Thursday, September 11, 2014

Horrible seats and cheap pedals

It's hard to spec a bike for industrial production. The seat and pedals on this 1994-ish Bianchi hybrid illustrate the point.

By the time step-in pedals became widespread in the 1990s,  bike manufacturers had already developed the habit of putting disposable plastic pedals on most new bikes. While toe clips were still a viable option, some mid- and upper-range bikes might have somewhat nice pedals in that style, but by the mid 1990s the toeclip was dead, as far as the industry was concerned. After a few seasons in which step-in pedal manufacturers got some OEM spec, the industry decided to save the money and go with disposable pedals on anything that came with pedals at all. They assume a serious rider will choose a pedal system and a casual rider won't care.

The seats present a more complex problem. As I looked at the deterioration of the seat on this Bianchi I thought about what options a bike manufacturer has with that particular piece of the bike's equipment.

The part of the bike that goes between your legs has been a sore point, if you will, since the earliest days of straddled transportation. Among equestrians, saddle toughness is a point of pride. But somehow, among cyclists, the seat has become the bad guy. The sore rider is just an innocent victim. If you look at a lot of OEM seats you can see why. Cheap saddles are almost all really awful. And the high-performance saddles on expensive bikes are more than the untrained ass is ready to withstand.

Unfortunately, the seat is an ambassador for the activity of cycling. How much of the general perception that bike seats are incurably awful is fed by the fact that the cheap original seat on most bikes is incurably awful? And because cyclists don't aspire to saddle toughness anymore -- indeed, many of them never did -- a lot of people feel aggrieved pretty quickly when the ride is uncomfortable.

I see no easy solution. Butts are like snowflakes: no two are alike. So even changing the OEM spec to a higher quality saddle will fail to please a large number of customers because they're simply shaped differently. The bike manufacturer is out the money and the new rider either slouches away grumbling or has to invest in a new saddle for their new bike right away.

The best a retailer can do is acknowledge problems quickly and accommodate changes readily. And that's basically what we do. The process is generating quite a few orphaned and unloved seats, however. Someone needs to come up with a good use for them or a recycling program. Maybe they could be used as part of enhanced interrogation.

"No, please! Don't make me ride that trainer any longer! I will tell you everything!"


Steve A said...

Back in the day, most decent bikes had leather saddles that gradually adapted to suit most riders behinds.

cafiend said...

I was going to say something about leather saddles. Cheap bikes in the 1970s had vinyl or plastic saddles that were worse than the cheap seats of today. And leather saddles suffered from abuse, neglect and exposure to the elements, leading to further discomfort. Now, of course, good ones would be prohibitively expensive. Animal rights activists would protest. Vegans would boycott. They would need a bamboo option. Road kill leather would be the somewhat more ethical choice.

cafiend said...

Oh yeah: and no one has the patience anymore to wait for something to gradually adapt to them.

greatpumpkin said...

Back in the day, people who bought bikes that came with leather saddles actually knew what they were buying. There are the buyers who don't know anything (most buyers) and expect to buy a bike as a complete, ready-to-ride product. Then there's the minority that expects to modify any bike they buy, including their own choice of pedals and saddle, even if the ones provided are of good quality. And with all the different pedal systems, it doesn't make sense to spec good pedals as stock because they'll probably get changed anyway. At present not one of my bikes has the pedals or saddle it came with. On my trike, I supplied pedals. And in looking at clipless systems for it (the only safe thing to use on a recumbent) which I had never wanted before, I was considering not only what would work on the trike, but what I might want to use if I decided to go clipless on my bikes also (which so far I have not, so I have two sets of bike shoes, one with cleats and one without). It did all used to be so easy, or so it seems in retrospect.