Pain, Discomfort and The Saddles I've Known

Frankie Andreu's solution for a saddle sore during the 1999 Tour de France. (from Competitive Cyclist)

I remember the first time I heard about marathon runners getting bloody nipples as a result of continuous friction during a race. The subject came up as I spoke with a runner, who seemed to take pride in having endured this most unusual aspect of his sport. As he described this phenomenon, he took great pleasure in giving me every bit of detail possible.

No, he didn't tape peperoni to his shirt, his nipples are bleeding.

But running isn't just all about bloody nipples. On no. It's also about pissing yourself, and loosing complete control of your limbs. I remember waiting at the finish line of a 10 mile race not long ago. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of my wife as she crossed among the thousands of runners. As I waited for her, I saw very fit young men collapse suddenly after crossing the finish line, falling loudly onto their kneecaps with a thud. As they slammed onto the concrete, I saw two piss themselves from extreme exhaustion. I don't think they had prepared for the race, and now their bodies were seeking revenge from them in a very public way. My wife, I'm happy to report, neither collapsed nor urinated on herself after finishing the race, and really...what else could a guy ask for in a woman? I guess I'm easy to please.

As silly as bloody nipples seemed to me at one point, and as much as I believed runners to be insane for enduring such I sit here, writing this post with a busted taint. Yes, a goddamned saddle sore, my second one in about three months. Like the last one, this one came on quickly and powerfully.

My busted taint
Only days ago, as I got on my bike to ride to work, I knew there was something wrong right away. I slowly perched my once-healthy taint upon my saddle, and an unmistakable sharp pain shot up to my brain, almost bringing me to tears. I had taken a day off from riding, and suddenly a little September 11th had developed between my legs. I cursed my saddle, gritted my teeth, and rode to work. Having just listened to an interview with Tyler Hamilton about riding the 2003 tour with a broken collarbone, I felt like riding 15 miles to work with saddle sore was just as heroic. As it turns out, it wasn' just hurt like fucking crazy, and made matters worse.

Like any self-respecting cyclist, one who takes great pride in his pain, I called Velo News and Rouleur magazines to inform them about my heroic feat. Sadly neither publication wanted to do an interview with me about my amazing pain, or the suitcase of courage that it required. To be honest, it wasn't a suitcase at all...but rather a backpack with my laptop and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but that's besides the point. The point is that both publications turned me down. Can you believe those idiots?

The ins and outs* of the general crotchal region (*homoerotic pun only partially intended)
Although I'm well aware that there are multiple reasons why saddle sores can occur (bad chamois, lack of crotch lubrication, hygiene etc), I tend to blame them on my saddle. I mean, saddle sores were named after my saddle, so why not blame it? Like other eponymous diseases, their mere name makes it easy to find their source. For example, if you ever get Lou Gehrig's Disease, you know who to blame...Lou Gehring, because you probably got it from him. So if you have a saddle sore, you probably got it from a saddle. Case closed.

As far as I can tell, I've taken every other possible precaution necessary to prevent saddle sores. I have pretty good shorts, ones with Shamwow-worthy chamois-es. Quick side note: what is the plural for "chamois"? Is it "chamoises"? "Chamoii?" Who knows. Anyway, I've taken the necessary steps to prevent sores, except for one. I have not thoroughly tested and purchased a new, full priced saddle. As a result, the degree of discomfort I've experienced from the saddles I've owned has generally ranged from mild, to "I hope my insurance covers my scrotum ripping in half". You see, saddles are expensive, and buying one is largely a guess at what will make you comfortable. My solution to this problem has been to buy well-regarded saddles when I see them at very low prices. Sadly, these saddles are often used, and are probably near the end of their life, or are already well-molded to someone else's taint area.

What follows are reviews of the most recent saddles I've owned, and the reasons why they are no longer with me. I am not an expert on the subject of saddle sores, or saddles...but this is merely an overview of my woes, which I share with you in hopes of aiding in the edification of my readership. Let us begin.


Selle San Marco Ponza Power Lux

My time with the Ponza Power Lux saddle was brief, like the ill-timed attack by my beloved Mauricio Soler at this year's Giro. The saddle came with the complete road bike I purchased, and I quickly realized that our relationship was not to be. From the very start, the saddle looked and felt cheap to me. And it was, even though I was lucky enough to have the "Power Lux" model, which is really just like having the fancy version of the Dodge Horizon, the one with the burgundy interior and a tape player. I should know, it was my first car.

