Thursday, 29 September 2011

Yucky Things

Just a quick post to give you some detail on the murkier side of cycling.

For some reason – only best known to the Gods, this week two really rather gross things happened to me. The first was nothing new, I guess, to a lot of cyclists, but for me after about 10 months of riding it was definitely the first and hopefully the last time it happened. On the last 300 metres to my house I am obviously puffing and panting a bit, to my total horror I managed to swallow a fly! The worst thing was, I felt it shoot into my mouth and stick to the back of my throat – I immediately stopped, bent over double and hacked for all I was worth (so much so I came close to throwing up). In retrospect I think maybe it would have been better if I had thrown up at least then the little git couldn’t lay a million eggs in my stomach. But the idea of making myself throw up by the roadside, in my own road, filled my ego with dread – what if a neighbour saw me? They might think I am unfit and was throwing up from exhaustion, oh the shame of it!

I am having nightmares now of going to the toilet and passing out a swarm of flies – the only upside of the whole event (apart from being better off after the incident than the fly would have been) is that my wife suggested I should make sure it was dead by drowning it in vodka – one piece of advice from her that I definitely followed, even if I didn’t think it plausible.

Mambo Score: Mambo (-10)
Fly Score (-100)

The other yucky event happened two days earlier – on my way home from work again. Whilst passing through Lewisham (you will see in a later post my opinion of people from Lewisham) I went through an underpass. Now standing either side of the underpass (about 6 metres to either side)  was a group of pedestrians. I, in my great wisdom, thought they had stopped because of the big puddle that had developed there (it was raining quite hard) and they didn’t want to get their feet wet. It was time to show the superiority of the cyclist.

I had no need to fear a puddle and therefore if anything went a little faster than I would normally through a puddle, I wanted to show them that I had no fear of a puddle on my trusty bike. I remember doing the same once a number of years back when I was in a big 4 x 4, all the other cars had stopped at a massive flood in the road I just continued through it at quite a speed, the magnificent plumes of water either side of the car as a I shoot through, announcing to all the onlookers that I had one over on them.

Now back to the Lewisham “puddle” – as I rode up to it full of confidence and arrogance a terrific smell hit my nostrils! This was no ordinary puddle – but a massive lake of crap – obviously the sewers had blocked / flooded and had pushed their contents up onto the footpath. 

But it was too late – I could not stop – I hit the crap lake going too fast – fortunately it was the consistency of porridge and I managed to make to the other side, but not without quite a large amount spraying up onto my shoes and (horror of horrors) up my back as I had no rear mudguard on. I had two choices, ride round the corner and kill myself or make it to the nearest petrol station (about 1,000 meters) and wash it off. Obviously I went for the second option (though it was a close call). At the petrol station I went to the water pump and to the bemused looks of the people filling up their cars, started to poor water over my feet, then my back and then the bike. I am not sure being covered in human excrement is ever an advisable thing – but when you know it is from the bowels of Lewisham residents – then, well it just can’t be any worse?

Mambo Score: (-1,000,000) (X 100 because it was in Lewisham).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Selle SMP Stratos Saddle Review

Sorry but recently I have been a busy bunny at work and not had time to post to my Blog but I really need to make an effort so here goes:

The following has been a long time in coming, but I have at last got round to giving my fully tested feelings on the “Selle SMP Stratos” saddle that I bought over a month ago. I thought it might be fun to use the Good, Bad and Ugly approach. No idea why – not sure it will even work – but the idea came into my head as I was typing this sentence, so why not?

The Ugly

This is a simple one – the price is ugly – very ugly! The saddle should be the half the price of the £150 I paid – but my guess is that Selle SMP have this patented up the wazoo. If you genuinely want something that is different then I guess this is what you are going to have to face. At least you are aware of what the price is before you buy, so you can’t say you weren’t warned. But buying bike accessories seems to cause a shut down in the “money” sides of some people’s minds, so I am sure a lot of people are not going to baulk at this price if they get a real benefit from the saddle. There was also the further consideration that I am mainly a commuter cyclist and that is a lot of money for a commuter saddle.

