Evolution of the Specialized Romin Saddle – Interview with 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.
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.”
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.”
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:
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.”