How do you get a faster bike split? Disc wheels? Aero helmet? The secret may be in your saddle. Professional triathlete Nicole Valentine explains why as she reviews three new favorite saddles.
Whether you are training to finish your first IRONMAN or looking to qualify for Kona, the key to faster bike times is not necessarily in your frame or wheels, but in your saddle.
A comfortable saddle makes the difference in a rider’s ability to stay in an aerodynamic position for increased speed and efficiency. Over a long course triathlon, this difference is huge.
Comfort also impacts your ability to train long and hard as well as race fast. Here, I take a look at the favorite saddles among top bike fit specialists and pro triathletes for long distance triathlon.
ISM PN 1.0
The ISM PN (Performance Narrow) 1.0 is a favorite of bike fit techs and pro triathletes in Boulder. The long, narrow design cuts the front completely off. This means the front is not supported while the two-pronged design supports the riders’ sit bones and allows for increased comfort and air flow (particularly for male riders). The narrow ISM PN 1.1 is 110mm wide, allowing for easy thigh and hamstring clearance and thus accommodates a wide range of body movement around the seat, making it comfortable to change positions. The length is 275mm and the saddle features a mix of foam and gel padding. It is available in two colors: black and white.
Note: The PN 1.1 features additional padding. The PN 2.1 features a wider chassis and additional padding.
Cobb Fifty-Five JOF
The Cobb Fifty-Five JOF or “Just Off Front” is similar to the ISM PN 1.0, however the saddle is a bit shorter, as many riders don’t use the full backend of their saddle and mainly stay positioned just off the front for racing. The Fifty-Five allows riders to both ride aggressively up front on the saddle as well as sit more upright and slide back a bit for a break in position. It measures 260mm long with the nose 55mm wide (hence the name) and the rear 135mm at its widest point.
The Cobb Fifty-Five JOF also features “a narrower nose to the saddle which may be more comfortable for some riders,” noted Ivan O’Gorman, Founder of IOG Bikefit and Consulting, and one of Boulder’s top fit specialists.
With both the ISM and Fifty-Five, riders may want to drop the nose by a few degrees for added comfort. The Cobb Fifty-Five JOF saddle features a solid amount of cushioning to protect your assets, and is known for comfort, making it a crowd favorite. It would be nice if Cobb offered the saddle with variable amounts of cushioning, though, to suit different rider preferences. The cushioning can be a bit much in standard biking bibs but is perfect in tri shorts or an aerosuit.
Interestingly, Cobb recently began to bring manufacturing and testing of their saddles back to the United States. They started with the Fifty-Five and the 2018 Randee at their facility in Tyler, TX, and now the new 2018 V-Flow, Plus2, and Max saddles. As of July, all Cobb saddles have new embossed graphics (not painted as before) and upgraded fabric to reduce friction on the inner thigh as well as increase durability. Kudos to Cobb for creating American jobs as well as an improved product.
This is the saddle that I ride and love. The Specialized Sitero is unique. Rather than having a split nose design, it features a deep channel that runs most of the length of the saddle. It measures 240mm lengthwise (similar to the Adamo road saddle). The maximum width is 145mm, while measuring 60mm at the nose.
The Sitero is offered in two versions: Pro and Expert. The Pro is more expensive, weighs less and comes with carbon rails (versus titanium). Both versions feature small, dotted perforations along the middle to form the sit area. The saddle provides great support for the sit bones and encourages a position with lower pressure on the front.
The Sitero features a low, flat profile that allows the rider to easily change positions, such as sliding back for a long descent or some technical downhill switchbacks, or moving forward for increased power. The ability to change positions on the saddle makes it comfortable over hours of riding under various conditions.
I used this saddle at IRONMAN France this year where it proved to be valuable over the technical and grueling mountain course that included over 6,000 feet of challenging climbs, helping me to a third-place finish in the pro field. I found the Sitero to be just as comfortable on the super flat course at IRONMAN Cozumel, making it a great all-around saddle.
The low profile of the Specialized Sitero makes it a good choice for smaller riders who don’t have a lot of room for saddle height adjustments on their bike fit.
Unique to the Sitero, Specialized created accessories for both a single bottle mount, as well as a hook to mount your bike in transition. The accessories integrate into the saddle itself for a truly sleek design. Both the hook and bottle mount come included with purchase. A possible drawback, however, is that some third-party hydration systems may be difficult to mount.