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by David Rome
October 2, 2017
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Short-nose saddles have been gaining popularity in the road market since Specialized released its Power saddle in early 2015. By effectively chopping off the saddle’s nose, such a design aims to relieve pressure on soft tissue when the rider is in an aggressive position (with hips rotated forward).
Prior to the Power hitting the market, similar, shorter designs were gaining popularity on the road, having come across from triathlon circles – saddles from ISM, for example. Last year, Shimano’s componentry brand, PRO, joined Specialized by offering a short-nose saddle that was focused on the road market.
For 2018 the list of manufacturers offering such a saddle is catching on, with Eurobike 2017 revealing that saddle brands such as SMP and Prologo have something similar to offer.
Given just how personal saddle choice is, and how many similarities can be drawn between the PRO Stealth and the Specialized Power, we thought it was appropriate to directly compare the two and give as much insight into how the two stack up. And what better way to do that than to get PRO Stealth samples to a few CT staff members that traditionally pick the Specialized Power as their saddle of choice …
With a reduced length, stub-nose saddles offer a number of potential benefits to certain cyclists. Interestingly, the Specialized Power was apparently originally conceived as a women’s saddle, until a few at Specialized started testing it with men. What they stumbled on was that the wider width and open channeled design seemed to work impressively well with both sexes.
Fast forward a few years and you see Specialized Power saddles appearing on all brands of bikes. Riders that have tried the Power either quickly revert back to their previous saddle, or swear by the Power and wouldn’t risk using anything else. So exactly what are the design benefits and who may a saddle of this design best suit?
For this, we reached out to Melbourne-based bike fitter and owner of RiderFit, Stewart Morton, to tap into his extensive professional experience with both the Specialized Power and more recently, the PRO Stealth saddle.
“I have found with some riders the longer saddle can be the cause of some rubbing on inner thighs, resulting in chafing and sores, so the shorter nose saddles can help avoid such problem,” Morton told CyclingTips. “With this reduction in nose pressure, riders are able to reach the front of the bike easier and with more comfort.
“Although these benefits can vary from rider to rider and this doesn’t mean traditional saddle designs no longer work — they are just another saddle option.”
According to Morton, saddles like the Specialized Power and PRO Stealth are best suited to those with an aggressive riding style — generally someone inclined to using the drops, TT bars or clip-on extensions.
“From a performance benefit it might encourage someone to roll the pelvis further forward, with less soft tissue pressure allowing better use of gluteal muscles while pedalling and maintaining a better spinal position, while also taking pressure off the lumbar spine,” he said. “Although this is a performance benefit, it is also good for riders that might find using the drops on a road bike challenging as they will normally find it easier to roll forward on the saddle therefore increasing the ability to reach the front end of the bike more comfortably.
“There are many benefits to a rider’s posture including a reduction in neck pain, shoulder pain and hand pressure to name a few. The saddle is the foundation of any rider’s bike set up, so it has a major impact on the overall fit. If the saddle is working for the rider then they have a better chance of effective pedalling and a reduced chance of injury.”
One last benefit to stub-nose saddles, and one that’s rarely mentioned, is that with the nose gone, they allow for a position that’s effectively further forward without violating UCI setback rules – if that matters to you.
With Shimano’s ownership of BikeFitting.com, including the use of pressure mapping technology, the company has been making leaps and bounds in saddle design. The Stealth has arguably had the most Japanese company’s most notable impact on the saddle market to date. And while it followed the Specialized Power and shares a similar design idea, it stands uniquely on its own two rails. This is no copycat.
The Stealth features a flat profile along its 255mm length with a relatively wide nose that surrounds a large centre cut-out. The unisex design is available with either stainless-steel or carbon fibre (as tested) rails and either 142 or 152mm widths. We weighed a 152mm carbon-railed sample at 178g, and a 142mm-width stainless-railed version at 205g.
Tube and Co2 accessory mount. (Other Pro saddle pictured.)
The rails of both saddles, like all new PRO saddles, feature increased height for ensured compatibility with problematic seatpost clamp designs. At the back of the carbon-reinforced base sit two small holes to mount a number of Pro’s accessories to, including a race number holder, sports camera mount or CO2 canister and tube holder.
The Power comes off the back of Specialized’s long history of being an innovator in the saddle market, starting back in 1998 with the first Body Geometry saddle. Since then, the Power has arguably been the company’s most radical departure from a traditional saddle design.
With a slight bow along its length and near non-existent nose, the Power (we’ve reviewed the Specialized Power previously) is all about firm support at its rear and a wide channel from there.
Like many of Specialized’s performance saddle shapes, the Power is available at four price tiers, with the Comp, Expert, Pro and S-Works featuring cromoly steel, titanium, titanium and then carbon rails respectively. The jump from the Expert to Pro models see a move from a carbon-reinforced base, to an actual carbon base, same as that found on the S-Works model as tested here. Across all levels, the Power is available in either 143, 155 or 168mm widths.
Most models of the Power offer the direct mounting of accessories like the Bandit Wrap, which replaces a saddle bag with a fixed velcro-strap system that houses the company’s clever Tube Spool. Compared to the tube holder offered by Pro, Specialized’s is superior in form and function.
