I tried the Cobb Fifty-Five (aka JOF55 for JOF = Just Off The Front; 55 = 55mm, the width at the nose) for the first time at the end of 2013. Cobb had just introduced the saddle, and John asked for some feedback. At that time, I was a sponsored athlete of Cobb's, and my saddle of choice was the SHC, which I'd ridden pretty happily since 2010. I loved the narrow profile of the SHC and the support of a traditional saddle shape, but I also found that - especially near the end of long races - I did struggle a bit to stay down in the aerobars. Over a long enough ride, especially on flat courses, "support" turned into "pressure." So I was willing to try the noseless JOF55 to see if I might not alleviate that.
To start out, I set the saddle up about 50mm further back (measuring nose-to-steerer) than my SHC. I set it up as I had set up the early ISM saddles (that were quite different from some of the current ISM designs, which span a much broader range of morphologies). In my experience for both myself and helping others, 50mm back was about the minimum. I found this to be comfortable for easy riding, but it still wasn't quite "right." I experimented with it even further back - as much as 90mm as compared with the SHC - but that just left me feeling like I was falling into space. I found the saddle comfortable enough - much more so, actually, than the SHC - when riding easy, but I could never quite match my power at the top end.
At high effort, I was 10% - or more - off the power I should have been for a given effort. So I just shelved the saddle and figured it wasn't for me. There are, in my experience, many saddles that don't work for a given athlete and only a very few that do. So I didn't think too much more about it. I never thought to test it further forward both because of the width and because I was sure that you were supposed to be clearly "off the front," which at the time was just not something I understood as well as I do now.
I was inspired to give the JOF55 a second look after finding comfort and happiness aboard a Dash Stage.9. I ended up setting the Dash Stage.9 a mere 25mm further back of the SHC, and that worked perfectly. I decided to emphasize the Just part of the JOF name and to set the JOF55 up equivalently.
This change made a huge difference. In this way, I was able to sit more on the saddle than not. Riding just off the front rather than way off the front totally changed the way I felt about this saddle. With the extra support of another 30mm+ of saddle underneath me, my power numbers were much more in line with what I expected, and I no longer felt like I was "falling into space." I still got the desired pressure relief, and I found even at the end of long rides, it was still comfortable to rotate forward and settle into a nice low position.
But a new issue came up. Sitting more on the saddle, I was much more sensitive to the fact that this is a much wider saddle than either the SHC or than the narrowest Dash Stage.9, which is offered in multiple widths.
Unlike the full-length cutout of the Dash, the JOF55 is split only for the first 85mm, at which point it transitions into an increasingly (as you move further back) shallower groove. If you find you are sensitive to pressure further back, this might be an issue. However, if you aren't and are looking for more support, this may be a positive. This is neither good nor bad; it's simply going to suit different folks.
The issue for me is really that the JOF55 widens out to 65mm almost immediately. It's 55mm at the very tip, but really a more accurate name would the JOF65. And I'd like a JOF35 or even just a saddle that was actually 55mm for more of its total length. And once you get past the narrower 85mm split front end, it flares out even wider to a max width of 135mm. The JOF is only offered in a single width, and that ended up being just too wide for me. But I have extremely narrow hips. I think for most people, this is probably going to be just fine. This is the saddle of choice for a number of top pros on both the men's and women's side: Patrick Lange, Jodie Swallow, and Jesse Thomas all ride this saddle.
Figuring out how this saddle was designed to be ridden - I'd say 30mm or less further set back than a traditional saddle - was a revelation. But it was also a disappointment. I realized that I liked the design, but then I also realized that I didn't like the width. Ultimately, though, that's not an issue with the saddle. That's simply a compatibility issue between my morphology and this saddle. A narrower version would probably suit me just fine, and I'd certainly give such a saddle a try if/when Cobb decides to make it.
But for folks who are not built quite so much like a bean pole, this is one of the first saddles I'd look at if you like to sit on your saddle but still like the pressure relief at the very front. The JOF55 is a firm saddle by design, something that I think is generally preferable for racing, but unlike some other competitors, there's no choice here. Again, that's neither positive nor negative, but simply a conscious design choice that may make it either better or worse for a given athlete.
The saddle is designed to be set-up with the rails level, which results in an overall slight upward slope of the two prongs at front. This is an interesting decision, and the resultant pitch of about 1° up is a good thing, in my opinion. One of the biggest issues with noseless saddles is a feeling of falling into space. Having a slight upward pitch pushes the rider back onto the saddle, putting more weight there and keeping an overwhelming amount of weight from ending up on the arms/elbows. For a saddle with as complicated a contour as the JOF55, making it easy to set-up properly with the rails level helps ensure a consistent position that sets the rider up for success in terms of both comfort and support.
The JOF55 is built with hollow cro-mo (chrome-molybdenum) hollow steel rails, which is how I think all saddles should be built, as steel is tough and strong (in the engineering sense of the words). It's built on a fiber-reinforced polymer shell. And is wrapped, as is typical, with a microtex covering offered in seven different colors: Black & Silver, Stealth, Black & Gold, White & Black, White & Gold, Pink, and Lime Green.
The JOF55 is not inexpensive at $229, but that does seem to be the going range for a quality saddle these days, if a bit on the high end. Cobb does offer a no-questions-asked 60 day money back comfort guarantee that gives you a real chance to test it out. $229 is cheap for a saddle that you love, and Cobb gives you a chance to really test that while still making it easy to return or exchange.
It's not light, tipping the scales at 327g or 11.5oz (manufacturer advertised weight is 330g), though it's debatable whether or not saddles are where you should be looking first to lighten your bike up anyway. But part of that weight comes from the fact that it's got built in threaded female inserts which are designed specifically for Cobb's own proprietary rear hydration-and-gear carrying system.
I do think the design could be further improved by slimming up the width in the back and making the saddle flare out less; this is clearly a time-trial/triathlon saddle first, and I just don't see the wisdom in the wider back. As a road offering - and it certainly is capable - where you might sit further back and more upright regularly, I see the appeal of such a design, even if it isn't right for me, but for triathlon, I just wonder about the utility.
With a better understanding of how this saddle was designed to be ridden, the JOF55 is no longer a saddle that I would have recommended simply because of the fact that a lot of other people seem to like it (though with saddles, the law of large numbers is probably the single best endorsement there is). Now I understand the nuances of the design and the niche that it occupies. I would like to see Cobb cater to a larger audience by offering the saddle in different widths, but for now, the "medium" width offering certainly seems to hit the fat of the bell curve. Regardless, the JOF55 is one of the most popular saddles in triathlon today and with good reason. Hopefully my own experiences in terms of how to set this saddle up both successfully and unsuccessfully might help those of you trying it for the first time.
[Disclosure: I had a business relationship with Cobb Cycling from 2010-2013. I received and continue to receive saddles from Cobb free of charge. I was not compensated by Cobb for writing this review.]
[NOTE: This article included a reference to Cobb playing a part in the design of ISM saddles. ISM’s president, Steve Toll, vigorously disputes this, writing to us, "I am the one and only original inventor and creator of ISM saddles.” ]