When the 1997 saddle debate was raging at its height, Minkow, and others, surmised that cycling was uncomfortable for some people because undercarriage blood flow was being impeded by unforgiving saddles. There was no test for such a hypothesis.
However, went the theory, scoop out some of the saddle and there would be less arterial compression. Saddles with holes was the result. This was not a new technique, saddles-with-cut-outs have existed from the end of the 19th century. But Minkow applied anatomic knowledge and used his ergonomic experience to fashion lumps and bumps on the holey saddles, and the Minkow Wedge was born.
Still, there was no test for whether these supposed ergonomic saddles were anything of the sort. Then came Dr. Sommer and his penis ring. Sommer, a urologist at Koln University in Germany, found a method of measuring undercarriage blood flow by attaching a plastic ring to a volunteer’s penis. The ring was wired up to an oxygen meter.
For the first time, the effects of cycling on poorly designed saddles was measureble in a lab. An early version of Dr Sommer’s penis ring work was carried on Fizik’s Saddle Report DVD but Specialized and Minkow commissioned Sommer to test more production saddles, including some attacked by Minkow’s scalpel. Using Sommer’s work, Minkow was able to pinpoint the undercarriage areas which would benefit the most from excision of material.
The 04 range of Specialized saddles, launched at Eurobike, was the result. In a press conference in Friedrichshafen, Minkow held up one of the new Body Geometry saddles to demonstrate how it’s critical to get the right shape of saddle cut-out and how the sides must be bevelled and not vertical.
With the new saddles, bum-area oxygen levels in the blood of bike-short wearing cyclists was high compared to the 82 percent loss of oxygen when the cyclists rode dome-shaped saddles.
Minkow played a video of volunteers hooked up to Sommer’s testing rig. Next to a shot of a male cyclist spinning there was a chart showing the loss of oxygenated blood to the bum over a 60-second period. ‘Ordinary’ saddles cut blood flow dramatically, with almost total cut off after just a minute. When interviewed, the cyclist experienced no pain or loss of sensation when the blood loss was occurring. This is how ‘charity cyclists’ can ride for hours in one position, they are so unused to cycling they assume the discomfort is normal and do not notice the arterial compression. Minkown believes it’s now-and-again cyclists who are at most risk of long-term damage. Everyday cyclists are generally better fitted to their bikes, and know to shift around when riding.
When Minkow tested early Body Geometry saddles using Sommer’s rig, blood flow was shown to be reduced by 40 percent, better than the ordinary saddles, but nowhere near as good as the modified Body Geometry saddles: these now lead to just a 3 percent decrease in blood flow.
"In 1997, the design of Body Geometry saddles was said to be a marketing ploy to sell saddles. We knew this wasn’t the case but couldn’t prove it," said Minkow.
"We used to think it took an hour for a cyclist to lose blood flow, we now know it takes about 60 seconds."
Minkow recognised there was much useful research on Fizik’s Saddle Report but is critical of the UK PR campaign that said all saddles with cut outs were "dangerous."
"All dangerous? That’s ridiculous," said Minkow.
"You can’t generalise about saddles with holes. Some are good, some are not so good. The Saddle Report tried to say all saddles with cut-outs were the same, that’s just not true. It’s not the cut outs that are a problem. When you test really soft saddles you find that blood flow goes almost to zero very quickly.
Minkow said he’s seen a Sommer test on a Selle Royal saddle that would make the company wince.
"We were testing the saddle and when the results came through, everybody in the room said ‘Holy Sh*t". There was 90 percent blood flow loss."
The Saddle Report DVD, said Minkow, used old data from Sommer’s studies and should have been updated before publication. He’s especially critical of the tiny Fizik credit on the DVD:
"The fact that it was a Selle Royal report was mentioned in only the tiniest of ways. This was misleading."
However, Selle Royal’s PR man Andrea Menghelli believes Minkow is being disengenous when using the Sommer test as a standard to which all saddles must pass.
"That’s only one test," he told BikeBiz.com at Eurobike.
"Pressure on the nerves is also an important factor, but that’s not measurable. You can’t design saddles merely by making sure they get good readings using Dr Sommer’s testing."
SOMMER’S REPORT WILL BE LOADED HERE SOON.