if you delve even just a few millimetres below the surface of pretty much any of the world's religions, you'll find some seriously complex theologies that might hinder, more than explain the central tenets of the faith. this is why, theoretically or theologically, we have people employed as ministers, priests etc. who have spent a requisite number of years studying the intricacies of their respective religions, that they might summarise such complexity for the benefit of the lay-people. folks like you and i. for though we may inhabit the religious section of waterstones or barnes and noble, there's no guarantee our comprehension and subsequent practice will be aided by this less-than-academic study.
the japanese buddhist teacher, nichiren, who lived in the 13th century, was astutely aware of the comprehension capabilities of his flock; his teachings of the lotus flower sutra were perhaps slightly missing their intended target. nichiren contended that, amongst the buddha's many sutras, this particular one encompassed the ultimate teachings, specifically with regard to nichiren's interpretation. thus, he instigated the practice of shodai; chanting the name of the lotus sutra, ultimately achieving perfect and complete enlightenment. in japanese, the mantra 'nam myoho renge kyo' is referred to as daimoku, and sort of works as an alias to the sutra itself.
in short, continued daily repetition of this mantra effectively summarises the contents of the sutra, easing the devotions of nichiren adherents, and relieving them from studious perusal of the entire sutra. given that there are a substantial number of chapters, the chanting can be viewed as perhaps the ideal situation for those of a non-monastic persuasion.
knowledge of the above does not in any way, i'm afraid to say, assist in the comprehension of why san marco have saddled (sorry) one of their latest products with this appellation: the san marco mantra. i have yet to gain any religious insight from a saddle, though more than a few mantras have been recited into an islay headwind (you can have swear words in a mantra right?). in their defence, selle san marco attribute a mantra as having the ability to free the mind of worries without concern over comfort or style. a tenuous connection at best, methinks.
i think they thought of the explanation after the naming ceremony.
most of selle san marco's products have been provided with either fast names or those of italian mountains, though i have grave doubts over the derivation of the ponza saddle. everything has to have a unique selling point to differentiate itself from those of its siblings or competitors, and though so-called mechanical aptitude is ultimately what we're looking for in a component, the initial introduction is more than likely to be purely visual. that's exactly the case here; the word mantra never even entered the equation, finding myself intrigued by the most unusual profile displayed by this saddle. what its profile does not, of course, reveal, is that a large chunk of the saddle is missing from the middle. perhaps it would not be too unkind to consider the mantra as an elongated doughnut.
saddles with bits missing are nothing new. scrabbling through the early drawings and patents of john boultbee brooks, it is obvious that even in the days of unbreakable leather, the idea of protecting one's bits had already occurred. and given that every few years, one of the tabloids will feature an article by a prominent person from the medical profession, pointing out how racing cyclists such as ourselves are doomed to a life of infertility, the availability of saddles to alleviate numbness of the nether regions is offered as a palliative and peace offering to those so afflicted. i think we've all experienced varying degrees of undercarriage discomfort at one time or another, no matter which saddle sits atop the seatpost. i am reliably informed that everyone's butt cheeks are of a different constitution, hence the need for such a confusing number of different saddle designs. i cannot, in all honesty disagree that some fitted to the odd review bicycle have been just the wrong side of excruciating, but it's a component that is easily, though not always cheaply, replaced.
though i have pedalled for many a long year, i have not until now, spent any time aboard a holy saddle, no matter its intriguing profile. one of the unexpected benefits of the mantra was the sorting of my position on the colnago to which it is currently attached. this has much to do with the length of the saddle itself and the comparatively short rails. at that particular point in time, it was job done as far as i was concerned before even considering the hole in the middle.
initially, it was the shape of the saddle that had me confounded, for the nose slopes downward slightly, while the little tail slopes the opposite way. incompetently enough, i managed to fit the saddle with a slight backward slope, inculcating a minor level of discomfort that was a bit unexpected. it took only a concerted glance from the coffee table outside deb's of a sunny weekday afternoon, to notice my lack of a true spirit-level approach to saddle setting.
subsequent levelling having taken place, the san marco mantra adopted its true vocation in life; that of a comfortable yet firm adjunct to the joy of pedalling a bicycle. even one as fast as my colnago. it may be that the wearing of suitably padded cycle shorts dilutes the effect of that gaping hole in the saddle (i wonder what they do with the bit that's not there?), for to be honest, the only time i've been aware of the hole is when removing the colnago from the bikeshed, and clambering off at the coffee stop. you'd never know it wasn't there when riding the bike. its firmness does it proud, but i'd be guilty of a whitewash of obfuscation were i to contend that all is comfort and joy.
most of my other saddles have been of the cast leather variety, all of which have proved to be modestly irritating on the left, for no reason i can successfully discover. the mantra has removed that discomfort almost entirely, but has replaced it with a niggling irritation on the right. this seems to have little or nothing to do with the missing material, but up to this point, i haven't figured out what's causing it. subsequent investigation is obviously required.
that said, even on a 100km ride in the sun, undertaken specifically to assess the viability of the mantra (i didn't stand up very often), no numbness of any kind was experienced, an affliction that has historically accompanied lengthy slogs into a headwind over less than pristine roads. i'd be lying if i said all was perfect in the land of the nether regions, but conversely, the mantra does have quite a bit going for it, erring particularly on the side of rather good.
the rails are composed from a material apparently lighter and stronger than titanium called xsilite, composed of a high percentage of silicon, alloyed with titanium and carbon. it has excellent resilience in the face of adversity, as well as a propensity for the knurled section to grip well in the seatpost clamp.
i will experiment further with my rudimentary approach to positioning, checking if there is a greater level of incompetence at work than at first thought, but meantime, san marco would appear to have the best interests of the performance cyclist at heart, particularly with regard to their long-time fertility, should that be a factor that concerns the honed athlete.
selle san marco saddles are distributed in the uk by madison and retails at £129.99. it's available in either black, or black and white (as reviewed)
posted sunday 24 july 2011