Friday, May 08, 2015

Perineal Favorites

The Brooks Colt saddle I started using last year has developed bun dents where the old ischial tuberosities drill into it. That's good. But this has led to a crest down the center of the saddle that puts pressure where I'd rather not have it.

A leather saddle changes shape when the rider is on it, more so than a molded-shell saddle of modern materials. I have no way to know what shape it assumes when I'm on the bike. I did reduce the tension slightly to see if it will get a little swayback shape. I also bought a new seatpost with a zero-setback clamp and a greater range of angle adjustment so I can get the nose of the saddle a little higher.

It seems counter intuitive, but raising the nose of the saddle often cures pressure problems on the crest of the saddle because it helps you stay back on the part of the saddle you want to be on. Sometimes, when a saddle appears level, the  curved shape of it makes it feel like it's tilted forward. You slide to the lowest point and grind.

The Colt had a very straight top line at first. Even now it looks pretty straight when I'm not on it. I had prematurely cranked a little tension onto it after just a few weeks, but backed off quickly when I read a little more about proper care of the saddle.

To complicate matters, all my bike shorts are old and mangled. The kind of "chamois" you get nowadays is a complicated marvel of padding and fabric. As is always the case, the more complicated something is, the more things can go wrong. Padding tears or shifts. Fabric wears or bunches up. Seams fray.

One huge problem is that people got the idea that the chamois in old classic bike shorts was a pad. It was not a pad. It was a chafe guard. The seams of the shorts and the patch of chamois were intended to provide a smooth and durable interface (intercrotch?) between the rider and the leather saddle on the bicycle. The leather saddle was designed to break in, conform to the rider's shape and provide a bit of springiness. If you look at the whole range of leather saddles, many models had springs incorporated into the rails.

A rider in tweed on an upright bike has no need of tight wool shorts with a chamois. The whole bike-shorts-and-chamois thing came in from racing. Longer, more strenuous efforts on a bike with a narrow saddle inspired the evolution. The fact that bike seats can be unforgiving led to the padding of both seats and shorts. But padding is largely palliative care. Like so many single-symptom treatments, it can cause as many problems as it cures.

A few years ago, I received a pair of Sugoi shorts to test. The padding in them was voluptuous. I called them my "flat tire shorts" because the padding imparted a bounce on bumpy roads that felt just like the early stages of a rear tire losing air. The cushion actually caused uncomfortable warmth and chafe on longer rides until it broke down enough so that I was more on it than in it. The shorts disintegrated soon after that.

For a couple of years I was using the cheapest Bellwether shorts. The cut was not bad. They're 6-panel shorts with a modest pad. They seem pretty durable. Unfortunately, the pseudo-chamois has a shape pressed into it that created a weak point. The pad tore in one pair, but the fabric covering it did not, so I had basically nothing in one spot, and then a bunched-up wad right next to that, both right in the grind zone. So those shorts went in the trash. The second pair feels like it may be developing the same problem.

A pair of Pearl Izumis developed a wear hole in the crotchal region next to the pad. Those were 8-panel shorts, not exactly bottom-shelf merchandise. The padding wasn't too obnoxiously thick. I can still wear them when I know I'll have tights over them, or at home on the rollers. Scuzzy shorts, wife-beater shirt, three or fours days' unshaven beard, cranking away in the basement.

Looking to add a pair or two of new shorts, I looked at the Pearl Izumi shorts in this year's inventory. The padding in them was thicker than ever. It felt like cheap, open-cell foam that would turn into a fungus factory and a hot, wet sponge. So I ordered some of the Bellwether O2 shorts I'd liked. When they arrived, the padding had been "upgraded" in them as well. It's not as foamy as the Pearl padding, but still more elaborate than it used to be. I haven't worn them yet, because I want to try the new seat position first. When chasing down a problem, especially a fit or comfort problem, only change one variable at a time.

At the same time I got the shorts and the seatpost I got a Brooks B-17 Narrow saddle to try on various bikes. The B-17 was a contender in my original saddle search. It has a slightly different profile than the Colt, with a flatter top. I want to put it on one of the bikes to compare the feeling after break-in. The Colt is sexier, with its hammered copper rivets and chamfered skirt. I might put it on the road bike and use the B-17 for the daily trudge on the commuter.

After persistent cold weather and lifeless vegetation, bam! We have leaves. Bam! We have black flies. And BAM! The workshop is buried in the bashed, the abused and the incomprehensibly f(ouled) up. No time to write, and plenty of inspiration. If only I did not need food or sleep.


Anonymous said...

I really dislike thick pads as well. Pearl Izumis feel like a wet diaper. Looked for a long time for a thinner pad. This is the best I have found

I also have some of their other shorts with a slightly thicker pad, the shorts they call the Black P., found them to be much less irritating than the P.I. stuff. They have multi tours/washings and are a few years old, just now showing some thread wear, much better than other brands I have owned(YMMV)

cafiend said...

I ran across references to Aerotech as I was skimming the Internet to see what might be around. The 8-panel Pro short looks like the best thing available.

Unknown said...

I want to second Aerotech! The headquarters are right here in Pittsburgh and they're expanding to a larger location. ***Handmade by Pittsburgh cyclists!** Oh, and the bike shorts are exceptional quality. I prefer them to the Bellweathers, Pearl Izumis and SheBeest shorts I own.

cafiend said...

Looks like they only sell direct to consumer. Otherwise I would get the shop to bring them in. I recognize the name Schnaubelt from bike clothing in the late 1970s, early '80s.