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.
I saw a great number of items I was very excited to get on and ride. The new Zipp 303 topped my list. But before I get into that I need to make a disclosure:
I wrote this year’s Zipp catalog.
That makes me ripe for the criticism that I’ve been paid for, but I’d like to assert that’s not the case. Here’s why: I’ve been a fan of their products for a good 15 years. I was a fan of their stuff even after former CEO Andy Ording tore me a new one for not making a favorable review favorable enough. I was scared of him, but not of their products. I agreed to write the catalog because I revere their work and champed at the chance to look under the hood.
I separate my editorial work from my mar/com client work. They are different hats and the way I work, I can’t really take someone on as a client if I don’t believe in their work.
I know things about this wheel I really can’t reveal. What I can tell is that the combination of this rim depth with the Firecrest shape makes this wheel exceedingly light and fast. To find a wheel this light (1498 for carbon clincher set and 1198 for tubular set) and yet offer as much claimed aerodynamic advantage without imposing a handling penalty on the rider is difficult.
I can’t yet attest to the aerodynamics of this wheel, but I know firsthand how well the Firecrest shape works in the 404 and 808 and it is mind boggling. I can also attest to how fast the hubs are and how nice it is to corner on rims as wide as these because of the broader tire profile. I want to ride these things in the worst way.
I’ve often wondered why you couldn’t choose saddles based on how firm they are or why you couldn’t adjust how firm they are. I’m not talking Sleep Number Bed complicated, but what if you could adjust the saddle’s tension with a 5mm wrench under the saddle? Nevermind, Fi’zi:k finally took care of this.
The nose piece shown above comes in three slightly different lengths that adjust the tension of the saddle. Genius move. I’ve got an Antares that I’ll be riding very shortly.
Whether you ride the Arione, Aliante or Antares, you’ll be able to get this new version of the saddle and adjust it to your comfort level. I’ll be starting off with the soft … and wonder if I’ll have any desire to go firmer.
Too rare is it that bikes and kits are matched. This Indy Fab with Mill Valley’s Studio Velo kit by Capo had PRO written all over it.
Best pint glass of the show: The frosted Capo glasses.
My favorite steel road frame this year was this decidedly old-school Fondriest. I reviewed one of these back in ’98 and even though it was fairly flexy, it was a terrific frame from a handling standpoint.
The thing that clinched my love for this frame was the combination of stylish Italian paint and real chrome.
Yah, yah, I know chrome is about a green as Rick Perry, but I can’t not look. I wiped my drool off before leaving.
When it comes to ‘cross and cool, Ritchey’s Swiss Cross has always been a straight flush. Few bikes ever achieve this fine a marriage of style, utility and function. I harbor the suspicion that if while aboard this rig you yell “track,” the poor SOB ahead of you will look back and on seeing this bike, just get out of your way.
Maybe I can review one … from say October through Christmas.
I’ve seen and reported on a lot of bike races over the years. Next to the Tour de France, the event I’ve most wanted to witness in person was the Giro. The reasons why are simple in my mind.
First, Italians are the masterminds of la dolce vita. No culture could be better suited to watching a bike race than the very people who invented passion. Second, the Giro, unlike Paris-Roubaix, takes place at a time well-suited to standing around outside. Watching a bike race in cold weather just isn’t quite as chummy as it is when the sun is out. Trust me on this. Third, in a world full of nationalistic pride, Italy sets the bar high and the Giro is less a celebration of bike racing than what Italians think bike racing ought to be. Ask an Italian what the Giro is and he’ll tell you it is bike racing, perfected.
I was in Italy to check out Cannondale’s new SuperSix EVO on behalf of peloton magazine. I’ll circle back to my impressions of that bike in another post on its way. The nature of press events is always one in which the host company wishes to wow the journalists as much as possible. The invites are coveted because, well, other than the workload (which is considerable in the age of the Interwebs), these shindigs are fun.
The upshot here is that we were guests of Team Liquigas in their specially cordoned-off area at the start of the team time trial beginning this year’s Giro. The protected space the team had was easily double that of any other team I saw and involved a convoy of vehicles large enough to convey most of the press corps. They had, in fact, not one, but two buses, the second being a rolling kitchen that fed, so far as I could tell, every VIP within the city and not one of the team’s riders. Understandable, really, as what they fed us was too laden with cheese to have been ideal for a pre-race meal.
