By Jim Langley
How obtained: review sample from company
Available: bicycles shops, online, company website
RBR Sponsor: no
Tested: 400 miles, 3 time trial races
Tech & Specs:
Weight: 319 grams
Top material: synthetic leather
Padding: foam and gel
Colors: Black, White
We don’t give very many products 5-star ratings. ISM’s Adamo Breakaway saddle earns our highest grade because its ingenious design -- a complete departure from conventional saddles -- can immediately cure the numbness, chafing, saddle sores and pain that plague lots of cyclists and even prevents some from riding. When a product can make the difference between complete comfort on the bike and agony, it deserves the highest marks.
This is what the Breakaway did for me: In September, racing in the 40K (25-mile) USA Masters National Time Trial on a Cervelo P2 aero bicycle on a Fizik Arione saddle, I went so numb that I couldn’t tell what part of the seat I was sitting on anymore. As the miles ticked by, the numbness became a pins and needles feeling and then turned into a miserable ache that worsened with every pedal stroke. It was all I could do to keep riding. Generating any real power was out of the question. I kept going because I had no other way to get back, but I couldn’t wait to get off the bike.
Not wanting to go through this again, I decided to try one of the somewhat new “nose-less” seats that so many triathletes and time trialists prefer (they are becoming more popular with roadies, too). I had actually tried a few over the years, even some early models in the 1980s, but had never suffered such awful saddle pain before, and didn’t feel the design offered any advantages for me.
But, switching to ISM’s Breakaway (recommended by my bike shop) so soon after Nationals, when I was still suffering from the nerve pain and chafing, was a miracle, because it provided immediate relief. Equally miraculous, I was able to ride the Breakaway as much as I wanted because it actually allowed the saddle sores and deadness to heal. Usually this requires stopping riding, or riding a lot less, so it was a great thing.
Before I get into how this game-changing saddle works, understand that, of all bicycle products, saddles are the most personal. Just because the Breakaway works wonders for me and merited a 5-star rating, that does NOT mean that it’s the right choice for you. You need to try seats on your bike, on several rides or more, to determine if they’re right for you. Most bicycle shops make this easy by allowing returns if the saddle isn’t a good fit for you.
ISM didn’t invent the nose-less saddle. Going back to some of the earliest saddle designs in the 1890s, you can see seats comprising twin halves and without protruding noses. Just like the Breakaway, the idea was to support the rider by the sit bones on either side of the pelvis.
You actually straddle conventional seats, sitting on the nose that’s between your thighs. And, if you’re prone to it, it’s the pressure of your body weight on the nose that causes pain and numbness, and worse things for some riders, like reduced blood flow and even impotence in an extreme situation.
ISM calls their saddles “nose-less,” and I get that they mean there’s no nose that goes between your legs. But “nose-less” doesn’t seem exactly accurate to me, because just looking at the Breakaway (and their other nose-less models), you’ll see that there are actually two noses on the seat.
These two noses work completely differently than the nose of a standard saddle. Each nose supports one side of your pelvis. And, rather than straddling the Breakaway, you sit on top of it.
This provides a unique feeling that takes some getting used to. On standard seats you can squeeze the saddle with your thighs to control the bike. You sink down over the seat and are firmly planted on it. On these nose-less seats, you remain above the saddle and aren’t gripping it with your legs.
While you may feel at first that you’ve lost a little control of your bicycle (be sure to ride it enough to ensure your bicycle handling is up to snuff), the design has at least three advantages:
1) By sitting on two noses, one for each sit bone, you have twice the support of a conventional saddle, which helps stop rocking side-to-side during pedaling (a power-reducing and potential injury-causer for many riders).
2) This double support, and also sitting on top of the saddle, not straddling it, means there’s no rubbing, which mitigates any chafing from your thighs against the sides of the saddle.
And, the best advantage:
3) There’s zero pressure on the nerves and soft tissues that cause the numbness, pain and worse in many riders.
Additionally, for riding in the aero position, where you lean far forward to reach the aero handlebars, the nose-less design allows rolling your hips forward, which provides more comfort, possibly more power, plus a more aerodynamic position.
Interestingly, ISM told me that more and more regular road riders, both pros and enthusiasts, are choosing their seats -- not just triathletes and time trialists. They said that they’ve proved popular with bicycle police as another example. And, as a result, ISM now offers 14 models designed for all types of riding, even touring and commuting.
The Breakaway is a durably constructed seat with a plastic base, a tough, water-resistant synthetic-leather top, titanium rails and a nice blend of foam and gel padding that’s just the right thickness in all areas of the saddle.
I mentioned in the HOT/NOT sections that there’s more adjustability and it can take some trial and error to get the ISM nose-less saddles positioned correctly. I’m going to let ISM’s Greg Kopecky explain, because he provides more interesting technical details and covers one of the key adjustment issues.
He says, “The key with our seats is the fact that they're missing the front 1-3 inches of nose compared to other seats. They also have a patented shape and design that allows sitting on your pubic rami bones, rather than soft tissue. Companies talk about sit bone width, but the fact is that when properly seated on a road bike, you do not sit on your sit bones. As you roll your hips forward, you either sit on soft tissue (with traditional seats), or your pubic rami bones (ISM) -- the center of your pelvis. You only sit on your sit bones with a very upright position -- a hybrid bike, desk chair, etc.
“The nose-less design also means that there should be 2-4 inches of seat showing behind your body with our seats. People ask us why we do not remove this 'extra' material, and the reason is simple: UCI regulations dictate a minimum saddle length. We've removed the nose, and had to essentially put extra material in the rear of the seat.
“The most common complaint with our seats is that they're ‘too wide.’ This is almost always due to improper setup. Some folks don't understand that they're nose-less seats, and put their ISM in the same spot as their old seat… which most definitely makes it feel way too wide and very uncomfortable. Following our instructions and moving the seat back almost always solves any issues.”
ISM has a nice video on fitting the Breakaway here: http://ismseat.com/how-to-fit-breakaway
Again, saddles are personal. What works miracles for me may not work for you. Still, from my impressive experience with the Breakaway saddle, and from the many other cyclists I’ve met who love theirs, I’m confident that there’s a very good chance this or another ISM saddle might be the ultimate saddle upgrade if you’re uncomfortable or in pain on a standard seat.