Friday, March 06, 2009

More on the bicycle seat...

Okay, so a couple of weeks ago I was whining about bicycle seats, and about this new bicycle seat I'd gotten called the Spongy Wonder. After I posted that entry, I got some advice from friends of mine who are serious bicyclists. Jym accused me of not getting my science right; I'm not entirely convinced that he has his right either, but be that as it may, I think his basic observation that I probably wasn't doing something right was correct.

Joe recommended that I consult the late, much missed Sheldon Brown for advice on bicycle saddle adjustment, and somewhat grudgingly I did. It turns out that I think Mr. Brown's advice is probably spot on. He considers saddles like the Spongy Wonder, which have been available since the turn of the twentieth century but have never caught on, to be somewhat useless. I'm not sure he's entirely correct, but he might as well be for my purposes.

When I ride around town I see a lot of people going slow. This is something I am constitutionally incapable of - I generally go as fast as feels comfortable, and possibly a bit faster. I think that seats like the Spongy Wonder must be aimed at the people who are going slow. If you are going slow, particularly if you are sitting up, you're basically putting your full weight on the saddle.

One of the studies on the health risks of standard saddles was done on bicycle cops, and I suspect that they spend most of their time going slow, although the ones I've seen look like they could probably go fast if they really wanted to. I'll never forget Officer Lois chasing down a car driver on her bicycle in Noe Valley one morning when I was sitting outside of Spinelli's enjoying a latte. But I digress.

The point is that I am not convinced that Joe and Jym and Sheldon Brown are right that these saddles are useless. However, I think they are right that they are useless for me. Sheldon Brown's advice is basically this: if you haven't been riding for a whole season (in my case, it's been years), you aren't in shape. You can probably do a twenty-mile ride, because anybody who's in reasonable shape can, but you will be wrecked afterwards. So you have to start out slow, and work up to it.

This matches my experience. I was getting a bit disgusted with myself for being so out of shape, and so I started riding, and I thought I was taking it easy, only going maybe ten miles a day. Sheldon says you have to go only a few miles, not ten miles, until you're back in shape. Otherwise, you will be putting too much weight on your saddle, and you'll have problems.

The ride that motivated me to buy the Spongy Wonder was a twenty-mile ride I did up to La Encantada. It was a really nice ride, but afterwards I was quite sore, and kind of concerned about my long-term health prognosis if I kept riding. That was about a month ago.

When the Spongy Wonder arrived, I tried it out, and put quite a bit of effort into getting it adjusted right, but by the time I had it adjusted for my style of riding generally, my riding position was so badly compromised that I didn't feel like it made sense - I have a racing bike, not a mountain bike or a cruiser, so a strictly upright riding style is hard to set up on it, and what I did set up didn't feel right. Every time I tweaked something, something else was wrong.

So after a few rides, some fairly long, I decided to try the old saddle again to compare its feel with that of the Spongy Wonder, thinking I might switch back again fairly quickly. I haven't gone back. Over the course of the month, I've run a lot of errands and done a few six-mile rides, but haven't really pushed it, and I haven't had any soreness.

Today I pushed it. I did the same twenty mile ride I'd done a month ago (except I got lost up in the hills and had to backtrack, so I think it was more like 25 - the iPhone Google Maps application came in really handy once I admitted that I was turned around and probably wasn't going to be able to just follow my nose back to the correct path).

I have no saddle soreness at all. I do not feel like I was putting much weight on the saddle, and I do not feel like I put much weight at all on the sensitive areas that I was concerned about after the last 20-mile ride. It was a really nice day for a ride, and I enjoyed it a lot. I'm a little sore because I stood and powered up some short hills, and I think overdid it on some of those muscles, but my patoot is intact.

The reason I wrote up my original observations about the Spongy Wonder is that I hadn't been able to find anything out about it online. At this point I think I'd have to say that it's a quality product - well built, and probably pretty durable. If you are a slow biker who sits down hard on the saddle, and you want to be able to ride longer distances slowly, it's probably not a bad choice - that or one of the other similar products, of which there are many to choose from. But if you're basically a gung-ho bicyclist who's out of shape, I am not convinced it's the right choice. I think it's a little too highly-optimized for a slow, sit-up style of riding.