Choosing an ISM saddle, style and sizing


#1

Hope to find some help for my partner in her hunt for the “perfect” saddle…if there is such a thing.

So I got her into cycling in June 2017, bought her a Hybrid and asked her to join me riding, she hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood. I had been an avid cyclist but through the preceding years, going through divorce and depression I hadn’t ridden in a couple of years and had gained a bunch of weight. Anyway she pretty instantly took to cycling and outgrew the low end hybrid so I bought her a Specialized Ruby and we got out in the road. Had her fully kitted up, proper shorts, tried several saddles until we (she) settled on the Specialized Power 155. As the days got shorter, darker and colder we moved indoors and started riding on Zwift, we did hours and hours and like 2.5k virtual miles in the winter 17/18. Spring came and we went back outside. Late summer 2018 she tells me she’s had an appointment with a urologist who told her that her saddle was causing her issues.

Excuse me? What issue? She had ridden for nearly a full year, thousands of miles and now I’m hearing there’s an issue?

Apparently she’s had an issue that started shortly after we started riding…but she didn’t want to “bother” me with it. Maybe (probably) she was embarrassed by it so she didn’t say anything. Basically any time she’s on the bike she feels the urge to urinate.

So now we are looking for saddles again. We’ve tried 3-4 other’s since late summer and just aren’t finding the solution from the Specialized lineup and have also tried some Terry saddles. First the Butterfly which she hated and more recently the Liberator X Gel on her trainer which she felt was better than the Specialized Jett 155. Her Ruby (bike) currently has a Ruby 155 (saddle) on it, but previously had the Power 155 and the Myth 155 (Myth is the new version of the Jett which is no longer sold). But she only did like 3 rides on the Ruby (saddle) before winter hit and we came inside.

So she’s still looking at saddles and was wondering about the ISM saddles. No shops in our town stock them so to demo would be through the ISM demo program and we’d like to have some clue where to start. She’s 5’7", 160 lbs and Specialized has her in a 155 width saddle. She’s tried the 168 width and hated it, said it was much worse than the same saddle in 155. But ISM has all these different shapes and not a lot of width choice, but I’ve heard they aren’t designed to be fit like other saddles as they support you differently.

TL/DR: Does anyone have any insight on which ISM saddle might be worth a try? WIll be used for endurance road riding and some road racing.

Edit: yes she’s had a fitting…and a refitting back in 2017. We are working on getting a new full fitting scheduled to make sure any changes needed given a year, lots of miles and her weight loss (didn’t mention that but she’s like like 50 lbs over this time).


#2

Have her try the Adamo. Make sure it’s level. Also, maybe try Koobi saddles. They have many similar features to the ISM saddles but are a bit wider where it counts.
-Hugh
(my blog: ex-prosays.blogspot.com)


#3

I see people reference the Adamo but when I go to the ISM site they don’t list one with that name. Everything is P(performance) N(narrow)/L(long)/S(short)/R(recreation)/M(mountain) and then 1.0/1.1/2.0/etc. I do see the Adamo on Amazon but is it discontinued from ISM or what?


#4

It’s a really hard thing to recommend a saddle for someone else, they are such an individual thing, especially for women where there are can be issues with soft tissue damage which we men don’t need to worry about.

My wife went through a similar period of choosing a saddle and has ended up riding an ISM PR2.0 (the number refers to the amount of padding in the saddle). It seems OK for her but there is obviously no way of knowing whether this would be right for your wife - which will be the same with any advice you get from other people.

This is an article that my wife found useful when trying to narrow the options of which saddle to choose if you haven’t seen it before.

https://speedandcomfort.com/blogs/news/the-innie-or-outie-concept

@ambermalika did talk about ISM saddles briefly in the latest podcast, that might be worth a listen. Good luck in the search.


#5

Thanks @JulianM - I had not seen that article and will have her look it over as well. Yes this last podcast with @ambermalika was fantastic and my partner was very interested to hear the woman’s point of view. It was one of the reasons she is now asking about the ISM saddles.


#6

Might be worth staying off the bike for 2 (even 3) months till any and all problems are fully healed.
Or if that’s hard only doing sporadic, short rides with lots of standing.

You don’t want her to get fed up with biking/saddles and maybe even develop permanent issues.

Once she has no discomfort at all in daily life ,then look for saddles.
Here (Belgium) there are bikefitters that do saddlepressure tests and allow you to loan mutliple saddles.
Letting you do long stretches with each until you find what you want.
Maybe you can find something similar there?


#7

And having now read the article…thanks a lot fore the info. Sheds some light as to why the 168mm saddle was the worst that she tried…though slightly confuses why the Terry Liberator X is one of the better.

@Warhound - yeah she’s not really willing to stop riding as she’s worried she will gain weight if she cuts out the exercise. Got to find a way to convince her that maybe the treadmill for a couple of months wouldn’t hurt. I’ve been looking for a bike fitter that does pressure mapping and so far I can’t find anyone. Problem is I live in the middle of Pennsylvania. Two best shops here don’t do it and so then the next fitter I’d even think about going to is over 2 hours away by car. And THEY don’t have pressure mapping either. We’d have to go to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia both of which are 3:30-4:30 drives (each way) or New York City which is like 5 hours each way. And that’s just to find someone with the technology, who’s to say they are any good? Long story short it’s hard to get a good fitting here.


#8

Start with PN 3.0. I read an article or forum post where a fitter stated that 70% of all his customers are now leaving his shop with the PN 3.0 despite having a large variety of brands and models… Unfortunately I cannot find the link.

I ride it myself and am very happy now (and tried quite a number of saddles).


