Level that saddle, son!
By Gary Boulanger, US editor | Wednesday, October 8, 2008 1.58am
Lance Armstrong checks his saddle height on the way to Paris in July 2004. PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images
In April 1997, I was working as production coordinator at Waterford Precision Cycles in southeastern Wisconsin, a bicycle factory run by Richard Schwinn and Marc Muller. The two former Schwinn co-workers ran the Schwinn Paramount division before it became Waterford, and I was one of 18 or so employees merrily providing lugged, steel bicycles.
Part of my job was doing custom sizing on customers, both over the phone and in person in the factory's front office. We used a custom sizing machine that allowed us to adjust seat and head angles, top tube length and stem height and length. Once I took all the necessary measurements, I'd create a CAD-CAM drawing for the master framebuilders, including mitre lengths, fork rake, bottom bracket drop, chainstay length, etc., all based on which model the customer was ordering.
After sizing several hundred customers over the years, I decided it was time to design my own custom Waterford 1200, built with the then-new Reynolds 853 air-hardened steel tubing. We were among the first to build with the new metal, and certainly the first to silver braze it to proprietary investment-cast lugs. I also choose a straight-blade steel fork, Colnago style, to go with the Campagnolo Record gruppo.
My saddle choice was the Selle San Marco Concor Light, later used by Lance Armstrong for all of his Tour de France victories. That was my first, and biggest, mistake.
The pride and joy of designing a custom bike, then meticulously dialing in the final build, is a thrill only a true bike geek can describe. My yellow and red creation begged to be ridden over the hills and dales of Racine County, and after three hours of pedaling bliss, I found myself with a little problem: later that night, my scrotum had ballooned into a grapefruit-sized mass between my legs. This was six months after Armstrong found out he had testicular cancer, so you can only imagine what was racing through my mind.
A quick trip to the local country doctor had me standing with my skivvies and pants around my ankles. My cowboy-hat-and-boot-wearing doctor started asking questions and probing around down there.
"Yes, I've had surgery to drop a testicle when I was five," I answered looking around the room at photos of bass and wildlife. "Yes, I had a vasectomy just two years a...."
Minutes later, after passing out, I awoke to find the doctor helping me regain my pride and pull my pants up to my hips where they rightfully belonged. Seems the good doctor was checking for some abnormalities, and pinched something that literally took the wind out of my sails.
"Anything else you could tell me?" he asked, scooching his cowboy hat back a tad with his right thumb. "Any changes in your exercise?"
"Well," I said, still a bit pale and clammy, "I did get a new bike recently."
"Does it fit you?" he asked.
"Of course! I designed it myself!" I answered, somewhat cavalierly, with a hint of embarrassment.
"Is the seat level, son?" the good doctor inquired.
After a long pause, I thanked him for his time and promptly went home to check my saddle. Those of you familiar with the art of assembling your own bike know what's coming next: a slight oversight, one that brought on physical and psychological ramifications.
My cherished Selle San Marco Concor Light saddle, which I received from a friend, looked level to the naked eye, but upon further review revealed that I had hastily tightened it to the seatpost with the nose slightly higher than the backside.
The moral of this story? Don't let the passion and excitement of a new bike cloud your judgement before taking that maiden voyage. You and your scrotum deserve better.
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