Power to the posterior?

Note how far back on the rails the Fabric Line saddle is in this photo.

I was looking into replacing my Fabric Line saddle for a while now. While I had adjusted it into a decent enough position to maximize its comfort, ultimately it just wasn’t quite as comfortable for me as the Selle SMP Hell it replaced. My main beef was how its relief channel stopped exactly where I needed it: right at the nose.

Fortunately, I found a good deal on a Specialized Power saddle, in its most basic Comp form. In hindsight, one could say I should have opted for that in the first place. I decided to give it a try.

  • Available in 143 mm, 155 mm, and 168 mm widths
  • Integrated mounts for Specialized SWAT accessories
  • Body Geometry design caters to both sexes
  • Carbon-reinforced plastic shell; waterproof top cover
  • “Level 2” medium-density polyurethane foam cushioning
  • Hollow 7 mm chromoly rails
  • Rated weight: 247 g (143 mm width)

When the Power first came out in 2015, I saw a lot of parallels to the basic design Selle SMP employs with its saddles. What little is left of the Power’s nose features a bit of gentle drop. Following the SMP ethos is the full-length cutout, from the rear middle of the saddle and running just short of the nose. At the very rear, there is enough of a ramp to the saddle’s shape for your butt to push against, useful for recruiting different muscles for pedaling.

Selle SMP’s Hell (now called the Well) is a lot of things. “Subtle” is not one of them

SMP’s trademark eagle-beak nose essentially gets it out of the way of your genitals

Looking at these details, it seems Specialized is trying to achieve the same objective SMP did, but going their own way. The stubby nose is their analogue to SMP’s eagle-beak version, intended to reduce genital numbness in aggressive riding positions. Specialized says the Power is an amalgamation of three different saddles: the triathlon/TT-specific Sitero; the MTB-specific Phenom; and word on the street is the Power was originally intended to be a women-specific saddle. I’m no expert, but I will say that the Power is more understated and cleaner-looking than the almost embarrassingly gaudy aesthetic of almost all Selle SMP saddles.

The difference in form factor between Power and Line is obvious. The oft-repeated suggestion from Specialized is to mount the Power with 30 mm more setback than a normal saddle; this matches up perfectly to the length difference between these two. The Power measures a squat 240 x 143 mm; the Line is a longer, leaner 270 x 134 mm.

Beyond that, there are some similarities. The Comp version of the Power comes with the most padding (and the least reviews online, grumble grumble), but still feels about 80% as firm as the criterium-ready Line’s – practically identical. Both saddles share a matte black top cover with good grip on your posterior and any clothing it’s covered with. I’ve subjected the Line to a couple of careless falls and it just shrugged off any scratches; on that evidence I’ll bet the Power Comp will be just as durable.

Pretty true to its claimed 247 g

The threaded holes on the shell underside are for mounting SWAT accessories

Because of its peculiar shape and length, setting up the Power properly requires a bit more work.

The added 3 cm setback Specialized recommends compared to normal saddles serves as a good starting point. From there, I set up the Power so that its front half is level, or parallel the floor.

When I mounted the Power and spun Hyro’s pedals on the turbo trainer, this position felt good, but I was slowly sliding off its nose when the intensity level went up. This unduly weighted my hands, so numb hands and fingers would have become an issue on longer rides. I stopped, raised its nose upward a degree from horizontal, emulating the old Selle SMP Hell profile, and soldiered on.

About 50 minutes into the one-hour trainer session, I was experiencing exactly what I didn’t want out of the saddle: some genital numbness. Short nose, full-length cutout and all, the Power is not quite an SMP saddle, so it should not be set up the same way.

With more fiddling, I returned the Power to its initial angle, but pushed it forward 1 cm. The same strategy remedied many of my issues with the Fabric Line, and it did so again here. Less weighting of the hands, elimination of genital numbness, and an overall better seating position.

And you know what? When properly set up, the Power does make for an easier time riding in aggressive positions. The shorter-by-3-cm nose supports your genitals and soft tissues properly, yet allows freedom of movement while avoiding unwanted groin squish, even when maintaining an aero tuck with your hands on the hoods or in the drops. With the Power, it’s amazing how little saddle you can actually get away with riding on a bike, and how that strategy is one way that does yield more comfort.

