RBR Publishing Company, www.RoadbikeRider.com
Reviewed By Bill Bryant
Among the blizzard of cycling-related literature available today, there isn't much written about the saddle, that crucial piece of equipment that makes bicycling either a pleasure or a not-too-subtle form of torture. (If you're a recumbent rider, you probably don't need to read onward.) For everyone who dislikes a particular saddle, another can be found who does. So, these things are highly subjective.
But what isn't debatable is that many riders complain about a sore rear-end after a few hours on the road. For many riders something in the current crop of foam-padded plastic-based saddles is probably good enough for short rides. With traditional leather saddles one has (after the break- in period) more options, but there will still be some cyclists whose needs will not be met no matter how many different saddles they try. Then think about randonneurs, who frequently spend more hours on their steeds than anyone—their saddles are especially appreciated. For many of us, when we find a saddle we especially like, it is often kept in service until it is in tatters. Bikes may come and go for various reasons, but a comfortable saddle that fits one's posterior is a cherished thing and we are loath to give it up. It is what makes doing our long rides possible in the first place.
I recently read a new book on this vital topic by Joshua Cohen. The title, Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat, makes a bold claim, and it was an interesting and educational read. At only 77 pages of large print, it is not overly long, but I found it quite useful nonetheless. Cohen briefly reviews the history of the bicycle saddle. He then goes into describing common cycling injuries, such as chaffing, saddle sores, as well as the vibration- and impact-caused trauma that can lead to bruising, numbness and/or erectile dysfunctions. (The book is primarily focused on male cyclists, but randonneuses can learn a lot from the book too. The noticeable lack of female-specific information in the book results from a lack of scientific testing in that area, not from any feeling that randonneuses are somehow less worthy.)
And this is the thing I liked most about the book. Cohen bases a lot of his conclusions on testing and experiments, not just opinions and age- old cycling customs that have kept saddle design stuck where it is. We all know there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about what happens after a poorly fitted bicycle saddle causes its problems, but Cohen tries to find what causes them in the first place. Along the way he spends most of the book explaining human anatomy (primarily male) and how a bicycle saddle can hinder the normal flow of blood to our nether regions. He evaluates current ergonomic saddle designs and shows how their claims of greater comfort are difficult to substantiate via testing. The book ends with a thorough explanation of saddle positioning, including height, set-back, tilt, and other biomechanical factors. From there, he draws strong conclusions that should help anyone.
All in all, it is a needed addition to the subject of rider comfort and the reader will learn a lot from this book. One may not find the exact saddle that he or she wants, but at the least, they will look for them with a better-trained eye. Does the book's title live up to its claim? Maybe, maybe not. But it's not for lack of trying by the author; it is more a result from the lack of different sizing options on saddles offered by manufacturers. Joshua Cohen has made a significant contribution to our understanding of this topic. If you are getting through your brevets without much thought given to saddle comfort, then this book probably won't be of too much interest. But if you have a collection of barely used saddles in your garage resulting from a lengthy quest to find one that suits you, then it probably will be.
Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat is available from RBR Publishing Company, www.RoadbikeRider.com