Desperate times…desperate measures.

The saga continues…

While I love the simplicity and design of the Dash saddle, there was one thing I wish it had a little bit more of… padding!  The long rides would leave my undercarriage sore for days despite wearing road shorts to help soften the blow of the break in period. 

I decided to take matters into my own hands with my saddle dilemma.  Since no one makes a saddle to my preferred specs, then I’m going to customize it for MY needs.  Or in the car enthusiasts world, MOD (ify) it.  I was going to hack my pricey Dash saddle as part of the experiment.

I reached out to an auto industry friend who subsequently pointed me to a guy, Jason, who runs an upholstery business (works on cars, exercise equipment and medical tables).  He seemed open to take on a new challenge… a bicycle saddle.  Basically same application, just smaller and maybe a bit more delicate.

Since Chris has been a huge part of this crazy (and often painful) saddle journey, I kept him in the loop as to what my thoughts were on finding the “Holy Grail”.  He was intrigued. 

I wanted to make a few changes to the shell, add padding and re-cover the saddle.  Simple, right?  Not so fast.

After speaking with Jason, he said we can place the padding wherever I wanted it and then cover it with any leather/vinyl of my choosing (colors/designs).  Immediately, I thought of the possibilities.  My brain began to wander back to all those saddle pressure maps I had done with Chris.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to use the saddle pressure mapping to see how varying the padding changes the map?   This may help get the padding exactly where we need it.  My nethers would need to agree as well, but this was all an experiment.  I tossed that thought out to Chris.  His own curiosity peaked.  How would the different padding placements and combos change the pressure maps?  This is where the geeky nerd part starts to come out in both of us.

Now this whole thing was new uncharted territory for all of us (me, Chris, Jason).  Each of us was going to benefit in some way, but we were learning as we went along. 

Not to put any pressure on the new “team” but if we could put this together in a month before the next big race, can you imagine the possibilities of bringing joy back to riding my bike again? 

The biggest obstacle was finding padding materials.  Jason ran into dead ends in his search.  I was busy prepping for the last big races of the season while the project screeched to a halt until the right materials could be sourced and I wrapped up my season.  The old saying “Perfection takes time.”  I’ve waited this long, what was another few weeks or months?

I managed to suck it up for the last two races of the season on the stock Dash saddle.  I’ve gone all season forgetting what riding on a comfortable saddle was suppose to be like. 

Chris and I wasted no time getting started on the project to find the ideal combination of materials.  During our initial testing, we found that my subjective feedback correlated with what the pressure maps said.  The smallest discernible change in comfort matched what the pressure maps showed.  I’m sensitive to change.  We both know even within the acceptable range of pressures my undercarriage had the final say.  During the early tests of materials on hand, the feel was not quite right, but at least we had a start. 

As I continued the experiment with different materials on my own, I learned what my undercarriage prefers and what did not agree with my soft tissue while riding.  Softer and spongier is NOT always better.  It was ok during the initial 20-30 min of riding, then not so much.  Finding the right density of foam was going to be tough.  It’s not like you can walk into a fabric or craft store expecting them to have the ideal material on hand.  Saddle companies (really any company) have proprietary materials they use for their products.  It’s difficult to “shop” for foam when you really need to do the whole touchy/feely thing.

The other issue I pointed out to Chris was the issue of my right sided bias.  The pressure maps and what I was feeling all indicated right sided pressure.  I believed if we could figure out how to alleviate the right sided pelvis pressure I was consistently feeling, we would be a whole lot closer to solving my comfort issues. 
The things I knew about my body:
-Right side of pelvis drives down into saddle
-Rt. pedal downstroke slightly more bias (around 52/48)
-Rt. ankle likes to heel down during the down stroke (effectively trying to lengthen the leg, resulting in increased right sided pressure (see point 1), Lt. Side is more natural
-Rt. glute/piriformis are slightly tighter
-possible leg length discrepancy with the right leg slightly short (difficult to accurately measure without x-rays)

Ways to offset:
-Shim the right cleat
-Move right cleat forward

So in theory, if all joint angles remain the same, then lengthening the leg artificially should level out the pelvis (lessen the driving force of right side of the pelvis into the saddle).  Now, bear in mind, we are only talking 2 mm up and forward for the cleat adjustment.  We know my body adapts fairly quickly to tweaks.  If it’s bad, my body will scream.  If it’s a good change, win-win. 

I made the tweaks to the cleat and it seemed to take some of the pressure off the right side of the pelvis on the saddle with no ill effects.  Ok, so far so good.  Or it may have been all in my head.

Back to the saddle.  At the same time, my curiosity eventually lead me to dissect my old saddle, and a couple pairs of retired running shoes.  I found some pretty interesting things as far as design in the mid soles of the running shoes.  The dissected pad of my old Terry, though firm, found it’s way onto my Frankensaddle.  Why not?  I always said if I could cut the nose off the Terry, it would practically be the ideal saddle.  Initial rides with the cleat adjustment were the most favorable in the comfort department.  For once, I was hopeful and not creating more problems.

All the meanwhile, I, literally, stumbled upon another possible material that might work for my saddle project while reading the triathlon forum.  After inquiring, I sourced several types (densities) of foam from the same manufacturer.  Once in my hot little hands, the feel of the material was getting closer to what we were looking for.  More testing needed to be done to assess the viability of this newfound foam source for my saddle project.  My optimism stayed reserved.

Of course, Chris was curious as always.  We managed to knock off one project specific for my bike (another “mod” of sorts) and spend more time testing for the saddle project with the new foams.  Chris wanted more data of these foams and see what the shim has done on the pressure maps if anything. 

More testing…

We tested the newfound foam.  I had been doing initial rides on the new foams.  It was probably the  most comfortable I’ve been in a long time.  The pressure maps showed decreases in pressure and a shift in the contact area.  For the first time, I had a blip of pressure on the left.  Perhaps the shim and cleat adjustments on the right foot are doing some good.  Chris liked the new foam.  The feel and the quality of the product was better than a lot of the stock foams of the saddles on the market.  While testing these foams, we were still fussing over my foot numbness issues.

Knowing the potential of the foam, I decided it was time to create a cover for the saddle.  I shopped around for some decent materials and decided to go with something fairly inexpensive to start.  I needed to start somewhere with the cover, no need to break the bank.

In two weeks time and 9 iterations later, the saddle I would be willing to ride and alpha test was 95% complete.  The cover design and concept was created.  I had a saddle that was shaped and padded to my liking with a removable cover to access the foam if I wanted to swap it out.  Balance in the force was slowly returning to my cycling world. 

Dr. Jamie So

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


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