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  1. #1
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    Possible to custom-make a bicycle saddle?

    I'm living in Vietnam, and I need a comfortable bike saddle like the oversized saddles made by Cloud 9 and other companies. They don't sell them here, and importing one has many difficulties due to very high shipping costs and import duties, difficulty of payment, and then, of course, if I don't like the saddle or it's defective, returning it will be too much expense to bother with.

    But they have native dudes here who build custom bikes. Obviously, their labor prices are much lower than what they would be in the US or Europe.

    I'm wondering if I could get one of these guys to make me a comfortable, wide bike seat by showing him pictures of some of the styles that are available in other countries and asking him to try to make something similar.

    Most likely, this will be something he has never done before. So the question of his capability arises. But also, how does one go about making a bike saddle? I'm sure these guys do not have injection molding facilities like real seat manufacturers.

    Can a seat be made in some other way? How would they do it? Make the frame of metal? Would this be durable enough?

    What do you think? Thanks for your opinions.

  2. #2
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    I don't think it's worth it. Not as long as saddles for 5 to $10 are available used.

  3. #3
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    First of all I'm rather sceptical to the idea that wider saddle would by definition be more comfortable. Sure, a saddle needs to be wide enough for your sit bones, but letting it swell to the proportions of scooter saddles and stationary bikes turns it into more of a seat than a saddle - which becomes literally a PITA when riding longer distances.
    Apart from that I'd be wary of building a saddle up from scratch, and I have a high degree of faith in my own fabrication ability.
    Saddles are heavily loaded, and if they fail catastrophically you can get some really nasty injuries.
    What would be fairly easily doable, and with little risk is to upholster an existing saddle. Get one with the widest pan available, then "simply" add more padding.
    Some spray glue, pieces of a closed cell camping mattress/seat pad or high density upholstery foam and you're all set to get creative. A sharp knife, belt/rotary disc sander can be useful for the final shaping. Stretching a new skin over the thicker padding isn't exactly brain surgery either.

  4. #4
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  5. #5
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    I already tried to modify an existing large seat that I found second hand. I designed the modifications myself and had a local motorbike seat upholsterer do the work (they botched the skin and it needs to be redone). Pictures of the seat are below.

    It works like a dream for 30 minutes or so, but then I settle into the foam and can feel the nose pressing into my perineum. I had extra layers of foam put into the back part of the seat in order to elevate me above the nose, and I certainly feel the nose less, but I still feel it.

    The problem is that this frame's nose arches upward rather severely.

    Let me ask you another question. Is it possible to successfully cut the nose of this frame at an angle so that it still exists but doesn't arch up? How would that be accomplished? A saw? A sander?

    I removed all padding from the nose already to reduce its height, but more needs to be done.

    Complications: the nose would have to be cut without affecting the bolt that attaches the frame to the rails. This attaches under the nose.
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  6. #6
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    Try tweaking the angle of the saddle a bit if it's the nose that's bothering you. Apart from that I don't think all that cushioning is doing you any good.
    As you have discovered, as your sit bones sink into the foam other parts of your anatomy not designed to carry any load begins to feel the pressure instead.
    A saddle is like an old-style leather boot, if it fits it doesn't have to be soft to be comfortable.
    And just as with certain shoes/boots there's a period of adjustment as your body gets accustomed to "new" parts becoming load bearing.
    What's the underlying structure made of in that saddle? A plastic pan? Wires, springs between metal anchors? Either way I'd be wary of cutting into it.
    If the saddle is too concave(and has a "solid" pan) you can flatten it out by adding a basically non-compressible material in the depression. A few layers of solid, thick shoe leather, nicely scarfed in, should flatten it out nicely.
    If the saddle has a hammock-like design with springs stretched between metal anchor posts building up the depression will only take you that far. If that's the case you have to stiffen the springs in order to improve things.You can always try getting some strong synthetic string and running it tight parallell with the springs.

  7. #7
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    Dabac,

    I could tweak the angle but then I might slide forward and put too much pressure on my arms.

    I'm not sure what a "pan" is, but if you mean the solid frame, it seems to be one-piece molded plastic like most frames I've seen.

    The frame is not concave. The problem is strictly that the nose points up too much. But I think your suggestion of using a non-compressible material as padding is great. If I remove the bottom layer of foam and replace it with leather, then top that with foam, I can achieve the same height but it won't compress as much, so my perineum should remain above the nose.

    Another thing occurred to me. Rather than try to cut the nose, i could tilt the saddle forward so the nose is more parallel to the ground instead of arching up. Then I could cut the FOAM at an angle to make the seating area parallel to the nose at this new downward pointing position. So I would have the nose-reducing benefit of tilting the saddle forward without the problem of putting more pressure on my arms. (though the seat won't feel as cushy toward the rear with only a thin foam layer there)

    With this method, I also might be able to reduce the height a bit so the saddle doesn't look so dorky. It had to be made high to elevate me above the upward arching nose.

    Does that sound like a good idea?
    Last edited by gumbyy; 10-23-09 at 11:43 PM.

