Tioga Undercover Stratum Saddle - Review

Mar 7, 2018
by Mike Levy  
Tioga Undercover seat


If you ask the average person, or maybe even the average mountain biker, if a seat without padding could be as comfy as one with padding, they're almost certainly going to say "No." But those people haven't spent any time on Tioga's Spyder Stratum and Spyder Outland (a more flexible Stratum with thin rubber pads) seats that depend on a webbed shell with engineered-in flex designed to negate the need for traditional padding. Truth is, padding has less to do with how agreeable a seat is than one might expect - the shape and how it flexes are what counts - but this is, understandably, a difficult thing to convince people of.

Undercover Stratum Details

• Flexible webbed frame
• Full Carbon; X-Pad SL
• Width: 140mm
• Carbon fiber rails
• Rider weight limit: 200 lbs
• Weight: 145 grams
• MSRP: $195 USD
www.tiogausa.com
The brand new Undercover Stratum is Tioga's answer to this dilemma. They applied a thin layer of foam atop the flexible webbed shell to provide a bit more forgiveness, both for a rider's underside and for his or her eyes. At just 145-grams, the Full Carbon, X-Pad SL Undercover Stratum is only a gnat's fart heavier than the ultra-slim Spyder Stratum (also with carbon rails), but the 25-gram weight penalty comes with padding that's sure to be more appealing to many riders.


Tioga Undercover seat


What probably isn't as appealing is the $195 USD price tag for top-tier Undercover reviewed here, but you can get one with titanium rails for $125, or hollow steel rails for $95 USD. None of those options are what I'd call inexpensive, no doubt about that, but as a cross-country bandit who's on their seat for hours on end, I'd argue that comfort pretty much trumps other factors.


Design

The fancy-pants Undercover Stratum may be light, but that doesn't matter one bit if it isn't comfortable, so here's what Tioga did: Unlike their other 'DualTech' dual-material shells, the Undercover's is made from a single material. ''With the addition of a foam pad, the SpyderWeb shell on the Undercover has a more singular duty - as a "leaf spring" - with the foam pad taking care of conformity and damping duties,'' Tioga's Kai Cheng explained. In other words, the Undercover's padding negates the need for the dual-material shell.


Tioga Undercover seat


The Undercover's shape is also different, with a wider, flatter surface (140mm versus the Spyder's 135mm) that extends up to the nose. The padding does hide this a bit, but the gist is that it's both wider, flatter, and slightly longer than Tioga's other webbed seats. The webbed shell's shape has also been designed with the foam treatment in mind, too, with a concave to it that allows Tioga to apply more padding where it's needed without building up the seating surface.

I'll let Cheng explain Tioga's approach: ''The thinnest portion of the X-Pad is where the sit-bones would rest. As our sit-bones are naturally able to sustain high pressure, while its surrounding areas can't (this area is mostly soft tissues and blood vessels), too much padding under the sit-bones generally adds to discomfort because when the foam compresses under the sit-bones, the surrounding foam pushes up and into the soft tissue area.''

And speaking of padding, there are actually two different kinds of foam depending on which Undercover you choose. The $95 USD steel rail version gets Tioga's 'X-Pad ReAcvtiv' open-cell foam that they say is softer and more economical, albeit also a bit heavier.
Tioga Undercover seat

If you spring for the pricey carbon or titanium model, you get their X-Pad SL closed-cell EVA foam that, according to Cheng is, ''denser, lighter, and with better rebounding characteristics, but more expensive.'' I think that's probably enough tech talk about bike seats.



Performance

I'm a big fan of Tioga's original unpadded Spyder Stratum, having put about a zillion miles on it, and also the lightly padded Spyder Outland (pictured below next to the Undercover). I've even raced the BC Bike Race on both seats over the last few years and thought it'd make sense to do something similar with the new Undercover model, so I bolted it to my cross-country bike for the Samarathon stage race in Israel. Trial by fire and all that.


Tioga Undercover seat
Tioga's Spyder Outland saddle (left) compared to the Undercover)


No surprise: with its revised shape and additional padding, the Undercover is a very different seat compared to Tioga's other webbed offerings. The obvious distinction is that it's more usable - the padding, along with the extra length, means that it's less obtrusive when sitting up on the nose or farther back on the tail.

That bit about being able to slide up on the nose is noteworthy because while you can certainly do the same thing on Tioga's unpadded seats, it can sometimes feel as if you've royally pissed off a large-fingered TSA agent. The padding on the Undercover, however, makes this a far less penetrating experience.