Since that initial ride on the trainer, I’ve ridden the Power on long rides with zero adjustment, and I gladly report happy nether regions, especially when riding on the saddle’s rear. It fares well on climbs, too, where the wider-than-usual saddle width options starting making more sense.

The involved setup does mean the Power is a “sweet-spot” saddle – even more so than Selle SMP’s. A rider will tend to pick his/her desired position along its length and ride planted in it for hours, but will have far fewer options in times where a change of position would be desired.

Underside of the Power Comp’s shell

One last observation is the couple of threaded holes on its rear underside. These are shared with a few other saddles and meant for use with Specialized’s SWAT (Storage, Water, Air and Tools) line of accessories, specifically the Road Bandit tool wrap for a spare inner tube, CO2 cartridge, and tire lever. While this is a clever idea, like Fizik and Prologo’s similar interpretations, this mounting point is also woefully underused. This would be a great spot to mount a rear light to. Some enterprising third-party fabricators with 3D printers have actually created their own rear light mounts leveraging the SWAT hardpoints.

 

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Extra comfort: How to double-wrap handlebar tape

Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of Fizik’s 3 mm bar tape. I get a lot of use out of the stuff; it’s not unusual to see a roll last eight months up to a year on Hyro’s handlebars.

When the time came to replace it, I didn’t realize until after wrapping the bars that I may have replaced it with the 2 mm variety.

Oops.

I don’t remember if this was a misprint on the box, or if the bike shop handed me the wrong thickness. Regardless, the bars felt pretty thin and harsh while riding, particularly while riding in the drops.

This felt like a good time to experiment with something I’ve wanted to try for a long time: double-wrapping my handlebars. This is a very common tactic used by pro cyclists when they race the Spring Classics events such as the Ronde van Vlandeeren and Paris-Roubaix. All of these races are infamous for the many sectors of Belgian cobblestones, called “pavé,” that the cyclists have to ride through…and you can imagine how uncomfortable that can be on a road bike.

Brothers Peter and Juraj Sagan on a reconnaissance ride over pavé for the 2017 Paris-Roubaix race. Photo courtesy VeloNews.

What works for Belgian cobbles could probably work for Manila’s streets, which aren’t much smoother anyway.

So how would you go about double-wrapping your bars?

First, remove the bar plug. Take a blade and score along the bar tape, and eventually it will have to be cut off the bar. About 5 cm of bare handlebar will need to be exposed.

This has to be done so that the second layer of bar tape can be anchored here with the bar plug; if not, it will be way too thick.

Do the same with the other end of the bar tape, at the stem area. I find that undoing the final turn of the wrap, cutting it short, and then retaping with electrical tape is enough.

Proceed to wrap the second layer of bar tape as normal. I used cork bar tape here, as this was an experiment on the cheap.

As the wrap job continues, it’s obvious that the second layer will go through more distance with each turn. To make sure I have enough tape to cover the entire handlebar, I decrease the overlap and keep the tape in tension. An advantage of using cork tape as the second layer is that it’s much stretchier than Fizik’s leather-like microtex material.

Great results, even with the figure-eight loop around the clamp band of the control levers.

Single wrap of Fizik 2 mm bar tape on the left; double-wrap on the right

Side by side, it’s easy to see just how chunky the handlebar gets when double-wrapped. Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t get in the way of braking or riding; it’s just really comfy. The added bulk does make itself felt if you ride in the drops, though. You may find that your fingers need to stretch a little more to get sufficient purchase on the brake levers, and the added reach may fatigue your hands.

It takes some more effort, but this might be a good way of getting a nice fat handlebar to grip on the cheap. You wouldn’t really need to remove or replace the underlying bar wrap unless you replaced the cable housings, so with smart choice in bar tape, and for riders with big enough hands, this might even be cost-effective too. Ultimately though, I’m going back to 3 mm tape.

A tale of two mudguards: Longboards vs Bluemels

Hyro, my TCX, is perhaps most famous on social media as one of the bikes that introduced full-length fenders into the consciousness of the Filipino riding public. Many of the questions I get revolve around the SKS P45 Longboards he runs and where I got them.

SKS P45 Longboards mounted on Hyro.

