Reform Tantalus Saddle
While Cycling may seem enjoyable from afar, it can be a physically and mentally demanding experience that requires a great deal of effort and perseverance. Sit on a saddle for hours and pedal up a steep hill? 'No thanks, not for me' would be a common response. On the other side of the spectrum there are fit, and ambitious people who love taking on challenges like 200km Fondos. Craziness!
Reform Saddles out of East Vancouver set out to solve one of the keys to the comfort puzzle with their new line. Tantalus is their Titanium-railed, carbon-shelled, heat-moulded off road saddle. They stand behind a, one-size-fits-all promise with a perch that can be used for road, off-road (call it gravel if you need to) or mountain biking.
Most bikes mountain bikes come with decently shaped and sized saddles these days. For many complete peformance bikes, apart from a few boutique options, it is in the form of a rebranded WTB Silverado. It is a saddle with a great shape and padding and you can perch yourself right on top of it for a while and be OK. For anyone else who is not OK with OK, they spend time finding the magic formula that works and buy a pile to put on a few bikes or to last a few decades. With the infinite shapes and sizes and comfort requirements humans come with, the bike industry has been trying to find ways to make sitting on top of a 140 millimetre wide perch as comfortable as possible.
What if the Saddle adjusted itself for your sit bones?
Ever since I spotted an unrecognizable saddle underneath the butts of the Rocky Mountain Enduro team and some local, fast people, I had my curiosity piqued. At the time, I too was struggling to find my forever saddle, bouncing between a narrow and a wide Ergon SM Comp series and a WTB Silverado, I was content with my options. I used a chamois for most of my rides to help with sore sit bones generally caused by excess saddle height or firmness or not enough width.
The problems with saddle angles and shapes in dual suspension mountain bikes are directly related to the rear suspension. This variable, that changes with load, angle and effort, can make nailing your seat angle a challenge. Our climbs are steep here on the North Shore and Sea 2 Sky trails. There is merit to steep seattube angles and tall stacks for comfort and all-day efficiency. More often than not, the tips of our saddles point down to our front wheels to retain some sort of flat surface when the bike is pointed up the hill. But with steep seat tube angles that knock at 79°, the experience of pedalling the bike around on flatter surfaces can be a delicate dance.
I met up with Blake from Reform to set up the Tantalus for my bike and have a look underneath the vinyl cover to see what makes this new technology interesting. To put it simply, Reform saddles use extreme heat to soften up the resins in the carbon layer of the saddle to facilitate an acceleration in the brake-in process. Most saddles, offr-oad ones especially do not break-in during their lifetime. They tend to break down instead as the foam and padded layers compress and compact and the rails that support them collapse under the weight of the rider landing heavyily while seated. I have seen many bent, popped out or broken saddle rails. So the idea of a hammock-like system where the tip and the back of the saddle are suspended makes sense if the material can be manipulated with heat and time. Reform uses proprietary tech to achieve this very Brooks-like riding experience. This is a particularly tough challenge thanks to the unforgiving environments our saddles have to perform in.
The majority of the Reform saddle components are made and then assembled in East Vancouver. The heating core (which I am not allowed to show you) is an exception, coming from the Far East. Landyachtz, Reform's parent company, has experience in lamination, heat moulding and composite engineering, easing their entry into this category.
I sat down on the assometer (what I call the sit bone measuring gel) to confirm a narrow-ish pelvic bone structure. 142mm wide Saddles generally work for me and we attached the 142mm wide Tantalus onto the 180mm OneUp dropper of the Orbea Rallon. 7mm Titanium rails presented no challenge and we set the seat in a less-aggressive nose down position than I would normally choose. We plugged the magnetic charging port into the AC adapter and the saddle and let the system heat up for 7 minutes. My weight of 160lbs was taken into consideration for this time but for most people, you would just plug the saddle in, pedal away for 5 minutes on the stationary trainer, unplug the saddle, pedal for another 5 minutes and you are good to go. Being on a mountain bike in East Vancouver for this part meant that I would immediately jump on the bike and pedal around hoping to find some hill that resembled a climb on the Shore. There weren't any, but I did find a steep pedestrian overpass by the tracks that I went up and down a dozen times. Once the seat was cool to the touch of my buttcheeks, I headed back to the HQ to assess the break-in. The carbon material seemed softer and more malleable. Since this is not a final shape, I can modify my saddle shape at any given point in the future by repeating the process. Foolproof!
I headed home excited about a potential new best friend on my bicycle and started planning some big sans-chamois test rides. With the warm summer ahead, there would be many opportunities and I spent a lot of time on the Tantalus. There were a few days of big effort, where my core was so thrashed that I could no longer roll my hips forward to even engage my sit bones; a 3000-meter day in Squamish, hours of slickrock torture in Moab, you name it. The Reform Tantalus did a respectable job of keeping my bits from going numb. The comfort of the sitting surface is not what I would describe plush. There is ample support and combined with the general flex of suspended carbon suspended serves up comfort. The promise was realized and although I will reach for a thin pair of Mons Royale padded shorts for the biggest rides, I am 90% chamois free these days. The Tantalus just works for me regardless of my trouser or shorts selection.
Pressure points before (left) and after moulding
There isn't much to complain about the experience of pedalling from the top on the Tantalus or its carbon-railed sibling the Seymour from where I am standing. The idea of taking the guesswork out of your riding comfort seems pretty sensible. I had grown to like the Velo Senso Wilson saddle I spent a considerable amount of time on and I liked the overall support more than the Silverado. The shorter overall length meant I had more room to move around in front of the saddle when it was down. The Tantalus builds on that pleasant experience and improves my saddle time. The wings of the Velo got caught on my shorts a few times and made for some spicy moments on the trail and the Tantalus's overall length is on par with the Velo and shorter than the Silverado.
Price may be the deciding factor for most. I can't tell you how to spend you money but I take comfort in a product made mostly locally and in the cutting edge technology. You also get a $50 credit if you return the AC adapter back after your fitting. You'll be pleased to find that most bikeshops in the lower mainland do carry the adapter if you wanted to refresh your fit. A 6-pack of Bubblys will probably get you access to one for 10 minutes.
I asked Blake about combining the Tantalus with an Aenomaly Switchgrade. He told me Reform saddles are designed to eliminate the need to adjust saddle angle on your rides. I don't have any experience with the Switchgrade but I'd be curious to try and compare the results.
If I had one criticism, it would be the fabric cover's tendency to hold on to dirt and other stains. Some scrubbing with a mild brush helps but the traction it provides for your shorts is also a magnet for dirt. The durability however is spot on. I have no concerns about that.
Hit up your local shop for a test or just bite the bullet online for one. They are working on a wider saddle to accommodate more sitbones. I'm excited to see what's in store for Reform in the upcoming years, particularly if the technology can be adapted to contact points on the bike.