Similarly, the 9.5 (say “nine dot five”) Cold Wine (a low-alcohol Prosecco) wasn’t really suitable for water bottles if you get my drift. ‘Twas delightful stuff, even if I was served my first flute of it at 11:00 in the morning. And for the record, while it may seem kinda cutesy to have an official pasta sponsor, it’s ultra-cool to have the owner of the company show up to your party with his product.
The self-propelled kitchen was fascinating, but my personal interest went to the mechanics and the gear truck. Theirs was stunningly well-stocked. However, gear is only so interesting; more interesting is how the mechanics set up the bikes.
The big thing I noticed on the Liquigas TT bikes, which I saw on no other bikes (thought it’s possible I missed it) was, truly, a very small thing. Each of the bikes had an in-line brake lever mounted on one of the aero bar extensions. The lever was connected to the front brake, giving the riders the ability to scrub speed without leaving the aero position. If you’ve ever tried to ride a paceline in aero bars then you know just how difficult it is, and just how PRO that little touch is.
Because the team is sponsored by Italian saddle manufacturer Fi’zi:k, the mechanics had every shape of Fi’zi:k saddle in the team’s signature white and lime green color scheme. The entire team could go down for a week and they’d still have saddles to spare. Ditto for Vittoria tubulars. There were enough tires to get the average Belgian team through the first half of any cobbled classic.
As I wandered the streets near the start ramp, every single team used rope, cellophane tape or those stands with the retractable polyester webbing (like you see in banks) to keep the fans back from the riders. Even so, Italian fans would slip under and plead “Che passione!” to see if they would be allowed to hang out.
No matter. The riders had to leave and the most popular among them (e.g. Danilo DiLuca) would have a train of fans chasing them down the street, paparazzi style. See what I mean? The Italians have a word for the crazed fans that chase stars with their cameras.
It was a day to celebrate cycling and the singular achievement that is bike racing. Simple times. A simpler day.
Day one of Interbike was a flurry of missed connections, reunions with old friends and, yes, introductions to new must-have bikes and parts. Somehow the day was over before I felt I had done enough; so it goes.
One of my more interesting stops was at Ritchey. Their components have fascinated me for their simple form and function ever since I bought my first Ritchey stem in 1990. More recently, the company has begun to make a firmer style statement. This has really come through on their wet white and wet black components. Yesterday they introduced wet red and this photo doesn’t do it justice; think lipstick red. As cool as I thought the black and white were, the red was a real stunner. I’d love to see a full pro team on them; that would look PRO.
This may have been the best looking ‘cross bike I saw yesterday. The matching fork is a new graphic touch for Ritchey and really ties the bike together nicely. And though not immediately apparent, this is a Break-Away.
Ritchey worked with Reynolds on this carbon clincher rim. They say that with Reynolds blue pads stopping is much better than with some other wheels and heat dissipates better than with Swisstop pads. Weight for the set is 1410g.
I’ve been digging Twin Six stuff for a few years now and as much as like some of their jerseys, I saw some T-shirts yesterday that really caught my eye. This ‘cross design is from a watercolor one of the owner/designers did at home one night.
I don’t know how many non-Bostonians will get the Southie reference, but having spent time in Revere, this shirt may have been my favorite inside nod/joke I caught yesterday.
Larceny entered my head when I saw this $2499 as-equipped carbon fiber ‘cross bike from Bianchi. I think they are under-appreciated for their ability to deliver great-spec’d bikes for terrific value.
Hincapie showed some great new clothes and the new George Signature line caught my eye. It’s a more form-fitting Euro-style cut, meaning the jerseys and bibs don’t run so long and the seams are welded rather than sewn. If you dig the Giordana Formula Red Carbon, then you’ll love this stuff … and you’ll like the pricing as well.
Colnago introduced its new C59 frame. In it there are some surprising nods to the modern world, such as the slightly sloping top tube (not the first for them, but one gets the sense that each new bike could just as easily have been designed around a horizontal top tube). This bike is available either with cable guides or Di2 guides, but you have to order ahead.
I don’t ride Brooks saddles. I won’t criticize anyone else for doing it, but I’m just not built for them. I do, however, have great respect for their ability to work with leather. The bags I saw yesterday were the ultimate lifestyle pieces for the cyclist who wants to keep cycling clothing even when in street clothes.
