s been the problem forever, right? Because if we think about product design, and especially saddle design, it it for way back when it all came from the elite road racer, right, it was all this, these guys can do it. Well, those guys are freaks of nature, you know, I’ve worked with them for over a decade. And they can be in, in what, in a position that most people would not tolerate? Because, you know, they’re just going to do it. And they’re, they’ve got this tolerance that doesn’t hurt, you know, and they could say, oh, yeah, I can sit on this thing that is basically a two by four. And, and then it doesn’t bother me. And I’ll do it for you know, 40 hours a week, and I’ll do it for week out on week out. But that’s not normal individuals, you know, normal people are not going to tolerate that level of pain. And it’s okay, that people that there is this big variance that, you know, there are people that I ran across a rider the other day that we were talking about saddles, and she was saying, Yeah, I just I feel that people have saddle issues, they just don’t have enough time on the saddle. And I said, Well, that’s not true, actually. Because, you know, some people doesn’t matter how long they spend the saddle, they’re never going to tolerate the wrong settle. And some people can get away with the ROM saddle, and that’s okay. It’s it’s kind of like, what settled fairytale, you know, some people are the Princess and the Pea, and others are not. And it’s okay. You know, it’s, it’s finding the right match for you. And building off of that.
Yeah. My next question. I mean, it’s a bit facetious. And, you know, I think maybe the answer is obvious based on our discussion so far, but are more expensive saddles going to be more comfortable for folks, I know, some people, you know, they may just be starting out in the sport, and they, you know, have sort of an entry level bike with an entry level saddle, and it’s uncomfortable, and they think, okay, maybe I need to spend more money to get a more comfortable saddle is there like a relationship between that in terms of like price and comfort or sounds like it’s, it’s a lot more than that,
it is a lot more than that, you know, the price and comfort, there is a little bit of relationship, but not not as direct, you get nicer materials, you get nicer foam, you get possibly more dialed in Flex characteristic of the base. And I say possibly, because a lot of companies don’t really consider that they just make a polypro base and go from there. But we do at W TV, we build in base flex characteristics for different levels of the saddle. And so that’s important to, to dial in and think about, there are riders that enjoy a stiffer saddle, and there are riders that enjoy a softer saddle, and that has everything to do with the price point. But hopefully, and a lot of companies do this in general to is that they have the same shape at different price points. And so you know, you can get the carbon version or you can get the OMalley version, and it’s still the same shape. And hopefully that will work for that rider. You find the shape that works for you and you run with it and you’re like okay, this is the shape that I like, you know, if I want it lighter, then I’ll get the carbon version. If it doesn’t matter to me, then I’ll get the cromoly or the steel version of the Thai version of whatever works. Now I say there is some relation because when you get a really cheap saddle a lot of the ones that are truly the comfort oriented saddles They tend to have a lot more flex characteristic out of the base, the base tends to flex a lot more than maybe you want it. And so if the base is flexing a lot, and the middle of the saddle is kind of dropping down, obviously that means the end, the tip and the tail are coming up. And so that means there can be a lot more perineal pressure, front pressure of the saddle on a on a cheap saddle, because the base is just not stiff enough to hold the rider in one spot. It’s flexing too much.
I see. Interesting. Well, we’re going to take a quick break. But when we come back, we’ll find out if men and women need different saddles, and whether cutouts make a difference. Stay tuned. If you haven’t already rated and reviewed the single tracks podcast in your podcast app, now’s the time to do it. We’re randomly selecting listener reviews to read on the show. And if we choose yours, you’ll get a free single tracks hat in the mail. Hit pause right now. Write a quick review, and then listen to future episodes to find out if you won yourself a hat. Happy Trails. And we’re back. So Shawn, some brands offer saddles with a cutout in the middle, but it appears WCB does not. So I’m curious to know, what’s the idea behind adding cutout in a saddle? And Are there reasons maybe why you don’t necessarily need one or lawyer those might pose an issue.
