I’m not a strong cyclist. Truth be told, I’m a rather pathetic cyclist. I’ve never been fit, sporty, or strong in the way of “proper” cyclists, and I suffer terribly on the bike at all the points that touch it (and some that don’t), but I suffer most where the fundament hits the saddle. I tour with my partner Celia, who supports me with beers, balsams, and beatitudes when I’m failing to see the upside of the downside.
My problem has driven me in search of the perfect saddle.
For years, I happily rode a Brooks B17 and then a Team Pro saddle, but when the rivets began to pull proud of the leather and cause sore spots and snags on my shorts, I looked for an alternative. Cycling Plus magazine described the fizik Wing Flex as the most comfortable saddle the reviewer had ever ridden so I bought one for a tour of Slovenia and Croatia. It was incredibly light, looked fabulous, was narrow as the back of a knife blade and as brutally effective. So much for the reviewer.
I went back to the Brooks. Then, while preparing for a tour across the U.S., I popped down to a cluster of camping shops in London for a couple of last-minute essentials. Stupidly, I was on my touring bike, topped with a nicely broken-in leather and titanium saddle mounted on a USE carbon seatpost. Emerging from a shop after a fruitless two minutes of browsing (yes, only TWO MINUTES), I spotted immediately that my bike wasn’t properly bike shaped. It no longer sported a saddle or seatpost. They’d been lifted. And I could see why. Together they formed a unit that had resale value aplenty.
So, with 10 miles to cycle home and a major tour only days away, I made an emergency purchase in the nearest cycle shop, a cheap new seatpost and a Specialized Body Geometry saddle. Result? Three months of an open wound welding itself to my chamois every day. I quipped in an email home that my bottom only hurt three times a day, “When I lower myself onto the saddle, when I lever myself out of the saddle, and the bit in between the two events.” Like Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman, I was slowly becoming the bike and the bike was slowly becoming me.
The sore didn’t heal until several days after the tour finished. As soon as I got home, I bought a gorgeous new green leather Brooks Titanium Finesse saddle on eBay. I treated it with Proofide and neatsfoot oil for several months before cycling it from Mexico to Canada along the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges.
It remained like a rock between my legs, leaving, in the words of a recent Nobel Prize winner, blood on the tracks before finally self-destructing as we dropped down from Washington Pass. The titanium rails snapped and the tensioner disappeared back along the blacktop, but with no bike shops in the vicinity, I botched a repair with gaffer tape and soldiered on, fingers crossed. The next section of the route followed a small river along the beautiful Skagit Gorge. I worried that a further failure would leave me, as it were, up Skagit Creek without a saddle.
Dumping the cheap Specialized and feeling once bitten by Brooks over my failed Finesse, I bought a rather nice leather and titanium job from Spa Cycles, gradually breaking it in in preparation for the next trip in the Pacific Northwest. The saddle was softening up nicely, and I’d enjoyed a few comfortable rides on it, when, five days before takeoff, the tensioning bolt and bracket snapped, leaving the leather flapping about in the wind.
Spa was brilliant, replacing it without quibble and getting the new one to me super fast, I ended up atop a brand-new leather saddle, which was most unforgiving. Fortunately, I’d bought some very expensive Rapha shorts for the trip and some kind people had gifted me Assos (no pun intended) chamois cream and skin repair gel, so though I ended up with hot, battered bum bones, for the very first time ever I had no open wounds to report!
This essay originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.