Ask Nick: Levi’s hump, saddle woes and derailleur pulleys

Tech editor Nick Legan gives advice on building ice socks, choosing and aligning the perfect saddle and replacing derailleur pulleys

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

What was on Levi’s back under his shirt during the TT [at the Amgen Tour of California]? Looked too big for a radio… Camelbak? I thought UCI had rules against changing the form of your body for aerodynamics… Just curious.
— Jonathan Winton

A. Justin,
Levi and many others used ice socks under their skinsuits to try to keep a little cool in the blistering, 100+ degree temperatures of the Bakersfield time trial.

To make your own, puff out your chest and walk straight into the ladies’ lingerie section of your local department store. Buy a pair of nylon stockings (not full pantyhose, you only need the legs). Then dump a couple handfuls of ice into the end of the sock. Stuff it full and tie a knot. Then cut off the excess leg, tie another knot to start the next one and repeat. You’ll get four or five ice socks per leg pretty easily. Throw them in the freezer the night before a brutal race. You can use them for warm-ups and during the race to keep a bit cooler.

I am struggling with my bike saddle. I am not new to cycling and have logged many miles and tours over the past 25 years. I purchased a new bike five years ago and it came equipped with a Selle Italia Trans Am saddle. I rode it for the first few years that I owned the bike and it seemed to feel and fit like all of the other saddles I had owned in the past: uncomfortable. I have come to expect there will be some sensitivity after big days in the saddle. I don’t mind the pressure on my sit bones and expect that to be normal. However, the numbness I am experiencing up front is getting old. I decided that perhaps the saddle I was riding was to narrow for me so I switched to the Selle Italia Max Flite Gel Flow which is one of the wider performance saddles I could find and has a cutout.

I am over 6 feet and weigh over 200lbs. Still, after 1500 miles I am still experiencing numbness up front. I have read several articles on fit and adjustment and have followed many of those recommendations. I started with the saddle level (I even used a level) and rode for some time, same problem. Next, I tilted the saddle slightly down, assuming that would relieve the numbness and it did some. After that I slid the seat a little further forward to make sure that my sit bones were over the wider part of the seat. After all of the adjustments made I can only go about 20 minutes before needing to stand up to relieve the numbness and I have to do this continually throughout my rides.

I recently discovered the ISM Adamo Saddles while looking through Velo’s picture gallery of Taylor Phinney’s TT bike. The ISM website makes claims that its saddles do not minimize blood flow to the genitals, however they are narrower than what I currently ride. I am tempted to try one of these saddles, but am afraid of forking out more cash for another saddle that doesn’t work for me. I want to focus on my riding rather than worrying about what is not getting blood. What would your suggestions be for finding the right saddle and dialing in the position without breaking the bank?
— Morris

A. Morris,
I think you’ve been on the wrong saddle the entire time. Ideally, you should be able to run a saddle within a few degrees of level and be comfortable. If that’s not the case, you need to look for a different saddle.

Many, many shops have demo saddles. Call the shop and set up some time to come in and play with different saddles on your bike. Throw on your most comfortable bibs and head in with an open mind.

You’ve only tried two models and there is a cornucopia of offerings out there. You could also hit up cycling buddies to see if they have any saddles they aren’t using.

When trying a saddle, make sure to check your seat height. You will have to adjust it a bit with different saddles as some are taller than others. If you aren’t comfy at first, but it isn’t uncomfortable, give the saddle a spin around the block. Try a few and pick the best. Ask to take it for a 30-minute ride.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, I would advise having a trained eye look at your position. If your bars are extremely high, you’re carrying a lot of weight on your saddle. Sometimes lowering a bar can make a saddle more comfortable. Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.

Also be sure that your saddle isn’t too high. If you’re overextending, your hips are likely rocking. This means bad things for your chamois area. Because your feet are clipped in, you may have put yourself on a torture machine. Try lowering your saddle 5 millimeters before you do anything else.

Oh, and ISM saddles. I’ve heard really good things. More and more pros are riding them, some even on their road bikes. Also check out the offerings from Selle SMP. They’ve made cycling enjoyable for many formerly miserable riders.

I was wondering if, as a former pro-mechanic, you had a tip for making sure the saddle and seatpost are aligned straight ahead?

I’ve tried using a level and plumb-bob over the nose of the saddle, but that assumes stitch marks on the saddle and lines on the frame are perfectly aligned as well and they usually aren’t.

If my saddle is even just a little bit out of alignment it usually wreaks havoc on my lower back and hips, so I was hoping you had a handy tip to make sure it’s set dead ahead.
– Corey

A. Corey,
That’s a good one. I usually do it by eye. Not the most scientific method, but it does allow you to account for the entire shape of the saddle.

I haven’t used this before, but I just played around with a saddle, a tape measure and a Sharpie and came up with this idea. Measure the width of your saddle’s nose. Then mark the middle of the nose with your Sharpie (make a small dot). Measure from that dot to each of your rear dropouts. Are they equal? You could also do the same from the rear of the saddle. Find the center and measure down.

This does away with the level and the plumb bob. It may also open a can of worms for you. I’ve found that few saddles sit squarely on the rails when clamped in a seatpost. Sometimes this is the fault of the saddle, sometimes the seatpost. Also keep in mind that as a saddle wears, a rider tends to break down one side of the saddle faster than the other. Few of us are symmetrical and that’s the culprit.

Best of luck!

I’m planning to take out my rear derailleur pulleys to clean them up, but I’d like to know if you’d recommend using Loctite Threadlocker (and which one) on the derailleur pulley screws when I start putting it back together. The thought of having derailleur parts falling off my bike during a ride somewhat worries me, and I also lost a chainring bolt a few years ago (but at least I still had 4 other bolts that kept the crank together).
— Eric E.

I actually just replaced some pulleys last week. I do recommend using Loctite on those bolts. They come with it and it’s worth replacing when you reinstall them. Use Loctite Blue 242. And way to keep that bike clean! Wow, are you for hire?

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