Road Gear

Wrenched & Ridden bike reviews: The Bontrager Affinity RXL 142

Trek’s Bontrager Affinity RXL saddle comes with plenty of buzzwords: Size Specific Curvature, Comfort Relief Zone and Zone Density Foam. But does all that market-speak add up to a comfortable seat? Well, that depends.

Trek’s Bontrager Affinity RXL saddle comes with plenty of buzzwords: Size Specific Curvature, Comfort Relief Zone and Zone Density Foam. But does all that market-speak add up to a comfortable seat? Well, that depends.

DSC04598I found the Affinity RXL to be a good fit when riding easy on the tops, but uncomfortable when going hard or riding in the drops.

Saddles are hard to test objectively. You either like them or you don’t. The only thing to do is compare them to similar saddles and pass along your particular experiences.

I installed the Affinity the way I do all saddles up for review. I measure seat height to the center of the length of the saddle and my normal setback. It’s a good place to start. I always bring wrenches to make adjustments (and sometimes a cell phone and cab fare if the saddle looks particularly medieval).

On the first easy ride, I liked the saddle immediately. I spent the two hours pedaling easily in small gears, something that places a lot of pressure on your saddle. Hard climbs and big gear efforts actually lift you off your saddle ever so slightly.

The Affinity surprised me. Generally I like a flat saddle and this Bontrager offering is not flat. Bontrager have designed the seat with a small dent in the middle of the saddle. This isn’t a cutaway or a channel like some saddles, just a dip. It’s not something I’ve seen on many saddles. Bontrager calls this feature the Comfort Relief Zone (CRZ). It seemed effective for me. The side effect, though, was that I couldn’t really move around on the saddle. And this is where I started to run into troubles.

When climbing, the saddle got increasingly uncomfortable as the road got steep. I found myself getting out of the saddle to find some relief. Nothing too bad, but I was fidgeting.

Once at the top of the climb, I had no issues planting myself on the saddle for the descent. Comfort was back. Halfway down the descent, working hard to maintain momentum, tucked in the drops, my squirm was back.

The next week I had intervals planned; short, seated, intense ones. By the end of the workout, it all came rushing back to me. Everything was great just riding along, but as soon as I turned on the gas, I couldn’t sit still.

When testing, I try not to read the company’s literature about a product until I’ve formed my opinions. After a number of rides I read Bontrager’s description of the saddle: “A high-performance road racing saddle designed for riders who prefer a slightly higher hand position.” If I’m reading that correctly, the Affinity is made for a relaxed position with a high handlebar. Bontrager accomplished that. I don’t have a low bar by ProTour standards, but I’m still fairly low. Because I move around on my saddle a fair bit, this just isn’t the seat for me.

If you have liked saddles like Fizik’s Aliante or a San Marco Concor, the Affinity RXL is worth trying. These saddles tend to keep the rider planted in one spot. The Affinity will likely give lots of comfort to riders with high handlebar positions. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the Arione or other flat offerings, I’d look elsewhere.

Bontrager’s Zone Density Foam makes the Affinity a firm saddle, but this isn’t a negative aspect. It underlines how important the shape of a saddle is, much more so than the amount of cushioning. The shell does offer some relief by flexing under the weight of the rider. Hollow titanium rails also offer a degree of suspension that helps on less than perfect tarmac. It is intended as a road saddle and I have to say that I don’t like the idea of it for my mountain or cyclocross bikes.

The Affinity, like many Bontrager saddles, is offered in several widths. In keeping with different widths, Bontrager also build their saddles using Size Specific Curvatures. It makes sense to maintain the proportions of a saddle once a comfortable shape is attained. Bontrager’s website lists the Affinity RXL as available in three widths: 128, 138 and 148mm. I rode the 138mm.

Nick LeganEditor’s note: After graduating from Indiana University with honors and a degree in French and journalism, Legan jumped straight into wrenching at Pro Peloton bike shop in Boulder for a few years. Then, he began a seven-year stint in the professional ranks, most recently serving for RadioShack at the Tour de France and the Amgen Tour of California. He also worked for Garmin-Slipstream, CSC, Toyota-United, Health Net and Ofoto.