Tioga Undercover seat


As with any lightly padded - or completely unpadded - seat, it's important to get the angle correct. Nose-high and, well, bad things can happen. The Undercover ended up being tipped down ever so slightly more than the other Tioga seats I've used, and I suspect that's to do with how the central portion of the webbed shell flexes under the rider's weight, which can leave the padded nose feeling a touch high if you don't compensate for that by tipping it down a degree or two.

The wider cross-section is noteworthy, too, as those whose rear ends work best with slim seats might find that the flatter, wider profile doesn't gel with them. My backside definitely prefers a slimmer shape - the wider, flatter profile caused a bit of chafing - but the 140mm width worked decently well for me considering my underside isn't yet at its beef jerky-est like it is in the summer. One thing that I would have liked to see is the padding extended over the sides of the shell. As it is, it runs to the edge, and the shell, while less likely to leave you with marks than the unpadded models, can still feel hard. If the padding is there, I feel like it may as well cover the edges of the shell, too.


Tioga Undercover seat
Tioga Undercover seat


As far as creaks and groans go, I never heard a peep of protest from the Undercover, and its carbon rails are holding up just fine. Then again, I'm well under 200lbs these days (yes, despite all those donuts), so I wouldn't expect this fly-weight version to give me any trouble.


Pinkbike's Take:
bigquotesTioga's range of webbed seats is the perfect example of the adage about not being able to judge a book by its cover. It's true that shell shape and flex count for the most points, but the padded design of the Undercover does make it more approachable - and more forgiving - than Tioga's other options. If you're open to something a bit different, and your butt mates well with a slightly wider, flatter shape, the Undercover is worth checking out. Mike Levy







81 Comments

  • + 117
 Finally I can fart thru my saddle instead of raising my butt.
  • + 3
 hahahahahaha thats awesome
  • + 2
 I wonder what a "gnat's fart" smells like
  • + 4
 Additional dingleberry catcher can be added as well!
  • + 2
 saddle-ly true, hahaaaa.
  • + 25
 saddles seem like such a personalized preference item, i have a hard time understanding the point of saddle reviews.
  • + 11
 Fair point, but they are good advertising, especially for slightly stranger or harder to accept products like this
  • + 4
 I don't know. I think pretty much any product can fall in the category of personal preference.
  • + 6
 It has undercover scrotum. Review is needed.
  • + 8
 my personal preference in saddle is under $50 at the point of purchase
  • + 10
 @chyu: No one wants to read a review of my scotum.
  • + 10
 @mikelevy: You never know, man.
  • + 6
 @mikelevy: don't be so sure ...we live in a strange world
  • + 7
 @mikelevy: taint that the truth
  • + 1
 Without a review I would have never known that these seats were comfortable. I surely would not have known simply by looking at one the wall. In truth, it is equal to my broken in Brooks saddle in terms of comfort. I am glad people review seats.
  • + 13
 I've broken 2 of these saddles and never heard anything in response from the company, well over 30 emails. Saddle was comfortable enough, but with 0 customer service and a product that breaks easily, that's one thing I will never buy again or recommend anyone else do.
  • + 15
 It's probably because you emailed them well over 30 times.
  • + 18
 @fullfacemike: Most of the companies I work with reply within a few hours, maybe a day, 2 tops. One email per week for several months with no reply is just bad business. If I didn't respond to emails I wouldn't have a business...
  • + 4
 @therage43: Same here emailed a few times with some questions about their tires.
No response.
  • + 7
 @therage43: I wouldn't say I'm defending them - they really should respond to emails - but how many do you send before you think, "maybe this isn't working?" There's any number of reasons your emails might not be going where you're trying to send them (might be their problem, might be yours) but, if you have the time and perseverance to send 30+ emails, you have time to dial their phone number. It's 714-537-8959. If that doesn't get you anywhere in a couple tries then, well, yea they might have shitty customer service.
  • + 0
 I’ve also friends that loved these seats until they broke. $100 is ok if amortized over 5-7 years but a lifetime of less than a year is bs.

