07 October 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Fi'zi:k Antares saddle

Saddle choice is inherently personal. Without going into too much detail, I think that it's safe to say that there's lot of variations in riders' nether regions, their tolerance for discomfort, their shorts choices and their expectations of comfort from a saddle. These factors can combine to mean that quite similar looking riders can have altogether different saddle preferences, as I've learned from taking others' saddle recommendations. At the end of the day, only you will know what saddle works for you- and the best way to find out is to try as many as it takes to find the one.

To this end, Fi'zi:k have joined WTB in offering shops discounted test ride saddle packages for their customers to try. While they make a number of more freeride-oriented saddles, the company offers three basic saddles oriented at the road and cross-country mountain biker. The very long and flat Arione has been a favorite for several years among more experienced road riders and the slightly hammocked Aliante (in the more generously Gamma version) is a favorite of mine in off road (I own three). The Antares joined the line last year with a shape that seems to split the difference between the two. Their ad campaign suggests that the Arione is best for riders with flexible spines, the Aliante for relatively inflexible riders and the Antares for moderately-flexible riders. When a Test Ride program Antares showed up at my local shop, after a summer filled with travel-necessitated yoga, I thought I might just be flexible enough to graduate from my old favorite.

When viewed from above, the Antares exhibits a slightly toned-down version of Arione's somewhat pointy tail and a broad nose that is 5mm wider than either of its stable mates. In profile, it's nearly flat, with a very slight rise at the rear and virtually no structure below. This lack of structure combines with the fairly tall rails to allow the shell of the saddle to flex considerably under a rider's weight. It also can't help but contribute to the saddle's impressive 185g (actual) weight with K:ium (silicium and chrome-alloyed steel, which is 8% lighter than titanium) rails.

When riding, the lack of a pre-defined seating location allows me to use all of the Antares' considerable surface area, and I find myself moving around on it quite a bit. I found this particularly comfortable on the mountain bike, where the terrain encourages movement. Changing up my contact points helps to spread the pressure out over the course of any given ride and keep me surprisingly (given the appearance and weight of the saddle) comfortable. Comfortable, that is, with the right shorts. More than any other saddle I've ridden, the Antares seems to work only with shorts it likes- and not at all with others. When paired with Castelli's relatively dense and unobtrusive AC pad (in their Free and Endurance shorts), the Antares is one of the most comfortable saddles I've ridden. With softer pads (like Descente's Aero-X) or thicker pads (Canari's King)? Let's just say that I rarely add any bonus miles to the end of my rides. Though other riders I know and trust have complained about the wings bothering their inner thighs, I didn't have any problems in that area (possibly from riding further forward on the saddle).

While Fi'zi:k don't recommend using the Antares as a mountain saddle, they also don't recommend against it. In the month I've been riding this one I've noticed some wear around the nose that worries me a bit. It probably comes from hanging the bike by the saddle once or twice- probably not something Fi'zi:k recommend, but common practice nonetheless. It could also be that the Test Ride orange finish isn't as durable as the finish that would come on saddles sold aftermarket. It's not a deal-breaker, but the Antares is clearly not designed for rough and tumble riding- or less careful riders. While it seems to be fairly common for saddles to run upwards of $100, the saddle's $200 price is enough to give most riders pause.

Still, I've come away impressed with the Antares- so much so that I've been trying to justify the price to myself. For racers building the sort of lightweight XC rig that gets ridden hard for 2-3 hours at a time, the Antares could well be ideal. Roadies with more than a few miles under their behinds but who aren't inclined to go much further than 50 or 75 miles at once could also be well served. Because I try so many different shorts, my pad collection is probably more diverse than most riders'- and will likely rule the Antares out for me. Ultimately? Bug your shop to pick up a Test Ride saddle assortment (available from QBP) and spend a week or two on an Antares (or one of the company's other saddles). Make sure you ride it with all of your favorite shorts. Then decide for yourself.



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