The Logging Road Cyclist has no relationship with ISM other than the full price he paid to the vendors from whom he obtained the saddles reviewed here. The opinions expressed in this review are his alone and may not apply to other cyclists, although he hopes that they are useful.
The Logging Road Cyclist reviews the ISM PM 2.0 mountain bike saddle on his road, gravel and mountain bikes. He finds that in terms of relieving perineal pressure, this saddle does everything the manufacturer claims., i.e. that pressure on the perineum is relieved while riding. After 6 months of testing, TLRC never had his significantly damaged pudendal nerve affected, and once correctly adjusted, the saddle is quite comfortable. The only drawback to the ISM saddle is that it requires significant setback for it to be fit correctly, possibly requiring expensive setback seat posts for proper adjustment.
Three and a half years ago, The Logging Road Cyclist severely damaged what he came to believe was his pudendal nerve. After about a year he was recovered enough to start trying out “perineum relief” saddles of which there are many. He has tried most of them, generally without success. He believes that some of them might well have prevented his injury, but, once he was injured they were not sufficiently effective at removing pressure from that sensitive spot. (As an aside for any other cyclists suffering rom this malady, the most successful thing for both rehabilitation and diagnosis for TLRC was pelvic floor therapy, provided by a suitably trained physical therapist; yes, they do it for men too.)
When searching online for saddles that claim to relieve perineal pressure the ISM family shows up among the first candidates, and indeed they were one of the first such saddles that TLRC tried. However much he wanted them to work (and he really, really did), TLRC just couldn’t quite figure out how to sit on them, and they scared him a little, he not wanting to re-injure himself.
Lately he ran into another old cyclist who was using one, and shortly thereafter found this very good video on fitting ISM’s and he got intrigued again. And this time, he figured out how to adjust and use the PM 2.0, and was very pleased with the results.
Fitting the ISM
There is a lot of good information on the ISM website and various YouTube videos about setting up these saddles. Generally speaking, they show how to do it, but the details are a bit trickier. There are two things going on. First, the new user is not quite sure how to sit on these very different saddles. Moreover, as ISM says, at first their saddles may not be comfortable, given how different the sitting position is. TLRC wholeheartedly agrees. Given that one is not entirely sure how to sit on the saddle, and initially may be uncomfortable when sitting on it correctly, how does one go about fitting it to the bike? This is why using ISM’s takes some commitment and an investment of time and rides done with wrenches to hand.
The basics are simple. Since one sits on the front of the saddle, the saddle needs to be displaced to the rear if the rider is to maintain his original position on the bike. ISM also recommends that the saddle be lowered a bit relative to a “normal” saddle. Again, there are lots of resources out there. It would probably be a big help to spend the money and find a fitter who knows how to work with ISM saddles.
TLRC did it himself and, fiddling with four bikes (for he committed), it took quite a while. He does not suggest this as an optimal way to do things…
Riding the PM 2.0
Once adjusted correctly, this is quite a comfortable saddle. To TLRC’s surprise there are a number of riding positions that he finds congenial. Since this is one of ISM’s short saddles, there is a tilt at the back. One can snuggle one’s sitbones just in front of this and it feels like sitting in a sling chair. Slide up a bit and roll forward, and the pubic ramii take up the load. Slide a bit further up and the sitbones can rest on the twin noses just as well. TLRC has no idea if these are all “official” riding positions, but they work for him and allow various parts of the load-bearing surface to rest from time to time. The more forward positions allow for forward weight shift on steep climbs.
Remember that these saddles are designed to be ridden forward. From a male perspective, TLRC finds “almost off the front” about covers it. If chafing on the inner thighs occurs, one is likely not forward enough. Chafing in the groin area may also indicate that the saddle is too high (ISM recommends starting 5mm lower than your present saddle). TLRC got a terrible case of irritation behind his legs when the saddle on his full suspension mountain bike was way too far forward (more anon).
The tilt of the saddle is also important, and requires quite a bit of work. TLRC found it best to tilt the saddle down enough that he felt himself sliding off the front and bring it up incrementally from there to a point of stability.
But here is the salient point: Even when poorly adjusted, TLRC suffered no discomfort at all in his damaged area. It is hard to emphasize this enough. He is very conservative about what saddles he will try, out of fear of re-damaging himself and being unable to ride (which has happened). It took him a month to figure out that he was safe on these saddles, and then could concentrate on adjusting them correctly.
Setback: The Fly In the Ointment
As stated, these saddles are designed to be ridden on the forward part. To keep the rider positioned as with a regular saddle the ISM must be moved back “2-3 inches” (per ISM) with respect to that regular saddle. This is a really long way. If, like TLRC on his road bike, the saddle is already pretty far back on a setback seatpost, it just won’t work. TLRC found that for his road bike, he needed a 32mm setback FSA K-Force post and for his gravel bike a 16mm setback Niner seatpost (and he wouldn’t mind a little more). These are $200 seat posts, so you have the best part of $400 above the seat post tube.
For mountain bikes with dropper posts, the choices are limited. TLRC found a Nine Point Eight that worked (another bunch of $$$).
The only thing TLRC knows about saddle construction he learned while repurposing the Bontragers to his own saddles, so this may or may not be a reasonable request: Could ISM possibly design a saddle whose rails can accommodate the required setback on a straight seat post?
For the primary and important goal of avoiding damage to the soft tissue in the perineum, TLRC found the ISM PM 2.0 to be very effective. Three of his four bikes required pretty spendy setback seat posts to accommodate the ISM saddles. Adjustment has been a long process, but ultimately TLRC has found these saddles to be quite comfortable, certainly more so than his homemade ones.
TLRC recommends trying one of these saddles if one is interested either in preventing or recovering from soft-tissue injury in the perineum. It certainly beats making your own! Good Luck.