Yeah, so cut outs, they do a good job of relieving perineal pressure. And you know that, again, what I said before the human crotch is not designed to bear weight. So we want to make sure we’re shifting our pressure and our mass and supportive our mass out onto the sit bones, which is away from the midline, we want to avoid midline pressure, and cut outs can do a really good job of that. What we try and do a web is design our saddles to kind of act like it’s got a cut out even without having a visual cut out because a lot of feedback we’ve gotten from riders is that you know the cutout in a mountain biking environment, especially in a wet mountain biking environment, man, you get a lot of spray and a lot of mud coming up through the middle. And that that makes your Shami uncomfortable. Real quick. All right. So so we really worked on trying to do that, to minimize necessarily the the need or use for cut outs. But they do serve a purpose. And, again, if you flip over almost all of our saddles, there’s what we call the comfort zone, which the base has a cut out, but the top sheet in the phone may not. And so it’ll kind of act Okay, a little bit more like a like a cut out, but not have a big visual cut out. And there’s also, you know, riders that aesthetically don’t like the look of a cutout. And that’s fine. You know, and that’s okay. So we’ve we try and accommodate quite a bit of that. But again, the goal is, is to relieve that midline pressure.
Yeah, makes sense. Well, I was looking at the web website recently, and it looks like the Volt is your best selling saddle. So I’m curious to know why you think that is? Is it the shape of the saddle that that tends to fit a lot of people? Or is it sort of the the price point or what is it about that that saddle that you think makes it really popular choice for people,
the Volt is a great blend of performance and comfort. So you know, compared to the Silverado, which is our other top selling saddle, it’s a little bit more padded. And so that provides a little bit more squish. For the riders. It is a contoured saddle. So it’s got a good amount of contour front to back and side to side, which helps hold riders into into that one singular place. And, you know, remember earlier I was talking about the difference between contoured and flat in terms of riders flexibility and stability. Well, if we think about the Silverado, it’s a flatter saddle. And the vault is a more contoured saddle. And honestly, if we took a hard look at all of ourselves, how many of us feel like we’re really good in our flexibility and stability, right? I think a lot of people do feel challenged in that department. And so they do tend to gravitate a little bit more towards a contoured saddle, which helps cradle their pelvis and hold them in that kind of one spot. And then the volt has that little bit more padding, which helps just feel it a little bit more comfortable.
Yeah, interesting. Well, what’s your your personal favorite saddle in the web line? Which one do you like most in terms of comfort and performance?
I am a Silverado rider for sure. I like I like a flatter, flatter saddle i i Because I know the importance of flexibility and stability. So I work on it all the time to make sure that that I’ve got it but yeah, I like to Silverado, I do spend quite a bit of time on all of our saddles. So it’s a good, it’s a good check to see where they’re all at. And obviously, we’ve got constantly working on new designs. So keep an eye out, we might have some coming up.
Yeah, cool. I know, one of the saddles I recently discovered in the web line that feels really good to me is the coda. And I don’t know why that is, is there something about that shape, maybe that’s different from some of the others, or who’s that saddle sort of design for
the coda is, is more of a flat saddle. So it’s designed with less of that hammock from tip to tail and side to side, it is a little bit more padded than some of the other flat saddles that are out there. So that’s, that’s again, also gearing towards more of a mountain bike experience. They’re some of the other flat saddles that are on the market, they do come from more of a road background, so they tend to be stiffer, and they tend to be not as as patted as Dakota. But yeah, the coda does a great job of supporting that, that flat saddle rider, so it’s kind of like a Silverado shape with an extra layer level of padding on it.
Okay, cool. Well, I’m sure you get this question a lot. But I have to ask it anyway, do men and women need different saddles?
