Read this first about our reviews
Fizik's new Arione saddle
is a breakthrough made possible by new UCI rules.
Have you ever considered the most important
component on your bike has no moving parts? It is the one
thing that, if it isn’t as close to perfect as possible,
will turn a pleasant ride to misery.
It’s your saddle.
During the last decade saddles have gone through
a substantial evolution. All manner of bells and whistles
have been applied to saddles in an attempt to create the
Holy Grail of bike seats: The one that doesn’t hurt.
Holes, slots, elasto-polymer gel, visco-elastomer,
open cell foam, closed cell ensolite, liquid flow-packs,
multi-durometer, nitrogen impregnated micro-cellular urethane
elastomer shock absorbers in the rails, carbon fiber rails,
carbon fiber shells, synthetic covers, pneumatic pads; everything
has been tried.
In the long run none of it really works. There
is no “silver bullet”, no one saddle that solves
all problems for everyone. Gimmicks have ruled the saddle
market for the past twelve years and they are all short
lived. If you look at the saddles used by the top riders
in the world, who spend the most time on their bikes, they
are conspicuously free of gimmicks. The saddles are pretty
basic. Plastic frame, padding, leather or synthetic leather
cover and rails of some type of metal. That’s it.
With the exception of the Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon
Gel saddle and its cousin the Selle San Marco Aspide Triathlon
there haven’t been big changes to the basic saddle
design. I don’t consider the “novelty”
saddles in this group- the so-called “Men’s”
and “Women’s” saddles. As far as saddles
used by the best riders in the world on the nicest bikes
in the world, from the Giro d’Italia to the Tour de
France to the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona,
Hawaii- not much has changed.
Gilberto Simoni debuted the Arione
at the 2003 Giro d'Italia
where it was the Italian winner's secret weapon.
At the 2003 Giro d’ Italia the Italian
superstar Gilberto Simoni of Saeco was rumored to be using
a new secret weapon. Simoni’s Saeco cycling team has
a technical staff that works consistently at the cutting
edge of the UCI’s Technical Specifications for a Racing
Bicycle. The UCI, the “Union Cycliste Internationale”,
is the world governing body for the sport of cycling. They
make the rules for competitive cycling. This complex set
of rules dictates, among other things, what equipment can
and can’t be used in competition. It is an attempt
to avoid overtly radical technological advantages between
cyclists due to equipment.
Without this set of rules the Tour de France
and the Ironman would be contested on full fairing, completely
enclosed recumbents utterly unrecognizable as bicycles.
With this rule the bicycles used by the top professionals
such as Simoni, Armstrong, Bowden, Reid and Stadler can
be obtained (in some version) by a bike shop consumer. Try
to buy a Formula 1 car at your local Honda dealer.
Simoni puts the additional nose
length on the Arione to good use on the
aerobars during a time trail stage of the '03 Giro.
Simoni’s Saeco team works at the outer
limits of these technical regulations. His Cannondale CAAD
7 team bike used in the Giro d’Italia was so light
team mechanics had to add metal ballast to the frame to
reach the minimum UCI required bicycle weight. When Simoni’s
bike was brought to the beginning of every stage it was
the only bike with a bag covering its saddle. The cover
was presumably to prevent the superstar’s saddle from
getting wet. It was really to hide the revolutionary saddle
Most professional cycling teams did not pay
much attention when the UCI amended Technical Rule 1.3.014,
“Dimensions of Saddle for Competitive Racing Cycle”
on January 3, 2003. The rule was amended to state that (among
other things); “The length of the saddle shall be
24 cm minimum and 30 cm maximum.” Previously most
competitive bicycle saddles were 27 cm long with one exception
at 28 cm.
As compared from the trailing edge
the Arione's 12% greater surface
area and 3 cm. additional length are conspicuous.
The Saeco technical men saw this as an opportunity.
An extra 3 cm to play with. They rigged new saddle prototypes
with sensors to measure pressure and heat. They looked at
Simoni’s position and figured how to improve power
output and improve comfort. They made molds of Simoni’s
butt. They designed a saddle that was “adaptive”
and would change shape for individual rider’s anatomy
while giving them a larger surface area to disburse their
During the Giro word was out that Simoni’s
“secret weapon” was turning out to be a big
advantage. The cycling press did anything they could to
get clear photos of the saddle and managed to get some good
ones, but Saeco did a good job of adding to the mystery
and building drama by being purposely vague about the features
of Simoni’s new chair. Simultaneously, the saddle’s
manufacturer, Fizik, ran a series of “teaser”
ads that showed only a portion of the saddle and did not
mention the dimensions. UCI scrutinizers were allowed access
to the saddle to verify compliance with Rule 1.3.014 but
that was it.
The soft white underbelly of the
most popular saddles in our store.
The ruse worked. Everybody wanted “Simoni’s
saddle”. Even race commentators Phil Liggett and Paul
Sherwin commented frequently on Simoni’s “super
The saddle used by Simoni had a name; it is
The most conspicuous difference with the Arione
is that it is long. Using the UCI Rule 1.3.014 as a maximum
dimension the Arione was a full 30-cm long, longer than
any other bicycle saddle at the time.
Wing Flex technology provides for
The length of the saddle is only part
of the story. The Arione uses Fizik’s “Wing
Flex” saddle frame. The design is very simple.
A series of slots or perforations are molded into
the outer edge of the saddle frame where you thighs
are. There are eight slots on the upper surface and
twelve underneath the saddle. The idea is the slots
flex and, eventually, form minor cracks to facilitate
the rider’s anatomy precisely. The saddle is
designed to literally “break in” to each
We tested the Fizik Arione on two riders,
Myself and Greg Isenhour. We put, collectively, about
700 miles on Fizik Ariones. All of it, with very small
exception, was done on a Computrainer indoor trainer.
