Back in June I contacted Cobb Cycling to let them know how impressed I was with their saddles and to ask a few questions. Up to that point, I only owned one, which was on my road triathlon bike. It was amazingly comfortable, even with 4+ hour rides and I wanted the same comfort on my mountain bike, knowing that later in the year I would be doing some long-distance events. I hopped up to their website and perused the mountain bike saddles, but I had difficulty deciding on which one to buy, thus the reason for my email to them. I informed them of my upcoming events and asked which one they would recommend for me.
Within a day or so, they responded and recommended the Cobb Plus DRT saddle which was an off-road version of the same saddle that I had on my tri-bike. However, given that a lot of my XTERRAs were shorter races, they also recommended I should probably go with the SHC DRT saddle. So with a little hesitation, I pulled the trigger and ordered both. Since then, I’ve been riding the SHC DRT saddle for a while during both training rides and racing. I wanted to share my thoughts, but before I do, let me give you a little background about the folks over at Cobb.
Cobb Cycling was created by John Cobb, a person that has been around the block a few times when it comes to cycling since his initial involvement back in the early 70s. With his racing background, he was one of the first people to recognize the importance of aerodynamics and a proper bike fit for racing. Over the years, not only have professional cyclists and triathletes requested John’s assistance, but manufacturers continually consult him on improving their products. Not that being aerodynamic has a lot to do with mountain biking, John’s research, particularly the stuff he knows about bike fit and the physiology of a biker, brings benefits to roadies and mountain bikers alike. Also, as it pertains to the this review, his experience designing road saddles, the unique technology and methods of design, carries over into the mountain bike arena.
Let’s take a closer look at the Cobb SHC DRT saddle. Cobb took their popular SHC road bike saddle and made it into a mountain bike version. It has all of the same features, shape, design as the road bike version, but with some additional features and a few changes to make it great for mountain bikers. It weighs in at 205 grams which puts it right there with other racing saddles in its price class. There’s a 5 gram difference (up or down) with some of its competitors, but think about it, that’s only 0.011 pounds. If you’re really concerned about 5 grams, there’s plenty of other ways you can drop the weight. It has a relatively flat top, but one that flexes when you sit on it. A lot of other racing saddles are designed for a sleek, racing appearance where there’s almost no “side” to the saddle. When viewing from the side of those saddles, you can see right through them and can see almost the entire rail, right up to where it attaches the nose. Unlike those saddles, the SHC DRT has what Cobb calls “thigh guides” which is designed to eliminate an edge of the saddle to which can cause chaffing on your thighs. From the looks, the SHC DRT may inaccurately look like a heavy and uncomfortable saddle.
I pulled the WTB Silverado saddle off of my trusty steed to do some comparison before replacing it with the SHC DRT. I’ve been racing the WTB Silverado for a while and it had become my favored saddle. It has a nice balance between lightness and comfort. However, it still didn’t satisfy me 100%, thus my search for a new saddle in the first place. Pulling the SHC DRT saddle out of the box, one of the first things that is immediately apparent is the open space down the center-line of the saddle. Many saddles out there have a groove or channel of some sort to help alleviate pressure points in sensitive areas. The thought is simple: get you sitting on your “sit bones” (your pelvis) as opposed to on the soft tissue of your crotch. In both saddles below, you can see the approach each manufacturer took.
Another thing I noticed pretty quickly was that this saddle is definitely a lot harder than your average saddle. Many readers who want comfort would typically tune out at this point and my review fades off into wah wah wah (insert Charlie Brown’s school teacher impression here). Don’t fret and keep reading. I’ve been wrong before with initial impressions, so I just noted it and knew the first ride or two would be quite interesting. More to come later in the post.
Continuing with first impressions, at first glance, it looked as if the saddles were different in shape and size, so I laid one on top of the other (upside down) to compare the sizes. As you can see in the two pictures below they are fairly close. The picture on the left is the SHC DRT on top of the Silverado (as you can see the Silverado through the SHC DRT’s groove). The picture on the right is with them flip-flopped. In neither picture can you really see much of the other saddle proving that they are very similar to size and shape.
