Having used their first series of saddles many years back, I would say that I was never a big fan of Fizik. My first ride on the old Pave saddle left me with a sore butt after just 40km of riding. Sporadically, I would try out some “new-tech” saddles in my quest to find the perfect match for my butt but more often than not, I would end up gladly going back to my old trusty Italia Flite. Sure, there were supposedly more comfortable saddles, or saddles with reputedly better, ergonomic shapes, but no one saddle had enticed me enough to make the big switch.
By and by, we have all witnessed numerous evolutions in saddle technology. These new technologies range from the use of elasto-polymer gel and mesh tops to ergonomically shaped saddles with holes and slots. Most of these gimmicks are short lived. Only a handful has managed to stand the test of time. But one tenet still remains: There is no ‘one-model-fits-all’ saddle that suits everyone.
Despite not being a huge fan of Fizik, their latest Gobi Flex Wing (for mountain bikes) and Arione Flex Wing (for road bikes) got me interested nonetheless. These two saddles have been enjoying immense media exposure since Gilberto Simoni of Saeco rode the Arione in 2003 with great success. Initially coupled with a marketing campaign that could best be described as “mysterious”, the Flex Wing saddle range and its fabled design had aroused the curiosity of many. Now that the veils have been lifted, we have got the chance to come up close and personal with the Gobi Flex Wing. So how does this much talked about saddle score?
They Look the Same
Upon initial inspection, the Gobi is similar to most racing saddles, sporting an elongated and slim look. A quick check on the vital statistics shows that the Gobi weighs a feathery 260g and is 28.5cm long by 13cm wide. Pretty standard numbers when compared to my Flite (28cm by 13.5cm and 230g) and some other racing saddles that I managed to dig up from my storeroom. At 8cm, the rails of the Fizik are a full centimeter longer than other makes of saddles, thus providing a wider range of fore & aft adjustability.
The most remarkable piece of technology in this saddle has to be its unique frame design. The “Flex Wing” saddle frame has a series of perforations molded into the outer edges of the saddle where the rider’s thighs are positioned. These slots (three slots on the upper surface and thirteen underneath) will flex systematically to accommodate the rider’s anatomy. This active break-in feature practically eliminates the need for riders to “season” their saddles. The contact area between the bum and the saddle is also increased as a result of the flex. This in turns helps to spread the rider’s weight and thus reduces hot spots.
The first test: Bukit Timah (BT)
I believe the best way to test a saddle is to bring it for a long road ride. It would make perfect sense, as the rider’s bum would be in the saddle for an extended period of time. However, as most riders would know, it is never advisable to bring new equipment for a long trip on the first day. So instead of a round island, I decided to take things easy and went for a short spin in BT instead. The 20km of road ride before reaching the visitor center was just about right distance for an initial trial.
The overall feel of the Gobi is very similar to my old Flite except that it feels softer due to the frame flex. Whenever I pass a huge hump or pothole, I can literally feel the saddle sinking under me, smoothing out part of the impact. In addition, I also like the flex on the sides as it creates more room in the thigh area during pedaling thus preventing chafing. During the trip to the visitor center, the saddle felt good except for a little numbness around my groin area. Suspecting that it could be a set up issue, I did a quick adjustment by tilting the nose down and pushing the saddle a little forward. That hit the nail on the spot! The road ride back felt better with the saddle in the new position.
Riding the Gobi in the trail is great. With its elongated shape, it offers numerous usable sitting positions on the saddle. The slimness and the non-sticky side cover make transiting between sitting positions a breeze and non-restrictive. This is much appreciated when I need to shift behind the saddle during steep declines. For steep climbs where I have to sit on the nose, I do not feel a significant difference between the Gobi and my old saddle, despite Fizik’s claim to have a wider and softer nose.
Road rides: Distance from 30km to 120km
After the last BT ride, I did some more fine tuning to make sure I got the setup right. Once I got that done, I must admit that the Gobi did eventually feel better than my old saddle. It has all the advantages that Flite has to offer and more.
I would be lying if I said that I do not feel any discomfort during long rides perched on racing saddles. After all, saddles such as these – including the Gobi – cannot be expected to provide the same level of comfort as a commuting saddle. My butt still has its fair share of pain after a gruesome 120km ride. But what I did notice is that the level of discomfort is significantly reduced and it sets in later during the ride. For shorter rides that are about 60km or lesser, I feel perfectly comfortable on the Gobi.
While the saddle scores well in terms of functionality, I cannot say the same for its durability. One week into testing and the “GOBI” wordings near the nose were totally gone. By the end of the fourth week, the edges at the back of the saddle started to show minor signs of shredding. I suspected that it had something to do with my tendency to lean my parked bike with the saddle resting against objects, but a similar saddle with Kevlar sides would have lasted much longer.
Fizik has definitely came a long way with the Gobi, and has definitely changed my opinion about them. They have managed to retain the essences of a good offroad racing saddle and have improved on the comfort level concurrently. What I have grown to appreciate about this saddle after four weeks of use is the near zero break-in time. You just need to get your setup right and you can start roaming around comfortably in no time.
Having sung all the praises of the Gobi; I still think that saddle selection is a very personal thing. What is right for me might not be good for you. Before committing on any saddle, it would be best if you could try it out first. But with a flexible frame that can conform to the rider’s anatomy, I suspect a wider range of riders could be eligible for the Gobi experience.