Another saddle review…another race test.

The continuation of bike fitting and saddles… the quest for the “Holy Grail”. 

Out of options and desperate for comfort, I reluctantly dropped a small chunk of change on a saddle from a small Colorado based company (Dash Cycles) without a return policy.  All the risk and no guarantees of my satisfaction of my expensive purchase.  Normally, I seek out places with reasonable policies.  However, I exhausted all my other possible options.  The optimist in me asked, “But what if this is the one?”.  I’ve been saying this for months.

Chris and I tried to make the Cobb work.  I really wanted the Cobb to work, but my nether regions had other thoughts on the matter.  It wasn’t going to cut it.  After 10 weeks on the Cobb, which was more than enough time to determine if the saddle will work, the relationship was coming to an end. 

I patiently waited for the Cobb’s replacement in hopes the shape of the Dash would work with my under carriage needs.  If it doesn’t, then I’m pretty much stuck with being miserable.  The question then would be “what kind of discomfort would I be willing to endure?”

Dash Stage Saddle: out of the box

10 days after placing the order for the Dash saddle, it arrived.  Opening the box the first thing you notice as you wrap your hands around the saddle… the weight.  WOW.  Ridiculously light!  Listed at 165 grams, it’s almost 1/3 to half pound lighter than the Cobb Fifty Five at 330 grams.  Dash Cycles is known for making light weight minimalist saddles at a higher end price tag. 

Upon further inspection you can see that the saddle was handmade.  From the epoxy, how the leather was wrapped, and subtle asymmetrical imperfections (of which were not going to effect function).  It was like a piece of artwork.  Simple, minimalist design with clean lines and all the function to go with it.

I compared it to the Cobb Fifty Five.  The design had distinct differences.  The Dash presented itself with a flatter surface that tapered nicely off the sides like a typical road saddle.  This was a feature l liked after analyzing my old Terry and why it made the saddle so tolerable compared to all the other saddles I have tried.  The Cobb, while it did have a flattish surface the edges squared off, it was those square edges that would flare out under my weight and push into my groin.  The padding has to go somewhere.  I always felt those edges digging into me.  They eventually irritated my groin so much I’d be fighting hot spots or saddle sores.  I’ll take saddle irritation on my soft tissue over saddle sores.  At least I’ll know once I get off my bike the irritation will calm down.  Saddle sores are gifts that keep on giving (as I may have mentioned before). 

The overall width of the Dash was narrower than the Cobb even though the advertised nose widths are both 55 mm.  The tapered sides of the Dash made it narrower.  The Cobb on the other hand, appeared to widen in the short time I was riding on it.  It was shocking to feel and see how much the Cobb had broken down (the padding) under my “oh so heavy frame”.  I later compared it to a brand new Cobb Fifty Five at the shop, and the “nose” widened by at least 5 mm without my backside on it. 

The cut out of the Dash was the length of the saddle while the Cobb was only at the “nose”.  For triathlon, I’m really only sitting on the front third of the saddle.  So in some ways having a full length cut out, provides more air conditioning and saves weight.  The nose on the Dash swooped down gently as the Cobb acted as a cliff.

The rear of the saddle on the Cobb was designed to provide support for your rear when you sat up (for your ischial tuberosities).  However, I know when I sit up to climb on the saddle, my “sit bones” never engage the saddle, my pubic rami do.  With the Dash, there was no real “rear” like a standard road saddle.  The widest point was only 110mm.  The Cobb was 135mm.  I had concerns about the Dash for those times I needed to sit up.  Was I going to have enough to support me?

First Ride

Chris was curiously interested in the Dash Saddle since he hadn’t worked with one before.  We set up a day to meet.  Meanwhile, in the week I had to wait to meet with him, I went ahead and put the Dash saddle on my bike as soon as the postman delivered it.  With only a few weeks before the next race and the torment I had with the Cobb, why not?

I set up the Dash nearly identical to where the Cobb was positioned to start.  I adjusted the seat height since the stack was a bit higher than the Cobb.  With my initial set up, I débuted the Dash on a 5 and half hour training ride.  I already knew not to judge the saddle based on my elementary bike fit knowledge.  I was in the neighborhood of where it should be, but would need to further tweak it with Chris’ help.

The first hour with the Dash on the road was interesting.  I immediately noticed my bike’s weight.  I stood to climb and there was an extra bit of nimbleness without the extra almost half pound on the rear.  I never felt the width of the saddle.  To test whether I could sit and climb, I found I could do it without much discomfort.  The Dash supported my pubic rami as I sat up.  If I leaned forward a little as I did it, the comfort improved.  In aero position, I started analyzing and hunting down the sweet spot. 

As the ride went on, I realized that the Dash needed to slide back a little and that my saddle needed to come down a few millimeters to offset the “squish” of the Cobb padding.  However, in the field, I don’t have a torque wrench to make these adjustments.  I’d have to deal with it for the duration of the ride.  There was definitely promise.

