1. Meld states that they can shortcut the process of finding a saddle that fits. I've found that it's true for me, and it went a step further: in addition to getting a saddle that works, it is also the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever used. Also, I didn’t have to go through any ‘professional fitting’: I did have to move the saddle slightly backward a little, and that was it. The step-up from my previous best saddle (Fizik Arione) is significant.
2. I’m wondering if designing a saddle based the body allows us to directly and meaningfully compare saddle feedback from different riders.
I was waiting for reviews of Meld saddles from certain cycling news sites. I read a couple of positive ones that showed up recently, then I remembered I don’t trust any of them anyway due to sponsorship/advertising reasons. I had met the Meld crew at Interbike and was intrigued by the process and the resulting saddle. A couple of months ago I took the plunge and bought one. I haven’t tried anything like that before, and it turned out to be great fun designing a saddle with lots to think about with regards to the parameters. It’s been raining where I am and I’ve done only about 500 miles on it so far, with the longest ride lasting about 4 hours. I will update if/when I learn anything more.
I thought I’ll divide this review into three parts: the process, the pros and cons, and the parameters.
I signed up online, and paid via an Amazon portal. The website provided an estimate of the time needed for saddle manufacture. I received an imprint kit a couple of days later, sat on the foam, then sent the kit back. Another few days later, I received a notification email about the scanned imprint, and I designed and submitted my saddle model. About a week and a half later I received my saddle. Overall, not an overly long period of time to wait in my case.
Here’s a picture of the imprint kit (including instructions), and of the foam after I’ve sat on it:
To be perfectly honest I didn’t expect anything to work, I was very skeptical. After all, we’ve had a few decades of getting the saddle right, with mixed results. We seem to have reached the point where nothing more seems to be getting done other than improving aesthetics.
I thought the website looked “engineered”, but everything went smoothly and the lack of marketing was kind of refreshing (since I’m getting quite tired of hype after all those crowdfunded projects). From the imprint kit, its instructions, to the final saddle’s packaging, it's clear there isn't too much put into marketing at this time.
The next negative is the description of the two-dimensional outline parameter. I initially thought this was the saddle shape (i.e. the 3d version), then after reading the description a couple of times I realized it’s just an outline template we see from above. It took a while to get my head around it.
I think the price is reasonable. I purchased a full carbon saddle, with the Alps shell (the more flexible version touted for ultra-long distance cycling) and short carbon rails. I looked at all the saddles on my shelf, and thought about the time and money that went into buying and the agony experienced while testing them. Not to mention paying for and going through bike fittings which turned out to be less than useful. And I get the best saddle I've ever ridden on. I suppose this should really be a ‘pro’...
I was skeptical about everything right up to the moment when I sat on the saddle for the first time. It has a very different feel from all the other saddles I’ve used in the past (including Specialized, Fizik, Selle Italia), it feels like I’m sitting in the saddle rather than being perched on it.
I thought (and am still thinking) a lot about why the saddle is comfortable, and I think there are two main reasons:
- 1. ‘Sitting in the saddle’ rather than being ‘perched on it’ reflects the larger contact patch between the body and saddle. I think this is a result of creating a saddle centered around the body. Regardless of the posture, whether I’m upright on the tops, on the hoods, or in the drops, I can get my weight distributed evenly between my rami and sitbones.
- 2. The saddle shell is very flexible: I picked the Alps version, and I suspect the cutout helped with flexibility as well. When I pedal, I can kind of feel the pressure moving around, rather than being concentrated at particular spots (e.g. around my sitbones).
The increase in comfort is very noticeable: it’s not just that it feels great during a ride, but my bum feels the same at the end of the ride as it had at the start. When I ride the next day, my calves and quads can be complaining, but not my bum. Previously, I would at least get some aching around the sitbones, but that’s now gone. This means I’m not limited by saddle comfort, and I can continue riding day after day.
The other benefit I’ve realized over multiple rides is that I now actively adopt other postures. Before, I wasn’t quite used to extended periods of time in the drops, but now, because I’m comfortable in that position, I find myself in the drops more often. And I’m looking into frames with more aggressive geometries (H1).
The saddle isn't just good in the drops. When climbing on the tops, I usually sit upright and rolling my pelvis backwards finds my sitbones being supported by the widest part of the saddle. Incidentally, that's slightly wider than my sitbone width, as stated by the saddle model.
I don't really need a cutout. From past experience, a channel is sufficient. But I decided to try a cutout for the heck of it, and learnt that the cutout is lengthened with an increase in movement fore/aft option selected. I thought that was cool.
Finally, since this is WW, it weighs around 126g. Not too shabby...
I opted for the short carbon rails, which results in a lower stack height. The padding’s 3/16” (I wussed out on the 1/8") which made it look ‘fat’. But overall, I like the way it looks, especially from the side. The first time I saw it I didn’t think it’ll be comfortable, I guess I really didn’t understand what a flexible shell can do for comfort.
I don’t have a picture of the underside of the saddle but yes I would agree with a previous article which mentioned it doesn’t have a gel coat and is a bit rough to the touch. But I soon discovered a benefit to this: when I accidentally scratched it, I removed the scratch by just rubbing at it with my bare finger. Then again no one looks underneath the saddle much anyway.
There is the option to include a national flag (which I chose not to), as well as have a club/team logo in place of Meld’s. I played around trying to make my own but I wasn’t much of a graphics designer and ended up opting for a more ‘stealthy’ look. Looking at the photo I guess it might have been better if the letter color is grey instead of white.
In addition to why the saddle feels comfortable, I keep thinking about the parameters. Feedback on saddles in the forums, and indeed saddle reviews in general, are pretty much useless because everyone’s bum is different. A saddle that’s comfortable for someone can be utterly unbearable for another.
I’m wondering if utilizing the body’s geometry enables meaningful comparison of Meld saddles made for different riders. I.e. if someone asks me, “I see your saddle has very gradual tapering towards the nose, does it cause discomfort?” I can say, “No, it still works for me”, and I can be sure that bit of information will be useful to him/her. Can we directly compare parameters chosen? If not, what else is necessary before we can do so? This to me is one of the holy grails of road cycling (in addition to finding a saddle that fits).
I’m very pleased (and still kind of surprised) with my saddle, especially after considering the fact that the company's so new. It's been fun just thinking about the process and figuring out why the saddle feels the way it does. It seems that, for mass customization to work, Meld has the ability to iterate very quickly on saddle models. It’ll be interesting to see how they improve on the current saddles.