Price: $325 for full-carbon, custom-made saddle; $250 for custom saddle with carbon shell, solid stainless steel rails
Innovative Custom-Made Saddle Delivers on its Promise
Meld Saddles got my nod as Best of Show at last fall’s Interbike, the annual bicycle industry showcase for everything related to cycling. The company makes custom saddles in its California factory using U.S.-sourced materials, a novel process and plenty of computing power.
Meld is the brainchild of computer science Ph.D. Ethan Ee, a former Google employee who has worked at various startups as well. Meld offers direct-marketed custom saddles built to your specific physical “impression” and inputs you add on the company website to help determine the shape and final attributes of the saddle.
This new approach to saddles is indeed innovative. While other saddle companies do tests and take measurements of your sit-bone width, they use the info to determine which size of their otherwise off-the-rack saddle will best match your data.
Meld’s fully custom seats, and the “semi-custom” play, both will likely have roles in making the “try them till you find one that works” approach an outmoded methodology for riders.
Here’s How Meld’s Process Works:
- You sign up for an account at https://www.meld3d.com/
- Meld sends you an “impression kit” – a box inside a box containing a piece of dense foam on which you sit (wearing cycling shorts) to create an impression of your anatomy that contacts the saddle. The impression kit comes with easy-to-follow instructions and a return shipping bag. See the series of photos.
- You send back your impression.
- Meld scans and computer maps the impression in order to customize the saddle to your body. For example, the distance between the lowest points on each side of the impression equates to your sit bone width, which in part will help dictate the overall width of the saddle. And so on.
- Using the “Dashboard” in your account, you input such things as your weight and choose various parameters to meet your needs (shape and type of saddle – there are 6 different shapes; carbon fiber or stainless steel rails; short or tall rails; thickness of the saddle’s padding; graphics (you can get your team or other logo, national flag and/or name on the synthetic leather cover; the graphics are printed on a piece of material about 1-1/4 inches, or 31mm, wide that is affixed to the cover of the saddle. You have to look closely to see that the band is not part of the seat’s cover. See photo below.).
- Combined with the “suggestions” inherent in your mapped physical impression and inputs (for instance, a Clydesdale-weight rider would likely be directed toward the super-strong stainless steel rails, which are also preferred by MTB riders), a final saddle will be decided on and custom made using materials sourced from around the U.S.
- The actual fabrication takes a minimum of 1.5 weeks, though demand will dictate the final timetable for delivery.
The shell of all Meld seats is aerospace-grade carbon fiber, mated with either the carbon fiber or stainless steel rails, and synthetic leather cover. Depending on the model and the types of rails, etc., a Meld saddle can weigh anywhere from 126 – 260g.
Again, as each saddle is custom-made, a rider with narrow sit bones, for instance, choosing a smaller saddle shape, carbon rails and thinner padding would get a saddle that weighs less than the same saddle made for a larger rider – which would by definition be wider and contain more material.
The full carbon saddles cost $325, including shipping, and the stainless steel rails models run $250, including shipping. There’s also a model with a triathlon carbon shell, which adds $25 to the price.
Perhaps the coolest thing is that, if you’re not satisfied with the finished product, Ee says Meld will continue to work on additional iterations of the saddle for you. And if the product is still unsatisfactory, Meld will issue you a full refund.
How the Process Worked for Me
When the impression kit arrived and it was time to take a seat, as it were, I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation. But the accompanying instructions were fairly straightforward and reassuring. Sitting on a block of foam is not exactly rocket science! We’ve all been making butt prints our entire lives; we just never capture those prints (exceptions are made for the occasional holiday party copy machine capture, of course).
I sealed the boxes in the supplied poly shipping bag and dropped it off at my local UPS store.
Then I went back to my account dashboard on the Meld site and started making choices. Among them are:
- Saddle shape (there are six “outlines” to choose from, all but one of which are 280 mm long; the other is 300 mm long). I chose the “pagemill” shape. You can see all the outlines here: https://www.meld3d.com/outlines. All are reminiscent of saddle shapes you’ve probably seen before.
- Shell (in addition to the normal carbon fiber shell and the triathlon shell mentioned above, there’s one other choice, called “Alps,” for “long-distance road cycling.” The Alps shell, which does not cost any more than the regular shell, is a bit more flexible to allow for greater comfort over longer miles. I went with the Alps shell.
