I was having a cup of coffee with Kyle Kelley when he suggested I host a series of women’s events at Golden Saddle Cyclery. He wanted women to take over the shop for a night, no men allowed. I could do whatever I wanted, but it should be as much of a party as it was about products. With that in mind, I christened it “Sunday Social”, to be held on Sunday nights after the shop is closed. GSC is more than just my local bike shop. It feels like a clubhouse for me. Since it first opened I’ve spent a lot of hours there tipping back beers, talking bikes, and dishing dirt. I wanted other women to feel as welcome there as I did.
I liked Kyle’s idea that there should be only women present in the shop, and it got my wheels spinning. He suggested a “kit swap”. I thought to myself “Most women I know don’t have kit to spare…mystery chamois? No, thanks!”. I knew what I wanted to do. Even though I’ve ridden for years, I’d recently realized the saddle I thought was working for me really wasn’t. I could barely take my hands off the bars while riding because I was holding all my weight on my arms to keep my weight off the saddle due to pain. My shoulders were always the first thing to fatigue on a ride, not my legs or my lungs. Frustrated, I ordered five different saddles and tried each one on a ride until found one I liked better.
From an informal poll I conducted, I was not the only one. Saddle discomfort keeps so many women from riding as far or as long as they’d like. Some newer riders can’t find a comfortable saddle and give up. It’s such a difficult thing to talk about to a most-likely-male bike shop employee. Discussing the particulars of your intimate anatomy with a relative stranger in a bike shop is not at the top of most women’s list. If you buy a saddle and ride it for awhile, then realize you don’t love it, you feel stuck. You don’t want to be a “problem” so you just figure “Maybe I can get used to this… How comfortable is a saddle even supposed to be?…Maybe this is normal”. I also suspect that this drives a lot of women to shop for saddles online in anonymity. I wanted to bring the business back to the local bike shop, and make it a resource for information.
I enlisted the help of Rosemary Sindt, inside sales rep for Highway Two, distributor of Brooks and Fizik saddles. I knew she had the expertise and the vibe I wanted. She agreed to bring a bunch of saddles and share her knowledge. The night of the event I showed up with my trainer, eight bottles of wine, and some trepidation about how it would all come off. Rosemary arrived with a bag of sample saddles and a fit bench from Selle Royale in tow, so people could measure their sitbones. As people filtered in and helped themselves to refreshments, the volume level increased. Rosemary grinned “The wine is working.”
Nervously I took a breath and yelled over the din to get everyone’s attention. I welcomed all the ladies, who numbered almost thirty, to the inaugural “Sunday Social”. I handed out a worksheet I created (nerd alert!) . It listed the features of the nearly twenty saddles we had to try out. Then I introduced Rosemary, who shared her experience as a former bike shop manager in New York City. She broke it down to the basics. Essentially a rider needs to find a saddle that is wide enough to support her sitbones, and for some people, it should be cut out in the center and/or cut away on the sides in the right places to accommodate the anatomy. Riding position also influences the appropriate saddle width. As a rider leans forward in a more aero position, the points of contact narrow, so an upright cruising saddle will be wider than a road saddle.
I was worried about everything going wrong, about people not getting what they needed from the event. I really wanted everyone to go home with more insight and information than they started with. My fears were unfounded. People jumped in, checked out all the saddles, touched them, tested them, took them for test rides around the block, and hopped on the trainers. It was awesome to see. We even got a sneak peek at the new C13 performance saddle from Brooks.
It was so impressive how a disparate group came together. One woman arrived on her mountain bike. Another had just bought her first bike from GSC the week before. There was a new mom in attendance who had just completed an Ironman triathlon. A few local racers from SheWolf Attack Team (S.W.A.T.) volunteered to help out wrenching for saddle swaps and adjustments. Some ladies just hung out in the alley drinking wine and cracking jokes. The party atmosphere was achieved.
Since the event, people have asked me to post the “results” of this workshop to see which one was “the best”, but that’s not the point. As my friend Jessica used to say regarding fit, when we worked in a lingerie store together, “everyone’s butt is their own”. That said, the Brooks Cambium saddles come in several widths and are available with or without a cutout, so they seemed to be favorites.
More than a few women seemed partial to the one I’m using on my road bike right now. It’s on the wider side and has a cutout for pressure relief. It’s the Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow. Yes, that’s really what it’s called. Could they think of any more words that suggest menstruation? When you hear people complain about the state of women’s-specific bike products, remember that name. It also has pink stitching on the back in a vaguely suggestive “anemone” shape. Maybe it’s an Italian thing, but come on! The irony is that four years ago when I got my new road bike fit, the fitter suggested that exact saddle as an option but the sample was in white. I couldn’t bear to put this puffy pink-and-white monstrosity on my sleek new Moots. I literally said “That looks like a maxi-pad. Nope! Next!” But years of discomfort later, I’ve settled on the black version of that very same saddle. I’d like to say I’m beyond caring what things look like, as long as they are functional, but that’s not the case. I just like riding bikes more than I hate looking silly.
We wrapped up the evening with a raffle. The prize was the leather “D-Shaped Tool Bag” from Brooks, in a fetching shade of green. It’s affectionately known as the “D-Bag”. For one magical night, it was the only D-Bag in she shop. Kidding, guys!