The ISM Adamo Saddle

In Articles on May 12, 2011 at 12:41 AM

The ISM Adamo saddle

Original Perceptions:
Rewind about 5 or 6 years to when the Adamo saddle was first released and I would have told you that this is the saddle you should try after you’ve tried just about every other saddle, as a last resort. The highly unconventional shape was the first of its kind and seemed like a silly fad to me. Add to the fact that it was only available in some pretty awful looking colors and I could think of more reasons to leave it off my bike than to put it on. There was one particular day after suffering from some bad saddle sores from another saddle that I reluctantly put the Adamo on my racing bicycle. This was not really a fair evaluation though, any saddle requires a break in period and I also wasn’t exactly sure how it was supposed to be set up in the first place. Five bumpy hours later on the roads of Harriman State Park and I was ready to throw the saddle out for good!

That was the last time I road with the Adamo saddle until recently. My saddle of choice for years has been the Fizik around tri 2, and I have never felt inclined to make a switch, that is until a few weeks ago. I have been training hard this season for some relatively early races and have been putting in lots of time on my road bike and have gradually been building up the length of long rides on my triathlon bike. One weekend I found myself returning to Harriman State Park for 3-4 hours of riding on my tri bike. About half way into the ride I stopped to water the plants and nearly fell down from how painful it was to pee. I thought that for sure I was passing a kidney stone or something, the pain was like nothing I’ve experienced before. I had no other problems, and would not have been in any pain if I did not stop to pee. I realized something was wrong but continued to ride on and gradually the pain diminished. I clearly didn’t drink enough on this ride and thought it might be something related to dehydration. Several hours later I had to pee again, and again it was super painful.  Now I was beginning to get worried. I consulted my favorite doctor (the Internet) and came across a few testimonies of cyclists who had very similar conditions as well as a few medical articles discussing painful urination after prolonged cycling. ‘Urethral stricture’ seemed to be what I was experiencing. Thankfully my only symptom of Urethral Stricture was the pain as the other symptoms are not very pleasant! Urethral Stricture is an irritation and inflammation of the urethra that can be caused by a few things, one of them being an excess of pressure on the urethra from cycling.  I decided it was time to go to a doc and also time to switch saddles. I have had a few customers lately come by and ask me to help them set up the Adamo on their tri bikes, and my shared experience with these customers piqued my interested in getting one for myself.

The Adamo Racing Saddle

This Adamo saddle was designed by bike fit and product design guru John Cobb around 2005 under his company Blackwell Research.  The saddle was available in several color options and eventually in a few slightly different shapes and materials. Functional differences between models included differences in nose width and variations in the density of the foam used. A couple years ago Blackwell Research dissolved, and for some legal reason John Cobb lost the rights to the products he had developed under the company. A new company was formed to sell the Adamo saddles and a few of the other products developed under Blackwell. ‘ISM Seat’ was born and is whom you buy from if you are buying a new Adamo saddle today. The saddle has become extremely popular amongst age group and professional triathletes over the years.  It seems to be particularly popular amongst professional women triathletes.  Statistics obviously aren’t available of what saddle every triathlete uses, but looking at the top fifteen women finishers at Kona last year (2010), you will see that seven of them rode the Adamo saddle, more than any other type.  As will all equipment choices amongst pro triathletes there might be a financial reason that these women choose to ride the Adamo saddle, but I can’t imagine that whatever money being offered to them to ride this product is really more important than their saddle comfort, especially with the training volume they do.

The Adamo saddle has a highly unconventional shape. For starters, it is significantly shorter than your typical 29 cm saddle. The Adamo is 245 mm from end to end. The Adamo has a completely split saddle nose with approximately a 10 mm gap. Unlike other grooved or split saddles, the split in the Adamo is the full length of the nose, instead of rejoining in the front like some other saddles. Because of the wide split of the saddle nose, the overall saddle width is a bit wider than a typical saddle.