As with other low end saddles, the foam appeared to be cheap and compressed far too easily from the start. For short rides the saddle was fine, but eventually turned on you like a rabid rottweiler, a rabid rottweiler that wants to bite and chew on your greater ball/butthole region. Why? Although I'm no scientician, I believe that the unnecessary amount of embroidery and differing pleather surfaces were to blame. Does any saddle seriously need 7 distinct pieces of pleather and fabric, each one with raised stitching holding it in place? Was this thing developed by Dick Chaney as an alternative to waterboarding? The sheer number panels on this thing made me feel like I was sitting on one of those classy mid-90s 8 ball jackets.

After months of discomfort and slight skin irritation I decided it was time to let my friend Ponza Lux go. Today, the saddle sits atop my crappy Raleigh 12-speed bike, which itself sits atop my indoor fluid trainer.

Upon closer inspection, as I prepared to write this piece of journalistic magic, I saw that the Ponza Lux had a sticker on its underside that proclaimed it to be part of Selle San Marco's "Island Project". This, of course, is a fancy way of saying that they decided to have some saddles made in the island of Taiwan, and they wanted to come up with a cool name for this project. It has nothing to do with the other "Island Project" going on in cycling right now. I'm referring, of course, to Lance Armstrong's secret plan to have the Schleck brothers and Contador eaten by sharks while they vacation in a remote island. Sadly, some intern at the Livestrong Foundation dropped the ball when it came to Lance's masterplan to kill the competition. The result? Contador and the Schlecks ended up having a pleasant swim with docile dolphins. That kid is so fired right now.

Is anyone else uncomfortable by seeing Contador's pensive stare, coupled with how close his fingers are to the dolphin's blowhole? This is a guy who is known for a salute that Bike Snob has accurately named "the fingerbang", you know...I'm just saying we should maybe keep an eye on him. That's all.

Cycling Inquisition's "Scrotum Ripping In Half" Rating for the Ponza Power Lux:
(1 being "I hope my insurance covers scrotums ripping in half", and 10 being a perfectly comfortable saddle)


Selle San Marco Concor Supercorsa

After being let down by the Ponza Power, I decided to try out another saddle. Aside from the plentiful stitching that the Ponza Power had, I also felt that it's surface was far too flat, and didn't follow the contours of my lower anatomy. After seeing a picture of a San Marco Concor Supercorse online, I decided to get one. Since I'm an insanely cheap human being, I didn't buy the $100+ reissue, and opted instead to get one through eBay. At $20, the saddle superbly cheap, and it arrived very quickly. After putting it atop my relatively modern, so-so quality road bike, I was amazed to see just how massive it looked. Imagine balancing a cinder block atop an unsharpened pencil, and you'll get a pretty clear picture of it's aesthetic effect on my otherwise sweet road bike.While the Ponza Power looked dainty, and its profile made it look like it was wearing a short mini-skirt, the Concor appeared dated and rather demure with it's heavy profile. If the Ponza Power was wearing a mini-skirt, the Concor Supercorsa was wearing a hooped skirt made of heavy leather.

The Concor Supercorsa was fairly comfortable, and had a significant amount of retro appeal. I, however, don't know anyone locally that even rides a the cool points that others may have gathered from owning such a piece of gear was completely lost on me. The saddle performed its duties fairly well at first, but I soon began to feel some numbness in my upper thigh. Stupidly, I assumed that this was a result of the saddle's oversized profile, not its shape. As such, I began looking for a more updated version of the Concor and soon found the Concor Light.

Cycling Inquisition's "Scrotum Ripping In Half" Rating for the Concor Supercorsa:


Selle San Marco Concor Light

Since I firmly believed that the issue with the Concor Supercorsa was it's low-hanging, batwing-like sides, the Concor Light came as a revelation to me. Having more or less the same shape as the Supercorsa, the Concor Light had a more modern profile, was lighter and a bit firmer. Add to this the fact that semi-famous cyclists like Contador and Armstrong will forego their official sponsors and choose this saddle instead, and you have an appealing package. This is particularly true when you find one on eBay for thirty bucks.

Why on earth would it matter if Lance Armstrong uses this saddle? His anatomy has nothing to do with ours, at least not mine...because of...well, you know...the whole two balls versus one thing.

But it was not to be. While the Supercorsa felt supportive, the Concor Light felt like I was sitting squarely on the skinny side of a 2x4 piece of lumber. Actually, it felt more like I had gotten down on all fours, and someone had struck me straight in my crack with said 2x4.