Testing a saddle on an indoor trainer makes sense
since they are generally at their worst in a static
riding environment where the tires provide no cushioning
because the bike is not moving. You also tend to stay
seated on the trainer for long periods of time, making
the saddle pressure even greater. If it is tolerable
on the trainer, it will be even better outside in
the real world.
In my case the Arione replaced a Selle San
Marco Azoto Triathlon Gel saddle on my new Guru Trilite
and has served as the only saddle on my new Look KX Light
road bike. I was previously using a Selle Italia SLR custom
molded to my buttocks using a heat gun.
Greg Isenhour was formerly using the standard
road Selle San Marco Aspide, U.S. Postal version, on a Trek
Both of us are converts to the Arione.
This is Greg Isenhour's saddle after
667 miles of use on the Computrainer. The break-in process
Additionally, Ironman veteran Jim Van Valkenburg, a gifted
profession musician with the DSO and with artists such as
Stevie Wonder, was one of our first customers to use the
Arione. “ I am spending lots of time on the CompuTrainer
and my butt is not rebelling.” Van Valkenburg is in
preparation for Ironman Coeur d'Alene. He reports that the
saddle offers more “general support” as opposed
to an area “localized to ¾ of an inch”.
The Arione appears to have more
rearward extension than nose extension.
When I initially examined the Arione in the
Las Vegas Desert at the Interbike Dirt Demo 2003 I though
the rearward most 2 cm of the saddle was a waste, merely
cosmetic. In actually using the saddle I discovered I was
wrong. It is very useful. The Arione opens up the “fit
band” so that a rider has more options as to where
they can position their pelvis over the bottom bracket.
This 30 cm (3 cm additional over previous saddles) range
of motion provides substantial enhanced capability for the
rider to employ new pedaling geometries. This also included
being able to effectively raise and lower your saddle as
you slide forward and backward on the saddle itself. The
farther back you position yourself, effectively the higher
you are. The farther forward you slide the lower you are
effectively, positioned more vertically over the bottom
bracket and compressing the pedal stroke. This affords the
cyclist a wide range of pedaling styles not as available
of traditional saddle designs.
The design secret to the Arione, at least the additional
length, is not rocket science. It was just good opportunism
on the part of the designers to capitalize on the change
in the UCI rules.
The other significant design aspect of the
Arione, the Wing Flex feature, is elegant engineering.
A somewhat misleading perspective
but a good comparison of shapes.
Older cyclists speak in reverence of their
old Brooks leather saddles and the often-ritualized process
of breaking them in. The attraction to these was that they
“molded” to the rider’s body given enough
time. About the same time it takes to build the pyramids.
Lighter riders had little success with the old Brooks saddles
as they didn’t command the girth and mass to make
them eventually submit to their anatomy. Usually a rider’s
anatomy submitted to the saddle, and it wasn’t always
The Wing Flex design is an active break in
feature. The saddle frame systematically “fails”
in pre determined areas to accommodate the rider’s
anatomy. It is literally made to “break inward”
to facilitate a comfortable, well-support but free pedal
Wing Flex works very well based on our tests.
The little micro cracks do form and the saddle does move
on the sides to make room for you thighs and prevent chafing.
This enables the surface area of contact with the saddle
to be increased, reducing hot spots.
||More subtle innovations on the Arione
are the longer rails that allow your bike fitter a greater
range of positions above your bottom bracket. This is
particularly important for women and triathlon bikes.
This may be the only “real” women’s
saddle, a complete departure from the opposite approach
to less successful designs that were only 25 cm. long
and compounded the problem some females have with reach
Additionally, the Arione has a reduced-skid strip down
the middle and a strip of lower durometer, softer padding
as well. This padding is not mushy gel; it is just slightly
less dense than the surrounding, more supportive padding.
This is a result of active testing of the saddle while an
athlete was pedaling, not a static test or supposition that
predicated saddles with holes in them and comfort grooves.
If you need more padding we were able to easily fit a neoprene
saddle pad over the Arione as made by QR or DeSoto.
We measure saddle rail depth on
each saddle tested or used and record this for bike fitting.
This design approach on the Arione is much
better than putting holes or slots in a saddle. If you view
a “men’s” or “women’s”
saddle with a hole in it from the bottom when there is a
rider on it you notice the hole closes up almost entirely,
sometimes completely depending on rider weight. This only
makes saddle problems worse by creating a concave recess
in the saddle and suddenly making it narrower. Saddles with
holes and slots in them make sense on the shelf, but not
under your butt where a rider’s weight change their
The total increased surface area on the Arione,
according the Selle San Marco website, is 12%. That is a
substantial increase. Also, consider that the extra 12%
O'Donnell and McMahon establish
the center point alignment for photography.
The Arione is very versatile. The fact that
I am now using the same saddle on my Guru triathlon bike
and my Look road bike, with completely different seating
postures, speaks volumes to the Arione’s utility.
As we continue to tell people, there is no
one “perfect” saddle.
Nate Griffith and Calvin McMahon
weigh each of the test saddles.
The Arione does incorporate a number of subtle
technologies such as variable durometer padding, a unique
shape, longer rails, a reduced skid strip, a flat profile
and rounded cross section as well as radical technology
such as the extra 3 cm. of length.
No other saddle is offering this combination
of technology except the Fizik Gobi, an off road version
of the Arione. That means no other saddle will work like
Our findings is the Arione is the single most
comfortable road saddle used to date for road and triathlon
bikes. That is extremely significant. If you are having
saddle comfort issues on a road or triathlon bike, I would
try a Fizik Arione before any other saddle.