Fizik saddles adorn the men's pro peloton left, right and centre. They’re sleek, beautiful looking perches – but if you’ve ever tried to ride one as a woman you might have regretted it. I know I did. The good news is that the premium road brand has been beavering away for the last three years developing a new approach to women – and most importantly – the new Fizik Luce Women's Saddle.
The Italian brand have a steadfast grasp upon the men’s premium saddle market. When designing saddles for men, Fizik have a clear ‘story’. Their six key saddle models are based on their ‘Spine Concept Evo’ which looks at flexibility, rider weight and power. Patrick McEneany is the Global Director in Advanced Design at the Selle Royal Group (who own Fizik) and worked on the new women's saddle. He explained: “We discovered our normal logic around flexibility didn’t correspond exactly to the female riders because they tend to have more spine flexibility, but also wider hip bones and different riding positions plus different points of comfort and discomfort." So – Fizik had to start afresh.
Three years ago, realising that the women’s portion of the market was growing, Fizik launched a new ‘communication project’. They analysed women’s experiences: riding habits, shopping habits and their lifestyles. They set up focus groups with female riders of all levels of experience (from beginners to seasoned amateur races), and asked women all over America to contribute via an online blog platform. They visited stores and spoke to retailers – all to build up a picture of a female customer, and what she wanted.
Wish List for the Fizik Luce Women's Saddle
After riding with women, carrying out focus groups and visiting stores, Fizik came up with a set of key ‘must-have’ requirements for their saddle. 'Luce' means 'light' in Italian and is pronounced 'loo-che' by the way.
Move away from Fizik’s ‘racing standard’ for women
Interestingly, though Fizik are a premium brand and their men’s saddles adorn the pro peloton – they decided to exclude pro women from their research. Their Marketing Manager Sarah Colpo explained: “We decided not to have any pro cyclists – Fizik is a racing brand we know, but talking to women we need to have a different approach. If you look at the pro women, they use men’s saddles. They are used to it. So we decided to move away from racing, leaving it to the men’s side, focusing on ordinary riders – beginners, passionate riders."
At TWC, we’re not totally convinced that most pro women are riding men’s saddles (some, not most) – but what we do understand is that the resulting saddle is one that’s designed to suit a beginner through to an amateur racer. It’s not a premium, race saddle like the men’s versions.
It'll also be retailing for a lower value with aluminum rails only, though we're still waiting for UK pricing.
Should be comfortable, not squishy
Patrick tells us that ‘armchair saddle’ was not the aim of the game here, saying: “We’ve heard so many times that saddles were overly plush and overly stuffed and that they were not only unattractive because of that but also not that comfortable."
Much of Fizik’s design emphasis has gone into the ‘enhanced wingflex’ underneath the saddle base. The wings are made from incredibly bendy thermoplastic and deform as the rider pedals, to create a feeling of comfort without being ‘squishy’.
Variable saddle width
This saddle was the first from Fizik to be available in two different widths though they’re doing that in their men’s saddles now, too. Patrick says: “Constantly in interviews women would pick up the samples we had out and match them to their own to check width, even before they did the ‘thumb test’ [to check how squishy the padding was]. So we realised that awareness to relationship between width and comfort was so important that we pushed Fizik to have two different widths."
In terms of the nose, he says: “We needed a narrow nose with a smooth transition that would be seamless. We realise women in a forward position usually have greater need for a larger thigh clearance. And stitching can reek havoc on a nice pair of bib shorts."
This is Fizik’s first ever women’s saddle ‘with a hole’. It’s something they’d avoided in the past as the padding around the cut-out can sag. With new materials at their finger tips, they were able to use a carbon fibre reinforced nylon plastic base, giving them sufficient stiffness to curve the padding outwards so that it would remain comfortable over time. An embossed, dimpled fabric around the hole has a pleasantly plush feel to it that deforms when pressed.
Patrick explains that Fizik wasn’t impressed by other brand's approaches to the cut-out - saying: “Looking at pressure mapping, in most cases there’s so much variety in size, shape and locations of cut-out that there almost seems to be no logic to it. But we realised the story around comfort needs to be visually clear. So having an anatomically sized pressure relief channel was important."