Not only were these bags elegant and well-made, they were surprisingly functional. Once again, larceny was on my mind. And I don’t mind saying it.
Fi’zi:k introduced a seatpost last year to work with their saddles with carbon fiber rails. Yesterday I saw a new carbon fiber post. Being the geek that I am, what really caught my eye was that thing at the bottom.
Should you have an occasion to slip the seatpost out of the frame, say for travel, the ring serves as a much better way to remember your exact saddle height than electrical tape. I used a glider board in the back of my wagon for years and every time I headed off to a race, the seatpost came out. I took an unnatural delight in this little gizmo.
By now you’ve heard that Fi’zi:k is introducing a shoe line. The sail-cloth straps look stiff but were surprisingly flexible. What I most liked about what I saw was just how Italian the shoes look. The cut of the leather and more understated accents made them surprisingly gorgeous in person.
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.
In Part II of my interview with Steve Hampsten I get Steve to talk about several of his big loves in equipment: 650B wheels, the constructeur movement and Columbus MAX tubing. His perspective isn’t what I’d call mainstream, but his rationale is so clear that the alternative he offers is truly compelling.
PB—You’ve been at ground zero for the constructeur movement and 650B wheels. What is it about those that interests you and what practical value do you think they offer the average cyclist?
SH—Constructeur bikes—which I’ll define as a made-to-order frame and fork designed to work with dedicated lights, fenders, and (usually) a front bag and rack—have become pretty popular of late. I think they’re an attempt at creating a bicycle that will work well in the real world in terms of being usable in varying types of weather and lighting conditions, and when carrying more than just a spare tube and a gel. As a designer with a hands-on approach, I find integrating the racks, lights, tires, and fenders of these bikes to be both challenging and rewarding—each one is just a little different.
650B wheels are interesting and becoming more so each year. A 650B x 38mm tire offers roughly the same outside diameter as a 700c x 23mm tire—so it’s essentially the same wheel size that most of us are used to but with a much larger volume of air. They’re nice when riding on really rough roads, when carrying a heavy load, when you want that certain Frenchy je ne sais quois—or when you want all three. Currently I have three 650B flat-bar bikes in the works: all three designed as shopping bikes but each is taking a different approach in one form or another.
We should see at least two new 650B x 38mm tires this year—the size many feel is ideal for this wheel—and I think they’ll be better quality than anything we’ve seen previously. It’s maybe not the ideal go-fast tire size but it is comfortable, grippy, and elegantly classic-looking.
PB—How would you compare/contrast the use of 650B wheels to the newish road bike category of endurance bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, Trek Pilot and Felt Z-series which share a longer wheelbase, slacker head tube angle, more fork rake and longer head tube resulting in a higher bar position?
SH—I wouldn’t really compare them at all. The three you mention are closer to our own Strada Bianca and to the Moots Mootour/IF Club Racer/ Co-Mo Nor’wester than they are to a 650B bike like the Rivendell Saluki or Tournesol Pavé. I think most 700C bikes are good for moving a rider and (maybe) a small load over a variety of road surfaces but as the load increases—or the surface becomes less smooth—then smaller wheels with bigger tires start to make more sense. But I like that bigger companies are offering bikes that aren’t simply dumbed-down Pro Tour race bikes, that they’re entertaining the idea there might be more riding experiences to be had than simply hammering along a road in mad pursuit of … what?
PB—Let’s talk a practical consideration: For better or worse, most riders on most group rides are running a 23mm tire at 8 bar (and some guys are running pressure much higher than that). Rolling resistance is much lower than running a 28mm tire at 7 bar or less. That’s some noticeable extra wattage you have to put out to maintain pace with the ride. Do you maintain that these bikes are appropriate for most roadies?
SH—Well Patrick, I’ll have to disagree here with you here: I don’t think that skinny tires pumped hard roll much faster than fatter tires run slightly softer. I agree they FEEL faster because you’re getting more feedback from the road surface and you’re bouncing over all the little bumps and most folks think that feels like speed. I like my skinny tires for some riding and I like the fatties for other rides. I do notice the larger tires seem a little more sluggish to accelerate, which they should as it’s more weight to get moving. But on gravel or on a bumpy road, I’ll take the bigger tire as they feel smoother when rolling and more planted in corners. Horses for courses, as they say.
