Split-Nose Saddle Case Study

Two bright stars on the long distance program right now are Lionel Sanders and Matt Hanson. We just profiled Matt's bike, since he's the victor at last week's Ironman Texas.

Both are demons on the run. Matt ran 2:45 at Texas, but he ran 2:41 there last year after flatting twice on the bike. Lionel, well, if you enter the run ahead of Lionel in a 70.3 you'd better be way ahead.

They're also each talented on the bike, and Lionel probably gets more attention because of his ridiculously gaudy power numbers while racing. Lionel is, or feels he is, forced into this, much like the original German überbikers Jürgen Zäck and Normann Stadler, because they rode better than they swam and often had to made that long bridge to the lead pack.

Both these athletes are riding split-nose saddles and earlier this week we discussed how you need to consider how this style is ridden when you bolt it to a seat post. You sit aboard these saddles very differently than you sit standard saddles, even when both are made and used for triathlon. (There is a link to the split-nose set up how-to article just below this article.)

Above is Matt, on the bike, at Oceanside 70.3. It's not a perfect profile shot but I think you can see that his shoulder and elbow angles are not tight. Other images of Matt show what you appear to see here.

Contrast this with Lionel's position just below, from Ironman Texas. His "cockpit" is very tight. Both shoulder and elbow angles are more acute than in Matt's case. Matt is stretched.

What yields the difference? Matt's cockpit is longer, that is, the difference between Matt's saddle and his aerobars. In my opinion, ONLY from this one image, the cockpit is almost borderline too long. When it's too long the rider begins to experience low back pain. The trick is for the upper arm to be perpendicular to the torso, a column supporting the upper body weight allowing him to rest that weight comfortably, skeletally.

When the elbows are too far out in front of the shoulder, the torso is a suspension bridge, partly held up by the armrests, partly by the rider's spinal erector muscles, hence the back pain as the ride progresses.

I said Matt's cockpit is almost too long. Matt had this position dialed for aerodynamics by Jim Manton, in Carson, California, so I'm not eager to make a critique. It's not too long if it works. If there is no back soreness. You can see why Matt's bike is longer in the cockpit. Look at where along the fore/aft slot on his Quintana Roo PRsix the seat post hardware sits. And, his Cobb JOF saddle is moved back on the rails.

Look at Lionel's ISM Time Trial saddle on his Louis Garneau Gennix tri bike. Look at the seat post clamp, and how forward it is on its "ways." Look at that ISM saddle pushed forward on the rails. You can see how this translates to a very tight cockpit, and this is the cockpit you get when you ride very steep, and you're forced steep when you place an ISM (or similar) saddle on a bike without accounting for how much further you need to push it back versus a standard saddle.

While Matt's cockpit is borderline long, Lionel's is borderline tight. I see an awful lot of riders these days with positions like Lionel's. If you look at our Facebook galleries taken at Oceanside 70.3 and even more so at Little Debbie in Chattanooga, these are positions that, in the aggregate, I've never seen before in our sport. Cockpits are getting tighter and hip positions further forward. An epidemic of split-nose saddles mounted without care taken to normalize for the saddle style difference would account for this, but maybe this is just how everyone wants to ride these days.

One data point that should be noted. QR's PRsix is built with a steeper seat angle than the Louis Garneau that Lionel rides. Normalizing for the difference in seat angles would require the saddle placement on the PRsix to appear more rearward than on the LG Gennix. Still, this doesn't account for the huge difference in saddle placements between these two riders, nor does the height difference between the riders.