In the last 10 years a funny thing has happened with saddle design. Saddle shapes have become ever more diverse in an all-consuming quest to improve comfort and decrease the chances that your undercarriage will suffer any negative side effects as a result of logging long and/or frequent miles on a bicycle. As those shapes have evolved (gotten weirder) the number of saddles I can comfortably ride has dropped precipitously. There are whole manufacturers out there whose work I really can’t ride … at all.
The flip side is worth mentioning though. The saddles that I do find comfortable are more comfortable than anything that was available in the past. Case in point: The new Fi’zi:k Kurve. While a great many saddles are moving away from designs with an arched side-to-side profile, the Fi’zi:k Kurve saddles are a bit old-school in that regard. The amount of curve isn’t so great as, say, a Rolls, but when I first sat down on one, the sense was that the saddle all but disappeared beneath me; it didn’t draw attention to itself. I should note that Fi’zi:k says that the curvature you see when off the saddle disappears once you’re on it. Why that happens is one of the saddles best characteristics. More on that in a sec.
The Kurve is different from other Fi’zi:k saddles in that the design is based around a plastic body that can be easily seen at the edge of the saddle. The 2014 aluminum rail (not rails, as it’s a single piece of cast aluminum) plugs into that body at the very edge, creating more surface area beneath the saddle that can flex without being restricted by the presence of the rails.
Fi’zi:k refers to the plastic body as the “hull.” Integrated into the hull is the three-layer composite shell that supports the rider. The structure is meant to be the next generation beyond wing flex (which is the way the saddle flexes at its sides) and twin flex (which is the way the saddle flexes under the weight-bearing sections) into what they are calling re:flex.
The idea here is that this saddle should flex with the rider’s movement more naturally than any previous Fi’zi:k saddle. That’s a tall order. If you’re familiar with the Spine Concept of Snake (the Arione shape), Chameleon (the Antares shape) and Bull (the Aliante shape), then selecting a saddle to fit you won’t be difficult. I’d been riding an Antares previously, so I went with the Chameleon.
I should mention that I’ve ridden both the Arione and the Aliante. I like the Aliante a lot. The Arione always seems comfortable enough when I first get on it, but ultimately I do notice numbness if I’m on one for too long. While I think the Spine Concept works well to address a rider’s needs based on flexibility, I do think Fi’zi:k is missing another important aspect of fit, namely saddle width. I know big guys who are also really flexible, but the Snake just isn’t wide enough for them. And in my case, while I love the Chameleon, I suspect if it were 5mm wider, I’d be a tad more comfortable. It’s been said I have a big, fat ass.
And it’s true.
One of the most interesting features of the Kurve is the nose piece that allows the rider to select just how firm the saddle is. I swore up and down to myself that I’d ride it with both the hard and soft nose pieces, just to see what the difference is. But I never did. After beginning with the soft nose piece, I couldn’t come up with a single reason to stop using it. It may be that my comfort trumped my integrity. How do you like that?
This saddle has been—for me—a revelation in terms of comfort. It has been the sort of revelation that the old Flite was back in the early 1990s. But this saddle might as well be the Flite’s wilier offspring. I found that I was most comfortable with the saddle set up a few millimeters forward of where I initially thought I would need to be. Being comfortable when climbing requires you to sit pretty far back on the saddle. Again, if the saddle were 5mm wider, I think I’d have more ability to move around even while climbing seated.
Unlike a lot of saddles out there, the Kurve has almost no foam in it. There’s very little padding of any kind. The cushioning you experience comes from the flex in the hull. As a result, this saddle needed no break-in time. I know this for fact because it hasn’t changed a bit from when I first started riding it.
The hull design has an ancillary benefit. I hate seeing leather or Lorica or Microtex (which is what is used on the Kurve) or whatever get scuffed up at the edges of a saddle. The hull prevents that by having the saddle cover end before the edge. And of course, you can pop out the logo clip in the back to install a velcro-less seat bag. Why other manufacturers haven’t licensed this design or done something similar defies comprehension considering we live in a world populated with bib shorts that can run upward of $200 per pair.
My Kurve came in at 226g. The suggested retail is $270. Because everyone’s ass is shaped differently, I’m not fool enough to tell you that this saddle will work for you. What I can tell you is that if you’ve been having saddle trouble, you ought to try out one or more of the Kurve saddles. Fi’zi:k has a demo program going; there is probably a dealer near you participating in it.