PB—If you could only ride one bike, a bike that needed to be versatile enough to do your favorite group rides and more, what would that bike be? What size wheels would it have? What would the geo be? What frame material? And heck, what parts would you put on it?
SH—It’d be a welded steel frame from light tubing, probably with a steel fork and for 57mm-reach calipers, same as our Classic model. 700c x 25 or 28mm tires for the day-to-day stuff, maybe 24mm Vittoria Pavé with fenders for the six damp months a year up here, 33.3mm tires for the epic rides. 73 X 72.8, 46mm rake, 70mm BB drop, chainstays at 420mm. I like handbuilt wheels, anything from the Chris King catalog, and SRAM Force is my current favorite kit. Thomson, Fi’zi:k, Deda Zero100 bars, King Cages … bliss.
PB—How many people actually work for Hampsten? Tell us a bit more, if you would, about Max and Martin.
SH—Hampsten is me as the only full-time employee. I have a part-time mechanic, Chris Boedecker, who helps with assembly, repairs, and wheelbuilding as needed. Max does the in-house welded frames and has been building our custom racks, Martin does all of our lugged frames/forks and makes our extra brazed forks as needed.
Max Kullaway started at Rhygin, then moved over to Merlin where he learned to weld – this was back in their days in MA – then worked at Seven until moving out here a couple of years ago. He’s working at a local metal fabrication outfit and also welding titanium frames for Davidson. He and fellow ex-Sevenite, Bernard Georges, have started their own framebuilding gig called 333fab—say “triple-three-fab”—building steel and ti frames for both road and cyclocross. In his spare time Max welds some frames for me, here at my shop – he’s a busy lad!
Martin Tweedy took the framebuilding class at UBI back in 1996 or so then became the first employee at Match Bicycle Company where he brazed several hundred lugged frames for Schwinn Paramount, Beckman, and Rivendell. When Match closed up he worked for Dave Levy at Ti Cycles doing Dave’s brazed frames as well as helping with the Hampsten frames then coming out of Dave’s shop. He had his own line of “Palmares”-badged lugged frames and he has built almost all of the lugged Hampsten frames since 2001. Martin is credited with creating the Hampsten Gran Paradiso/Race geometry back when we worked together at Match; Dave Levy gets most of the credit for the Strada Bianca geometry.
PB—How important is frame material to you? Do you have a preferred frame material?
SH—I like materials that can be welded or brazed. Currently I’m loving my steel frames for their springy resilience but I’m also looking forward to putting some miles in on my aluminum winter bike—I think having a light, stiff bike makes me go a little harder on the hills and maybe slows the fitness degeneration as the days get colder and darker. Titanium feels good too but I just haven’t been grabbing my ti bike as much this year. But overall I’ll take frame fit and design over material choice—I think a good frame can be built from any of the materials out there. (As a footnote: I sure liked all my carbon bikes from Parlee and I can’t imagine that anyone could do carbon better. But Parlee’s pricing moved to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable offering their frames and we parted ways amicably.)
PB—You’ve been getting into building with Columbus MAX. If there’s a stiffer ferrous tubeset on the market, I haven’t ridden it. It’s stiffer than almost every aluminum frame I’ve ridden. Is MAX strictly the domain of the big man, or does it have other applications?
SH—It’s not the tubeset that’s overly stiff, it’s what you do with it that determines how the frame will ride. We’re talking about a top tube that is 31.8mm, bi-axially ovalized, butts are .7/.4/.7mm, and the down tube is 35mm with .8/.5/.8, also ovalized on opposing axes. The seat tube is pretty standard, we don’t use the MAX seatstays, and the chainstays are tall but not crazy heavy. Overall I’d say the wall thicknesses are what we would typically use on many of our steel frames but the MAX diameters are increased by almost 10% which should give an increase in stiffness of about 20%. We don’t use the MAX forks and we save some weight by welding rather than using the MAX lugs and BB shell.
So I could take that tubing and build you a really stiff, short wheel-based race bike and we could pair it with some tall rims and skinny tires pumped hard and we could make it ride like crap—stiff enough to rattle your fillings.
