I tested two components devoted to comfort: a damped seatpost and a saddle with a gel padding. Both proposed by the German company Ergotec, a company that devoted to research of various solutions to make the cyclists comfortable.
It has a large catalog with very peculiar products, such as several handlebars adjustable in amplitude and then in angling. But also stems and seatposts with different adjustment options, always in search of the best pedaling position. You can find everything in the webpage dedicated to the different products.
Not only that: it has a program called SafetyLevel, that tests each product and then divide them by type of bike and segment of use, thus always ensuring the exact component in any condition. For my experience is the only company having such a lab.
It was natural for me to turn to them to ask for a cushioned seatpost to be tested, to which they added the saddle and I thank Ergotec for its availability.
Let’s begin to become acquainted with these two components.
Ergotec SP-5.0 suspension seatpost
I chose the SP-5.0 for several reasons. I needed it at zero off-set because I would have used for the test the PlanetX London Road; I wanted a good range in order to easily manage comparisons by modifying the calibration, even going against the manufacturer’s directions (in my tests I really try everything…); it had to have a simple maintenance, within everybody’s reach and without any special tool; I was interested in a low purchase price, a figure that would convince to experiment those who don’t think of a damped seatpost at all.
Last but not least it had to be ready in use for my weight according to the Safety Level table, including the possible baggage plus, without having to replace the inner spring; a very simple operation, by the way, as we will see later.
The principle of operation is very simple: a spring inside, adjustable in the preload through a threaded “cap”, ensure the damping. It’s all mechanical, no hydraulics to make your life difficult. Let’s see in detail.
Classical shape with double thickness in black and silver sectors to make you suspect that there is a hidden secret: in fact, the damping system is inside. The “4” next to the brand logo refers precisely to the Safety Level.
On the back there is the graduated scale so you don’t miss the height adjustment reference and the minimum insertion security alert.
The serigraphies are very tenacious and this is good, because it is almost certain that, at least in the first period, you will need to slip off and re-attach the seatpost. In fact, the cushion preload system is in its interior and therefore to adjust it we have to remove it from the bike.
The technology to bring the saddle in bubble level is a double bolt one, that is my favorite because it allows a very precise adjustment.
Useful and error-proof the engraving reminding the mounting direction of the upper plate hoding the saddle.
The surface of the tube to be inserted in the frame is lined, to ensure a perfect tightness; the small sticker indicating the diameter goes away after few inserts, but we can safely do without it, as we need it just to choose the correct version from the shelf.
At the base of the seatpost, we find the spring compression screw, easily adjustable with an Allen key following the intuitive indications “+” and “–“.
In the connection area between the fixed and the mobile part of the seatpost, we have a small rubber gasket for protection against water and dust.
The adjustments of the right saddle height and the compression.
It is a damped seatpost, and this means that, when you get on the saddle, it must partially sag under our weight, otherwise it would not be able to perform its duty. So two steps are necessary: adjusting the compression force and only after that, placing the saddle at the right height.
I suggest you ask for a friend’s help, because once on the saddle, the right compression is 20% of the total range: in our case is about 9 mm. (a data for this specific model, for the other models it’s necessary you read the instructions). Then you will sit on the saddle, i.e. with the vibration damper unloaded of the weight, and you will measure the distance between the ribbon and the rubber. In the picture below the red sign simulates the adhesive tape.
Once we find the correct damping capacity, then we can adjust the height of the saddle: on our normal value, to which we add 9mm. compression. It’s obvious, because when you get on the bike, the saddle lowers, so it’s necessary to compensate the sinking. It’s the same concept as per the pedal cleats, so we add their height to the one of the saddle.
Ordinary and extraordinary maintenance.
Operating on the seatpost in order to keep its full efficiency is simple and doesn’t require any particular knowledge or esoteric equipment: a 6 mm. Allen key, a seeger pliers and some non-acidic grease. That’s all.
Let’s see how to act, starting from the extraordinary maintenance; the procedure is valid also if you need to replace the winner spring with another one, for a heavier weight. This production one is for cyclists between 60 and 80 kgs., excluding the bike and the luggage; but in the Ergotec catalog there is also a spring for cyclists from 80 up to 100 kgs.
The first step is to remove the seeger ring at the base.
Then it’s the turn of the preload adjustment screw. A practical suggestion: if you have the preload already set, then take note of how many key tightenings are necessary to unscrew it. When you have to re-mount it, you just have to give the same tightenings and you will not miss the adjustment.
A washer between the spring and the adjusting screw is to protect the latter; let’s remove it and then we can pull off the spring.
Now let’s move to the upper part and let’s unscrew the locknut. Careful: this ring must not be used to adjust the preload.
Once we remove the ring, then we can pull off all the upper part (there is a protective washer here too), and here is the seatpost dismantled in its fundamental parts.
The spring has no constant diameter: the slimmer part has to go up.
