How 3D-printing could make one our favourite saddles even better

Specialized launches new Power model with 'Mirror' matrix technology

The new Specialized S-Works Power Mirror saddle

Specialized’s new 3D printed S-Works Power with Mirror saddle, with its honeycomb-like additive-printed matrix padding system, claims to create a new standard in saddle comfort by allowing the brand to fine-tune the build of the saddle “infinitely”.

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Part of the S-Works range, the Power with Mirror has so far received plenty of testing under riders from Deceuninck–Quick-Step, Bora–Hansgrohe and Specialized’s World Cup mountain bike team, and the carbon railed, SWAT-compatible saddle is now available to buy for £350.

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirro saddle
Specialized’s latest development on the Power range now comes with a 3D printed upper.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

3D printed polymers

Fizik’s Adaptive saddle was the first time we saw 3D printing used to create a latticework of elastic polymers as an alternative to traditional foam padding – we have one in for testing, so should bring you some impressions soon – and Specialized first mooted the Power with Mirror saddle around the same time, showing prototypes of the Power-based saddle at the end of 2019.

Specialized says the extra manufacturing time involved in 3D printing over traditional foam means this new saddle will carry a very high price, with a UK RRP of £350 for the S-Works Power with Mirror – not far behind Fizik’s Adaptive at £369.99.

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror saddle
Both Fizik’s Adaptive and Specialized’s Mirror use 3D printing tech for their padding from company Carbon 3D.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

What Specialized and Fizik have in common is the people behind the polymer matrix uppers.

Carbon 3D is an innovative company that produces 3D-printed polymers, which were originally seen in Adidas’s flagship running shoes. These also carry a huge premium, with the original Futurecraft 4D Adidas shoes coming in at over a grand, and the latest versions still go for around £400.

Where Fizik’s Adaptive saddle uses a very open honeycomb design that’s quite uniform in its aperture sizes, Specialized’s Power with Mirror saddle has a much more closed design, and uses its popular short Power saddle as the basis for its 3D printed seat.

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror saddle
The matrix upper has 14,000 struts and 7,799 nodes in its make up.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

Specialized’s product manager for Body Geometry saddles, Garrett Getter, told us that the design of the saddle was influenced by data collated from both the development of the Power saddle range and Specialized-owned fitting company Retul.

The lattice created from this data is a patent-pending design, which Specialized tells us has 14,000 individual struts contained within it and 7,799 nodes – all of which can be tuned individually.

S-Works Power with Mirror tech
The lattice design seen here in this render from Specialized is patent-pending.

Saddle personalisation and fit

We can only imagine that beyond this first Power with Mirror, Specialized will eventually be looking into combining personal fit data with manufacturing.

So, in theory, it could create a totally personalised saddle from a Retul fitting in the way in which British start-up, Hexr, 3D prints bespoke helmets from a 3D scan of your head.

I asked Getter about the possibility of individually tuning saddles to riders and he told me: “We have always believed that offering different widths, shapes and padding technologies are the best way to promote a safe and comfortable riding experience.

“The opportunity to further personalize a product is very appealing and aligns very well with our values as a brand.”

So it sounds like that level of personalisation is still a way off right now.

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror saddle
The wide variance in elasticity throughout the saddle’s padding is impressive.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

I also asked Getter about longevity and how much testing this new manufacturing process and product has received, he told me: “We performed the same ride testing protocol and safety testing that we do on any other Body Geometry saddle.

“We found it performs to the same level as a traditional or Elaston foam saddle. We have a few professional riders that have well over 10,000km on the saddle and it’s still performing as good as new.”

One rider also fed back that they felt “like the fit characteristics remained the same longer than a traditionally foamed saddle that tends to break-in over time.”

Clean and tidy

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror saddle
The Mirror saddle’s base and rails come from the existing S-Works Power range.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

Being a top-end S-Works-level saddle means it comes with Specialized’s Fact carbon rails and a base with SWAT-compatible mounts on the rear.

Our test saddle tips the scales at 188.2g in the 155mm width, which is heavier compared to an S-Works Power Arc saddle, with a claimed 145g weight.

However, the Power with Mirror is claimed to offer a much higher level of comfort, greater than even the Power Pro Elaston, which has a band of Elaston foam that’s constructed using thousands of small balls bonded together – and is also found in plenty of top-level running shoes.

Our Elaston weighed in at 230.7g, but it’s only available in a Pro level, Ti-railed version.

Our 155mm wide test saddle weighed in at 188.2g
Our 155mm wide test saddle weighed in at 188.2g.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

Some commentators have expressed concerns about keeping saddles clean using this tech, but I haven’t experienced any problems with the Fizik Adaptive, with its similar upper, during some dusty gravel rides. How these types of saddles fare in more inclement conditions remains to be seen, though.

I asked Getter if Specialized considered developing a covered version and he said: “For sure we thought about utilizing a cover. Interesting thing about a cover, it changes the way a foam (or in this case honeycomb structure) performs. That’s why we 3D printed the cover, so we could fine tune the ride feel of the saddle even more than a traditional covered saddle.

“One big advantage of the saddle is that it drains very effectively. If you take a look at where the print and shell come together, you have drains running around the entire perimeter that clear water and mud quite well. Shoot a strong stream of water in the saddle and that will clear things out. One of our ITU athletes finds the saddle’s ability to drain a huge bonus when transitioning from the swim to the bike.”

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror saddle first ride impressions

Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror saddle
The open nature of the design makes for a much cooler feel on the bike.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

I replaced the Power saddle on my bike with the new saddle and, because it’s the same dimensions and shape, it sits in the exact same position on my bike, so should give a direct comparison between the two.

First off, just as with the Fizik, the surface texture feels different, but not in a bad way. The closest to this we have currently is ProLogo’s CPC coverings, which offer improved grip and a cooler surface temperature.

The Power with Mirror does much the same, and after riding on some of the hottest days of the year so far, the saddle has a noticeably cooler surface thanks to the open nature of it, and rides on the Fizik so far have confirmed that its more open structure does this even better.

What you get is a blend of suppleness and support up at the front of the saddle. The effective padding is soft and very elastic, and one of the most unobstructive saddles I’ve tried.

Specialized S-Works Power Mirror saddle
The new Specialized S-Works Power Mirror saddle is proving to be a comfortable place to perch so far.
Warren Rossiter / Immediate Media

Towards the back, around your sit bones, the padding dials up the rebound of the surface, and is softer towards the edges and firmer towards the centre of each wing of the saddle’s rear.

The saddle feels like it’s moving in unison with you on the bike, so you never feel like you’re perched upon a surface, it’s more like you’re in a seated position and being supported throughout a full range of movement.

The central channel that runs two-thirds of the saddle’s length is a wide-open honeycomb that’s incredibly elastic and soft to the point that you never really notice that it’s there at all.

I’ve only had a few hours on the Power with Mirror so far, but it really is stunningly comfortable. You could probably achieve similar levels of comfort using traditional foams or Elaston type foams, but the multitude of densities and durometers you’d need for this amount of fine-tuning would mean the foam pad would be just as much adhesive joints as foam itself. Any joins would also potentially compromise it and likely make it just as expensive to manufacture as the 3D-printed saddle.

Its performance in all weathers and just how easy it will be to keep clean is still to be determined.

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It’s hard to overlook just how expensive this new tech is right now, though, so let’s hope that if it’s a success we’ll see a similar reduction in price as we have in the running shoe world and this super-comfortable technology can be made available to more riders.