Evolution of the Specialized Romin Saddle – Interview with Dr. Roger Minkow

Specialized Romin saddle prototypes by Dr Roger Minkow

Earlier this week, Specialized sent out a PR piece about their new Romin Evo Pro saddle being featured in Men’s Journal’s gear of the year round up. That’s nice, I thought, but we typically don’t promote other pubs’ “top 10″ lists and stuff. But the piece was quite interesting, so I followed up to get a little more info.

I got a lot more info.

Back in 1997, Dr. Roger Minkow saw a Bicycling Magazine story about how bike saddles inhibited blood flow and were causing erectile dysfunction. Dr. Minkow specialized in ergonomics, having developed exercise equipment, hospital spine centers and the pilots seats for United Airlines, among other things. Using the blood flow anatomy images in the article, he took a scalpel to his garage and went to town on some saddles he had laying around.

Just two weeks after sending his design to Bicycling, Specialized founder Mike Sinyard called him up and Body Geometry saddles were born. Despite initial resistance from riders, staff and shops everywhere, Sinyard and Dr. Minkow persisted in development and, well, Specialized sold about 500,000 BG saddles by the following Interbike. That was 1999.

Fast forward to 2007 and Minkow, having been on full time retainer with Specialized ever since, started carving saddles again. This time, his starting point was the Body Geometry Rival, shown above.

prototype specialized romin saddle was carved from a rival body geometry bike seat for testing on pro racers

After a pro cyclist asked Dr. Minkow for a saddle with a central groove or cutout, the Romin project began. Starting with a Body Geometry Rival saddle, he started carving away. The original “prototype” is shown above. These photos were sent to us by Dr. Minkow and are the first time he’s shown the original prototypes outside of Specialized’s R&D room!

“The front of the Rival had to change but I wasn’t sure how much to drop the front,” said Dr. Minkow. “I began cutting away at the Rival and taping it back together. Andy Jacques Maines, one of our product managers and a professional rider agreed to race this very rough prototype each weekend for about six weeks. I was amazed at his courage and how tough he was to do this. At the end of the six weeks the Rival Romin prototype was done. Andy felt the angle was right.

“I took this prototype to Robert Egger who is the Head of Design at Specialized and the most talented designer I have every met. He took the Rival Romin Prototype and created the first rideable prototype saddle at Specialized. His saddle with the red tape on the nose (below) was made of carbon fiber and covered with a light foam. Robert finished the prototype and felt is was one of the best shaped saddles he had ever ridden.”

In addition to Egger, a number of their engineers and designers collaborated to make the saddle a reality: Carl Bird, Piet van der Velde, Nick Gosseen, Brendan Pierce and Jeremiah O’Riordan. Although the saddle is named after him (Ro for Roger, Min for Minkow), Dr. Minkow said it was a full team effort. “A one-man show is impossible,” he said. “All these other guys made it happen.”

prototype specialized Romin saddle in raw form

Besides the groove, what separated the Romin from the other saddles in the Specialized catalog was the kicked up tail. Prior to the Romin, all of their saddles were flat. Dr. Minkow says that helps rotate the pelvis into a safer position for the spine, keeping it neutral and reducing stress and damage on the discs.

“People that ride on a flat saddle tend to lose lumbar curvature,” he says. “They start rounding their lower back, which puts pressure in their L4/5 and L5/S1 discs. By kicking up the back of the saddle, you throw the pelvis forward, keeping the lower back in a normal lordotic position and reducing back pain. So, it helps.

“I sent The Egger Romin Prototype to Andy Pruitt to test and had other testers in the US and Europe test it as well. Everyone said the same thing…this was the best shaped saddle they had ever ridden. I took the Egger Romin to the lab in Germany (where Dr. Minkow and Specialized did their original testing in 1997-98) and tested the male blood flow where it tested better than all of the rest of our saddles.”

2011 Specialized Romin SL bike saddle

The Romin SL was one of the products of the initial design work, which we’ve reviewed here.

Dr. Minkow continued: “When Piet Vandervelde came to Specialized to be the Saddle Product Manager he took the Egger Romin to Asia and finished the design creating the first Romin Saddle. Piet had a great eye for design and made the saddle one of the most beautiful ever for Specialized.

After seeing the Romin’s success, work began on the new Romin Evo:

2011 Specialized Romin Evo Pro ergonomic road bike saddle

The image at the top of the post shows a Bondo version of the Romin Evo during development.