Specialized has also recently announced a new version of its Power saddle, the Power ARC. This saddle is much the same as that covered here, albeit with subtle tweaks to the shape that are said to further aid support and comfort. Specialized will continue to offer the original Power saddle.
From afar you’d be excused for thinking the Pro Stealth saddle is a copy of the Specialized Power, however, take a closer look and you’ll see they’re quite different in a number of ways.
In brief, the PRO Stealth has a noticeably wider and flatter nose compared to the Specialized Power, while the shape across its full length is flatter. Additionally, padding across the Stealth is softer too.
The chart below details the key measurements and observations.
CyclingTips US tech editor, James Huang, has been a user of the Specialized Power from nine months prior to its release. His usual pick is a 143mm width S-Works and has been riding (off and on) the Pro Stealth in a 142mm width since last year.
James Huang prefers the near non-existent nose of the Power.
Huang states that the biggest positives of the Stealth are great sit bone support and minimal tissue pressure (especially in aggressive riding positions). On the flip side, he isn’t a big fan of the hard plastic edges in terms of how it feels while pedalling, especially up around the wider nose.
Huang feels the firmer padding in the Specialized S-Works version is more supportive, plus likes the slightly raised tail on the Power.
“The Stealth feels good to me overall, but I prefer the Power for longer rides,” he said. “I really like the Pro Stealth for the most part. It’s the saddle I usually travel with when attending media events since it’s bike brand-agnostic. But at the end of the day, I still prefer the Power.”
Another loyal fan of the Specialized Power is Leigh Schilling, a former Australian sales manager at CyclingTips. He typically rides a S-Works Power in 155mm and was given a Pro Stealth Carbon 152mm to test.
“The biggest difference that I have liked about the Stealth is the extra padding that it has compared to my usual S-Works Power,” he said. “This was more noticeable as I have been riding the Kickr on Zwift more than being out on the road. The extra padding adds a little more comfort especially when you find yourself moving towards the nose of the saddle.”
Like Huang, Schilling also commented on the aesthetics but instead preferred the simpler style of the Power. “It’s just a cosmetic thing [but] I don’t like the white stripe on the top of the saddle. Not very “Stealth” like.”
The Stealth is a little more generous and softer with its padding.
“I am not racing anymore. I used to like a harder saddle for racing. I found I moved around a little more on the Stealth out on the road than I do with the Power. I like the Stealth better for indoor duties, the Power better for outdoor riding.”
Balancing out these opinions is Jonathan Reece, co-founder of the CyclingTips Emporium. Prior to testing the Stealth in a 142mm, Reece was using a Power in 143mm, and prior to that, the ISM PN1.1.
“The Power was my saddle of choice on my road bike for a long time, however I always found it was too wide at the back of the saddle, and too narrow at the front,” said Reece. “So when I went out on the nose I had to pick a side and it dug into the side of my leg, causing compression issues.
“I like that the ISM saddle maintains its width throughout the whole saddle, from back to front. The nose felt extremely solid when in the drops and riding hard, but I found it a touch too wide when in a normal riding position. The padding I also found too plush.
“For me, the Stealth is now my saddle of choice because I feel it takes what I like from both my previous saddles and overcomes the negative problems I found with each. The nose is wider than the Power saddle, and it feels extremely stable when sitting out on the nose and riding hard and is comfortable in the drops. I can find a comfortable position for all riding scenarios and I definitely won’t be taking it off my bike anytime soon.”
Stuart Morton says he’s had mixed results with both the Stealth and the Power. “Both have proved to be very successful in resolving fit issues for riders, but it would be a mistake to assume that one is ideally better than the other.
“Each rider that I work with involves trying various saddles to see which gives us the best result while pedalling during the fit. We get feedback from the rider on comfort, pressure and I can see negative or positive effects to the pedal stroke and rider posture from one to saddle to the next.”
“Both saddles are generally suited to a rider looking to achieve a lower position at the front of the bike. The feedback from riders varies, the Stealth for some riders feels too wide at the nose compared to the Power. The Power saddle can give some riders high pressure on the edges of the saddle.
“The key difference with the two saddles comes in when positioning on the seatpost (fore/aft). Typically the Power needs to go backwards compared to the Stealth as the design concept is different. We find riders telling us the Power felt too wide and created high pressure on the edges on the saddle, but when we take the rider through the fit process quite often the comfort level is increased. So the fit aspect to any saddle is critical.”
The placement of the saddles should vary and Morton suggests care when switching between the two. Also note the accessory mounts on the base of each.
If you’re keen to try a stub-nose saddle, the good news is that your options are growing all the time.
If you’re the type of rider that likes to plonk yourself down and pedal for hours, the Power is seemingly the right pick between the two. It’s shape and skinny nose don’t afford too much leeway in moving around on the saddle and rewards those that spend the time to find that perfect fit.
By comparison, the PRO Stealth provides far more freedom. The wider nose, combined with the flatter top means you’re free to move along the stunted length, such as scooching forward for steep climbs or when putting your elbows on top of the bars.
Let us know in the comments below if you’ve tried either, or both, of these saddles and what you think.