I remember describing this feeling to my wife, who I'm sure was just thrilled with the nuanced description I offered. After relaying all these details to her (including the part about me being hit with a 2x4 in my ass crack), I was shocked to see someone review this very saddle and have an astonishingly similar reaction, namely that of it feeling like a 2x4.

Although I developed no saddle sores from the Concor Light, and experienced no numbness as a result of riding on it, I did feel an ongoing discomfort that never went away. The saddle felt extremely narrow and...well...just like a 2x4 digging into my ass crack. I never stopped thinking about the saddle as I rode my bike. It was constantly on my mind. I think my balls felt the same way too, so I had to let it go. Back on eBay it went, selling for 45 dollars.

Cycling Inquisition's "Scrotum Ripping In Half" Rating for the Concor Light:


Fizik Arione

This summer, I was in Barcelona to see the Tour de France. During my time in Barcelona, my brother and I decided to walk around a bit and check out some local bike shops. We quickly came upon Pro Bike, a sizable shop with a wide range of products, and a great bin of take-offs from recently sold bikes. Right at the top of this bin sat a brand new Fizik Arione. The price? Fifteen bucks. I grabbed it, and eagerly awaited the moment when I would return home and enjoy the luxurious rides I would surely enjoy atop its supple leather surface. The Arione is one of the most widely used saddles today, even though its design cues, angles and unecessary tail have always reminded me of the Pontiac Aztek.

Like the other saddles, however, the Arione failed to deliver. I knew things were not going to work out between us from the moment I realized that I didn't know how to how to pronounce the maker of the saddle, or the name of the saddle itself. Is the company's name pronounced "physic", or is it "physique"? Is the saddle the "air-one", or "air-own"? Again, not knowing people who ride bikes proved to be problematic, since my only real contact with cyclists is through the written word.

From the very start, my experience with the Arione reminded me of the time I went to the Carlisle Hotel in New York City to see Woody Allen's jazz band perform. The Carlisle is a very expensive hotel, and the small cafe venue in its first floor holds maybe 30 people. I remember calling the hotel, and asking which subway station I should get off at. The person on the other end of the line was not sure how to answer the question, and without any air of arrogance stated "our guests usually arrive by car sir." Within the Carlisle, jackets are required, and I simply didn't have one at the time. My cousin was kind enough to let me borrow one for the night. The problem? He's 6'1", and i'm 5'7". With the sleeves of the jacekt rolled up, I looked like clueless redneck spending a day in the big city. Within seconds of my arrival (via subway), I knew I was out of my element. The elderly man in front of me tipped the coatcheck attendant fifty dollars. When I saw that bill exchange hands, my knees nearly buckled. I was raised in relatively well-off surroundings, and have been around substantial wealth from time to time in my life...but I suddenly realized I was in over my head. I was beyond broke at the time, living in New York and trying to get by...and I was at the Carlisle merely as a result of my sister getting me tickets as my birthday gift. Much like that expeirince, the Arione constantly made me self concious, something the Concor never did. Perhaps I have low self esteem, but I felt like my cyclng abilities would never measure up to the famed Arione. The saddle knew I only owned him due to it being a take-off...and that any other circumstances I would not be graced with his presence under my butthole. As I climbed my local hills slowly, panting in pain...the Arione would look up at me and (with an Italian accent) say: "That's all-ah you got-ah?" I hung my head in shame. He was right, it was all I had-ah.

Whereas the Concor looked understated (my version of that saddle was all black, with no writting on it of any kind) the Arione called out for attention. The one I bought in Barcelona was black, with the center stripe being red. The red stripe, I would soon find out, was a foreworning of the saddle sores that were to come. And come they did, perhaps because sitting on the Arione felt like sitting on a concrete frisbee. The saddle sores developed quickly in my upper, inner thigh, twice on the same spot. It was for that reason that I wanted to go Frankie Andreu (see image at the beginning of this post) on this saddle, and chew out the offending portion of it. I didn't. I tried changing shorts, changing it's placement...but it was not to be. Even though I knew the saddle was to blame, I had trouble accepting that fact. Here I was, ridding atop a fancy Air-one or Air-own or whatever it's called...a fancy saddle that I had purchased for almost nothing...and my stupid low-rent taint area would not comply. It was as though I was being fed the fanciest caviar in the world, and yet my stomach was rumbling in disgust. I felt like one of those people who keep wild animals in urban or suburban environments, places where the animals clearly don't belong. The Arione simply didn't belong with me, so I felt like the lady from Connecticut who had her face and eyeballs ripped out by her pet chimp. You may think the comparison is extreme, but if you had seen my saddle sores, I'm sure you'd agree. The Arione was striking back at me.