If necessary, we can replace it with another one for a heavier weight, otherwise we will continue with our maintenance.
Which is really simple and consists in rubbing some new non-acidic grease (the teflon grease is perfect) on all the parts subject to the sliding during the damping work.
Then a grease brush both on the nylon part that goes up and down inside the tube and in the tube itself. Needless to exceed, the coupling is precise and too much grease will end up going away during the reassembly, dragging all that grease already applied. I had to apply more than necessary, otherwise it was not visible in the picture, but it’s too much.
It’s good to give a little grease even to the base, and it’s convenient because exploiting its natural adhesion it helps to keep in position the upper washer when we are going to re-mount it.
Let’s thread the spring.
And let’s put, just to keep it in place, the preload adjustment screw only.
Why putting only? Because otherwise the spring force will prevent us from inserting and re-tightnening the upper ring.
I twill will be screwed to the bottom. A grease coat on the thread indicated by the arrow will help when we will maintain it again.
Now we can tighten the preload screw and re-insert the seeger ring.
Ordinary maintenance is even simpler because you only must keep greased (always using non-acidic grease) the external surface of the upper part, the one that fits into the main body. In the picture below you can see an excess of grease, as always I put more than necessary for photographic needs.
Ergotec Relax M Saddle
The second element chosen researching the maximum ride comfort was the saddle, chosen in the city-trekking category. The version is the Relax M, a short saddle, wide in the back; therefore suitable for bicycles with nil or positive saddle/handlebar difference, i.e. the handlebar higher than the saddle.
In the different visuals we can note first the profile with its deep and long central groove to insure sufficient discharge in the perineal area, the full support of the back area and the prominent nose that supports without being invasive.
The padding relies on GelTech technology, soft but not loose. And with memory foam.
The cover is synthetic, with a dense “vein” in relief to ensure the grip.
The rail is made of steel, inserted in the nylon base.
The measurements are 246x161mm and the weight I detected is 360 grams; that would be more than good for a saddle with clear tourist/urban vocation.
The reduced lenght, as mentioned before, makes it suitable for a raised trim; on the London Road, used for the test and – let me remind you – is my multi-purpose bike and the one I ride primarily in the city, I have a saddle/handlebars difference almost null. In addition, the short saddle is more suitable for pedaling in civil clothes. And it is great for female users.
But for those who prefer, in the catalog there is the L version, that is more suitable, with its more tapered shape and 263×158 dimensions, to equip bikes with a riding position more loaded on the forecarriage.
The road test.
Damped seatposts do not enjoy good reputation among extremist cyclists: they weigh more, and it’s true; they are accused of sucking energy, especially in the ascent, and it’s not true. At least not completely, because there is a slight dispersion, but you can control it if you have a high quality component and if you can pedal.
I am an enthusiast, not a fundamentalist; I love bikes, I enjoy pedaling but cycling is not a religion, and in its name I don’t accept acts of faith or absolute dogmas. And I wanted to figure out how effective was, in the riding, a damped seatpost, and what price in dynamic performance I would have to pay, because my legacy is of a vintage sport, let’s say so, so the only thing that mattered was the rigidity.
And since I really became a vintage cyclist, and I noticed that once, when I entered in a vintage clothing store with my daughter and I found there all the clothes of my youth, if I can have more comfort while cycling in this city with its battered roads and not bicycle-friendly, because in reality obstacles the bikes in every possible way, I am happy. And in fact I also mounted on the seatpost a saddle whose name is a promise…..
I immediately answer to the first two questions that you are thinking of. Is it comfortable? Does it suck energy? Yes to the first one and no to the second one.
Let’s analyze the comfort first, that is not the only advantage though.
In order to work well, it’ necessary that you spend some time to find the correct calibration. The system with the preload screw is efficient but not sensible as the one of a high-end shock-absorber. The difference on the fourth round, just to be clear, it’s very difficult to grasp. And even though the indication provided by the manufacturer on the excursion of 20% once seated as the one indicating the optimum preload is true but not resolutive. Then, as the preload screw is internal and therefore working on it means you have to remove the seatpost every time, it’s easy to understand that, at the beginning, you need to do some tests. But once the correct calibration has been found, you will be widely rewarded. The comfort level is very high and you gain a perfect control of the bike on uneven roads. Two nights ago, coming back from a hill area where I went to take some photos at night for another test, I hit the 60kms/h on a short descent; on a road where I am usually careful because it’s in a bad-shape, with many patches, stretches with no asphalt, the paved road and the inevitable holes that now we have adopted and are part of the family. In fact, being able to remain seated on the saddle, loading the rear in the benefit of the stability and the braking capacity, without being forced to raise up to touch the saddle as I always must do on that descent, has allowed me to push in absolute safety.
Even if you intuitively would do just the opposite, if the usual tracks are particularly rough, the best results are obtained with an inch more rigid calibration. If you soften too much, you will have some pedaling stages too “rocking”, with an up and down clearly noticeable.
