- sleek, racy design
- flat, relatively wide sitting area
- lab tests indicate less blood flow restriction
- some roadies love it
- only one comfortable place to sit
- you may tend to slide forward
- requires careful setup
- some roadies definitely don’t love it
Price: $70-$100 with titanium rails (tested); $55-$80 with steel rails and gel padding
Source: Performance website and retail stores
Weight: 190 grams; 247 grams for gel model
Features: titanium rails, vibration-damping rail attachments, leather cover, thin foam padding
How obtained: sample from company
RBR advertiser: no
Tested: 20 hours by three RBR staff members
In the last 10 years, male cyclists have become much more aware — maybe slightly paranoid — about bike seats. Of course, crotch pressure, chafing and saddle sores have been part of the sport since the bicycle was invented. But recent studies have indicated varying degrees of something worse — erectile problems among male riders.
It’s easy to understand possible reasons, and they aren’t solely a saddle’s fault.
- The average age of riders has increased. Road cycling has become a baby boomer activity. With advancing age comes a greater risk of erectile dysfunction even among men that don’t ride bikes.
- The general population, including cyclists, has gotten heavier. This means more weight on bike seats causing more pressure on soft tissue.
- Many road riders want to emulate racers. They adopt a riding position with a low handlebar relative to seat height. The forward lean causes more pressure from the saddle’s nose.
- Aero bars favored by long-distance enthusiasts and time trialists lock a rider into one sitting position for long periods, causing continuous pressure on nerves and blood vessels.
- Unlike old-fashion leather saddles that conform to the rider’s anatomy, many modern seats have only thin padding and a plastic base that doesn’t break in. Pressure points are never mitigated.
For all these reasons, saddle discomfort and loss of sexual performance are high on the list of rider concerns.
Fortunately, sports scientists have been researching saddle design. But in most cases, scientists do the studies and non-scientists design the saddles. This pattern was broken in the late 1990s when Specialized hired Roger Minkow, M.D., a medical designer, to create its Body Geometry line of saddles. The result was impressive, although the company’s stylists appear to have gained the upper hand in recent BG generations. In my experience, the saddles aren’t as comfortable as they once were.
That’s why we were excited about receiving an E3 Form saddle from Performance. It a sense, it’s taken anatomic saddle design back to basics. The E3 inventor is Joshua Cohen PT, MS, a roadie and physical therapist whose masters thesis at the University of North Carolina was titled, ???Effect of Bicycle Racing Saddle Design on Transcutaneous Penile Oxygen Pressure.??? Using a special cuff for the end of the penis, Cohen measured the amount of blood flow while subjects pedaled in the lab on different saddle designs. By using blood flow as a marker for a saddle’s ill effects, Cohen could see which saddle shapes and materials worked best.
The result is the E3 Form saddle, which Cohen offered as a concept in his RBR eBook, Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat, and eventually convinced Performance to manufacture. Viewed from the side, the E3 looks like a normal racing saddle. But from the top, the rear is slightly wider than you’llfind on most race-oriented saddles and it’s almost square. Then it makes a right-angle transition to a normal-shaped nose. The transition area slopes down slightly to reduce pressure on nerves and arteries.
The concept is quite simple: The wide rear of the saddle supports the sit bones while the abrupt transition to the nose eliminates the portion of the saddle found in Cohen’s study to diminish penile blood flow. Contrary to common misconception, the nerves and blood vessels in question do not lie in the center of the crotch but are along its sides. The E3 lessens contact there.
RBR received an E3 Form Ti saddle from the initial production. Ed Pavelka tried it first, then he shipped it to me. After riding it for about 15 hours, I sent it to Jim Langley.
Setup is important with the E3. Each of us did our best to install the saddle correctly. Even so, Ed and Jim were unable to find comfort on the E3. Ed, who has a leg-length inequality that is only partly correctable, experienced such discomfort in his right sit bone that he had to give up after two rides. Jim’s trial was just as short. He says the E3 forced him forward no matter how he positioned it. The result was an improper relationship to the pedals that caused knee pain.
I had somewhat better luck. In order to get my forward knee over the pedal axle when the crankarms were horizontal, I had to slide the E3 to the rear. In fact, I needed to install a seatpost with substantial setback and jam the saddle all the way back to duplicate my normal position. The nose of the E3 ended up a bit over 2 cm farther behind the bottom bracket than my everyday saddle (a Fizik Arione). I asked Cohen about this and he was mystified, saying that most riders need to shove the saddle forward to get the proper position.
Because of the square shape and sudden transition to the nose, there’s only one practical place to sit on the E3. it’s not comfortable to slide forward for short, hard climbs or slide back when powering a big gear on the flat. Also, I found that I gradually slid toward the nose even with the saddle top level. Once I got accustomed to the restricted sitting area the E3 became more comfortable, although longer rides were tough because I was limited to that one location. And the frequent need to push myself back on the saddle became tiresome.
I normally don’t experience crotch numbness so I can’t judge whether the E3 is really a remedy for this problem. However, it didn’t create new pressure and the seating area was comfortable, at least on rides up to an hour. After that, inability to move on the seat created too much pressure on my sit bones.
Possible Aero-Bar Advantage
Interestingly, I found the saddle more comfortable as I got lower and more aerodynamic. This agrees with a claim made by Cohen — that the E3 works particularly well in the racing position. I suspect that users of aero bars might be well suited to the E3 because they’re stuck in one position anyway. Aero bars would also negate the tendency to slide forward because it would be stopped by having forearms supported on the arm rests.
So my experience with the E3 was mixed, and Ed and Jim couldn’t stand it for more than two rides. Why, then, are we giving it a 3-star (“good”) rating? Because Cohen has forwarded some glowing testimonials from E3 users and more can be found on his website. it’s a racy and sleek saddle that doesn’t look out of place on a high-zoot road bike, and some riders obviously find it both comfortable and effective even though it didn’t work particularly well for us.
As we’ve said many times at RBR, no saddle design works for everyone. You’ll have to try the E3 to see if it suits you. And given the saddle’s potential positives, it’s certainly worth a try if you are still in the hunt for comfort and concerned about the possibility of your current seat contributing to erectile difficulties.
Actually, there is little risk in buying an E3. Performance’s policy is to grant a refund or credit for the return of any product at any time for any reason. If you buy an E3 and don’t like it, it will cost you only time and shipping charges. At this writing, sale prices are in effect.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.