Many of you were in St. George, Utah last week and I was there too, but I was on a different mission. St. George is among other things the home of a popular IRONMAN 70.3, and one of the other things is BiSaddle.
What interested me about this company – besides the fact that it’s a Slowtwitch Partner – is that it makes its own product. Precious few of those around! As someone who did manufacture his own goods, back in the day, I feel a kinship with brands like this but, even more so, I’m curious. So I went out there to see what this brand's capacities were.
By “make their own stuff” I don’t mean they make everything that goes into their saddles. They don’t make the rails or the uppers in-house, but they do make the pieces that really make BiSaddle BiSaddle, and I discovered they have the capacity to do some pretty high-end stuff.
The factory contains a full machine shop, with rows of CNC mills and lathes and injection molding presses (among other things). Also in the building are the CAD designers who design the product pieces and translate the thought bubbles into CNC code. Above is an injection mold and below is what comes from that mold.
BiSaddle’s particularity is its adjustable saddle’s nose(s), and the flanges. The user can choose a width for the front and rear of the saddle independently. The functionality here is a pair of injection molded plates – onto which the foam and uppers are attached – that sit on a third plate that contains the saddle’s rails.
When I contemplate the value of making one’s own product rather than contracting it out to an Asian volume shop, the biggest benefit is in prototyping. I had my own wetsuit factory and the capacity to tweak a size, or make a new size, or try a new material, or adjust the patterns to normalize for different stretch behavior in a raw material, could not be overstated. I asked the Bisaddle folks about that specifically, and below I’m talking to BiSaddle’s owner, Jon Petty.
Prototype foam molding is possible to do in BiSaddle's facility, and is done, but the quickest way to demo various shapes and foam contours is to 3D print “foam” right onto the saddle. Jon does this with relentless repetition, trying one saddle shape after another (Jon is a triathlete, and raced St. George last week).
Above are crates of one-off 3D printed saddles that got ridden once. Jon Petty is a relentless tester. I might have more saddles than he has (I believe I have about 140), in my own quest to find the best saddles for road and tri riding, but Jon is not far behind. He’s got at least one of every useful saddle in his prototype shop, and if you look at the saddle’s he makes you’ll see homages to ISM, SMP and others.
There is also the capacity to make things really light. BiSaddle is not known as a brand that wins the weightweenie wars, because its adjustability comes at a bit of a weight cost. However – just talking now – what if a lot of data was collected from BiSaddle users, and data on configurations was gathered. What BiSaddle model are you using? Can you measure the nose, and the flanges, and send in exactly how you have that BiSaddle adjusted?
If one found a lot of commonality one could, theoretically, manufacture an ultralight version of a non-adjustable saddle that fit the needs of X number of people. It would not be wholly different than when GURU and Serotta – custom bike makers – made runs of production versions of its bikes, for those who sat on the fat of the bell curve.
I spent half a day with Jon and his right hand man, Jeremiah Terry, spitballing about how to go about using the capacity they have to supercharge saddle design. Unfortunately for Jon and Jeremiah, now that I know what they can do I'll be stalking them for this design idea and that.
Whenever we poll this among Slowtwitchers, saddles are a sore subject. In 2008, 33 percent of you said you either hated your saddle, or that it's rideable but could be much better. In 2010, half of you reported that you changed your saddle from the saddle that came on your bike new.
In 2011, 52 percent of you said you'd change your saddle if you could find one more comfortable. in 2017, 30 percent of you chose "saddle" as the element that most needed changing on your bike. In 2018, of all the products, swim bike or run, 33 percent of you said it was your bike's saddle that gave you the most trouble. And just last month, the same poll was run, and 31 percent of you said the same thing.
Will BiSaddle be able to solve significant saddle problems for Slowtwitchers in particular, and triathletes in general? Who knows? But they have a cult following already, and at least it seems they have the means in their factory to take a stab at it.
I've got some more factory tours to make this year. I went out to ENVE not long ago and I'll be at ABG (Litespeed, OBED, Quintana Roo) in a few weeks. I like to visit places where product cycles don't take forever, and where brands' destinies sit 30 feet from the owner's desk, rather than on the other side of the globe.
[PHOTOS: Eric Wynn]