The rear of the saddle resembles that of a typical bicycle saddle but it is rarely sat upon and mostly just there for structural reasons. The rear underside of most versions of the Adamo feature an integrated transition rack hook. This is a nice feature but it can interfere with the use of most rear hydration assemblies or saddle bags which is annoying in my opinion. I’ve also found that the transition hook isn’t exactly the most stable way to support your bike in a windy transition area. My bike actually blew off a transition rack just a few weeks ago. The saddle rails are very long compared to a typical saddle spanning almost the full length of the saddle. The long usable length of the saddle rails allow the Adamo to be set up with a lot more adjustability than most other saddles, changing the affective seat tube angle at which your bike can be ridden  This is a great feature that might help to completely save an ill fitting bicycle.

There are a few variations of the Adamo currently available. The variations include slight changes in the width of the nose and the rear of the saddle and variations in the amount of padding.  One of the more recent variations is the addition of a slightly downward sloped saddle nose on a model marketed towards triathletes and time trialists.  The reasoning for sloping the nose is to allow the rider to bend forward easier into a tighter aerodynamic position.  The Adamo in general lends itself extremely well to the time trial cycling position, but I don’t think the sloped nose adds any additional benefit.  If anything, I could see it being a hindrance as the rider may lose some stability. The Adamo ‘Road’ is targeted towards athletes competing in longer distance events, the marketing spin thrown on these saddles is that they are a bit more cushioned for long days in the saddle.  I don’t really understand the downside of using this softer version of the saddle for shorter events and I’ve never heard anyone complain that an Adamo was too cush, that’s for sure.  The only complaint you might have about the Adamo ‘Road’ vs. the original Adamo ‘Racing’ is that the nose of the Adamo ‘Road’ is slightly wider. It’s hard to say which saddle exactly is perfect for you.  If you have are a woman, with wider hips, I would recommend trying the Adamo ‘Road’ first. If you are a bit worried about the width of the saddle, try the original Adamo ‘Racing’ first.

Benefits and Saddle placement:
From a purely comfort standpoint, this saddle has distinct benefits over a traditional saddle for both Women and Men.

For Women, this saddle typically alleviates just about any soft tissue pressure. The saddle noses sit nicely underneath the sit bones with obviously no pressure down the middle. A woman can sit on this saddle a lot like they would on a normal saddle, but maybe slightly more towards the front than they’re used to. The width of the overall saddle nose is usually not much of a problem for women because of women’s wider hips.

For Men, using this saddle reduces or eliminates all pressure on the perineum (aka the taint). This takes care of most numbness problems or other pressure related issues such as those I was experiencing. Men should typically sit towards the very front of the saddle, allowing all the man stuff to hang off the front. This typically means that the saddle needs to be placed further back along the saddle rails than a traditional saddle in order for the rider to stay in the same relative position.

As I mentioned the saddle nose is significantly wider on this saddle than on a conventional saddle and this can create some issues, mainly chafing along the inner thigh.  Riding towards the very front of this saddle can reduce this, because the saddle is narrowest and also most flexible at the very front. It has also become common practice to wrap a zip tie around the front saddle rails and to tighten it in order to make the saddle a bit narrower. Choosing the right cycling shorts to complement the use of this saddle can also help a lot with chafing, some shorts will have a seam along the inner thigh and this definitely not compatible with this saddle.  That raised seam will feel like sandpaper against your skin after a few hours of riding.  Typically a tightly fitting, relatively thin chamois is preferred with the Adamo. You might also find that you have to apply chamois cream in new places when using the Adamo, I have recently begun lubing my inner thighs a little bit to deal with some chafing.

This saddle can take a few rides to get used to, at first supporting all your weight on your sit bones may feel strange and your sit bones may be sore after a ride.  After a few rides your body will begin to adapt and the saddle will also soften up a little bit.  Be patient with the Adamo and plan accordingly, don’t put this saddle on the night before a long day in the saddle.

