Words by Richard Hallett
One of the more agreeable trends of the last couple of years has been the re-release of previously discontinued saddle designs. A number of models that, until very recently, were only to be found after scouring eBay or rooting through dusty boxes at some bike boot sale may now be bought brand new and at a price that reflects, not scarcity, but the reality of modern-day bike manufacturing. In other words, there’s no price premium on obsolescence.
Which begs the question; what makes a saddle obsolete? After all, we ride in an age when saddles of design and construction perfected more than a century ago are considered by some to be the acme of style and comfort.
On the other hand, of course, saddles have come a long way since Tom Simpson stuck a sheet of suede over a plastic UnicaNitor shell to make the first truly modern bike seat. Today’s saddles marry advanced shell materials and moulding techniques with shapes honed through anatomical study and add shock absorption and decoration as needed. Or take them away if looking for minimal weight.
Thus, going by the construction of the Turbo 1980, has it ever been. The saddle’s name, or the date part, refers to the year the design was introduced. It was popularised by the legendary Bernard Hinault and was, unquestionably, one of the most successful saddle designs of the 1980s.
Its construction is straightforward; steel rails – cromoly in the modern version – support a moulded Rylsan/Nylon6 shell covered with a genuine ‘breathable’ leather skin stretched over ‘differential-thickness’ padding. That means it’s thicker where it is needed, under the sit bones, than, presumably, along the flanks. There’s nothing here to surprise today’s cyclist, but back in the day it was as good as it got.
So, too, was the shape. Plastic-shell saddles can’t break-in and conform to the shape of the owner’s backside and so depend for comfort on a shape that works from the off. The Turbo’s is typical of the era, with a pronounced curvature of the upper when viewed from the nose and a gentle sag along its length. The flanks are deep, as are the sides of the nose; there are no pronounced edges to wear against Lycra and skin on the insides of thighs.
Taken overall, the shape is, if easily recognisable, decidedly unremarkable, which is remarkable in itself. It’s a real classic, though, with something in its proportions that differentiates it from the visually similar San Marco Rolls even at a distance.
‘Classic’ is not a bad description of the riding experience, too. There is virtually nil shock absorption from the sturdy rails and no damping rubber insert. The padding is thick and firm, compressing under pressure to spread loads around a bit. So far, so good, but the shell is very stiff so the padding soon runs out of compressibility on a bumpy road. The curvature of the upper also means that the centre of the saddle is higher than the sections the sit bones rest on, so it is possible to experience some perineal pressure.
That said, I eventually found, after a few rides during which I unquestionably became ‘arse-aware’, a comfortable position that works over several hours. There’s definitely a particular pelvis posture that works best. The saddle is especially good when riding hard on the handlebar drops, suggesting that it is better adapted to racing than touring or leisure riding.
And so it is, which is perhaps why it was so right for the ‘Badger’. Stick it on an audax bike or commuter and you might wonder at cycling’s new-found popularity; put it on a racing bike and it will not only do the job very nicely but might even imbue you with some of Hinault’s aura. Obsolete? No; just old-school.