So why was I willing to spend so much? The saddle is the main interface between you and the bike and I think (certainly as far as I was concerned) something that people do not spend enough time looking into properly – especially when you consider the major difference between a saddle that works for you versus one that doesn’t. It is like people who buy an expensive computer and then get a cut price monitor, I have always bought my monitors separately and bought the best I could afford – this Screen will often last for 2 or 3 computer systems – a good monitor like a good saddle just goes on giving!

One other “Ugly” is maybe the look of the saddle – personally I think it looks great! Taste though is a personal thing and some may think the saddle ugly but for me the saddle definitely looks the part.

The Bad.

Not too many things about the saddle I would consider bad in all truth. If I search around for a bad then the only thing would be the fact that the Nap leather cover (which is very beautiful to behold and would not look out of place on your Ferrari seat) is impossible to keep that matt look of, when you consider you have to put up with rain. For me the idea of having the beautiful leather ruined by rain is just too much to bear, so you are going to have to treat it with some form of protector. There are various things available from Selle – but I went for suede leather protector / water proofer. This seems to have worked fairly well, but you are going to end up with some slight shine, his then means that fantastic matt leather look is going to go, I suppose you could move to somewhere where rain is very rare but that is really taking it too far. Anyone else know of a product that will protect the saddle from rain and not lose the matt finish?

The real “Bad” of this saddle though is the whole buying process. Think about it, this saddle is rather radical in its design and it’s expensive. The only way I would feel comfortable in buying such an item would be to try a tester saddle for a few miles before parting with hard earned cash. The sad fact is that I was completely unable to find a Local Bike Shop that sold these saddles (I have had a moan to Evans Cycle Stores). This means the risk factor of buying this saddle is massive, I knew no one else who had this saddle so that I could try it out.

I ended up trawling through numerous internet sites reading review after review and BB posts galore. If it hadn’t been for the fact that over 95% were very positive, I don’t think I would have been willing to take the risk. Plenty of people sell them online but that was about it, I also found the sizing chart on the Selle site to be not massively useful, more specifically there use of waist size as an indicator of what saddle to buy. I really had to do a lot of extra reading to self-teach myself about what I should be looking for to find the right saddle – I am not exaggerating when I said I spent about 10 hours reading many sites about saddles in general.

Luckily for me, my local Evans store were more than happy for me to use their Ass-o-meters so I could measure my sit bone width, even though they knew I was going to buy a brand that they did not sell (thanks guys). With this information I found the right saddle for me was the Stratos (two sizes smaller than I had been thinking I would initially buy).

My saddle was causing me a lot of discomfort and was really starting to affect my cycling pleasure and the situation was in real need of a permanent remedy! I was determined to get this purchase right and I was going to have to take a risk if I wanted this one.

The Good

I was having a multitude of problems, the saddle that came with the bike was simply way too large for me. When I first started on the saddle I thought it was like a razor blade, but the truth was it was way too large (go figure). Not only was this leading to a numb and painful rear end but it was also causing me to get pains down my right leg, this I can only assume was down to the fact that blood flow down the right hand side of my body was being constricted. There was an ever growing deterioration in my average speed and enjoyment whilst cycling.

I set up the Stratos saddle using the concise information provided with the saddle (and on the Selle SMP website) for fitting and for the next 3 weeks tweaked the settings (I still may change a little more backward / forward adjustment, but very minor). The saddle was fairly comfortable from the start, there was a little getting used to the new type of saddle which, for me was also compounded by the fact that this was the thinnest saddle I had ever used by quite some way, given this major change I would have to say that the fact the initial week of use was so problem free was a miracle. There were a few times where my rear end started to ache a little but even this was minimal compared to what I had put up with using my previous saddle, it only took a quick stand up in the pedals and it went away fast.