Attractive and self explaining
We all know Fizik saddles look a bit badass – and they wanted the same for their women’s version.
Patrick says, part joking: “We like to think our riders are always in front – so the tail view is important. The shape we’ve used gives us a really unique, very narrow rail profile. It makes us think of a strong spine. So the saddle has a strong core, with a more flexible set of wings which is where your body is supported."
Fizik also worked with their retailers to find out how they were getting on with female customers. They discovered that women were less likely to be comfortable talking to staff in store, so Patrick says: “We analysed how women approached and interacted in store. And this is an expertise that we as Fizik were missing. So in terms of communication we needed a self explaining product that didn’t require customers to ask for too much advice or information from a man who has totally different feelings when riding on a bike."
So – ideally the saddle needed to speak for itself from the walls of a store.
Testing the Fizik Luce Women's Saddle in its Home Country
I spent some time with Fizik, and several other journalists as they launched both their women's saddle and their new men's Spine Concept Evo. I had the chance to try the saddle out over three rides, and to check out the Fizik headquarters and factory near Pozzoleone, Italy.
Here's a couple of snaps from the factory before I go on...
Actually riding on the saddle
It’s clear that this saddle is the product of a huge amount of research over the course of three years. I had the chance to complete three rides on this perch – one of about 20 miles and two more over 50 miles each, up and down some fairly notable climbs.
Saddle reviews are difficult to provide. Every bottom is a snowflake: what works for one rider might be hell on earth for another. This said, I am very much a Princess and the Pea sort of cyclist when it comes to a saddle so if there were major problems it’s likely I’d pick up on them.
The saddle provides a wide flat surface and I felt my sit bones were comfortably supported. I immediately responded positively to the flat base, which I felt was aesthetically pleasing and provided a solid platform for power transfer beneath me.
My preference – when it comes to saddles – is to ride one with a large cut out. In the interest of useful comparison, I ride either a Selle Italia SLR Flow, Specialized Power or ISM Breakaway, usually leaning forward a fair amount. Without a large cut out I tend to suffer from soft tissue discomfort. A small cut out, and I feel a bit like I’m… how do I put this? Falling into the crevice. Therefore, I was concerned that the Fizik Luce and I might not get on. On this count, I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn’t say I felt the same blissful unawareness of soft tissue discomfort that I do from saddles that completely eliminate pressure, such as a noseless option. I did feel a little pressure after long days – but this was very slight.
The nose is long and thin, and on the first and second ride I wasn’t aware of any chafing. However, on the final day I did try the new men’s bib shorts. I won’t review them, as they’re not made for women – but the material has a certain compressive but quite rustle-inducing quality.
Working my way up a long climb, I became aware of a strange noise. It sounded like my brakes were rubbing. After about five minutes, I realised they weren’t – it was the inside of the shorts making contact with the saddle. I didn’t notice any such noises wearing other shorts and I wasn’t aware of any chafing sensations – so it could be that I’d have the same issue having adorned my legs in this material when riding any saddle – but it’s worth noting.
It’s also worth adding that Fizik are currently working on their first ever women’s shorts – so the saddle/chamois ‘link’ that’s on offer for men will eventually be an option for women too. I did test out the prototype shorts, and passed on my feedback to Fizik. Since they're still in the development phase, it might be unfair to delve deeper.
It’s clear that Fizik have seen that there is a rich women’s market, and they’ve done their best to create an option within their range. As Marketing Manager Sarah told me: "We needed to send a response to this growing female audience, a Fizik response." Their first steps have been careful, thorough, and well researched and what they’ve created is a saddle that –as planned – is likely to suit a wide range of riders.
For women, saddle comfort - and lack there of - is a major topic and one we tend to discuss rather a lot. A poor fitting saddle can put a woman off the bike for life, whilst the perfect perch can bring on hundreds of happy miles. We hope Fizik find themselves to be a new player on the women's saddle field which, though vast and various enough to require plenty of choice, currently isn't as competitive as it should be.
The Fizik Luce Saddle is available for £86.99 with alloy rails, or for £154.99 with carbon rails - see the range here.