Every now and then you buy something you really probably shouldn’t. A race-cut set of high-end kit you’ll only fit into after three back-to-back stage races. Shoes. Online. A saddle called the ‘Speedneedle’. Second-hand wheels. A saddle called the ‘Speedneedle’.
At 97 grams, Tune’s endurance model Speedneedle isn’t the lightest saddle on the market, but for a female marathon mountain bike racer with 135mm sit-bones, it’s pretty close (my model is a little older, a portly 109g). This is because it’s not much more than a carbon shell coated with a bit of leather at the front and the back. The middle third of the saddle is nothing more than cold hard carbon. This middle part of the saddle is also, of course, where you sit.
The best way to talk about the Speedneedle, I think, is in culinary terms. If you tap it with your fingernail, it makes the same sound as a hollow eggshell, and it’s about as thick. At 100 grams, the Speedneedle’s weight is equal to about two cups of lettuce, so the Speedneedle weighs the same as a side salad without dressing. An Australian marathon MTB race for the elite women’s category usually lasts for four to five hours. That’s about as long as it takes your mum to cook the perfect roast turkey (stuffed, basted) on a sweltering Christmas day, if she hasn’t given up already and switched to seafood. Ask her. It’s ages. Nobody’d want to sit on a Pininfarina Aresline Xten for that long, let alone a bike seat.
The Speedneedle is made by Germans. That means not a single iota of unnecessary material has gone into its manufacture. It’s made of four ingredients. Carbon (about 98%), Kevlar (reinforcing the rails), high expansion foam, (maybe 1mm thick) and leather. The leather is wrapped in such a way that there’s not a skerrick of superfluous covering and I’d say that a pelt from a single unfortunate cow could cover about 400 saddles, as long as the Germans also ran the abattoir.
The Speedneedle is a highly engineered piece of equipment, so you might need to check that it works with your seatpost. The huge rails won’t work with most seatpost heads that bolt from the side, but it was fine with the older Ritchey WCS twin bolt seatpost I use. I did have to pull more post out of the frame though as the seat itself is so thin. If you’re not sure, consult the obvious…. Weightweenies.com!
Riding on…. carbon.
But here’s the thing: The Speedneedle is the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever raced marathons on. It’s hard to say why. The Germans put it down to the fact that ‘due to the bending of the saddle shell and the yielding of the seat upholstery normal saddles do press on the perineal region’. By choosing instead to sit on a rigid, razor-thin slice of carbon you’re liberated from the tyranny of upholstery and flex that causes numbness and discomfort. I think it’s also got something to do with the shape of the saddle, an unusual dished curve that means your sit-bones naturally gravitate to the rear, upholstered section of the seat. The fact that we race in padded, high-density foam chamois also has to have something to do with it. There’s already a centimetre of padding there… how much do we really need?
That said, it didn’t excel on short rides to the shops in casual shorts, it’s taken a lot of effort to convince my female cycling friends that it works, particularly when I tap the shell with my fingernail.