Or we could lengthen the wheelbase, slacken the angles, and orient the top tube so that the oval section was flexing at the head tube, and combine with a carbon or light steel fork. I’d use some lighter seat stays, possibly replace the chainstays with something smaller, put you on some hand-built 3-cross wheels with 28mm tires pumped to 85-90psi and make sure there was enough dirt, cobbles, and/or gravel on the ride to get your attention – then you would see the beauty of the MAX tubeset.
I think it helps to be at or above 180 pounds and to not be too hung up on the weight of the bike but I think MAX is a good example of older technology that still works great today. More on MAX here.
One of these days, I’m going to interview Tom Ritchey. When I do, I intend to ask him where he gets his ideas for new products. I don’t know that I’ll get an answer—I might as well ask Dave Matthews where he gets his song ideas—but I intend to ask him nonetheless.
For me, Ritchey Logic products have been shorthand for strong, lightweight and well-engineered solutions to essential parts and problems since before I became a cyclist. Over the years I’ve owned stems, seatposts, pedals and mini tools. I’ve reviewed probably a dozen bikes that spec’d Richey products for OEM sales. I can’t count the number of times that a Ritchey product at the time of its release was the lightest on the market.
That said, I purchased a WCS Carbon Post 18 months ago or so. While it has performed admirably, I don’t care for the two-bolt design. It is a frustration to adjust and changing saddles—which I do from time to time for the purpose of reviews—is a slow and time-consuming process.
Which brings me to the WCS Carbon 1-Bolt Post. The last time a seatpost impressed me was the Specialized Pavé seatpost and that was in 2003. There are plenty of 1-bolt posts out there. What makes the WCS Carbon 1-Bolt Post different is the nature of the clamp. Most of you won’t change saddles very often, so ease-of-installation probably won’t impress you much. Regardless, I’ve never experienced a seatpost on which saddle installation was quicker. But here’s a real selling point: As you tighten the seat clamp, there is no drift; wherever you place the saddle is where it stays. For purposes of fitting, I found this to be a notable benefit. Admittedly, once the saddle position is established, this stops being a selling point, but it impressed me for its ease.
My favorite feature of the seatpost isn’t specific to this one post, but rather Ritchey’s line of posts. Between the different iterations, Ritchey seatposts come in four diameters (27.0, 27.2, 30.9 and 31.6mm), four lengths (280, 300, 350 and 400mm) and four setbacks (0, 20, 30 and a whopping 45mm). The 1-Bolt post is available in three of those diameters (27.2, 30.9 and 31.6mm), two lengths (300 and 350mm) and two setbacks (0 and 30mm). The proliferation of production-sized carbon fiber frames shouldn’t mean a reduction in the ability to fit and its nice to see a company so dedicated to offering a wide variety in seatposts without resorting to a wonky solution—shims anyone?
It’s also lightweight. The post I reviewed weighed a bantam 172 grams. Naturally, the next question is what this lightweight post retails for either $214.95 or $224.95, depending on the seatposts diameter. Those who think it unreasonable to spend that much on a seatpost can save more than $125 and pick up the alloy version (which comes in all the same diameters and lengths as the carbon version
The clamp kit is available after market for $16.95 and comes in several different versions: 8 x 8.5mm (for Ritchey and Selle Italia carbon rail saddles) and 7 x 9.6mm (for Fi:zi’k carbon rail saddles). Different clamp kits exist for the carbon and alloy versions of the 1-bolt seatpost.
Waxing rhapsodic about a seatpost is about as silly as analyzing the stylistic underpinnings of Kelly Clarkson. That said, as a matter of minimalist industrial design, the 1-Bolt seatpost is elegant in its simplicity, both in ease of use and svelte appearance. Torque spec for either clamp is 12 Newton/meters, something I would encourage Ritchey to print on the packaging for the seatpost and the seat clamp; laser-etched on the clamp itself or printed on the seatpost wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Streem saddle is Ritchey’s answer to the traditional saddle for those who would prefer their saddles not resemble toilet seats. The folks at Ritchey say it resembles an SLR, and while the bird’s-eye view sees the logic in this comparison, my last experience with the SLR was unpleasant enough (the saddle was upper-lip stiff) that I wouldn’t be eager to try one again.
The key to the saddle might be its patented “wing” design that suspends the shell of the saddle above the rails in order to cushion the rider from road vibration and shock. Or it may be that they are simply using a thinner shell, resulting in a more flexible base.