  8. #8
    Gluteus Enormus mmmdonuts's Avatar
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    That looks like way too much padding and it's built like a slide. I think you should start with something like the Specialized Ass-o-meter. Place something thin and compressible on a hard bench. Memory foam, florist foam, clay, whatever. Sit on the bench with all your weight in the same general position you would on your bike. It should leave two depressions in the foam. Those are the points you want to support. Too much padding around and between those two points will cause the problems you seem to be having. Split saddles work by removing the padding under the perineum and still support the sit bones. The final product should be more or less flat and level with the ground when mounted.
    Everybody's got plans... until they get hit.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    I'm not sure what a "pan" is, but if you mean the solid frame, it seems to be one-piece molded plastic like most frames I've seen.
    Yep, that's what I meant. That's a decent base to experiment from. Add some (for the pressures involved) non compressible material (I'd go with leather, can be shaped when wet and glued with contact cement while wet, can be shaped/scarfed with a belt or a rotary sander.) and widen or plane out as you see fit.


    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    I could tweak the angle but then I might slide forward and put too much pressure on my arms.

    ... Rather than try to cut the nose, i could tilt the saddle forward so the nose is more parallel to the ground instead of arching up.
    Well, that's what I meant with tweaking the angle. The reference position for a saddle should be pretty much horizontal anyway.


    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    .... upward arching nose.
    How can you have an upward arching nose if the pan is flat? Sounds like you're starting off from a rather poor setup.

    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    ... my perineum should remain above the nose.
    How does the frame fit you for size? Maybe you're on a bike that's simply too big for you? If the distance between bar/saddle is too long people tend to slide forward on the saddles to compensate.

    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    ... If I remove the bottom layer of foam ... I can achieve the same height but it won't compress as much, so my perineum should remain above the nose.
    Again, be wary of too cushy saddles. If your saddle is about right, your sitbones will be up to the task of carrying your weight. They'll need to get accustomed to the load, and a little bit of give in that area will help. But too deep padding will simply let your sitbones sink through until other parts gets squished up. Saddles are only comfortable in comparison, with pretty much any other reference what you aim for in a bicycle saddle would at most be to be "tolerable" rather than "comfortable".

    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    Does that sound like a good idea?
    Cutting out some foam, reshaping with non-compressible materials and setting the saddle up fairly horizontal certainly sounds like a good start!

  10. #10
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    Dabac, thanks for the response and sorry for my delayed reply.

    How can the saddle have an upward arching nose if the pan is flat? Because that's how this saddle is made. Note the picture. It's a poorly designed second-hand saddle from the days when nobody addressed the bad effects the nose had on the perineum. I bought it strictly because it was the only wide saddle i could find where I live.

    I like the idea of putting several layers of leather in there so it won't compress as much. But if I can't find leather here that's big enough to be cut to fit this saddle, is there another material I might use? I also don't know how much the leather would cost. Also I'm not going to do this myself, but pay a seat upholsterer to do it. If it becomes too expensive, I may as well just mail order a properly designed saddle and pay the shipping and customs charges.

    Several layers of leather, topped by a single layer of foam, would undoubtedly keep my perineum from pressing into the nose.

    But another question: re my idea about sculpting the foam at an angle so as to reorient the seat to be parallel with a nose that is reoriented downward from it's manufactured position, so as to make the whole seat and nose parallel to the ground: If I did this, would I be pressing the foam more in a forward direction, instead of downward, every time I sat on the seat? And would that be a problem? Can you visualize what I'm talking about?

    Thanks again for your help.

  11. #11
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    Sorry. Is this whole thread a joke? Look at the pictures.

  12. #12
    Gluteus Enormus mmmdonuts's Avatar
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    gumbyy, if the nose of the saddle is putting pressure on your perineum you are sitting too far forward on the saddle. More padding is only going to push you further forward. Sit on the rear, flat part of the saddle. Don't straddle the nose. Look for pictures of Brooks saddles. They should be the starting point for what I think you want to accomplish.
    Everybody's got plans... until they get hit.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    ...How can the saddle have an upward arching nose if the pan is flat? Because that's how this saddle is made.
    OK, so those baboon butt-like swellings are all in the foam?

    In that case you should still be able to use that pan as a base for experimentation. Take it down to bare plastic and start from there.

    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    I like the idea of putting several layers of leather in there so it won't compress as much. But if I can't find leather here that's big enough to be cut to fit this saddle, is there another material I might use?
    It's helpful if you have one solid piece (of leather) when you do the final covering, but for the tweaks and build up you have several options. For instance; if you want to widen the pan you can glue patches of leather to the "flanks" of the pan only(use contact cement). Grind/shave the edges until you get smooth transitions, then add a thin layer (5-8 mm) of medium density foam over the whole saddle, then have the upholstery guy cover it all with leather.
    If you can't get thick leather several layers of thin leather will work as well, you'll just have to repeat the glueing process a few more times. Getting hold of a discarded leather jacket/couch chair should be doable just about anywhere.
    Rubber will work as well, and might even grind better than leather. You might have some difficult in sourcing it though. Solid neoprene is nice and malleable if you can get it.
    As a source for the layer just beneath the upholstery layer I'd suggest a traditional, high quality camping mattress like the old yellow Karrimat. If you're real lucky you might just find some mousemats that can be used for material.
    If you can't stretch one piece to fit, just think where the pressure points will be and place the cuts elsewhere. Along the centerline would probably work fine. The tip is always awkward, but that's mostly aestethic. You don't really contact that area during riding.

