i believe it might have been patrick lefevere, manager of the ettix quickstep team who once said that he didn't pay his riders to be comfortable. one assumes that this was restricted to their bicycles and did not intrude into their home lives. i may be guilty of amalgamating two different scenarios here, but this might have been in reference to specialized's launch of the original venge, designed in conjunction with mclaren. the latter are not renowned for the stunning comfort engendered by their formula one cars; at this end of the spectrum, performance is king and pretty much everything else just gets in the way.
though very much at the opposite end of the cycling food chain, my taurus corinto, of italian origin, is constructed from very narrow lugged steel tubing. the bottom bracket is of the dependable but now archaic, square taper variety while the single chainring leads the chain to a sturmey archer three-speed hub gear. i seriously doubt whether the fine folks at taurus have even contemplated the word performance. but neither have they made any appreciable inroads into the world of stiffness.
though riding this italian machine is relaxed and sedate enough on its own, my posterior is cossetted by a leather brooks b16 sprung saddle, just in case any tactility on the roads has the affrontery to be passed onto my person. and were i to summon up the courage to stand when ascending small hills, i can definitely feel the movement in the bottom bracket region. however, since this is hardly the bicycle that mark cavendish would employ in a sprint at milan-sanremo, it is of academic interest.
bicycles such as the venge, however, and i think this encompasses the majority seen in the pro tour nowadays, are designed to channel any rider input directly into forward motion. this has led to the cliché lateral stiffness but vertical compliance.. in old money that means it doesn't sway from side to side, but it's none too harsh up an down. possibly even verging on a semblance of comfort.
there are several factors involved in the perception of comfort when riding a bike, possibly the most obvious being the saddle, since that's mostly where your backside resides during any kind of ride. it makes sense therefore, that your chosen seat offers a decent amount of padding; or does it? harking back to mr lefevere's apocryphal remark, though a comfortable saddle scarcely detracts from a frame's stiffness, it could add one or two undesirable grams. and though climbers are generally the chaps we think of as riding featherweight machines, when you consider the composition of the grupetto that has also to make its way slowly over the same summits, a few grams saved here or there could be the difference between making the time cut and watching the race on telly.
italy's san marco saddles are currently celebrating eighty years in the business, with luigi girardi having put the town of veneto on the map in 1935 by first offering quality bicycle saddles. to celebrate the rich history of a company who gave the world the first bio-anatomical saddle in 1978 (the concor), selle san marco currently offer an entire vintage range including the san marco regal which currently adorns my colnago c40. the original version of this saddle first saw light of day in the very year that robert millar won the king of the mountains jersey in the tour de france (1984) it's a classic in the true sense of the word, having perched under the posteriors of riders such as lemond, chiappuci, cipollini, boonen and now yours truly (spot the odd one out).
featuring real (honey coloured) leather, this particular version is said to darken with use, offering a most satisfying patina. i'll need to get back to you on that one when the time comes. its most distinguishing visual feature is the presence of six copper rivets along the rear edge, certainly an attractive feature, but i've no idea whther these are mere decoration or an intrinsic part of the saddle's construction. either way, the regal offers a vintage look that cleverly would not seem out of place on the latest colnago c60 (other bikes may be available). it certainly looks very much the part on my c40.
but with so many contoured profiles on today's saddles, often matched with big holes in the middle, does the regal determine that yesterday's cyclists were of hardier posteriors and subject to lefevere's dictum or is the modern way just so much smoke and mirrors?
in truth, though i've ridden a good few hundred kilometres on the regal, i'm not really any closer to learning the truth of that enquiry than i was when i first set out. in the main, it's as comfortable as many others i have ridden, but every bit as dependent on the constitution of the chamois pad in my tights or shorts to fine tune that comfort. and as with pretty much every other saddle, your mileage may vary. what suits my backside may not suit yours.
considering the huge variations in saddle design, composition and development nowadays, i was somewhat fearful that the regal might be a triumph of form over function, a design that had been clearly superseded of late and appearing vintage for the sake of it. as my mother used to say "pride bears no pain". thankfully those fears appear to have been unfounded. yes there has been the odd moment of saddle discomfort, but that's an accusation i could level at every seat i own. and external circumstances are often to blame, such as a constant headwind.
there are possibly more comfortable saddles on the market, but not by much. but taking into consideration the law of diminishing returns it might cost you a lot more for little by way of improvement. the san marco regal is possibly only a smidgeon less comfortable than the best, but in its favour, has never looked like an anish kapoor sculpture. 380 grams is probably considered heavy for a saddle nowadays but since few of us are actually going anywhere that demands a featherweight bicycle, what's a few grams between friends?
available in black, brown, honey and white, as well as rino leather and bianchi celeste for only £70 with steel rails, it's a piece of cycling history well worth owning. and not just for its good looks.
saturday 10 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................