“The Romin Evo was designed to be for more extreme riders than the Romin. The front was dropped about 15 degrees, the mid section was narrowed slightly and the padding in the mid section was increased for riders who were frequently in the Aero Position. Along with the Romin Evo came the Oura, a women’s specific Romin type saddle. The Oura, like the Romin, got great reviews from our women testers who felt that the kick up in the back as well as the groove all the way to the nose gave them more comfort than they had ever had in a race type saddle.”

 

Comments

Gary - 12/08/11 - 3:28pm

Mildly interesting. One of the most uncomfortable saddles I have ever ridden. Just my opinion.

b*tcH - 12/08/11 - 3:42pm

MY FAV saddle to date! EVO here i come!

Mike - 12/08/11 - 3:51pm

I’m still going to buy a brooks. Sorry new tech, there’s something about the idea of breaking in a leather saddle that just can’t be beat. Hard work over instant comfort every time.

Brian - 12/08/11 - 4:20pm

The Romin looks great, although not a breakthrough. The SMP saddles have had the same curve, crotch cutout, and size availability for years. Hopefully the Romin is less expensive and light enough to justify switching brands when it’s time to retool the fleet.

Jason - 12/08/11 - 4:29pm

wow…almost looks like an SMP Evolution copy..

Ettore - 12/08/11 - 5:45pm

This saddle looks awful lot like my SMP Evolution. It is the best saddle I have ever ridden and finally I can stay on the bike for 4 to 5 hours without the pressure I used to get.

Uri - 12/08/11 - 6:15pm

Not as agressively curved or as wide a channel as an SMP. I love my Romin, didn’t care for SMP I tried.

Terry - 12/08/11 - 6:19pm

wow! and did they pay you for this infomercial? Big red S has an awsome marketing department, I can’t go a day without reading about thier stuff.

iunderhill - 12/08/11 - 6:43pm

Dear god, Terry – you’re right! The audacity of reviewing products available FOR SALE!

Mark W. - 12/08/11 - 6:57pm

just my two cents
but the split saddle dont seem to make as much of a difference to riders that weigh less
i weight 165 and i dont think the split does that much for me and i cant really get all that much flex out of the saddles. Most people i see that like specialized saddles are the 175-250 lbs. riders that have the weight to push down on it.
I think fizik and selle italia are build for lighter and more narrow hipped rider.
I would like to see specialized look in to doing the mono link on some of their saddles though, they would really benefit with the movement you get out of it

b*tcH - 12/08/11 - 7:24pm

SMP $ 239.00 about 300g – Romin w/carbon rails $ 180 173g

Romin looks way better in MY opinion!

Speedy - 12/08/11 - 7:43pm

The original Rival SL saddle was the first saddle I ever road that worked or me. I have been using BG saddles ever since. I have tried others, but always go back to my Specialized saddles. I prefer the Toupee personally. But the Romin rides really well.

Jason - 12/08/11 - 7:43pm

Your comparison of SMP EVO a handmade Italian saddle with very nice leather VS “Micromatrix” covered more than likely asian made saddle is an invalid comparison.

I own 3 SMP EVO’s and while they require more care than this saddle does, the fit and comfort are unmatched.

I am 165lb rider, and I have rides where I spend 6 or more hours in the saddle and the split makes a massive difference if I can feel my “junk” the next day or not.

Roger Minkow - 12/08/11 - 8:53pm

Thank you all for your comments. This was a story of development rather than a commercial geared at promoting the saddle. I think it was well written and clear and told the story very accurately.

In the early days of the Romin development I was curious about the SMP and I noticed there are some comparisons in the comments. My feeling is that the SMP was more radical than I thought practical for most riders. When I measured the blood flow on the SMP it was very good in the upright position but because the nose had to be elevated to sit comfortably the blood flow in the aero position was not as good as I thought it should be. The Romin and the Romin Evo has milder curves and for that reason can be set up so that the mid section is horizontal. With this set up we got great blood flow both in the upright as well as the aero positions.

Saddles are certainly very individual. It is impossible to make everyone happy with one design. I am happy and proud of the great reception of the Romin family of saddles. I hope many of you have many happy hours riding these products.

Thanks again for the interest.

Roger Minkow, M.D.