#9

Thanks for listening to the show and for the kind words! There’s a lot of great advice here. I second the recommendation for the PN3. It’s pretty narrow, which helps reduce chafing (less material = less chafing) but has sufficient padding. The trick with this saddle is figuring how to sit on it, which means sitting further forward than on a normal saddle (relative to the back end of the saddle), and that means adjusting for the setback (distance from the vertical plane through the center of the bottom bracket to the nose of the saddle). The ISM webpage has good info on how to do this. Also, order directly from ISM, because there are counterfeit products on Amazon.

Given she doesn’t want to stop riding (I don’t blame her), I have a couple of suggestions for accelerating the healing process. First, ice after every ride. Yeah, I know, it sounds funny, but it works. She doesn’t have to freeze her bits off, but applying ice (on and off according to comfort) for about 10 minutes after every ride will help reduce inflammation - consistency is key with this. Also, try chamois cream. I personally don’t like chamois cream in general, but when I’m really beat up (like during a stage race) it can help. Other women I know swear by daily use. Some say sparing application is best (I’m in this camp); others find more generous application most helpful. Lastly, try different shorts. As annoying as this is, it’s a huge factor. I have found that certain combinations of shorts and saddles really work, and changing one of those can really affect comfort. Expensive shorts aren’t necessarily better, either. I’ve found the simplest (e.g. flat, not too thick) chamois pads to be most comfortable, but again everyone is different. One universal for bib shorts though is avoiding seams that chafe. If she wants to discuss further offline, she can message me on Instagram (ambermalika) too!


#10

Keep in mind, those saddles are also higher, so lower the seat post accordingly. Otherwise, she might find discomfort for other reasons than the saddle. This is what happened to me! I want to try another ism now that I have learned this, but I need a new seatpost because I’m maxed at the ‘lowness’


#11

Saddles are very personal, so be prepared to experiment.

I have an ISM Adamo Prologue on my TT bike but it wouldn’t work for me on my road bike because of the different position.

Do any of the Specialized saddles she’s tried have a cut-out? I have a 155 Oura on my road bike and I went from not being able to ride 20k because of discomfort to basically no saddle issues at all.


#12

Yes ISM seems to have too many choices. I started out with the PL 1.0 (which is the original Adamo) had a local bike fitting and it still wasn’t feeling right. I happened to be going to Tampa, so visited their office and got a proper fitting by the owner and it’s been great. The challenge with the original fitting even though I mentioned the seat sits higher they didn’t adjust for it properly.

While I was there I also got the PR 3.0 which I think is better for using during the winter on my indoor trainer.

Many of the reviews I read re ISM was how it helped men with prostate challenges, I don’t have that challenge but think it can definitely help avoid developing challenges there. Not sure how effective it’ll be helping her.

One other saddle you might want to check out which I also love, especially for really long rides, 50-100+ miles is the Infinity seat. Infinitybikeseat.com I’ve used it for four years and it’s awesome! They have many more reviews by women and I know several women that swear by it. Only thing I don’t recommend is using it on an indoor trainer, at least that’s from my experience.

Both companies ISM and Infinity are small companies so you won’t find them at most bike shops, but I’ve dealt with both companies and they both go out of their way to make sure you have the right fit and are satisfied with your purchase.

Happy “sore free” riding!


#13

@ambermalika - thanks so much for the response. I’ve encouraged her to message you but she doesn’t do instagram…told her that I think she should sign up even if just to have this discussion. Interesting comment on the shorts, I feel similarly about them myself. She has a few different shorts ranging from Pearl Izumi Elite to some Assos bibs. She seems to gravitate to the PIs which have a chamois as you describe. She’s never mentioned chafing, that’s not the issue here, and she says it’s not really a soft tissue pressure issue either. Her urologist says it’s pressure on her urethra but the urologist also seems very anti cycling. I’m sure there’s some solution out there but I’m not in a place or have experience that can help her. Sadly for the women in our area there are no good women to talk to in ANY of the local bike shops.

Yes all of them do to one extent or another.


#14

In 2015 ISM changed their naming convention. Everything prior had Adamo [descriptor] as part of the naming convention. Now it is as you see on the website with P[number]

When people say “Adamo” they are typically referring to what now appears as they PN3.0


#15

Just makes sure you’re not switching saddles to get around an underlying issue, consisting of a saddle that’s too high or too far back, or handlebars that are too low or too far in front of you.

Try pushing the saddle down and forward and see how your perineum/labia feels. If the saddle is slowly splitting your sit bones apart, it’s too narrow.

If you get a bike fit and they begin applying a template (measurements/formulas/angles), they’re wrong. Find another fitter or experiment yourself.

In my opinion, ISM saddles are more comfortable when you get impaled because of a faulty bike fit. They are also good when getting around the UCI rule of “tip of the saddle 5 cm behind bottom bracket”. Besides that, they’re a gimmick.


The Bike Fitting Mega-Thread
#16

One tactic that might work is buying used off eBay. I did this and went through two or three before I found one I liked. The good part is that you can put them back on eBay and usually make back whatever you paid for it.

I settled on the ISM PN 1.0 FWIW.


#17

I’m not sure where you are in Central Pa, but have you been to the Bicycle Shop in State College? Eric Scott (the owner) does a lot of bike fittings and also works a lot with women. It might be worth checking it out.


#18

i did a lot of hunting on ebay trying man different used (and very inexpensive) saddles and eventually settling on the ISM adamo. I love it, I’ll likely never switch. I’m a normal size guy at 5’11", about 175lbs on a good day. Many local shops have try before you buy sample saddles as well so its worth calling around.


#19

Yup I live in State College and that’s my shop. Erik is the one who fit her on her Ruby at time of purchase.


#20

Oh well… Just wondering, did he do the full bike fit, or just the fit they give you when you buy a bike?