So it is I do get this question, obviously, a ton. The difference between men, there’s obviously differences between men and women, but sit bone spacing, and sit bone anatomy is not very different between men and women. So if we look at that, that range from 80 to 160, there’s their bell shaped curves of averages. And, you know, the average man is about 117 millimeters apart. And the average woman is about 128 millimeters apart. But there’s so much overlap between them, that it’s kind of irrelevant as to spacing. So yes, women may gravitate slight to a slightly wider saddle, given that men might gravitate towards a slightly narrower saddle. But again, there’s, there’s, there’s all kinds of variation there. So measuring and measuring and finding out exactly where your, what your sit bones are, is the most important. And then from there, what we really want to do is, again, relieve that midline pressure, and make sure that we have we’re not pressured press, pressing perineum, soft tissue, that kind of stuff. And if we can do that, there’s not a big variation between the sexes. Yes, women generally have a little bit more flexibility than men. So that’s, and they also can be another term called lordosis, they may have a little bit more tipped, felt forward pelvis, which can be a problem sitting on a saddle, but they tend to gravitate more towards a flatter saddle that’s got a more relief in the middle. But the interesting thing that in my career, one of the things that we’ve we’ve that you can do or I’ve done is you can put a lot of men on women saddles, and not tell them there are women saddle and they find it very comfortable. Interesting. But if you put a woman on a man saddle, traditional man saddle, they may go Yeah, I don’t like that. So it’s kind of like, you know, in product design, when I when I’m messing around with the saddles, I designed it towards a female anatomy or a woman has anatomy. And then, you know, introduce it to the man and the man. It’s like, yeah, it feels comfortable. I like it. So. So if it can pass the the female test, then you know, you’ve got something pretty, that’ll work pretty well for men too.
Yeah. Yeah, one of the things I don’t I don’t think we explicitly talked about those saddle length. And I remember reading somewhere maybe in the past that men’s and women’s tend to prefer different saddle lengths. And, you know, the other place that this comes into play, I guess is recently we’re seeing mountain bikers adopting shorter saddle lengths. And so can you talk a little bit about length in terms of like gender differences, if there are one and then also, sort of what this trend toward shorter saddles is all about?
Well, the trend towards shorter saddles is actually a saddle that I developed my previous work that started this all was 240 millimeters and Oh, yeah. And the reason that we made 240 millimeters in length was that I wanted to saddle I wanted this concept to still fit within the UCI size cycling rules of which the pro cycling world the Tour de France guys, they needed to have their saddle, the minimum length It needed to be 140 millimetres. And so I said, Well, let’s make this saddle right at 240. And, and the goal was actually to make it as a time trial saddle and we were working around some of the rules associated with time trialing, the saddle has to be in a very specific place in space. And to make that better, we had to make the saddle shorter. So that’s where the short saddle actually came from. And the way we put the, the angles and the way we tried to align the pelvis on this particular saddle, because if you think about time trialing, you’re really rotated forward, right, you’re really over the front end of the bike. And that really changes how your pelvis is. And so what I tried to do is mimic the human anatomy there, there’s something from the sit bones that come forward, the part of the bone that comes forward is called the inferior pubic Ray, my and this part of the bone is where you sit more when you’re on a time trial bike versus way back on your sit bones. The difference between mountain biking is, is we tend to be rotated more back. And with, you know, to the other extreme is time trialing where we’re rotated really far forward. So I tried to mimic that and to mimic that, we needed to widen the cutout a little bit, because obviously, if your pelvis is rotated really far forward, that means your your soft tissue, your genitalia is really down towards the saddle. So we needed to make sure that the angles were, were appropriate enough for the contact the bone, and the cutout was large enough to, to make that a little bit easier. And so that’s where that short saddle actually came from. Is, is from that whole process of creating that. And what happened was more and more people started riding it. And we knew we had something that was working out really well, because, hey, all of a sudden, you know, it’s it’s working out. And I and I don’t think it’s a gender disparity, I think that that both men and women enjoy that shorter saddle, because it gets the nose out of the way. Right. The people that don’t like the shorter saddle are the people that like to move around more on the saddle. So they like to scooch way up on the nose and get a flatter perch, they like to, you know, slide back. And one of the things that the trends in mountain biking that I’m seeing is I’m seeing less of that type of individual, that person that wants to move around on the saddle. And I think it’s a combination of new mountain bike geometry, getting the seat tube angle steep enough that we’re you know, over the pedals that were planted in one spot, all of a sudden, that rider, you know, in the past where they had a slacker seat tube angle, you know, they would slide way forward on the nose. Now they don’t need to because the seat tube angle is where it needs to be. And then when we’re descending, we’re using our dropper posts, and we were and the seats out of the way, so we’re not so worried about that, we just need that one powerful place to to climb up the steep hill and find comfort. So I think we’re seeing less of the of the rider that needs to really be mobile, on on the saddle, fore and aft. And that’s where the short saddles, provide a nice home or a nice plant place to sit and be comfortable.
