I'm in a room full of foam buttocks. Every second or so I hear the distinctive 'pffft' of air being emitted. I wouldn't be shocked were Bernard Bresslaw to suddenly pop his head between a set of the rubbery cheeks. (Well obviously I'd be very shocked, but you know what I mean...)
Of course, this isn't the set of a new Carry On...film, this is a test lab at the Pozzoleone, Italy, HQ of top saddle makers Fi'zi:k and if you've never given much thought to where you perch your butt when you ride then this place is a real eye-opener. Despite owning a room full of foam buttocks, Fi'zi:k takes saddles seriously.
And, of course, this room is all part of that. Every saddle, handmade by a small team of highly skilled men and women is tested in this room. Attached to the hydraulic machines are Ariones, Antares and Aliantes and they're being pounded. They're pushed onto the fake backsides at least 200,000 – and in the case of some new Antares 00 being tested during my visit, 1,000,000 – times to see how each perch stands up to wear and tear. In the same room the saddles are also put through impact tests and even stuck inside a salt chamber to guage how they react to extreme road conditions.
Attention to detail on the shop floor is impressive too. Every step of production is closely controlled – from the foam being attached to the hull to the laser etching of the logo on the saddle cover. For instance, the cover of a Fi'zi:k saddle isn't attached by a robot – glue is applied to the foam by a couple of men and women, it passes to a pair of ladies who stretch the material over the hull and they then hand it over to another lady who skillfully trims it to the high standards we've come to expect of top Italian saddles.
It doesn't finish there as another station sees the fitment of the rails – all of which are checked for strength before being attached – and the saddles are then checked and finished again by a team of women using dentists tools! For a man who'll happily park his backside anywhere (in cycling terms) visiting Fi'zi:k's factory was genuinely fascinating – next time I sit on a bike I will actually give some thought to where I'm placing my Lycra. And to the thought and hard work that's gone into my saddle.