reviews
editorials
"how tos"
maintenance
race schedules
event reports
 
pageok

 

 

Saddle Breathrough: Fizik Arione.
By Mike O'Donnell, Calvin McMahon
Nate Griffith, Michael Aderhold and
Tom Demerly.

 

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.

Until now.

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 design.

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 weight on.

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 saddle”.

The saddle used by Simoni had a name; it is “Arione”.

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 individual break-in.

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 individual rider.

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 aluminum frame.

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 is complete.

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 pretty.

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 stroke.

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 measurement.

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 shape completely.

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% is usable.


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 an Arione.

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.

Fizik Arione
San Marco Azoto
Selle Italia SLR
San Marco Aspide
Overall Length: 30.1 cm 27.4 cm 27.1 cm 27.4 cm
Usable Rail Length: 9.0 cm 7.1 cm 8.4 cm 7.2 cm
Center to Nose: 14.4 cm 12.2 cm 12.9 cm 13.2 cm
Center to Tail: 15.3 cm 13.6 cm 13.5 cm 13.5 cm
Weight 252 gr. 258 gr. 160 gr. 206 gr.
Total Depth 49.9 mm 53.6 mm 44.8 mm 53.3 mm
 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
Site Designed and Maintained by: Intuitive Business Solutions.

 
pageok