Piet Vandervelde - 12/08/11 - 10:51pm

SMP are great saddles and so are Brooks, there is nothing as personal as a saddle, So look around, try as many as you can and be properly fitted and take care of your body.

BG-Fit is a great start

Thx
Piet Vandervelde
Sr Product Manager
Specialized Hardgoods

Petra - 12/09/11 - 1:03am

At one point I believed the hype of the cutout saddles, the smps, the specialized, the selle italia, sadly nothing worked for me. Fizik Kurve is what worked for me.

bob - 12/09/11 - 1:04am

At 6′ and 130lb these are awful saddles, for me. Have tried them on my road and xc mtb bikes and no matter how much I persist with them I can’t help but notice I am sitting on a groove. On the mtb or when descending curvey roads on the road bike I can’t move my weight around that little bit. But saddles are personal and for my stable of bikes I ride a carbon rail SLR (dually XC), ti rail SLR (commuter rigid XC), two WCS (hard tail XC, one carbon WCS (single speed XC 29er) and two Fizik Arione (on my road bikes). All these fit my skinny but and allow a bit of moving around but suit me such that I forget about what I am sitting on. If after a while I can loose focus on what I am sitting on good, but those grooved Specialised (a test saddle it was) and any other grooved saddle I’ve tried – well in use I can’t get it out of my mind that I am sitting on a groove.

MsC - 12/09/11 - 3:05am

The Romin SL is the best saddle I have ever ridden – I have been riding it for more than 2 years on my road bike and am planning to put one on both my mountainbikes.

I was wondering if I should go for the Romin Evo or the regular Romin ?

Anybody ridden both?

Matt - 12/09/11 - 4:07am

It’s a right pain to find the right saddle, with all the advances in computer modelling, extensive research etc. it’s still a matter of buying and trying. It’s funny how you can buy something like shoes in the right size and they’ll generally fit you but a saddle is so individual and is a matter of trial and error mostly. I’d thought using a system like the Shimano moldable foot beds to get the saddle to support the right areas so it’s one saddle for all bums might work.
My arse is Selle Italia SLR shaped in case anyone was wondering… : O )

Ben Liaw - 12/09/11 - 7:39am

I was pleasantly surprised with the Romin Evo that came on my S Works Venge this year. I was prepared to dislike it but found It to be extremely comfortable compared to a plethora or other saddles I have tried. My favorite saddle of all time is a Selle Italia Evolution 2 (yes, the 99g all carbon one from the 90s) and used to sit on my favorite bike. Now, I find myself considering a Romin Evo Pro for my new bike…problem is, I hate mixing brands on the bike. Not sure if I can ride a Specialized saddle on a Giant…

Tyler - 12/09/11 - 7:47am

MsC – the new Evo version is out of stock for a few more weeks, but as soon as they have one, we’ll get one in to do a comparison and review. The main differences are the slightly increased padding and the dropped nose. Dr. Minkow and others we talked to said the Evo is better if you’re typically not moving around a lot on the saddle (ie. sliding forward and backward).

dan t. - 12/09/11 - 9:59am

I went from a San Marco Aspide to a Specialized Toupe and both were very good for me. The only drawback that sent me back to San Marco (after a sponsorship situation) was that the Specialized saddles I had developed a sag in the fore-aft middle. That is, the saddle became kind of sway-backed, when seen from the side. This forced my hips to rotate slightly in the wrong way, resulting in a loss of power and comfort. And I’m a relatively small and light person!

matt - 12/09/11 - 10:26am

specialized copys ALL their product from other companys, then tries to patent it and markets the hell out of it. nothing they produce is their original design….they are a great marketing co, everything else is ripped off.

MsC - 12/09/11 - 11:02am

@Tyler : since you tend to move around on the saddle quite a lot on a mountainbike (ie steep climbs you slide forwards onto the nose), you think the regular Romin would be the better choice? Kulhavy is riding one :-)

Adam - 12/09/11 - 11:14am

@MSC- for the mtb I think you might prefer the Phenom saddle instead. It provides a bit more support. I ride the Phenom on both my mtb and my cx bikes.
Romin on the road bike.

The biggest update that I thought was noticable and worth replacing my original Romin, was the narrowing of the nose of the saddle. For me, and my short legs and narrow Q-factor, my thighs were brushing the saddle and rails constantly. The new one I hope will be better.
I loved the Romin.
But it’s winter here in VT, so time will tell.