As great as they are, and as fantastic as their coverage is, they are not perfect. I’ve written about how their sheer size works against them and their plastic-with-aluminum construction in a number of ways. In my experience, they are very susceptible to skewing and twisting along their length, the stays combating the torsion by only a certain amount. Additionally, the vibrations from riding on our not-so-smooth roads have contributed to their cracking crosswise, which is why I’ve had two sets of these so far, and now run rubber washers on the mount points as a mitigating measure.

One of my custom mods was to add rubber washers on the central mount points of each fender, to dampen road vibrations and mitigate cracking. It’s helped.

Note that the fenders SKS makes as standard equipment on some Dahon and Tern bikes have the same construction; however, the much smaller 20″ (406 mm) wheel diameter they are made for means they can keep their shape and integrity better. I’ve never had issues with Bino’s fenders, much less needed to replace them.

Unfortunately, my second set of Longboards developed cracks earlier than before, the damage held at bay by duct tape. I was mulling over the cost of another set plus shipping fees…when I chanced across Bike-ary Bicycle Lifestyle on Facebook and their pre-order announcement of some SKS fenders, referred to by the article number “10434” and pegged at PhP2,000 a set. Bike-ary is a small-batch importer of more obscure bike accessories and other “contraband,” gaining popularity due to the growing bikepacking and bicycle touring movement.

As it turns out, “10434” is the article number for SKS’ 53 mm Bluemels fender set in matte finish – a full 8 mm wider than the 45 mm Longboards I run. I immediately had concerns about fitment on Hyro.

Above, without stays, are the Bluemels. Below, with stays, are the Longboards patched-up with some duct tape.

Front fenders. Bluemel on the left, Longboard on the right.

Fitment of the 45 mm Longboard front fender under the fork. Note that it skews to one side – I was never able to fix that.

Fitment of the 53 mm Bluemel front fender under the fork.

Fortunately for Hyro, his fork and frame fit the Bluemels snugly and nicely, which actually break 60 mm when measured across the top.

Test fit. Impressive that they keep their static shape even without the stays.

Examination of the Bluemels themselves reveals a much beefier construction. I actually tried bending these crosswise, thinking it might be needed to fit them into the TCX frame and fork. They feel solid and resistant to twisting in a way the Longboards could only dream of. The packaging seems to imply that this time around, SKS has used more aluminum – and slightly more weight.

This being my third SKS fender set on the same bike, I already knew the vagaries of installation and what to expect from the hardware…but met some pleasant surprises.

I hooked up the rear fender first. SKS replaced the metal sliding bridge with one made out of more snug-fitting plastic, very similar to Planet Bike’s design. The sliding bridge also has two small loops on the top that can be used to run zip-ties to, allowing bikes with no seat stay bridge to mount the rear fender directly to their seat stays. Up at the chain stay junction, I used zip ties to fasten the front edge of the rear fender as before.

SKS Secu-Clip for front fender.

SKS ASR-Plug for front fender.

Up front, SKS changed the previous Secu-Clip design with an ASR-Plug. Both devices are safety mechanisms, designed to release the front fender to prevent any large debris from getting stuck, locking up the front wheel and causing an accident. The Secu-Clip was a large plastic tab on the fork that served as a “clip” that the front fender stays plugged into. The ASR-Plug reverses this concept: what mounts onto the fork is the plug, and the stays themselves have the socket. The whole thing slims down in the process.

Bending of the stays and a 3 mm spacer needed to clear the TRP Spyre front disc brake caliper. If your bike has BB5s or BB7s, you will need to make more room.

The end caps are a new design, turning the nuts on the eye bolts into captive nuts. A bit more work on initial install, but better for security.

Install complete. The matte finish looks brilliant and there’s no visible gap between fenders and tires.

Full-length fenders can be tricky to deal with, but I was impressed with how smoothly the install went with the Bluemels. They have the same marvelously large rubber mudflaps the Longboards came with. One difference is the shorter forward projection and 20 cm shorter overall length on the front fender, perhaps indicating slightly less protection from a mouthful of dirty, muddy street water…but that’s still better than nothing.

Arguably, the best thing about this particular fender set is that it’s available locally without having to resort to the expense of private importing or a cargo forwarder. The Bluemels also come in other widths, all the way down to 25 mm, so if these 53 mm units are too much for your frame, you’ve still got options, although you may have to bring them in yourself.