On the Cobb

73787-largest_57RudyProject3This year I have partnered with Cobb Cycling, which is a company run by one of my heroes in the sport of triathlon: John Cobb. John is an incredibly innovative engineer who has disrupted the cycling industry several times by creating products which break paradigms and force us to rethink what we look for in our equipment. The way I race, from my position, to the way I think about bottle placement on my bike has been directly influenced by Cobb. This kind of innovation and technology is what gets me excited about new products. It is the idea that function should always be the driver of form and that looking fast is less important than being fast. I am looking forward to working with John and hopefully being involved in the next round of triathlon innovation.

That’s a simplification of why I am excited to work with Cobb Cycling. To really explain why I include a middle-aged engineer with zero podium finishes and a non-existent professional (racing) career with my list of heroes I have to go back to 2006 when I first heard Cobb’s name.

IMGP1331[Left: That’s me in 2006 at the top of Mt. Haleakala on Maui, riding that old Felt. That’s where I learned that 36 miles uphill is a bad idea on an 11-23 cassette.]

In 2006 I bought a time trial bike from a guy in Kailua. The guy watched me finish on the podium of a local sprint after riding my Felt F65 road bike. I had lost a ton of time to my then roommate, Tai Bletcha, who was riding a Cervelo P2Sl. So this guy approached me in the parking lot and asks if I’d like to buy his Guru Chrono, an aluminum/carbon hybrid TT bike that was far lighter and more aerodynamic than my road bike. And I did. I spent $1500 for that bike, which was most of a month’s paycheck (I think my mother had a small psychological break when I told her), and it’s the bike I rode when I eventually won the overall title at Age Group Nationals in 2007.

20070630_USAT 07Nat'ls_013_1That’s the long way of saying, I bought my first TT bike, which became my first experience in riding in an aggressive position. That position was much faster, but (and this is where you should stop reading if you don’t want to hear about the war that all cyclists battle between saddle and genital area) the position also left me with numbness in an area that really shouldn’t ever be numb.

[Left: Much like the reaction most people had when they first saw this style of saddle, nobody would have looked at me and foreseen that I would have the fastest time overall at Age Group Nationals that day. The Adamo saddle in the picture is back when John Cobb’s name was still printed on the side.)

JOF_Black_LargeCoincidentally I also met my first coach, Mike McMahon, at that same sprint in Kailua. When I told Mike that my saddle was causing numbness in all of my protrusions he, a PhD in physiology, asked me, “do you know what you call the nerve that serves that area?” “No,” I responded tentatively. “F—ing important!” he answered with a mix of seriousness and humor in his tone.

Thus began the search for a saddle that wouldn’t lead me to erectile dysfunction at the ripe age of 23.

I tried every saddle the local shop carried. Some were better than others, but I found myself struggling to find anything that I could perch on for more than 20 or 30 minutes without losing all feeling.

20140201_111347Finally I found a saddle that looked really strange, like one of those two-pronged forks used for BBQing. It was called the Adamo, and said “John Cobb Designs” on the side. With saddle was designed so that you would sit on the two prongs with you sit bones and everything forward of that would hang freely off the front.

[‘Taint so bad when you’re Just Off the Front (JOF)]

My coach was against this saddle, “Cycling has been competitive for a century, if there were a saddle design that worked better than what is out there it would have been discovered ages ago,” he told me. But I had tried everything else, and I have no problem with breaking the “rules” with disruptive ideas.

The saddle worked. There was no numbness at all and my hips could be angled forward to allow the position to be not just tolerable, but… comfortable? I remember telling someone a few months later that the Adamo saddle was the best thing to happen to genitals since puberty.

Ben Collins wins 2007 ITU AG World Championships Mens Overall[Having a saddle that makes me faster and more comfortable at the same time makes me feel like this (left)]

Over the next seven years I rode Adamo saddles on all my TT bikes. On the road bikes, however, I had to continue riding a more classic style saddle with a narrow cutout in the center. If I ever got into a forward position on the road bike I would go number, but those saddles were the only way I could get the forward/backward mobility required for all handling a road bike in all the different positions (i.e. climbing, pack riding, solo break, technical courses, sprinting, etc.). With the Adamo I was pretty much stuck in that one position with my sit bones on the tip and if I tried to move back that saddle was so wide that I would very quickly get saddle sores and have to ride with my knees out.

Adamo, or the company that produces them, ISM, bought the design from John Cobb, but the two parties parted ways at some point. ISM continued to make various versions of the Adamo saddle, 20131211_153714and I’ve used up until this season (yeah, I’ve posted a lot of respectable bike splits on the Adamo saddle).  But even on my TT bike the width of the Adamo was an issue for me. I never had numbness, but the width of the saddle caused some incredible chaffing on my upper thigh, and the immobility would lead to saddle sores (pressure blisters where the saddle meets the taint). I made a simple modification to every Adamo I ever owned in order to reduce this. I would drill holes in the tip of the two prongs and pull them together with an industrial zip tie (a pretty common practice among just about everyone that uses the saddle).

Enough about ISM. It worked, I rode fast, the downside of the saddles were far outweighed by the upside of not getting erectile dysfunction. The only time I wished for numbness in my genitals is when a wasp got stuck there and stung me through the pad.

In those years away from ISM John Cobb continued to innovate the world of triathlon with his out-of-box thinking. He designed the Rudy Project aero helmets that I’ve worn my entire career, and has done some of the more innovative aerodynamic research for triathletes.

A couple of years ago John Cobb came back to saddle design and started Cobb Cycling. I followed this closely, but none of his saddles took on that two-pronged look. Until now.

The new Fifty-Five is very similar to the ISM, but with a few key changes that were really important to me. The entire saddle is more narrow, and the tip is reinforced to create less movement of the prongs. A zip tie is no longer necessary, and I can move back and forth on the saddle without widening my knees or losing comfort.

Gen2B-1Better yet, Cobb has a bunch of saddle designs that take on a more classic saddle design, but with the same emphasis on reducing pressure on the pudendal nerve (the real name of the “F-ing Important” nerve). I put a Gen 2 on my Cervelo S5 and immediately fell in love. I can actually ride in the drops for long periods of time without rotating my hips back or losing feeling. It’s not the most light-weight saddle, but comfort is way more important to me than a few grams.

Beyond the enthusiasm I have for the saddles, and for the range of different saddles that Cobb offers, I’m excited to work with John. John Cobb is a creative engineer who has the ability to repeatedly rethink the triathlon industry. His products are often met with resistance because they break the perceptions we have of what makes a cyclist fast. The industry has benefited from John’s work and I’m really excited to work with him.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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