As I mounted Fi’zi:k’s newest saddle on the seatpost of my bike, I tried to take it in. It wasn’t as flat fore-aft as their ultra-popular Arione, nor as curvy as my favorite, the Aliante. It was also flatter side-to-side than either the Aliante or Arione.
Just when I thought I’d seen just about every saddle shape someone could dream up without seeming completely derivative of other existing saddles, along comes the Antares. Aside from the flattish profile and wrap, the Antares has another distinctive feature: a big wide nose.
As it happens, that arm’s-width nose is no accident. Much of the saddle’s design owes to the influence of David Zabriskie who has a penchant for riding on the nose of a saddle whether on his time trial bike or his road bike.
The three road saddles that make up the Fi’zi:k line—Arione, Aliante and Antares—are united by what Fi’zi:k terms the “spine concept.” Each saddles responds to the sitting style of three broad classes of riders. Each of these classes is represented by a different animal, a bull in the case of the Aliante, a snake in the case of the Arione and a chameleon for the Antares.
The animals aren’t so important, but the underlying rationale has legs. For the Aliante, the idea is that the rider who will be most comfortable on this saddle is one who doesn’t move forward or backward, but rather will adjust his sitting position by rolling his pelvis. Relief is achieved by cradling the genitalia in the pocket of the saddle. For the Arione, the idea is that the rider has more narrowly spaced sit bones, is very flexible and uses the entire length of the saddle, and while Fi’zi:k doesn’t come right out and say it, the subtext here is that it is a saddle appropriate for lighter riders. Finally, the Antares is built around the idea that the rider who uses it isn’t restricted to a single shape that either works or doesn’t, but rather someone who can flex and shift position to manage comfort as necessary.
Fi’zi:k offers a simple test to determine which animal you are. The snake (Arione user) is very flexible and can touch his toes easily. The bull (Aliante user) isn’t so flexible and can’t touch his toes. The chameleon (Antares user) sits between these two, flexible enough to touch his toes.
To illustrate these points Fi’zi:k has implemented a very slick web site, and by the look of it may have been designed by the same team behind Specialized’s Body Geometry site.
Okay, but what does that translate to? The Arione, at 300mm, is the longest of the bunch. The Antares is 274mm long while the Aliante is but 265mm long. As a reflection of flexibility, this makes sense to me.
The Antares, like the Aliante, is 142mm wide, so riders with broadly spaced sit bones can really sit on the saddle either upright while climbing or with their pelvis rotated forward to get a flat back for hammering on the flats. That wide nose comes in handy for trips to the pain cave as you sit on what used to be a rivet. Why not put a little padding there? Hey, I like that!
Bias, bias, bias, that’s what all media seems to come down to these days. In my case, I flat-out don’t want to like this saddle better than my beloved Aliante. (Let the record show the my affection for the 143mm Specialized Toupé constitutes an affair, a fling, dare I say it—a tryst.) However, the more miles I put on the Antares, the more I like it. It may, in fact, be the more appropriate saddle to my riding style. The saddle itself flexes more than does the Aliante, due in part to the carbon fiber reinforced rilsan shell.
Fi’zi:k touts the saddle’s 171 cubic centimeters of padding contained beneath the saddle’s microtex cover. They claim that number to be 300 percent greater than its competitors; it may be, but I have no way of knowing. Similarly, Fi’zi:k claims the seating area to be 15 percent greater than other saddles and while, again, I can’t say for certain this is true, anecdotally, my ass says this holds water. The only flattish saddle I have ridden that seems to have anywhere near this much surface area—which is helpful for distributing weight over as broad an area as possible and thereby decreasing weight on each square centimeter in contact with the saddle—is the Specialized Toupé.
With carbon fiber braided rails, the Antares is said to weigh 145g and suggested retail is $229; my test saddle was equipped with the K:ium rails, weighed in at 177g and retails for $199.
Honestly, when I look at all the different saddles I’ve ridden over the last year, the Antares is the most original take on saddle shape that I encountered. Much of this has to do with how broad the saddle is side-to-side and the fact that it is 142mm wide. Most saddles that wide feature enough curvature that the widest portion of the saddle really supports no weight at all. The Antares gave my sit bones an excellent platform for climbing long grades and that nose was enough to sit on when the speedo ticked beyond 30 mph.
As always, I can’t say this saddle is right for you, but what I can say is that if you’re looking for a new shape, a different response to the saddles out there and if you might not be the most flexible guy on the block, Fi’zi:k’s Antares is worth a serious look.