- Rails (tall or short, solid stainless steel or carbon braided). I chose tall carbon rails. The padding is EVA foam, and the cover is synthetic leather. You can see all the components here: https://www.meld3d.com/components.
- Channel, color, padding thickness, graphics, etc. You can see the full array of dashboard choices here: https://www.meld3d.com/dashboard. Among the most fortuitous I made was – for the first time in my riding career – choosing a saddle with a channel. More on that below. I also spec’ed the graphics for my saddle, attaching the RBR logo, and finalized the remaining choices.
A couple of weeks later, my saddle arrived. It looked great, and I was eager to get the testing process going.
How the Saddle Has Worked for Me on the Road
No matter how light (about 126 g), how cool (it’s admittedly a kick having your name, national flag and logo on your seat), or how fun it is to regale your riding buddies about your custom saddle, the butt-print-making process, et al – if the seat is uncomfortable or doesn’t work for you in some profound way, then none of that matters.
That was not the case for me. It delivered on its promise from the first ride on.
(This is where I feel compelled to run our usual saddle-review disclaimer: It wouldn’t be an appropriate saddle review if I didn’t acknowledge the one true thing about saddles: One size, or brand, or model, or shape – even if it’s custom-made – will not work for every rider. We all have different bodies, different physical attributes, ailments, etc. The ideal seat for one rider may be a literal pain in the butt for another.)
That said, after a bit of fore/aft adjustment over the first couple of rides to dial in the position, it seemed evident that my sit bones were contacting the saddle precisely where they were supposed to. In fact, it took me a few rides over a couple of weeks to “break myself” into the saddle based on that fact and the minimalist padding. (I suspect that on other saddles where your sit bones are not “aligned” well with the saddle’s geometry, there may be more padding between your sit bones and the saddle. That’s just a supposition.)
But the fact is, my anatomy felt like it was “in the right place on the saddle,” whether I was sitting up or, pelvis rolled forward, down in the drops. I won’t say it fits like a glove, but you get the idea.
And I was immediately impressed with what the channel has done for me.
On my old saddle, I would occasionally get some perineal chafing based on the shape of the saddle, which would press up into that soft tissue. The channel on the Meld has totally, 100%, eradicated that issue for me. I haven’t had a single instance of perineal discomfort during the almost six months I’ve been testing the saddle.
Long Test Period Offered a Variety of Rides, Conditions
That’s right, almost six months. I wanted to give the seat a long, fair shake. Doing so has allowed me to put it through the gamut of weather, riding conditions, training and ride types that make up my time in the saddle.
So, through the low-and-slow miles of winter, into the spring build phase of added miles, and added intensity, through high-mileage training for a 2-centuries-in-2-days ride in May, and lately in the wet- blanket searing heat and humidity of summer riding in Atlanta (oh, and a couple of nice rain rides in there, too), I’ve got a few thousand miles on the Meld.
It’s been as comfortable a saddle as any of its type that I’ve ridden over the years, at all distances and in all conditions. (As with any saddle, on long rides I need to get out of the saddle on occasion and “refresh” my legs and butt, stretch my back a bit, and get comfortable again. That’s about the body, not the saddle.)
And I now have the utmost confidence that I will never again have any perineal chafing as long as I stick with this saddle. In short, I’m sold on the slot.
The only shortcoming I’ve had with this seat is based on the shape of the nose. Because the saddle is fairly thin (top to bottom) at the nose, and fairly flat on both sides, I occasionally snag my shorts when rising back up from a standing position to sit down again. It’s an issue I’ve not had often on any other saddle. But through a bit of extra focus in re-seating, I’ve learned to avoid it. (You’ll note on the mock dashboard, https://www.meld3d.com/dashboard, that you’re given a choice of whether you want the nose tip curved down. Given the choice again, I might have chosen that option.)
Finally, a quick look around the Internet shows that there are a few models of big-name saddle makers that sell for far more than the $325 for the full-carbon, made to order custom seat you get from Meld.
If you’re looking for a new saddle or considering a switch from your current seat when the time comes, Meld is certainly worthy of your consideration. A custom saddle built to your specific physical “impression” and inputs makes for a one-of-a-kind bike seat – and some interesting stories to tell your riding buddies.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.