I can't get it out of my head that I am back in 1991, when I was NOT one of the cool kids with Air Jordan Pumps, or even the equivalent Reeboks. You know the kind, with the pump on the tongue?
Topeak has decided to give that route a go, but for saddles, instead of shoes. They've created the Allay line of air-cushion saddles, which feature normally padded sit-bone aft joined with an air bladder in the middle. Saddle makers try all sorts of things with the goal of relieving pressure on the perineal nerve. Feel free to Google that if you'd like the anatomical details; I won't get too involved with it here.
Yours Truly is in an odd position to review this saddle, as I am not in the position of finding a great deal of discomfort with current offerings. I personally feel that saddle comfort is more an issue of position and fit than it is of saddle material. Also, your muscles support a great deal of your weight while riding, and they get more accustomed to doing so as I put in more miles.
I wasn't surprised to see the idea of an air-cushion saddle for the recreational and comfort market, but the Allay line is weighted towards the sport and racer crowd. How does it stack up?
Allay's Racing is available in a variety of widths along its model range, from 130 to 160mm for men, and a wider 150 to 170mm for women, who tend to have wider sit bones. Dealers are provided with a memory foam cushion upon which the customer sits, and this helps them select the proper saddle width. Caveat lector: Yours Truly picked out the narrower 130mm saddle without this fit step. Still, I think I have a pretty good sense of what saddle size is appropriate for me.
The Racing 2.1 features an integrated, adjustable pump and pressure relief valve to tune the air bladder, while the more affordable 1.1 features an external, removable pump, which is supplied with the saddle. While the integrated valve allows on-the-fly adjustment, I inadvertently depressed the release valve on a number of occasions as I moved my bike out of racks, or carried it up the stairs to my apartment. Not a crippling flaw, but certainly annoying.
As I ride on the Allay, in normal, commuting conditions on my Raleigh Sojourn touring bike, for the most part I don't notice it. No news is definitely good news for a saddle! I will point out that in my long-distance riding position I don't put a whole lot of pressure on my perineal area -- a properly fitted bike and saddle places the "wings" of the rear of the saddle directly below the riders' sit bones. Still, the Allay is well shaped and comfortable for general riding.
As I slid forward into a more aggressive position, I nearly fell off my bike. It felt like going from walking on solid ground to a floating dock on a lake -- while I didn't feel pressure or discomfort, I felt uncertain feedback beneath me. If you've ever watched a cyclist riding a time trial, they slide far forward onto the very end of their saddles. It looks terrible, but for shorter distances it's okay, since most of the weight is on one's legs and arms!
The Allay doesn't make this kind of riding easy. Another struggle I had with the Allay was cornering at speed. While I don't do a lot of this with my Sojourn, it's even harder with the Allay. To corner with confidence, you press the inside of your thigh against the nose of your saddle to help transition your weight through the turn -- this is also why those novel "noseless" saddles are a non-starter. With the Allay, I was pressing my thigh against an inflatable bladder, and felt less than confident about the feedback I received.
Finally, during fairly aggressive riding, I noticed myself armed with fewer positions, as I had to be careful to avoid weight on the part of the saddle where the air bladder transitioned into the normal padding -- it didn't have any flex, and was easy to make uncomfortable. This was the only place I felt discomfort or pressure with the Allay.
Overall? I think the Allay "Nomad" saddles, meant for comfort and hybrid bikes, could be a nice thing for day to day riders. I'm not sure why, other than cost, Topeak does not offer a Nomad saddle in anything other than a base model, with a pre-set, non-adjustble cushion, but I think there might be a market there.
Also, if you're a rider that suffers from pereneal discomfort or numbness, and those wretched "cutout" saddles haven't done you any good, you might try the Allay line before giving up the ghost on riding altogether. As for Yours Truly, I'm comfortable with my San Marco Concour Lite Aspide.