Another difference that I noticed with the SHC DRT over other saddles was the use of cloth on the back portion of the saddle. I’m not sure why they decided to go this route, but I do have a theory. Most saddles are made with some form of simulated leather fabric and this fabric must be stretched over the saddle frame. Anywhere it is stretched around a curve creates additional force on the fabric. Should the fabric get cut at this curve, it will surely rip open due to the additional force. On some saddles, in order to mitigate this problem, the manufacturer will put a seam along this area rather than stretching the fabric around the curve. You can see this on the Silverado in the picture above. This may not seem that important, but when mountain biking on technical trails, you are constantly moving around on the saddle in order to maintain balance and maneuverability. On technical descents, you have to slide your butt off the back of the saddle in order to move your center of balance where it’s needed, unless you’re actually wanting to take a trip over the handlebars. When moving off the back, the seam presents a couple of problems. First, it’s a friction point where spandex may get snagged. Secondly, it creates another wear and tear problem. Excess friction on the stitching may cause it to break and a premature death of the saddle. Lastly, with seams and stitching, weather can be a problem. My bike spends a lot of time out in the sun and occasionally in the rain and muck. The thread used in this stitching is also exposed to these elements which will take their toll.
On the SHC DRT saddle, the rear of the saddle is a durable Kevlar fabric that eliminates the problem with stretching leather or plastic composites over the frame. The seam is more forward on the saddle which prevents any issue with sliding off of the rear. Also, this seam is stitched inside out so the thread isn’t exposed to your shorts or the weather. Furthermore, the thread that Cobb uses is weather resistant and waterproof. My concern was getting snagged on the fabric with my triathlon suit (or bike shorts). Again, I noted my initial thoughts but left the final verdict for the trail.
My first ride on the saddle was a training ride of a little under two hours in length at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, SC. This trail provided a varied terrain and different surfaces (hard packed, sandy, etc). It also had quite a bit of roots, rocks, bridges and what-not. Riding the entire loop several times, I had plenty of time in the saddle, wearing a pair of XTERRA triathlon shorts. During the first mile or so, I thought that the saddle was quite uncomfortable. This was probably because I was used to a more cushy saddle and my posterior didn’t like the change. After getting warmed up, I turned my focus to my training plan and focused on it for the next 15-20 minutes. Sometime shortly after, I remembered that I was trying out a new saddle and realized that, for some reason, it didn’t seem uncomfortable any more. Could I have broken it in that fast? I continued the ride trying to be picky about every bump, terrain, my movement on and off of the saddle and the general feel. The more I tried to be picky, the more I liked the saddle because I kept coming up empty-handed. I finished the ride fairly impressed, but reserved judgment for after I had numerous rides, a few races and many, many more miles on it.
I continued to ride the saddle in training and in several XTERRA off-road triathlon races. I even switched back and forth with the WTB Silverado just to make further comparison. After riding for several rides and maybe even throwing in a race on the SHC DRT, I would put the Silverado back on and do the same. Every time I went back to the SHC DRT, I would go back to the initial thought that the saddle was too hard, only to be proven wrong once it was “warmed up”. I think this was primarily due to the contrast between the two saddles. However, with each ride, after about a half-hour or so of riding, it would become “compliant” as it warmed up and molded to my shape. From there on out, I would forget about the saddle, even on longer rides. The fact that I would forget about the saddle is a testament to the comfort and great design of the SHC DRT. With other saddles, discomfort and soreness would set in, especially on the longer rides, forcing me to become painfully aware of its presence. In my most recent race off-road race, which was an XTERRA Off-road triathlon in West Virginia (read my race report), the SHC DRT saddle was flawless and was comfortable the entire time I spent on the bike.
Since it is a harder saddle, in my opinion, this saddle is not for the occasional or recreational rider. Instead, it’s one for folks who like to ride fast, long and prefer a harder saddle that performs well. It’s also a saddle that racers will really like, especially XTERRA athletes. Unlike a lot of the rock-hard racing saddles out there, the SHC DRT saddle will provide you with a more comfortable racing-level saddle, that although may not be any different than it’s competitors in weight, is vastly different in design and performance. Also unlike most other racing saddles, the SHC DRT saddle is one that you can ride comfortably in both training rides AND racing. I know some racers that have two saddles: one that they only race on and another that they use in training. This saddle provides you with a single solution. I am very pleased with it personally and it is now my saddle of choice for XTERRA races and training.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll review the Cobb Plus DRT saddle.
Be a Warrior!