    Quote Originally Posted by gumbyy View Post
    But another question: re my idea about sculpting the foam at an angle so as to reorient the seat to be parallel with a nose that is reoriented downward from it's manufactured position, so as to make the whole seat and nose parallel to the ground: If I did this, would I be pressing the foam more in a forward direction, instead of downward, every time I sat on the seat? And would that be a problem?
    The thing is that your saddle is so far removed from traditional builds that I have no idea about what you're likely to encounter inside. Foams are available in several densities, and for upholstery you usually find a core/bottom layer of mid/high density foam. You need some of that to keep from bottoming out against the plastic, and for the durability of the saddle. But a manufacturer weird enough to come up with your design might lave gone for a thick chunk of low density foam directly on the pan instead - in which case sculpting the existent material is unlikely to lead anywhere good.

    So:
    1) when we are talking about things meant to sit on, bike saddles are only comfortable in comparison to other bike saddles. In comparison to every other universally accepted seating contraption, chairs, stools, sofas etc a bike saddle will always end up a poor second. As far as I'm concerned "least amount of discomfort" is what I look for rather than actual comfort.
    2) Get rid of that baboon butt shaped thing. Start with a flat pan, with a fairly thin and fairly firm layer of padding. Modest thickened areas where your sit bones will contact may be allowed.
    3) install the saddle pretty much horizontally, and have a think about how you're sitting. If you feel that you're drifting forward, try replacing the stem to get the handlebars closer. Also look at where your saddle is WRT the pedals. If the saddle is pushed forwards WRT the seat post you might want to hunch it backwards. Then re-check against handlebar reach and height.
    4) a saddle is like a pair of sturdy shoes, there's a period of mutual adjustment. Give it some time, with regular rides to see if you like it.

    Good luck!

  14. #14
    Senior Member cman's Avatar
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    Standard reading on saddles. http://sheldonbrown.com/saddles.html

  15. #15
    Senior Member hotbike's Avatar
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    You can make anything you want with fiberglass. My Daughter designed this, and she has horses, so naturally she designs the bike so it can be riden side-saddle.
    Last edited by hotbike; 10-18-11 at 02:48 PM.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/11629987@N02/sets/72157639939606343/

  16. #16
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    I altered a very cheap and nasty plastic saddle by gluing some patches of rubbery material where my "sit-bones" rested, leaving a gap between, (inspired by the Terry design). The rubbery material was a special elastomer used in running insoles, a pair I had kicking around.
    It worked quite well

  17. #17
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Maybe a shoemaker can make you a saddle.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

    Tom Reingold
    West Village, New York City and High Falls, NY
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  18. #18
    Senior Member vredstein's Avatar
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    Selle Beluga

    Unfortunately, the name "Super Transporter" has already been taken.
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    "See, it's not that getting wet is a big deal. Really, it's what you're getting wet with.
    Fenders....because it's probably urine."
    Bike Snob NYC

  19. #19
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    That looks like a beluga whale.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

    Tom Reingold
    West Village, New York City and High Falls, NY
    noglider's ride blog

  20. #20
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    good info here guys !
    Last edited by cj06; 10-18-11 at 10:58 AM.

  21. #21
    Can'tre Member 3alarmer's Avatar
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    There's a leather guy here in Sacramento (he's originally from
    mexico) who does a credible job of replacing the leather on
    brooks saddles for less than the cost of new.

    You need access to decent hides and someone who knows what
    they are doing.....as well as the metal frame and other pieces
    that serve as stretchers(i.e. an old saddle).
    Quote Originally Posted by Cheshire Cat
    Only a few find the way, some don't recognize it when they do - some... don't ever want to.

  22. #22
    Senior Member CaptCarrot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cman View Post
    Standard reading on saddles. http://sheldonbrown.com/saddles.html
    + 1,000,000,000

    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    Maybe a shoemaker can make you a saddle.
    + 1,000

    A good leather saddle (sprung or not) it a lot of cases will be better than most off the shelf saddles, especially (and no offense is meant here) in a country where only the cheap stuff is likely to be readily available. I should imagine a very good leather worker would be your best option bar none.
    Not as green as I might be cabbage looking!

  23. #23
    Senior Member hotbike's Avatar
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    Another Fiberglass Seat . I made this one for myself. It's like a "Banana Seat" , but I made it wider, just wide enough for my sit-bones, at it's widest point. Also, the use of fiberglass made it possible to put this Seat on a BMX frame, WITHOUT a Sissy Bar.

    Also, It's so strong that I was able to mount a rear rack, by drilling and bolting two steel bars to the Fiberglass.

  24. #24
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Companies like SJS in UK ship stuff all over the planet, you can get a nice saddle from them,
    and have it in the post.
    or closer a shop in Australia , or Japan will be happy to send you stuff..
    just have to use the charge card, that gets the currency exchange sorted out.

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