The Right (right) and Wrong (left) way to sit on a bicycle seat

Along with improved saddle comfort, the Adamo can improve your cycling in other ways. Cycling posture is something I like to talk about.  Many people ride bikes with terrible posture in order to accommodate poor bicycle positions and uncomfortable bike seats.  Riding a bike with good posture requires the rider to rotate their pelvis forward, eliminating the bend from their lower back. Straightening the lower back reduces strain on the rider’s spine, opens up the rider’s hips for better muscle recruitment and unfolds their intestines to some degree to allow them to process foods and liquids. With a typical bike seat, rolling forward at the pelvis can put soft tissue (ladies) or the taint (men) under more pressure along the saddle nose. With the Adamo saddle, rotating the pelvis forward doesn’t cause any increase in pressure, allowing the rider to assume better posture without suffering for it.   For Triathletes who are constantly trying to refine their aerodynamic position by riding further forward on the bicycle, a limiting factor can sometimes be increase in saddle pressure along sensitive areas, with the Adamo, this is a non issue.

Using an Adamo saddle doesn’t automatically mean that your bike position and cycling posture will improve, but it definitely makes it much easier to teach yourself good habits.  The Adamo is ‘taller’ than most saddles, that is, the vertical distance from the saddle rails to the sitting surface is a bit further on the Adamo than most saddles.  Typically, when you put the Adamo on, you also have to lower the seatpost a little bit to compensate.  Before you take your old saddle off, take a look at it and imagine where your sit bones are positioned on it.  Now hold the Adamo up next to the old saddle and line it up so that the front 25% of the prongs is about on center with where you imagined your sit bones.  For men, err on the side of the Adamo further back and for women, further forward.  This is approximately the fore/aft position that you want to position the Adamo in for starters.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing all this figuring on your own, see a bike fitter or your local bike shop for help. Figuring out where the Adamo needs to be positioned for you may take a little bit of experimenting, as it says on the package, bring tools along with you on your first few rides with the Adamo so that you can make some changes on the fly if you need to.

I’ve been riding with the Adamo for about two months now and I think I am fully adjusted to the saddle at this point.  I would not hesitate to take the bike out for a long ride with this saddle. I had to move the position of the saddle around once or twice before I got it where I liked it. I would say that I’ve had a fairly easy time adapting to the saddle and the problems that prompted the change to the saddle haven’t returned in the slightest since using it.  I have definitely noticed the ability to roll my pelvis further forward without any restriction.  I may take advantage of this ability in time and try to lower my aerobars a little bit more for slightly better aerodynamics, but I am just being cautious not to change too many things with bike position at once, as the racing season is upon us.

I used to shuffle around on my old saddle a lot to find a comfortable spot, often tilting my hips one way or the other, thinking that I was leaning to one side.  With the Adamo I shuffle much less on the saddle and never from side to side.  On occasion, I find myself sliding back in the saddle a little bit.  I’m not sure if this is because I’m accustomed to having a lot more saddle underneath me or if my body is just searching for a different spot on the saddle.  I may try sliding the saddle back a little further rearward to see what happens. I haven’t noticed any changes in my power production with this saddle, but I have to think that if I’m rocking and shifting less in the saddle that my power is being applied more continuously. 

There are some riders who may find the firmness of the adamo and the high pressure on the sit bones intolerable.  For those, there are a few variations of the adamo that can be considered.  The Adamo road and century are offered with a bit more padding. A few other options available from other brands include the Cobb V-Flow (designed by John Cobb, designer of the Adamo) and the Selle Italia SMP Strike. These saddles all have wide pressure relieving cut outs and perform similarly.  No one saddle is right for everyone unfortunately, but many retailers have recently launched saddle try out programs, where you can try a saddle out for two weeks for a nominal fee.  I would definitely recommend doing something like this if you are considering purchasing any one of these saddles!

The Cobb V-FLow Selle SMP Strike


Selle SMP Strike

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