A few more trainer rides and self tweaking, I felt I was getting close.  Though there were times I began to second guess my position to where I was on the Cobb as the muscle memory faded from my time on the Cobb.  The cockpit length and the position of the rest of my body felt great on the Cobb.  The trick was to slide the Dash saddle under me and replicate the comfy coordinates from the Cobb.  This is where Chris’ help comes in.

My biggest limiter to this point was getting my undercarriage issues to resolve.  It was hard to give a fair assessment of the Dash with some pre existing “issues” from my time on the Cobb.  That is another post for another day… saddle sores, not saddle “soreness” but actual SORES.  It’s astonishing how something so damn small can cause SO much anguish and pain.

Back to the saddle…I met up with Chris for the umpteenth time to dial in the Dash saddle and discuss my observations of saddle design.  What worked for me and what didn’t.  I pointed out the “flaws” of the Cobb as related to my anatomy and my experience with the saddle.  Chris, too, was shocked to see how much the padding on the Cobb had broken down in my short time on it.  He wanted to contact the company directly to find out if this was normal or if there was another explanation for why the saddle broke down the way it did.  Meanwhile, we filmed the last known good position on the Cobb since there were a few tweaks since we met a couple of months ago. 

Time to play with the Dash saddle.  Chris picked up the Dash saddle and the weight…. well… crazy light compared to everything on the market.  He liked the design and curious to know what my riding experience was so far.  I think his biggest concern was the firmness.  While, yes, the saddle is firm, will my bone structure adapt to the saddle?  I felt the firmness under my pelvis and not so much in my soft tissue.  I know trainer rides without all the dynamic movement of outdoor riding are brutal.  Chris did his usual stalking around me, filming and letting me ride routine.  Through the middle of this I mentioned to him I was having the “I’m comfy at the shop experience” again.  Not exactly couch comfy since I had the “issues” but relatively comfy.  He noted that he loved my position and how I was “addressing” the bike.  Now if my undercarriage would cooperate, life would be awesome!

Once we dialed everything in to match the “last known good coordinates,” Chris and I chatted about the Dash saddle.  While off the bike, Chris noticed that the saddle looked a bit crooked, with a tilt to the Rt.  Out came the digital level and sure enough, the right side of the saddle was tilted to the right a full degree.  WTF?  I took pictures and sent them off to Dash Cycles for an explanation.  The last thing I needed was an unstable pelvis sitting on a bike for 5-6 hours forcing more pressure onto an already angry crotch.  Or worse causing other issues up the kinetic chain of my body. 

After a couple of back and forth messages, re-seating the saddle in the clamp, and confirming there was indeed a right sided lean, Dash went into radio silence.  They said once I confirmed, they would send out a replacement saddle immediately.  “Immediately” came and went.  Follow up messages went unanswered for a week.  Nothing.  A fine example of poor customer service.  No communication, no transparency, just silence. 

I read about others frustrations in the poor communication (or lack thereof) from Dash regarding their orders from earlier in the year.  Add me to the list of riders who have fallen victim to this unfortunate business practice.  Shameful. 

I went as far as re-seating the saddle in the clamp a second time but it still was off at least 1/2 to a full degree.  It was kinda better but not really.  Stuck with a saddle with a tilt, no money back guarantee, and no other options… what else can one do???  Dash made promises and under delivered.  I’m all for supporting small businesses, but poor customer service is one of the few things that gives me pause.  I need a saddle, tried everything else…

Finally, just as I was about to write Dash off, I received a message telling me a replacement saddle would be shipped the following week.  I guess I should be happy they didn’t forget about me, I hope.

Well, Dash did it again.  Overpromised and failed to deliver.  Another week went by and not one single peep about the replacement saddle.  Multiple emails went unanswered.  I’ve tried to be patient and understanding, but with absolutely NO explanation as to the delay or lack of acknowledgement or even a remote apology for their clear lack of communication, I was reaching a boiling point.  Finally, Dash gives me confirmation that the replacement for the canted saddle would be shipped.  I received the new saddle exactly THREE weeks after I notified them of the defect. 

Naturally, I scrutinized the replacement, looking over every last nuance.  It seemed to be okay. 

All the while, I raced on the crooked Dash saddle in modified tri shorts (strategically added another layer of chamois).  I came out unscathed.  It wasn’t a couch, but it wasn’t the sore producing torture device I had on the bike before.  My undercarriage has not had ample time to adapt to the Dash.  Nonetheless, it left promise that I might have some hope.  The coming weeks would tell me more.  The downside: high volume training on a new saddle.  Forced adaptation.  This was going to be a test of mental fortitude as well as physical torture in some ways.  Not ideal, but what choice do I have in the matter?

The now level replacement saddle was mounted to the bike.  Perhaps now I can give a fair assessment of the saddle. 

Dr. Jamie So

Jamie So, PT, DPT, is the owner and physical therapist of Manual Therapy Effects.

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