Yeah, that’s that’s a really fascinating story to understand where that comes from. Because, like, like I said, I assume that maybe came from like, like you’re saying geometry changes. And the fact that we have dropper posts now kind of makes it so that we can get the saddle height, at least exactly where we want it, whether we’re climbing or descending. And yet, so do you think if there weren’t these, you know, regulations in terms of the minimum length? I mean, is even shorter, better? I mean, would that Is that something you’ve looked at or have tested?
Well, I have tested it. I don’t know that shorter is necessarily better. It’s kind of a good sweet spot. I mean, you could probably shorten it by five or six mils and be okay. The trouble is, you know, the shapes of the saddles. There’s some discussion about noseless saddles, and those types of things. Obviously, if you have don’t have a saddle with a nose, then there’s nothing to compress on the soft tissue. And so it can be really comfortable, but what’s the function of the nose so that the nose actually, the nose of the saddle is actually an important piece for steering and handling your bike, if you’ve ever written noseless saddle, especially, you know, this is with a without a dropper post, but gone down a mountain pass on a on a nosal saddle. It’s pretty sketchy. You steer a lot with your hips, and you use the feedback of the saddle to help you steer the bike. With mountain biking, it’s a little bit different and the descending characteristics but even the flattened pedaling and your you are contacting the side at all, and you’re using the nose a little bit for proprioception to see where the back end of the bike is, you know, a lot of the downhill racers I’ve worked with both Troy Gwen and Aaron Gwen and Troy Brosnan. And both of them like to run the saddle and a lot of down a road saddles a little bit, nose high, even though their cells are way down, they run the nose of the saddle up, because they’re actually contacting it with their thighs and their legs. And they’re feeling out where the back end of the bike is through the nose of the saddle. So the nose does provide some feedback to the rider as to what the bikes doing. And if you get rid of that, it is definitely a different, different ride. So we want to make sure that, you know, riders are still experiencing the bike the way they want to and then handling their bikes appropriately and that kind of stuff. So I think we do need a nose. So getting it to short would would be challenging, because then we wouldn’t have enough seating area to just plant the rider. Yeah,
one of the things I’m hearing from a number of folks these days is that they’re they’re tired of wearing shammies for biking, specifically mountain biking, you know, there’s various other things will underwear, I guess that people are trying or things like that. But I’m curious to know, are saddles designed under the assumption that that we’re going to be wearing a shammy? Like, is there any kind of interaction in terms of saddle and Shami design that you’re aware of?
