Saturday, July 28, 2012

Flite Alpes

Saddles are a very personal thing. For most of the time I rode a San Marco Rolls out on the road and didn’t really think too much about it. It was comfortable and durable and the pros used it. Sure the pros might not be riding Shimano 600 but they were riding a saddle just like mine. Then, in the early 1990’s, Selle Italia brought out their Flite saddle with a radically streamlined profile and titanium rails. It was light, minimalistic, futuristic, and utterly fantastic. It just looked fast. 

I remember taking my Rolls saddle off my bike and weighing it in my hand. It looked heavy and felt even heavier. That distinctive gold plate looked less like a statement of class and more like a decorative burden. I wanted a Flite saddle. I was in the habit of poring over bicycle magazines and I wanted to put that Flite saddle on a Cannondale. Or a Klein. Or a Kestrel. I wanted Shimano Dura-Ace. I wanted ceramic Open 4 CDs. I wanted Campagnolo C Record with delta brakes. I wanted Claudia Schiffer and an island made of icecream... I put the Rolls saddle back and got on with it.

In the end I never rode a Flite saddle out on the road. But I did end up using a Flite Transalp fitted on a second hand mountain bike. The bicycle wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t good either (I’d rate it one “meh” out of five). But the saddle was awesome. Over the past couple of years classic racing saddles from the 80s and 90s have made a bit of a comeback with Selle San Marco resurrecting their Concor, Turbo, Regal and Rolls models; Selle Italia its Turbomatic and Flite models. They were all great designs even if took nostalgic middle aged men to bring them back to life (no surprises when I say that the San Marco Rolls now holds a special place for me). Curiously Selle Italia has decided not to reissue the Flite Alpes (= Transalp) saddle. 

So it has taken some time to find me a Flite Alpes. I don’t ride my Inbred SS as much as I would like but every time I do I think: “I’m going to get myself an Alpes saddle”. The Terry Fly that came with the bike is, by most reports, a good saddle but is just a little too soft for me. And I find the profile just a little too flat with nothing to push against for climbing. And I can’t maximise my stroke by raising the seatpost as the saddle is a little too wide to easily slide off the back for steep or technical descents. And, because I don’t ride my SS that often, it took me longer than I care to admit to do something about it.

I use flat-top saddles when out on the road as I prefer my bars down low and a saddle with horizontal profile allows me to shift my “sit bones” subtly and constantly to avoid pressure areas. But a SS, especially when ridden offroad, and especially the way I do it, is an altogether different riding experience. It’s all huff and puff, freewheeling and accelerating, control and panic, constantly in and out of the saddle (and not infrequently on foot). The bars are higher and the saddle lower. 

A flat nose and a higher tail helps with seated climbing: especially useful when you have a little motor. But a high tail makes it more difficult to drop off the back: an issue for a nervous rider who views every declivity as a menacing minefield of mischief. The Flite Alpes has the same curved profile as the Flite but the sides are cut narrower at the tail. That means not quite as much support as the standard Flite but also means you’re less likely to snag your shorts as you heave your heiny between the saddle and the rear wheel then back again. It’s a compromise that’s very easy to live with.

Same side profile although I prefer to lie the Flite a little flatter.

Narrower tail on the Alpes.

There are probably plenty of modern saddles out there that will do this job rather nicely. But saddles are a very personal thing. I chose a Flite Alpes over newer, more readily available saddles not because I don’t want them, but because I don’t know them. And I'm simply too cheap and stodgy to try them out. 

I understand that it's good to be curious, to seek new adventures, and to remain relevant. 

But today I welcome back an old friend.

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