Friday, April 4, 2014

"Happy Butts" Saddle

The latest "breakthrough" that is supposed to make non-cyclists get over the pain inflicted by bicycle saddles comes in the form of the "Happy Butts Pain Free Saddle" from Taiwan. It turns out to be from the same company that makes the "Sickle" crank that I looked into in my previous post. The "Happy Butts" saddle basically consists of a padded horizontal bar, and not much else. The part that looks almost like a "nose" is not actually meant to support any part of the rider's anatomy, but is rather  (I believe) just a cover for the seat post clamp.

Say goodbye to saddle discomfort, hello "happy butt."
Here is some of the ad copy from the Dpardo website: "God design human butts to sit horizontally and we design the horizontal saddle to fit human natural butts shape. Let cyclist have a comfort cycling. Pain free saddle." Okay, the translation is terrible, but still -- whose backside is actually "horizontal"? Should we trade in our saddles for bleacher seats?

More claims: "Protect men and woman important part! Unparalleled comfort: keeps you feeling fresh mile after mile. Let your private parts ride happily. Streamline shape with furtureness. Crash fat and Butt lift." I don't actually know what that means. Blame it on the translation, I guess.

Like lots of other saddles that are supposed to eliminate discomfort "mile after mile," my guess is that the "Happy Butts" saddle feels fine rolling along for a mile or two -- about as far as the average non-cyclist is willing to ride.

Add this one to the recent "Infinity Seat," and the old "Easy Seat" that's been around since the early 80s -- both of which make the claim to eliminate saddle discomfort for the casual rider.

So, what actually causes saddle discomfort? Not riding a bicycle -- that's what causes discomfort. Or rather, riding one so infrequently that the body never gets used to it. Let's say that someone rarely exercises, and then they decide suddenly to go out for a run. Even if that first run is only a mile or two, they're going to be sore as hell the next morning. Their thighs will feel like they were run over by a car. And if that same person waits months before attempting another run, they will experience that same exact pain all over again because they never gave their muscles a chance to acclimate to the increased activity. It only makes sense, and I believe most people would recognize the reason for their soreness. But for some reason, people who ride a bike maybe a couple times per year expect that the experience should be totally different. Why? Is it because they remember riding bikes as kids, and never feeling sore from the experience? Maybe. But then, they were probably a lot more active when they were kids. When was the last time anyone heard a kid complain of sore muscles because they over-did it on the exercise?

The problem with designing saddles for infrequent riders is that those riders tend to be terrible judges of what is or isn't a comfortable saddle, or good vs. bad saddle design. Infrequent riders want to compare bicycle saddles to their furniture at home -- as if a bicycle should have a miniature version of their sofa mounted on a seatpost. They want it wide, fat, and thickly padded. They toodle along at a less-than-casual pace, for maybe a couple of miles, resting almost their entire weight on the saddle. They tire out quickly, and feel sore afterwards. Some will be convinced that some new "radical" design will hold the answer.

The thing is, the traditional saddle shape that we are all pretty familiar with did not just happen by accident. Like many elements of bicycle design, it is a shape that has been well tested and proven over more than 100 years. Some of what makes for a good saddle is counterintuitive. Regular riders realize that a saddle that is too wide can restrict movement and circulation; and a saddle that is overly padded can actually cause more discomfort on a longer ride than one with no padding at all. And because we control a bike almost as much with our hips as with our upper body, a saddle without a nose can reduce the bike's handling. A saddle without a nose may also allow a person to pitch forward more, shifting more weight onto the hands, arms, and shoulders.

Sure, there are bad saddles -- and bad saddles can be a real pain in the ass. Just as bad, though, is a saddle that is set up wrong. Too high or low, too far forward or back, or angled too much one way or another (and it doesn't take much), can make even the best saddle seem painful. And again, infrequent and inexperienced riders are a lot more likely to ride bikes that are set up poorly.

I suppose people who rarely ride, and think they might ride more often if only they could find a "better" saddle will continue to be drawn to products like the "Easy Seat" and the "Happy Butts" saddles. But more likely than not, the bikes with these goofy things will spend the same amount of time parked in their garages and basements collecting dust.

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