I have looked at this in the past. And it’s, it’s tough, because you know, the shammies, obviously, are so variable. And what is the purpose of the Shammi, I’ve actually done a lot of pressure mapping, and it’s one of the things I do quite a bit in is pressure mapping saddles, pressure mapping, riders pressure mapping, and I’ve looked at at what is the effect of the Shami between, in that whole system. And the Shammi provides a little bit of padding. But that’s really all it does, it doesn’t provide much more than that it doesn’t provide any support, all of the support basically comes out of the base of the saddle. So that’s kind of the most critical thing, getting getting the shape of the base, right. And then the level of padding on top of that. Now, do you need a ton of padding? Usually not, it all depends upon what you’re doing with, with that saddle, and how you’re riding your bike, right. So if you’re going on shorter rides, and actually shorter, more intense rides, you need less padding. So if you think about, oh, I’m going to do a Lunch Ride, where I’m gonna go out for 45 minutes, and I’m going to hammer I’m gonna go really hard, you that’s the situation, you actually need probably the least amount of padding. Because you’re, you know, physics, every force has an equal opposite force, if you’re pushing down on the pedals, you’re actually elevating yourself off the saddle a little bit. And if you’re riding really, if you’re pushing hard, you’re not sitting in the saddle very hard at all. Conversely, the the hardest thing you can do where you need the most padding is a long, slow trainer ride. So if you’re just seated in the saddle, not pushing very hard, the bike isn’t moving underneath you. And you’re, you’re sitting, you know, and basically the bikes locked in a trainer, and you’re just planting there, you know, wintertime base miles, that’s really hard on your sit bones, that’s really hard on your saddle pressures. So you can choose a shammy, you can choose a padding level of, of saddle that’s appropriate to what activity that you’re doing, or what you typically like to do. So if you’re, again, the the person that goes out and rides hard for a short period of time, you could choose a really thin layer of padding because you’re not really needing that much padding. Whereas if you’re, if you’re doing the long rides, and three to four hour grinds up fire roads, you know, then you want to choose a saddle maybe with a little bit more padding, so that you’re not getting that chafing and that rawness that can happen by just being heavy planted on the saddle. Yeah,
interesting. Well, this question sort of gets at the founding of web and sort of the initial foray into saddles. But I know a lot of people wonder are mountain bike saddles, really all that different from road saddles, and if someone has like a road saddle that that they enjoy on the road bike feels good fits them? Well? Is there anything wrong with running that on a mountain bike, so that
there is slight differences between the two but the caveat to that to that, to me is always is it comfortable, right. And once you find the saddle that works for you, my suggestion is to put it on all your bikes. Doesn’t matter what bike it is because your pelvis doesn’t know your pelvis doesn’t know what’s underneath your tires. Right, your pelvis only knows what it’s interacting with, it doesn’t know that there’s dirt, it doesn’t know that there’s pavement underneath your tires. So it’s really specific to pelvic to pelvic anatomy, and there’s so much variability there, you know that, once you find one that works, I would, I would hesitate to stray forward from it, because you know what works, right? Lots of people have lots of problems when they do that. But that being said, there are there are some variances, mountain biking environment tends to be a little bit more abusive, a little bit more rocky and bumpy, gravel can certainly get that way as well, we can get a lot more bumpy rocky type of impacts. So a little bit more padding than a pure pavement oriented saddle helps, you know, that’s good, also having the things to help protect the saddle in a crash. Obviously, in a road bike, you know, crashes are way more detrimental, they’re, you’re hitting pavement, you’re hitting hard stuff. But they happen a little bit less frequently, I think in mountain biking, we tend to pretend to crash a little bit more. So we want to make sure we’re protecting there. And yeah, just having a little bit extra padding generally helps in that environment. But the other you know, the other difference is that we’re not so planted on the saddle for hours on an end, we go for a gravel ride or a road ride, you know, we can, we can be seated in that saddle for three to four hours without moving around. Whereas on a mountain bike, you know, we’re going to, we’re going to do that way on the climb on the part on the parts that we need to generate the power. But then when it comes time for descending, we dropped the saddle and get it out of the way. So we’re not as just kind of fixed into one spot for the duration that we would have more of a drop or experience, road or gravel.
Yeah, yeah, I mean, it almost sounds as if the ideal thing is to pick like a volt. I mean, if that’s the saddle that that you find fits you well and put it on a road bike, I mean, it almost sounds easier to go put a mountain bike saddle on a road bike, and then maybe maybe you try different rails or different configurations. But keeping sort of that same shape is probably going to be the best for most people.
