Fizik Antares K:ium Saddle
Whenever a new saddle shows up, we're faced with trying to quell both our excitement and our dread. Excitement is the promise of the new, that newer is better -- and that would be defined as both more comfortable and lighter, and possibly could make us faster. Dread is that the adaptation period won't be easy and the possibility that saddle will never feel comfortable, and make us slower.
So it was when we pulled the Fi’zi:k Antares K:ium out of the box. We liked the basic appearance, we liked the weight (advertised at 175g; ours weighed in at 184g). We weren't so sure about the flat shape, the wide nose, and the dramatic flare at the back. The padding looked and felt minimal, but with the right flex, the padding wouldn't be an issue.
Over the years, we've developed our pedaling style so that we rarely move around the saddle to find more power. We don't pull ourselves to the tip of the nose when hammering on the flats or push ourselves back to the tail of the saddle when grinding up a mountain. Don't know if it's a chicken or egg thing, or if there's some other dimension that our body is responding to. Regardless, a position that's been honed over countless millions of pedal strokes and refined daily can be hard to alter.
Fi’zi:k put themselves in a bind. They have a number of popular saddles, but as time marches on, they, like many manufacturers seem to want something new. Maybe it's a search for perfection, maybe merely about profits. They first developed a following with the Aliante, Nisene, Vitesse, and a number of other saddles. They then had a huge hit with the Arione. Topping the Arione is a challenge. That saddle, with its unique shape, was popular pretty much from the moment it debuted. Fi’zi:k is giving the world a full-on hard sell for this Antares. Go to their website, and you'll see the saddle is on the home page, part of "The Third Dimension."
The third dimension refers to the fact that this is their third "A" saddle, after the Aliante and the Arione. They say the saddle is between the two, though we're still not totally sure what that means. The Antares is flat like the Arione, but it is 10mm wider at the widest than the Arione, at 142mm, which is the width of the Aliante. The nose is 45mm wide at the start and gradually goes to 50mm wide before flaring out to 142mm in the back. The total length is 274mm.
Pro riders are the big marketers of saddles. Fi’zi:k has done well not only because they get their teams to have "Fi’zi:k" in large type across the butt panel of pro team kits, or because their saddles have a distinctive shape, but the saddle was a success from the start. The Arione did well because Gilberto Simoni, among others, embraced it from the moment the saddle debuted. The Antares appears to have some trouble in that front. Fi’zi:k has lined up an impressive roster of pro teams, including Cervélo Test Team, Columbia-High Road, Garm*n-Slipstream, and Liquigas. Even with this highly-promoted new saddle, it appears that their pro riders have been largely sticking with the proven Aliante and Arione. Some pro riders have even embraced mountain bike saddles, and discontinued models, like the Nisene and the Vitesse. The difficulty is getting riders to willingly move away from what has been demonstrated to work for them.
Impressively, Fi’zi:k admits to the difficulty of getting pro riders to adapt to new saddles. On their page describing how David Zabriskie of the Garm*n-Slipstream team came to sit on an Antares they relate the following story. "Infinite choice (in 2008) meant that many of the guys ended up using an old mtb model on recommendation from Danny Pate who’d been riding the same saddle on his road bike for the better part of eight years. That model’s days in the line-up however, were numbered, and in 2009, nine guys that’d been using that model were told they’d have to choose something new."
Selle Italia and Selle San Marco have been to that crossroads already. Selle Italia still has older designs in their lineup, recently they've come to simply stretch on distinctive leather to mark their property. Selle San Marco, after years of allowing their pros use older designs with fresh leather, has returned to selling the older designs alongside the new.
Fi’zi:k may be playing tough with their riders, but they do have a few notable early adopters. This group includes: Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso, Servais Knaven, David Zabriskie, Dan Martin, Michael Rogers, and Kim Kirchen. Quite the successful lineup. They don't seem to have depth on any of those teams.
According to Fi’zi:k's own promotional materials, Sastre likes it because he's adaptable. Zabriskie likes it because he had a summer to get used to it, thanks to a serious crash. He finds the nose comfortable; since that's where he spends his time when hammering, comfort there is important. Fi’zi:k believes the Antares should be comfortable. They claim the saddle has 300% more nose padding and up to 15% more surface area than the saddle's competitors. Which saddles these stats refer to, they won't say.
No matter what, we were going to ride it. First thing was to resolve to mount it the first day of a rest week, so we'd have plenty of time to futz with it and not feel rushed to get the position right. We started by finding a second seatpost to mount the saddle on, measured our position with our old Flite, pulled out the post, and installed the new saddle. Getting the position dialed was hard, as the flared section at the back of the saddle is markedly different, and the distance from the flare to the tail is longer as well. Further compounding comparative measures is the fact that the Flite has significant sag, while the Fi’zi:k has minimal. And we didn't know how much the saddle would sag once we sat on it. We might have to switch to dynamic measuring in the future; measuring our body once on the bike rather than measuring the saddle position with the bottom bracket as a reference.
The first ride was no fun. We could really feel the edge of the saddle on the inside of our thighs as we moved through the pedal stroke. It gave an odd on-and-off sensation overall. That is, we felt nothing of the saddle side until we were going through the bottom of the stroke when suddenly, we could feel the flare pushing against our hamstrings. The flare in the back felt like a hump. Something had to change.
After a few rides, we found it best to drop the saddle 5mm compared to the Flite to balance the sag part of the equation. And we pushed the tail of the saddle almost 2cm behind where we typically have it to balance out the flare and the longer tail distance. The saddle was getting better.
We saw one other person riding the Antares, we asked him what he thought. He said he had to tip the nose of the saddle up from his previous position, but once he did that, it was very comfy.
Then we did our first race on it, and while we were riding a breakaway, we could feel ourselves slipping forward and pushing ourselves back. This led us to go back and tip the nose of the saddle up a bit, probably a few mm up from our previous nose position.
Better still. As rides went on, we didn't notice the sides or the flare, though we were still sliding forward and back more than we were used to. The Antares was feeling more and more natural to us as the miles ticked away.
After over 700 miles on the saddle, we never quite got to the feeling that our body was meeting the saddle perfectly. We're not sure if it was the flat shape, though the shape did start to look a little saggier by the end of our test period, or if it was the cut-away sides, though we stopped noticing them after a week. The broad nose, while it did feel hard, was plenty comfortable; perhaps the width was better at dispersing pressure. Maybe it was that we needed to drop the saddle another mm or two. We think we should be adaptable to most saddles; that we couldn't feel at home on the Fi’zi:k Antares bears some more investigation for us.