Sunday, April 6, 2014

Want The Secret To A Comfortable Ride? It’s The Chamois AND The Saddle.

Where the rider REALLY meets the road: Saddle & Chamois.

Editor’s Note: The information contained in this article was based on the personal findings of the author.  Only bibs were tested, however, the same information would also apply to shorts. 

Do an online or print search.  There are virtual treasure troves of articles about selecting the best saddles and articles about discovering the best bib shorts.  What you will not see, however, but you will here, are articles discussing the importance of BOTH the saddle AND the chamois.  To quote Forrest Gump, “…They go together like Peas and Carrots.”  And, that relationship is not a myth, either.  Any saddle and bib manufacturer (and product evaluator’s) worth their salt should already understand the relationship, intimately.  They had better. 

And, truth be told, this was not a test I intentionally set out to do.  It was something I noticed quite by accident, over a period of time, while evaluating a lot of products.  The discovered comfort-and-pain opposites of the spectrum just could not be ignored.  So, I dug a little deeper, and I read up (a lot!) on the subject of saddle and chamois dynamics.  Then it all made sense.

So, what did I learn?  Follow along and see what I found out.

        The Chamois pad: They come in various shapes and thickness. Placement in the shorts is critical.

In addition to differing human body shapes, the type, thickness, and placement of your chamois all play a major role in saddle comfort, and thus, arriving at that perfect position “Sweet-Spot.”  This is something all of us should keep in mind, because it is far too important to ignore.  The upside of getting the combination right is pure, cycling, mile-eating bliss.  The downside is the great amount of time, pain, and expense, to find that sweet-spot, which is why most riders do not make the effort, if they were aware of the relationship at all.  Compounding the issue is that you can trade in an uncomfortable saddle, but once a chamois has touched your behind, return policies can vary from “Well maybe,” to “Are you kidding me?  Of, course not!”  Thus, like a marriage, a pair of bib shorts are yours for better of worse.  And, like a marriage, choose wisely (I also understand that one can sell a pre-owned pair of bibs on eBay, but you cannot do that with your spouse, so hold those comments, please).

When I was using my Ritchey Carbon Streem saddle, certain pairs of bibs were much more comfortable than others.  With my Fizik Arione, the situation was reversed – Bibs not so comfortable with the Ritchey saddle were comfortable with the Fizik, and those not so good with the Fizik, worked great with the Ritchey.  When I tried a Shimano PRO Turnix TU saddle, in that case, ALL of my bib shorts were comfortable!  Then, it got even more interesting; I discovered my Descente bibs worked well with every saddle in my evaluation stable.  So, in total, of all of the saddles and bibs evaluated in this study, only the Shimano Turnix TU worked well with all bibs, and only the Descente bibs worked well with all of my saddles (the other saddles and bibs listed below were the same mix of “Hit-R’-Miss,” as the Ritchey and Fizik offerings).

The results of this somewhat un-scientific, extremely seat-of-the-pants, experiment got me thinking of the immortal Arte Johnson from the Laugh-In television series: “Veeery interesting.”  As for the totality of equipment involved in this voyage of discovery, see the lists below.     

Overall, the saddles evaluated were:

  • Ritchey Carbon Streem (carbon rail)
  • Fizik Arione CX (alloy rail)
  • WTB Silverado (alloy rail)
  • Bontrager Affinity (alloy rail)
  • Selle Italia SL Kit Carbonio Flow (carbon rail)
  • Shimano PRO Turnix TU (alloy rail)
  • Shimano PRO Turnix AF (alloy rail)

Bibs evaluated were:

  • Pearl Izumi Pro In-R-Cool
  • Castelli Free Aero Race
  • Louis Garneau Equipe
  • Descente Helios
  • Descente Strata Endurance
  • Voler Team Edition

As it currently stands, I am using the Shimano Turnix with great satisfaction.  I mean, it performs well, it looks good, and it likes all of the bib shorts in my collection, so I will work with it for awhile and see how it goes.  I reiterate this is what I discovered works for me (your butt may vary), and if you have already arrived at your own saddle/chamois combo, good work on your part.  If not, you owe it to yourself to begin the adventure, and yes, you will be richly rewarded for it.  Just remember to fear not and try everything you can get away with.

So, to sum it all up, some of my bibs work best with certain saddles.  Certain saddles work best with certain, other bibs.  My Shimano Turnix works best with all of my bibs.  And, my Descente bibs work best with all of my saddles.  In the immortal words of the character Daniel Bateman in the Football movie The Replacements: “This thing can get confusing, Man.” 
Thus, in conclusion, for complete riding nirvana, the elusive saddle/chamois combo must be arrived at, and yes, it will take time and money.  This, oddly, seems to be one of the axioms of cycling which has, thus far, escaped serious, in-depth discussion.  Unfortunately, there are no easy methods here.  It is all trial and error, and costs can quickly sore (pun intended) to astronomical.  However, the quest is well worth the effort.  There just has to be a better way.

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