It can it absolutely can help out quite a bit, the overall position can be a little bit different. And I think, you know, some people in their drop bar, gravel bar, gravel bike, hopefully it’s it’s not a crazy different position the in terms of their their, where their upper body is reaching and dropping to the handlebars, that can influence the saddle a little bit. But in general, if you find a saddle that works for you, I would I would recommend putting it on all your bikes. And then yeah, maybe finding if you if you want a little bit more comfortable ride, then choosing a different base or a different rail configuration that gives you a little bit more flex characteristic.
Yeah, cool. Well, we kind of hit on some of the recent saddle design changes that we’ve seen over the last few years, you know, starting with shorter saddles, which you help to bring to mountain biking. Another one that comes to mind is E bikes, specific saddles. I’m seeing some of those on the market where it’s a little bit more scooped. What are some of the subtle design changes that you’re seeing over the past few seasons? And what’s driving those changes?
Well, the ebike market is still it’s growing. Obviously, I still need to do a lot more research in this there’s thoughts that it’s a different writer, that it’s bringing different people to the market. I, you know, being a scientist at heart, I want to see a lot more hard research that shows this. Because when I’m out right when I’m out writing my own anecdotal evidence is that it’s not really a different rider. It’s just a different experience of the same riders. You know, I want to, I want to see that, that it true is different. Now. Why would that be different? Well, okay, we’ve got much heavier bikes for sure. So so the saddles need to be a little bit more durable, you know, things are hitting, hitting obstacles a little bit more momentum mass, because of the power involved with a with a knee bike, riders can stay a little bit seated more than they would in a analog bike, or an acoustic bike if you want to call it. So the the so you know if you can imagine like stuff on your, on your, your analog bike if you if you’re pedaling along and you come into a rock garden with a regular bike or an acoustic bike, you might stand up to power through that. Whereas an E bike because of the additional power, you can just stay seated and plow through that stuff, which then is a little bit more demand on the saddle, you can you can, you know be impacting the saddle by impacting those rocks and pedaling through them. So we need to make the saddles a little bit more durable, a little bit thicker, a little bit stiffer in that situation depends upon the position of the rider. So a lot of times, they will be a little bit more contoured, because that riders sitting back a little bit more, you know, kind of slouching, if you will, because they don’t need, you know, remember I talked about before tilting the pelvis recruiting includes, they don’t need to do that as much, right. So that can be a little bit more of a contoured, a contoured saddle rider, they can kind of sit back, relax, you know, relax their pelvis, they don’t have to arch forward and put their, you know, chin right over their STEM. And they can still get that same amount of power to get up the hill. So. So it tends to be a little bit more contoured experience tends to be a little bit more padded. And hopefully, they’re they’re making saddles, a little bit a little bit thicker, a little bit stronger to help some of that impact.
Yeah, interesting. Well, are there other design changes that you’re seeing for the future in terms of how people are using saddles, or the types of trails or riding or the bikes that they’re riding, that they could perhaps see improved designs.