At the end of the day, the Arione needed to be set free. The saddle wanted to be atop a fancier bike than the one I could provide. The Arione needed to be sat upon by an ass draped in fancier shorts than I could provide. It needed the type of care that a doctor or dentist could short, it needed a Cervelo owner. I listed the saddle on eBay, and sold it promptly for 95 dollars. The guy who won the auction sent me an email when he received the saddle, happily proclaiming:
"I don't know why you sold this thing, it's perfectly new. It matches my Cervelo. Thanks."
A Cervelo owner. I knew it. Perhaps that's how the story had to end. The Arione was not happy with me, and I was not happy with him. He belonged with a Cervelo...not with me and my mid-grade hunk of junk bike, or below my mid-range man junk.

Cycling Inquisition's "Scrotum Ripping In Half" Rating for the Arione:


Selle Italia Flite Gel

As I was selling my Arione saddle on eBay, I came upon a listing for a gently used Flite saddle. For twenty five dollars, I thought it was worth the try, and bought it. The "gently used" saddle turned out to be a large block of mud, inside of which was a Flite saddle. It took a fair amount of work to chip the mud off, particularly due to the excessive amount of perforated leather, and embroidered lettering on the saddle. At first glance, the Flite reminded me of the narrow Concor Light, but its long nose also reminded me of Ayrton Senna's Formula 1 car.

Additionally, it's plentiful raised lettering and perforated surfaces reminded me of George Hincapie's left leg.

I will now give you some time so that you can dry-heave in peace after seeing that picture.

Are you done now? Okay, let's move on.

Sadly, I would soon find out that sitting on the Flite saddle was about as comfortable as jamming the aero nose of a Formula 1 car up your crack, and that it can make your crotch look and feel like Hincapie's leg. The promise of "gel" within the saddle kept me hoping for a comfortable feeling, but I suddenly remembered that the saddle was probably fifteen years old. The once semi-fluid gel was probably hard as a rock by now, or molded to someone else's man or woman-junk. Although generally comfortable for some time, this saddle to suddenly turned on me. Afterall, it's with this saddle that I developed my latest saddle sore.

Saddle sore aside, when climbing I began to experience numbness in what I call my secondary but cracks (plural). I'm not talking about the primary butt crack (singular), bur rather the area where my butt checks end and my leg commences. The entire area, including my entire ass cheeks now go numb often, making me stand up in order to feel some relief. As bad as this sounds, this is the saddle I've had the longest, and the one that has given me the least trouble. On good days, I actually forget it's even there, but this is rare. On bad days, like today, the saddle chews up my crotch and makes it cry in pain.

Cycling Inquisition's "Scrotum Ripping In Half" Rating:


Where to next?
As I mentioned earlier, I fully realize that saddle sores do not come from saddles alone..but I also know that saddle sores were not the only problems I experienced with these saddles. Still, I have gone ahead and taken further precautions to prevent future sores. Upon getting to the office or once I'm done with my ride, I make sure I take my shorts off and shower quickly, taking great care in washing out my man-junk area. I wash my shorts diligently, paying special attention to the chamois. I have also started to use chamois cream for every ride, not just the longer ones. Due to my cheapness, I am using my own signature blend which is 60% Chamois Butt'r, and 40% Noxzema. For fancy weekend rides, I go ahead and splurge by using my cherished free sample of DZ Nuts, which does seem to last a bit longer. Beyond this, I've started to feel that perhaps my numbness issues may be a result of my position on the bike. As such, I've scheduled a proper bike fit at a local sports medicine center. I've felt some foot and knee soreness as of late, so I hope to address those issues as well. Beyond that, I may finally have to be open to the possibility of paying full price for a Specialized saddle (after having my sit bones measured with their low-tech butt measuring piece of foam). I may also look into a local demo saddle program. Step one is the bike fit though, which I will report on very soon. Wish me luck, because if that doesn't work, I may be riding around in one of these stupid things soon:

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

How about all ya'll? Have you found a saddle that works for you? Do you stockpile extras of that saddle in case they stop making it? Are my tender bits too picky? Is my tolerance for discomfort too low? Did the first saddle you ever tried work for you? Let me know.

A great source of information about every type of saddle sore, and possible remedies was posted on Fat Cyclist some time ago. Check it out here.