Also of note here that the MD that developed the saddle provided further insight than the article as well as Piet from Specialized.

Thanks

Kai - 12/09/11 - 11:54am

@Dr. Roger Minkow or @Piet Vandervelde,

Could either of you guys elaborate on why you toned down the “kicked up tail” so substantially?

On the proto version with the red tape on the nose, which I believe you refer to as the Egger, the tail rises very substantially. By the time we get to the Romin SL and Evo production saddles, the profile, when viewed from the side, has been flattened substantially, to a point where it is not particularly noteworthy.

I’m not trying to be a troll here, just curious, as I very much like the idea of the tail aiding a forward pelvic rotation, and consequent reduction in lumbar stress. It seems strange that you would tone down the tail rise, if “Everyone (who rode the Egger prototype) said the same thing…this (Egger prototype) was the best shaped saddle they had ever ridden.”

If the prototype blew away every other saddle people had ridden, why would you then reduce it’s unique characteristics and make it look more (in profile at least) like all the rest of the apparently inferior designs?

I have an SMP now and like the rise on the tail, however I am not entirely sure about the overall front to back “saddle” shape, and so I would be very interested to try a saddle like the Egger proto which is, more or less, flat on the front 90% with the only real contouring being the kick at the tail.

Thanks

Tyler (Editor) - 12/09/11 - 1:32pm

MsC – Don’t know, I haven’t tried it on the MTB.

Pete - 12/09/11 - 2:18pm

My thanks to Tyler for writing this piece and Dr. Minkow and Mr. Vandervelde for commenting.

I’ve ridden on a number of Specialized saddles (all of which I still own) including the Rival 135 (MTB/HT/26er), Format SL 143 (MTB/FS/26er), Phenom Gel 143 (MTB/HT/29er), Toupe Ti 143 (Road), and most recently the Romin 155 (Road).

I’ve also covered the spread with WTB saddles, Selle Italia saddles, and a handful of others that slip my mind at the moment. Haven’t tried a Brooks saddle but I hear the break-in period is tough and it only gets better from there.

Point being… not every saddle works best for every bike and certainly not for every rider. I found that I can go with a flatter, narrower saddle or a wider saddle that curves more aggressively at the edges. I prefer a cutout but I also live in FL and prefer the “vent” effect unless I’m riding off-road in which I’m not spending too much time on the saddle anyway.

It’s great to see a range of opinions expressed here but I’m not sure how any rider could tell another rider that their opinion is wrong. After all, it’s just an opinion.

I also sincerely appreciate the insight into product development – whether it’s the layup schedule for a carbon frame, the shape and materials used in making a pedal, or the significance of the shape and evolution of a saddle. I like to know how something came to fruition and this whets my appetite for a bike-themed history lesson. Well done.

To be fair… Specialized does a ton of marketing, no doubt, but so do many other larger bike manufacturers/companies (Trk, Gnt, Cdale, Schwn, etc) and it’s pieces like this (thanks again, Tyler) that give me a perspective that the marketing machine doesn’t provide… which is more inline with what I’m interested in anyway.

Oh well – figured I’d say thanks and toss in my $.02. Thanks to all and ride happy, ride safe this holiday season!

zombieweekly - 12/10/11 - 7:44am

Reading the comments, I just have to say that Specialized is doing well because they make great products, not just about their advertisements and PR.

Lot of my equipment on the bike changed into Specialized products because they are simply better than most of the stuff out there. Personally, Purist bottles is THE BEST bottle I’ve ever used. None of that left over flavor of sports drink, etc.

I think its great that people like Dr.Minkow actually care enough about their work to come to a internet forum to talk about his product, please keep up the good work and bring more joy to my cushion.

matt - 12/10/11 - 8:37am

elite has had bottles like that for yrs, i have them. so what do they make that is better then who they copied it from? maybe you should read up on their business practices before you say you like them and their products.

rim=stans copy
crank=lightning copy
inertia suspension=fox copy
4 bar link=HORST LEITNER copy, dont ask me how they patent a 4 bar linkage as its the fist type of kinematics you learn in engineering.
varus tilt in shoes=sidi copy, they have done this for yrs

i could go on all day

S Querney - 12/10/11 - 1:38pm

Hi.