I want the seat but need to hear that durability is improved.
  • + 2
 DTSG&S Duct tape, super glue and spit
  • + 1
 How did it break? Mine have been amazingly sturdy and reliable (metal railed version). I was half expecting to need to replace mine after a year or so but not the case.
  • + 2
 therage43: You've essentially described the Tioga warranty/customer service dept for the last 40 years, since my bmx days. Strangest company in the bike business, they occasionally make cool things. They seem lifeless but somehow eternal. Feels like they cannot grow and they can't go out of business, just an odd but legendary brand that sponsored Tomac.
  • + 7
 My fat ass would swallow that thing whole, and fart that Spiderman web looking shit back out.
  • + 3
 Most saddles are 200 to 300 grams.
Ironically this saddle will probably reduce your bike weight by about 100 grams
The same amount of weight saved with carbon fibre rims.
But you only need to shell out 200$ not 2000$
I assume the 200 pound weight limit is just for the carbon fibre model?
  • + 9
 100 grams matters much more in your wheels due to the rolling mass. 100 grams of a saddle is only beneficial to someone who cares strongly about the overall weight of their bike, not someone who cares about the ride characteristics in general. Although I do agree that spending $2000 on a pair of 1700g carbon wheels is insane when you can build a bomber pair of 1700g wheels with aluminum rims for under $800.
  • + 2
 @linksys77: Care to elaborate "you can build a bomber pair of 1700g wheels with aluminum rims for under $800." ...I might upgrade wheels this yr...
  • + 2
 @loopie: If you build them yourself and reuse your existing hubs it can be pretty easy to get way under $800. Alternatively, there are some wheelbuilders who offer really good rates; I'd check out who is building wheels near you.
  • + 2
 @loopie: Depends on what your wheelsize is, and your definition of bomber. But Bontrager Line Elite in 27.5 come in at ~1700g (claimed weight) at ~$600. Stans Arch MK3 in 27.5 claim a slightly lower weight for a little more money. DT Swiss M1700 in 25mm ID are a similar weight, but those will be a little more expensive unless you can find them on sale somewhere.

29er wheels are a lot harder to do at that target weight and price.

I'm sure there are more. Those are just the ones I've had my eyes on.
  • + 1
 27.5 and 28-30mm is what I'd be after...for a stock '17 Trance Alloy. I'm assuming there's a fair bit of weight savings to be had in swapping wheels down the road. I'm a downhiller at heart and no slouch at that...but I also never break stuff...so I'd like to try a fairly light wheel build and she how she holds together for me......massive bonus being the lighter Upduro part of the ride, haha. I have access to excellent wheel builders locally. The only local rim manufacturer is Carbonz only...not interested in carbon Smile
  • + 1
 @loopie: For a pre-built wheelset it sounds like the bontrager line elite 30s fit your bill, as long as you can stomach the massive bontrager decals Smile Not a ton of press on them, but the price is appealing, hubs are 108 PoE ones used on the Line Pro 30s. And since they come stock on a lot of the higher end Trek builds you might be able to get a pair of brand new take-offs for pretty cheap. Even at full retail they seem like a good deal.

For a custom built wheel a 28 hole setup of DT Swiss XM 481 mated to, say, a DT Swiss 350 with double butted spokes would clock in around 1700g before tape and valve stem are tacked on. It also should come in around $800 (colorado cyclist price) and be very bomber. As a side note, at that point you're pretty much custom building a DT Swiss M1700 (for cheaper, I might add). But the weights on the 30mm M1700 seem a little higher than what the calculated weights based off of each part would be. Maybe my calculations are a little optimistic.
  • + 1
 @loopie: I have a similar frame ('16 Trance), my rear hub was going, and my rear rim was toast.

I bought Spank Oozy Trail 345's (30mm inner width), a Hope 12x142 rear hub, and spokes from CRC. By re-using my front hub and building the wheels myself, the total cost was just over $500CAD.