I’ve got fairly broad hips; in the Specialized Toupé I ride the 143mm-wide edition. I suspect that riders with narrower hips than I will find this saddle especially to their liking. For me it was rather minimal, but still worked. Anyone with hips wider than mine might find it akin to sitting on the top tube due to their sit bones falling at the edges of the saddle shell.
Amazingly, the saddle is available in four different configurations. Each shares the same shape and debossed leather look; what changes is the type of leather and the rail material.
The Aston Martin of the bunch is the 144g, real leather-covered, carbon railed Streem, available in Model T black or PRO white. It retails for $179.95. The Lexus features real leather, CrN/Ti rails (which are essentially Ti rails with a chromium-nitride coating which, from what I’ve read, helps when shaping the rails, making them less brittle) and available in black or white as well. Mine weighed 200g. Retail is a less-stratospheric $99.95.
Anyone offended by the high-end offerings can choose from Chrome-Moly rail, synthetic leather edition for $61.95 (said to weigh only 210g) or a steel rail, vinyl-covered version (250g claimed) for only $36.95. It’s refreshing to see a company meet consumers at such a variety of price points.
In riding both the carbon and Ti rail versions of this saddle, I had the impression that the carbon version did cut road vibration perceptibly, though slightly. Bump impact wasn’t cut at all, but then I wasn’t expecting a suspension post effect.
I’m not here to pass judgment on whether someone wants to build up a 13-pound bike. I can understand the desire to have an unsurpassably cool bike. I can also understand the urge to say, “Enough is enough.” That said, if you covet the carbon saddle (and believe me, I can understand why you might), make sure you purchase the 1-Bolt Clamp Kit, otherwise the 12Nm torque applied to too-small clamps will crush the carbon rails like teeth in celery.
Great saddles can be argued about ad nauseum; there’s no right answer. But this 1-Bolt seatpost is a thing of beauty; it truly epitomizes what Ritchey has always stood for in my mind—simple, lightweight and easy-to-adjust designs, the very meaning of elegant.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of Rube Goldberg’s excessively geared, pulleyed and levered heart was a burning desire to improve everyday life. He is the only person on the planet who could turn Macchiavelli’s most basic truth—that the ends justify the means—into the punchline of a joke, and accidentally at that.
There was a time when every bike I owned had one detail in common … aside from dirt. They were all equipped with Flite saddles. It was the negative to my hind quarters’ positive and its soft plastic shell gave in a noticeable and pleasant way on the frost-heaved roads around my home.
Somehow, in the course of reviewing scores of bikes, I lost track of my love (and ownership) of the Flite and my ischial tuberosities were forced to adapt to a greater variety of shapes than I would weave into a work of fiction. Trying that many saddles doesn’t even make for good humor.
In 2003 I was introduced to the Aliante by Fi’zi:k. When I tell you it was love at first site, I’m serious. I beheld the object of my affection from a dozen years before, only reimagined in greater design. I braced myself for comfort.
Since my first ride on the Aliante it has been my saddle of choice. And while the Arione is Fi’zi:k’s more popular model (the most popular saddle on road bikes worldwide, in fact), I can’t imagine why they even make it. But there you have it, everyone’s ass is shaped differently and that’s why I’ve been loathe to give saddle advice.
So while I will advocate some products, believing that if you use them the quality of your cycling experience will be improved, I’ve always stopped short on saddles. It’s ironic that while I know not everyone will agree on saddle comfort, I find the Aliante so comfortable I wonder how anyone could choose another saddle. Its comfort is seemingly universal. To say this saddle is uncomfortable is tantamount to saying you didn’t shake your thing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Where were we?
Unlike some saddles, the Aliante comes in a few iterations, meaning you can spend as little as $139 at retail or nearly double that, depending on which rails and other materials are employed. Naturally, as the price goes up, weight drops; my carbon-railed version weighed only 175g. If only the leather was as undying as my love; I’ve had one recovered, twice.
We can discuss the engineering brilliance of the twin-flex carbon-kevlar shell, the gentle curve of the saddle’s pocket or its surprisingly low weight despite its generous padding, but there’s not much point. At the end of the discussion a saddle either works or you try another. I’ll keep trying saddles and there are some good ones out there, but you’ll always be able to tell a bike I own from a bike I’m reviewing. Just check the what’s mounted to the seatpost.