You need to get accustomed to this seatpost; you must forget about some automatisms, such as getting up to touch the saddle on the paved road or on a moderate off-road. If you don’t seat on it, the seatpost doesn’t work and therefore is useless. If you place a saddle between your back and the seatpost, it’s ok.
The compression is soft, controlled; the extension is sharper, but you cannot expect more from a mechanic system, not an hydraulic one. And then you have just to remember that is useless to get up from the saddle, because our own weight will dampen the suddenness of the extension.
I continue with the seatpost before moving on the saddle, because of course I have tried it with other saddles, not only the Ergotec Relax in trial. When you use stiffer saddles, you notice more the work of this damped seatpost and you better appreciate the compression, which becomes more and more braking. The Relax saddle, with its gel, actually becomes a filter, and even if it’s very comfortable, makes more complicated to isolate the component, as I always repeat, it must be done during a test.
Plains, descents, ruined asphalt, paved roads, beaten paths and moderate off-roads generally become smooth roads, no piston effect, maximum ride comfort and a perfect bike control.
And uphill? Is it true that damped seatposts devour energy? No, if the quality is good (and this Ergotec is of a good quality!) and the calibration is correct, then the dispersion becomes negligible. Actually you lose something on the roughest descents, but I am talking about some important slopes. As long as you keep on cycle uphills, let’s say with percentage of 6-7%, you lose nothing. Riding on more difficult ones, yes, you lose something, but because we tend to pedal by “crushing” with our weight too in order to help ourselves in the effort and this, inevitably, compresses the seatpost even more; but in the alternating stages of pedaling it will unload a little and then it will re-compress, so a small slice of energy will end there instead of the pedals. However, it is also true that, in order to reassess everything, we must keep in mind that here we are not in the presence of a racing component and, honestly, I would like to pay a small amount of dispersion in return of so much comfort.
And since we are talking about riding comfort, now we must talk about the Relax M saddle. As with all well-made things, you realize how comfortable it was when you remove it and mount another one.
It’s soft but not loose. A saddle that collapses as soon as you sit on it, gives us a first impression of great comfort. Wrong, after few minutes the softness becomes looseness and the looseness turns into discomfort. On the contrary, on this Relax you lean in a natural way, you don’t slip thanks to the surface finish, the depression in the central part avoids overloading a sensitive area and the wide back support (which is easy to exploit considering the reduced extension in length but not in width) lovingly accommodates our back.
The nose that at first left me perplexed , because as it is so developed I feared it would have been annoying, has immediately disproved my fears. The rear flare allows the saddle to fit perfectly without experiencing that slim forward thrust, typical of saddle with a full back padding.
It is named Relax, and it does offer it in abundance and doesn’t like an aggressive ride: advancing in attacking pose it’s difficult, it’s too short. It is not impossible, it’s true, but here to I must say the same I did for the seatpost: these are components not intended for sport use. Then maybe we take into our head we are all like Moser, launched to break the record of the hour and then we want something else. But because we are not Moser, for an impossible hour of pedaling and for our whims too, it’s better to enjoy the comfort offered by this whole German union.
Being wise after it, I can say that maybe the Relax L version would have been more suitable on the London Road, and in fact to better test the M version I also used a classic trekking bike, with a straight handle just to be clear, higher than the saddle. Without mounting the damped seatpost in order not to distort the results: successful with full marks. On those bikes where you ride keeping your back straight, the saddle turned out to be perfect, a lot more than it was on the London Road. And it’s greater for the female users, indeed, more than a store shows it as a women’s saddle.
The average price I found on the net is about 25 Euros for the seatpost and around 4o Euro for the saddle; with some fluctuations between offers and promotions. Such an investment is therefore within everybody’s reach. Certainly, the mechanism of the seatpost is not refined, in the end it’s a spring. But it works well, it’s easy to set (and if the preloaded could be adjusted without removing it would be excellent), is well finished and is guaranteed with a life of at least three years, with an intense use. Maintenance is very easy and requires no special skills. And its technological simplicity is of a great value in the long run, according to the Fordian motto that says that what is not there doesn’t break.
The saddle can also be found at the same price of the seatpost, so it’s really cheap and showed a quality/price ratio even higher than the seatpost, if possible. It’s comfortable, even after several hours on the saddle, even though it was designed for urban and trekking use, and certainly not for rando. Its shape allows a comfortable support, the padding effectively filters the road bumps and the solid non-slip cover and with a tenacious grip.
My judment is absolutely positive for both, not only for the qualities shown, but above all for the modest expenditure required; which caused the annoyance of the internal preload regulation for the seatpost to go into the background, while I didn’t find any relevant defects for the saddle. I am glad I did this test; I had the chance to discredit one of the many common mistakes of cycling, and I enjoyed so much driving comfort. And for a vintage cyclist some aspects become more and more important….
Click here if you want to open the official Ergotec website.
Have a nice pedaling!