Lighter builds can be found, but this was a sweet value move (as most of my moves are - read "cheap").
  • + 1
 Right on....the builds suggested thus far seem to fall in the 1850-1950 range...taped&valved
  • + 1
 eBay do Rip off of the Tioga Spyder called Ventu, approximately $10 delivered from China. Weight 160g really comfortable, not had one long so can’t comment on how durable it’ll be but for the cost I don’t care if it only lasts a season.
  • + 2
 @linksys77: outer rotational mass to be specific.
Want to reduce that mass?
Use 26 inch wheels
Easy 100 gram savings.
Build up Al. Rims with the prescribed builds mentioned in this thread: carbon fibre looses all its charm.
  • + 1
 @Sshredder: I miss my 26" sometimes. That thing could accelerate up any hill. I love my 29er, but I could see myself going back to smaller wheels for my next bike...
  • + 3
 I have a spyder twintail on my road bike and a spyder stratum on my mountain bike, both are very comfortable. My only gripe is that in muddy conditions mud will seep through the holes from underneath but then again in muddy conditions it's not worth worrying about.
  • + 1
 Are the holes a bonus in wet conditions? Is a free draining saddle that won't act like a sponge if you have to leave it out in the rain a good thing?
  • + 3
 @djm35: The seat might not collect water when sitting. However, the tire throws water UP through the seat. The first time I rode mine in the rain I got wet in ways I had never been wet before while riding a bike.
  • + 1
 I have been thinking about sticking some gaffer tape on mine to seal the holes
  • + 1
 @aelazenby: Thanks, I'm a cycling commuter so I frequently have my bike outside in the rain when I'm working (which normally means finding something to cover the saddle with). I also have a rear mudguard so hopefully won't have that problem.
  • + 2
 I can't believe this company is still in business. I bought a tioga stratum saddle a couple years ago. The web cracked after about 90 miles of riding(butt stabbing until duct tape added) and the rails broke off after 270 miles(basically no seat rest of ride). This was all mellow xc riding i was doing during a 4 month lapse in my regular riding schedule. No response from tioga despite numerous emails and phone calls. They were unreachable. The seat was comfy enough till it broke, although when i returned to WTB Volt I realized it wasn't nearly as comfy as a real saddle.
  • + 2
 I could swear the saddle on my Redline BMX when I was a kid was hard plastic. I don't ever remember complaining about it being uncomfortable. It is either all about fit or I never sat down.
  • + 1
 Never been a fan of the spider version but I may just have to try this one out since it doesn’t look odd and out of place. I guess I’m to quick to judge a book by its cover sometimes
  • + 2
 Are there any online stores in Canada that sell Tioga saddles in Canada besides ebay?
  • + 1
 Tioga Sales: Look this POS wont sell because it looks like spiderman shat out a seat.
Tioga Engineer: Let's cover it in some material to make it look less shitty.
  • + 2
 or ..... How to get your a** (ar*e) like a waffle after few hours ride, ahahahaaa
  • + 1
 Maybe I've been lucky but I've never felt the need to replace any of my stock saddles. Just sit on them and go...
  • + 2
 The saddle that costs more than dropper on the photo?
  • + 2
 My Outland Spyder with cromo rails is still going strong after 3+ years.
  • + 1
 Hey, Mr.levy,
How was the Samarathon stage race in Israel? did you get to ride other trails except the Samarathon?
  • + 1
 Finally a saddle with fully integrated and trustworthy sh*t-fart-separator.
  • - 1
 Living in the PNW I feel these would be a PIA (pun intended) to clean. As comfortable as it may be I run a Fabric saddle for the ease of cleaning.

"gnat's fart," or ghat's shaft? Lol
  • + 0
 Edit: Gnat's shart!
  • + 1
 Bad warranty i experienced expensive products never buy this product again ...
  • + 1
 where can I see one in North Vancouver?
  • + 1
 I'm going to try one of their saddles, I'm sold.
  • + 1
 Beware counterfeit Tioga seats on ebay.
  • + 1
 Why would you even run a seat? No seat, no seatpost, way less weight!
  • + 1
 What and get anal by your frame ? Lol
  • + 1
 200lb weight limit.....well I guess I'm out
  • - 1
 Even if that is comfortable to sit on, I guarantee it would mean bruised inside legs when used stood on the pedals. Its profile is thin and sharp
  • + 3
 Maybe the sides flex too
  • + 1
 I've got a ton of miles on it and have no bruises, unlike the unpadded versions.
  • + 1
 For a second I thought it read "SCROTUM"!
  • + 1
 Tioga Undercover Scrotum
  • + 1
 damn, you beat me to it
  • + 3
 Put your scrotum on my sternum and let’s go on a train trip to Cleveland.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: that allllllmmmoooooost sounds like fun...i think, maybe.
  • + 1
 Neat
  • + 0
 Bring back the oversized Tioga DH saddles!
  • - 1
 How to get your a** like a waffle after few hours ride, ahahahaaa
  • - 2
 $195? How about profit margins on the order of 800%.
  • + 1
 You can buy the regular Stratum cromo railed saddle for $55. I love 'em, but the webbing will start to crack about 18 months into use.
  • + 1
 @bvd453: My Stratum carbon hasn't cracked yet, using it on my gravel bike.
  • + 2
 @seraph: I'm on #3 (1 spyder s-spec, 2nd stratum). Most comfortable saddle this big ass has ever been perched on.
  • + 2
 @bvd453:
Yep, I'm going on 3-4 years on mine. Super comfy & best saddle I've ever owned.

b.
  • + 1
 They can sell it for $70 and still making a profit, i believe.
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