Full Carbon Saddle Test

20180827_175243For quite some time now I have wanted to try a full carbon saddle, just for fun. In case you are not familiar with them they are basically a piece of carbon fiber (like bikes are made out of) shaped into a bike saddle. The only other thing these saddles will have, for the most part, is the rail of course, though some of the better models may have a little more. Like shocks absorption properties implemented in various ways.

But this one is just the carbon seat and the rails. Nuttin’ else.

For this review I took a chance and picked one that looked good and had relatively good reviews. Looking around you’ll find lots of these saddles – there are cheap ones, mid-range ones, and expensive ones. Most, if not all, will be fairly narrow but with some variation in the widths.

Be aware, I have seen a few reviews about the cheapo ones breaking and cracking while on a ride. But much more good reviews on their durability – even the cheapo’s.  Buyer beware.

Of course, a good part of the reviews on any of these saddles are along the lines of – “This is too hard”.

To say the least, the unpadded seat takes some getting used to.

This one has an anatomical relief depression up the middle, something I look for exclusively in any saddle I buy or even consider.

I was a bit concerned that the channel was not deep enough, coming from the Nashbar FR1 and Selle series of saddles with cut-outs in the middle and channels.

But that aspect was just fine with his saddle. I felt no pressure on my perineal nerve, even when riding on the drop-bars. At the very rear of the saddle it is completely cut-out in the middle but I believe that’s more for cosmetics than usability, as it is too far back to really matter sitting-wise.

Starting from where this cut-out ends to around two-thirds of the way forward is a pretty good channel, though it starts to get shallower toward the forward section. At the very front, at the nose, it flattens to no channel of course, and the nose itself very slightly curves downward.

As to the height of the saddle itself about two-thirds of the way back is the lowest point, very similar to many saddles, with the rear flaring up quite a bit, definitely keeping you from sliding off the back.  

This all means that you stay in place quite nicely, even though the surface itself is shiny and smooth feeling and glossy. I had absolutely no trouble staying in place, even though running your hand over the surface might make you concerned for this.

The seat itself is what some may call “carbon look“, with somewhat cross-hatched geometric patterns that move in the sunlight. The rails are painted with whatever glossy ‘carbon look’ pattern the seat surface uses also, and it all blends in together.  There are forward and rear limiter markers as well as measurement lines between them.

Unfortunately the one I got had a mismatch in alignment between the left and right side when it came to these markers on the rail. One side was further ahead than the other. I used the one more centered on the right side.

This saddle has Bontrager fonted and logo’ed across it.

The first thing you will notice when you pick up one of these full carbon saddles is probably that it feels absolutely weightless.  According to my scale it is between 3.2 to 3.4 ounces and 91 to 93 grams. It makes any padded seat, even the guaranteed lightest, feel like a brick. Your hand almost wants to 20180827_175302pop up in the air, seemingly on its own. You just EXPECT there to be some weight and mass there but there isn’t. Picking it up is like the first time I picked up a carbon steam, or seat post, or handlebars, or even forks.

And you have to say to yourself – I’m going to be putting my weight on this thing? Modern tech and manufacturing is truly amazing.

Mounting it on the bike is conventional, with the seat probably needing to be slightly higher than your conventional saddle. I used a level to begin the seat fit absolutely level, as you normally should, and that seemed to be absolutely perfect with no further adjustments needed.

I did have to nudge my seat up a minuscule amount a few times after the perfunctory ‘bike fit‘ and a couple of times while riding.

For me the narrowness is perfect, and is a great fit for my sit bone width. Maybe more so than my regular seats, which are all quite narrow.

The first sit-down on it was somewhat of a surprise.  

Many reviews of full carbon unpadded bike seats rave that they are more comfortable than any padded saddle.  After sitting down on this one I started to wonder if they were correct. I wouldn’t say that the first sit-down/”taking a load off” was any more or less comfortable than a lightly padded seat but…

In fact, I really could tell absolutely no difference. For a moment I looked down – did I really put an unpadded seat on and can’t even 20180827_175311tell? Yes, that certainly was the case. With a good pair of bike shorts on I felt no difference at all.

Riding was very ‘normal’, I felt no difference in pedaling or comfort except I could definitely feel the road more. The cushioning on a padded seat dampens any road roughness or imperfections, and while it was not a big deal, certainly not a deal breaker, it was noticeable. For some this might be a positive – both for experience as well as usability.  For others not so much.

You definitely feel more connected to the varying surfaces of the road, spots of roughness and gravel, and cracks. For me it was in no way uncomfortable nor annoying, but just a different experience and neither better nor worse than a regular saddle. It felt a little like when you put a couple too many pounds in your tires or your tires are very cold or the bike’s been out in the sun and the tire pressure has increased. Some may not even notice any of these things, and perhaps not notice the road surface through the seat either.

As we should all know now – “Everyone’s ass is different”.

Riding on this seat for short rides was indistinguishable from a padded seat. Over medium length rides I started to notice the hardness a bit but re-positioning took care of it. For longer rides it began to get a bit uncomfortable.

I also did a good share of hills and faster riding, as well as city biking.  Was there more discomfort during more movement?  I couldn’t really tell if there was.

I also rode with various kinds and thicknesses of biking shorts. I prefer a medium-thickness gel short but I tried this saddle with thicker padded shorts and had about the same degrees of results, with minor variations. Higher quality shorts with minimal or medium padding is the best for me in general, and it was no different when using this seat.  My fav biking shorts are the Canari ones, great shorts and perfectly padded and durable.

I rode this saddle for a couple hundred miles over a few weeks times – but is that really enough to get used to a seat? Probably not. As a reviewer I probably, ideally, should have given it more time but Summer’s coming to a close and I didn’t want my long distance rides to be ‘getting used to a seat’.’

So perhaps I didn’t give the seat a completely fair shake.

For me the saddle was certainly usable, but certainly no better than a padded one and somewhat worse when riding longer distances.

But from what I have read from the”experts”, as well as from what other cyclists I know have told me, and from other like-minded riders on various forums, and also gleaned from my own personal experience – I believe that the ideal formula on average when it comes to padding is a very moderate amount for both the shorts and saddle.  Too little begins to hurt, for obvious reasons; and too much causes excessive movement and instability.

So in conclusion I probably could have given my body longer to adapt to the seat, but it seemed to be more suited to those who may like to ride shorter distances, perhaps at high-speed and sprinting, and need the most minimalistic saddle as possible.  Medium distances were pushing it for me some.

But this saddle may also be for those who have issues with discomfort due to too much padding and/or excessive sit-bone movement and chaffing. 

If the above may be you than these full carbon, unpadded saddles may be the way to go, and here is a link to the specific one that I evaluated. And it might be worth a try.


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