Was has surprised me during the fine adjustment phase was how even a minor ¼ turn of the saddle tilt screw (maybe equal to half a degree angle adjustment) made such a major change to the feel and comfort of the saddle, I had set it up to start with completely level, but I found even a little too much tilt forward resulted in me slipping forward in the saddle greatly.

This saddle has a real sweet spot – when you sit on the sweet spot it feels like you are sitting on air and if it wasn’t for the fact the first meter of your colon was being straightened out, you would wonder if you actually had a saddle on your bike. This sweet spot is like heaven but I must admit to not being able to find it all the time easily – but since the minor change in tilt last week I am finding it more often now. This is why I also want to fiddle a very little with the forward / backward adjustment.

So saddle comfort is fantastic for me and I am in general a great complainer. What has greatly surprised me though is my average speeds have massively increased – judging by my times to a from work (11 miles each way) I would approximate that this saddle has increased my speeds by about 9%. Now this is a fairly drastic claim I realise, so best I explain myself. I do not expect everyone to experience such an improvement but I was really suffering with my old saddle so I think the improvement is greater. So what do I think the reasons for the improvement were?

Firstly, because I didn’t have the often constant pain in my rear I am now able to put increased pedal time on each ride, rather than standing on the pedals to relieve pressure.
Secondly, I have lost the cramp down my right hand leg – no longer am I having to ease up because of lack of blood flow
Thirdly, the saddle is fairly light when compared to my old one (about 2/3rd the weight) – minor difference I agree.

I suppose other things to mention is the hook nose – well I can’t remember catching my pants on the saddle any more so I guess it works but then I didn’t catch my pants on the old saddle often before either.

The saddle is also constructed really well, there are no poorly made bits and its finish is excellent. I have heard people complain that the embroidery on the side can wear out your Lycra pants. Personally I just see the writing as a pointless advert that would be better left out so it doesn’t ruin the beautiful lines of the saddle. On the bright side if people can only complain about the stitching wearing out their Lycra pants then you know they have had to really scrape around for something to complain about.

As a final point – lets deal with that massive gap in the middle – does it relieve pressure on you “laughing carrot”? Well I cannot answer this properly, I have never had a problem peeing after a ride – maybe next year it would have been a problem as I intend on doing long weekend rides – the most I have done up to now is 40 miles. The truth of the matter is I could never contemplated a long ride on the old saddle to start with, so I will have nothing to compare this new saddle against.

As I wear padded Lycra underneath a pair of bike shorts I guess I also have too much material in this area and this is going to reduce the effectiveness of this saddle gap. Either way, I continue to have no problem in this area with the Selle SMP Stratos saddle – and although it looks like the saddle should be uncomfortable with this big gap, as I have mentioned above it is wonderfully comfortable.

Because the rest of the saddle does such a wonderful job I am sure the gap does its job just as well. My advice is to just look at other reviews where people says this saddle has really helped them out and fixed the peeing etc. problem. There is also medical tests you can review also.


I think that anyone buying this saddle is going to disappointed if they expect a miracle cure. For me it has been a quantum leap in comfort, but it is not going to get rid of all pain all the time, then again many other saddles would have probably suited me rather than the useless one I had before. I do feel that the money spent has been worthwhile and I have no regrets about buying this saddle and I will continue to use it on my next bike, can you give a better recommendation than that?

The only real bug bear I have about the whole process, is the “risk” involved with buying the saddle without the chance to test it beforehand. If I had tested this saddle I would have still bought it, but I am annoyed at having to take such a risk, I was really worried about having a £150 saddle which was of no use. The saddle looks great in my opinion and has increased my comfort many fold with the corresponding boost in speed.

If you have the chance to test the saddle out I would really go for it, even if you current saddle isn’t that bad. Otherwise you need to be suffering quite a bit like me to take the risk of buying without trying. But given the great pleasure I have had from the saddle then I think it is a worthwhile risk to take – but please measure your sit bones before ordering.

Mambo Score – Saddle 9/10  (buying process 1/10)