Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Replace your saddle frequently

The one part of our bikes we probably neglect the most is our saddle. Most of us are meticulous (or should be) about cleaning and lubricating our chains and drive train; are nutty about checking and double-checking our tires for wear and cuts; and are passionate about clean, neat, and shock absorbing handlebar tape. While all these basic maintenance items are critical for both the good working order of your bike and for conserving your energy stores by limiting resistance due to friction, the saddle is one thing most of us never take into consideration. Who really pays attention to their saddle before the cover starts to peal away or until it is so warn that you can't remember if it was white or dirty brown to begin with?

If you consider how critical proper positioning is on your bike you should also consider how important a fresh saddle is. As a saddle ages there are a number of ways in which it fails to provide the support for which it was intended. The most visible wear on a saddle will reflect in the cover, but really it's what's underneath the cover that enables a saddle to do what it was designed to do: maintain and support your position. The decidedly modest foam padding under a saddle's cover provides only a few millimeters of cushioning, but even this minimal amount of padding breaks down over time. Furthermore, the more the cushioning a saddle has the faster it will break down. A change of even a millimeter in saddle height means you are moving lower and more forward on the bike. Add 4 millimeters by way of material breakdown and suddenly you're half of a centimeter lower and drastically further forward. This change in your position forces your body to adapt to a new and probably a very inefficient pose which will cause you to fatigue faster and work less efficiently.

It's not only the foam padding that breaks down. The plastic substrate under the foam will also fatigue and sink. This sinking where the greatest amount of pressure is applied becomes exponentially greater over time as the material becomes more and more pliable. Couple the break down of the foam with the sinking of the substrate and you could be riding 1, 1.5, or even 2 centimeters lower than optimal! And, as this break down occurs fairly gradually over a span of weeks, months, or years-depending on how often you ride-you may not even notice that you are riding considerably lower and further forward than you should be. In addition to causing fatigue and poor pedaling efficacy, a lower and more forward position caused by the degeneration of your saddle's integrity can lead to a number of physiological problems including knee pain, lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, constricted blood flow, reduced oxygen intake, and improper breathing.

Research conducted by Cyfac in conjunction with the French Institute of Sport in Lyon, France has indicated that in general racing saddles should be replaced every 5,000 miles. Saddles which break down the quickest, e.g., the Fizik Arione, have a typical life span of around 3,000 miles. That may seem like a significant amount of mileage for many riders, but for others that may only be 3 months' worth of training. (Note that saddles will break down faster for heavier riders.) To make sure your saddle is in good working order periodically reconfirm your saddle height. Measure your saddle height from the center of your bottom bracket along the angle of your seat tube to ensure consistency. To safeguard against seat post slippage, which would falsely indicate that your saddle is breaking down, wrap a piece of tape around the seat post where the seat clamp stops.

Saddles are to our bodies what tires are to our bikes. The proper function and safety of our bikes depends on fresh, reliable, and structurally sound tires. The proper functioning of our bodies depends upon a supportive and properly positioned saddle. And just as our tires have limited life spans, so also do our saddles.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Benjamin Sharp's report from Paris-Roubaix

Benjamin Sharp here with the National Junior Team in Europe. We're getting ready for Paris-Roubaix--looking forward to it, and the event as a whole.

I know it's going to be nuts considering we are on the course at the same time as the professionals. Estimates say that close to one million people see the pro race and 500,000 or so see the junior race. We went down there yesterday to ride the last 85km of the course. We do a 35km loop before entering the pro course with 85km to go. Yep, 27.7 km of that is on 16 sectors of cobbles. I rode with the guys yesterday and let me tell you, those cobbles are insanely ridiculous. I know all of us have romanticized this event and who hasn't imagined himself, when rolling over some rough road somewhere, as Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, Steve Bauer, Johan Musseuw, Tom Boonen, or Fabian Cancellera in the closing kilometers of the "L'enfer du Nord"? I'm here to tell you, the roughest alley in Old City has NOTHING on these crazy-ass roads. It is absurd how rough these stones are. My hands cramped after 50km and I have two blisters on my palms to show for my efforts. The athletes that finish this event (let alone WIN!) deserve all the recognition they receive, and much, much more. I tip my baret to them. It's nuts.

Western Europe is enjoying its warmest spring in years and it looks like it will be about >70 and sunny on Sunday. It hasn't rained here in a couple weeks so the dust, it will be a-flyin'. A good thing, considering I have no concept of what it must be like to do this thing in the rain. No freakin' way.

I hope everyone is well in Philly.

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Welcome to Cadence Cycling & Multisport Centers' blog. Here you can find, research, discuss, and provide your own insight to all topics related to cycling and multisport. This site is supported by Cadence's cadre of professional coaches and staff, and occasional input and pro-peloton insight will be provided by some of the pros we coach like Scott Zwizanski, Kyle Wamsley, and Dominique Rollin.