So I think material selection is really becoming an interesting thing, we’re seeing a lot of cool stuff with 3d printing. So you know, obviously, we’ve seen a big push of that from a couple of companies out there that we’re not really seeing them yet for mountain bike saddles, seeing more on the roads, road side of things. But the 3d printing offers a really cool way to tune the flex characteristic and the padding characteristic out of the out of the saddle. So if you think about foam, you could do most of them are single density, you might have a dual density, but it’s kind of a broad brushstroke of, of tuning that foam characteristic. Whereas with 3d printing, now you have almost infinite level of adjustment of where do I want this to be soft. And where do I want this pad to be thick and stiff. And you can actually tune it. And this is the cool part to me, you can tune it like you tune your system, not actively, but you can tune a pre production, like you tune a suspension, right, so you can have like, the initial part where you sit on the on the saddle, and thinking about depth now going from top to bottom, you could have the first part kind of soft, and then as you get towards the bottom of the foam or or 3d print type of material, you can have it stiffen up. So it’s almost like a progressive rate, like a suspension, but you could actually build that into your into your flex of your saddle. Wow. And you couldn’t do that before. So there’s some that’s some pretty cool cutting edge stuff. That’s, that’s happening. And of course, it’s gonna take a while for that to get actually at a price point that’s affordable for a lot of writers, because that’s a, it’s a, it’s a pretty neat stuff. But yeah, really working on base materials and changing and tuning that, that flex characteristic and really opening people’s eyes as to what the saddle does in terms of that ride characteristic of what you’re looking for. And that you can ride the same set type saddle, but then chain, get it get into different rail material or something like that. And it’ll actually change or a different padding level. So some, some companies, you know, we’ve got some saddles that have our, you know, standard pad versus our DNA pad, and they ride very differently even though it’s the same saddle. So realizing that that’s, that’s an option. And being able to experience that is key and opening riders eyes to that. It’s not just a saddle that you just throw on or just, you know, take whatever saddle came on your bike, but realizing that there’s some options there, and it can really influence how you ride your bike.
Yeah. Well, one last question I want to ask you is one that maybe is on some people’s minds after listening to this and getting a better understanding of saddles. But what are some signs that it’s time for a new saddle or maybe a different model of saddle?
Well, number one is comfort. Right? So number one is if you’re experiencing a numbness, any numbness in that region shouldn’t be tolerated. So that should be like number one, if you’re going to have time to look at a different saddle, or at least have it have it evaluated know if the saddle had worked for you and I think this is an important thing to think about. Saddles can change over time, meaning the pads can break down the base It can take a set where it actually starts to get more and more flex and flexible. Over time, you know, I would say, if you’re if you’re at a saddle, if your saddle is over three or four years, and you’re riding a lot, it’s probably time because there’s the padding that has probably broken down and, and is not as, as soft and squishy as it could be ski boots. People have a problem with this all the time where the ski boot material packs out, and what felt good. Two years later, now feels sloppy. And the same thing can happen in any sort of foam situation, as well as the basis of the bases can get more and more flexible. There’s, you know, lots of writers I’ve worked with in the past had a saddle that worked for him perfectly. And then two years later, they’re saying, Oh, I’m going on now I don’t get it. And then I measure the saddle. And it’s, it’s way back like an old horse. Whereas the middle is just sad, right out. So, so keeping an eye on that is definitely a good indicator. And obviously, any sort of damages is going to be an indicator that it needs a new one. But But generally, you’d be surprised how, how much the saddles were. And the more expensive saddles actually were less, right. So if you’ve got a nylon base, or glass filled nylon base, or certainly a carbon fiber base, they’re, they’re not going to, they’re not going to wear out, it’s really the kind of the entry level, the polypropylene bases, where, you know, four or five years of, of a lot of writing, all of a sudden, they’re looking a little bit more sagged than they should have, and then they’re not holding their shape as well. Yeah,
yeah. That’s, that’s great advice. And some I’m sure most of us don’t think about because it is, you know, like you said it over time, your subtle changes in terms of the foam getting compressed, and you know, maybe even flexing in new and different ways. And so, yeah, we don’t tend to notice it until, you know, it’s sometimes it’s been years and we’re like what’s going on with the saddle, but it may be time for a new one. Yep. Yep. That’s great. Well, Sean, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Obviously, you’re a tremendous resource on the topic. And I know I’ve learned a ton hearing, you talk about saddles, and I’m going to need a listen to this one, at least a couple more times, I think to get everything out of it. So thank you again for taking the time.
Awesome. Then my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Well, you
can get more information about some of the web settles that we talked about by visiting web.com. So we got this week. We’ll talk to you again next week.
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