I manage a shop in Ontario Canada and am a Specialized dealer, as well as a BG Fitter. I have had the opportunity at various product launches over the last few years to meet with and talk to Dr. Minkow. He is very personable and friendly. When I spoke about riding/pain issues, he opened up and gave very useful advice. He seems to genuinely care about cyclists being comfortable and free of numbness, rather than selling a load of product.

I use the ROMIN for fitting a lot, but I also have had success with the PHENOM and the AVATAR. They all fit a little different. Rider’s crotches (Sorry for language) don’t always fit the same. It also depends on what kind of position you sit in, sit-bone width, and sometimes lower-back flexibility. I personally use the AVATAR as it fits me better than the ROMIN.

Specialized has a fantastic TEST SADDLE program. Go to a Specialized BG TEST SADDLE store, try a saddle. If you don’t like it, try a different one. Make sure the store fitter measures your sit bones!!!

Robin - 12/10/11 - 6:41pm

Sidi shoes don’t have varus wedge built into the shoes.

Specialized bought the patent from Lightning for their cranks, and in the process gave Lightning a license to produce and sell the cranks.

I suspect the other claims of theft hold about just as much water as the shoe and crank claims, which is to say none.

MsC - 12/11/11 - 8:12am

Went for the Romin Pro 143mm. Thanks Roger & co for making such a great saddle !

BJ - 12/11/11 - 2:26pm

@Matt

Please show me these said products that Specialized just ‘copies’, pretty bold statement with nothing to back it up

Rick Vosper - 12/12/11 - 3:33pm

@Matt,

I worked at Specialized during development of three of the products you mentioned. In addition to Robin’s response about shoes and cranks, I can add that while Bob Fox did the product dev on the inertia valve, key parts of the application (specifically, putting the inertia circuit at or near the axle) were done by Specialized employees and brought to Bob as part of what Specialized would eventually market as The Brain suspension.

Using inertia valves on bikes is a brilliant idea, but it’s not patentable– that’s why other companies can do it if they choose. And the proprietary parts of of Bob Fox’s initial work are still being licensed by Specialized. But relocating the inertia element was an even more important development…which is why it has a separate patent and is not used by competitors.

Hope this helps.

matt - 12/12/11 - 7:11pm

@robin/rick

rims-specy was sued by stans so pretty self explanatory
crank-so they bought someone elses design, exactly what i said, it was a copy and not their own idea
inertia suspension-rick admitted it was a fox design
4 bar linkage-bought from someone else just like the crank, again not their design
varus tilt-robin you better go try em on because they do have tilt, as do diadora and various other shoes who dont advertise it. mavic and northwave do not.
saddles-smp has had these for yrs
bottles- elite has had hygene bottles for yrs
in the shoes wedges- a “bikefit” product been out for a while before specy made em

as i said the list could go on and on

matt - 12/12/11 - 10:36pm

Ignore the troll

Mike - 02/15/12 - 3:53pm

@Matt

With the Elite bottles they may have a similar plastic but the valve is all Specialized.

Carl H. - 08/07/12 - 12:21pm

Hi, is there anyway Dr. Minkow can comment on what saddle angle the Romin
was “designed” for out of the box? I have been riding Romins for the past
two seasons and really enjoy them, but have struggled with the correct
saddle angle that allows me to rotate my hips effectively. I think my
issue may be that I am running the saddle too nose up, but I am perplexed
and challenged by the number of competing views on what angle to use as as
starting point. Here is what I’ve been told:

1. Specialized Help/Customer Support – Run the saddle at 0 degrees across
the top of the slope in the back and nose in the front. Effectively,
center portion of the saddle (e.g. “cup”) is around 5 to 6 degrees up.

2. Run the saddle at -1 degrees across the top of the slope in the back
and the nose in the front. Effectively, center portion of the saddle
(e.g. “cup”) is around 4 to 5 degrees up.

3. Run the saddle “flat” across the cup, or “flat” from the point where
the rear begins to slope up across the nose. In this case the saddle
rails are nearly parallel with the group and the center portion of the
saddle is pretty much flat (there is a small “cup” depending on where you
judge the rear slop begins).

anj - 03/04/13 - 8:00pm

This article’s been up for two years, high-ranking Specialized product developer staff reads and comments and nobody notices that the women’s saddle has been misspelled? Ts, ts, ts. It’s called the Oura, not the Aura. And I am in such deep love with the Romin (by far the best saddle I’ve ever ridden) that I have it on three bikes now – and that I’ll buy my girlfriend the Oura.

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