When Giuseppe Bigolin took over Selle Italia back in 1967, he took over a legendary Italian manufacturer of bike saddles, but he also inherited a company that had collected a lot of dust. Moving the company from outside of Milan to Bassano del Grappa, home to much of Italy’s cycling industry, Bigolin slowly revitalized the company and eventually transformed it into the market giant it is today, producing legendary saddles like the Turbo, Flite and today’s SP01. PELOTON Magazine caught up with Bigolin as the company celebrates its 120th anniversary.
Words and Images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton Magazine
Peloton Magazine: Giuseppe, Selle Italia is celebrating its 120th birthday. Tell us a little bit about the history of the company.
Giuseppe Bigolin: Well, the company was founded in 1897 and, exactly 50 years ago, I took over the company. In the beginning, I just worked with one person and a bunch of old equipment. There were just two of us making saddles each day and we could only make between 30 and 40 saddles each day. But slowly, slowly, the company grew. Technology grew as well, and allowed us to grow and remain modern. We were the first to introduce gel in the saddles. We were the first to introduce a shock absorber system. We were the first to introduce the titanium rails et cetera…and in 1989 we introduced the Flite saddle, which changed the image and concept of bike seats.
Peloton: When you look back over the history of Selle Italia, there is a very gradual evolution in technology for years, even decades, as the bike saddle was essentially leather on a metal cage with springs, but things really evolved quickly once you started to experiment and exploit other materials it seems?
Bigolin: Yes, nylon and plastic brought on an unbelievable change. With leather for example, quality control was much less consistent because we were so dependent on the actual skin that we received. But with other materials, consistency went way up. And the riders liked the new saddles very quickly and we were able to experiment and evolve much more quickly.
Peloton: What is the greatest challenge when it comes to producing bike saddles?
Bigolin: There isn’t any single challenge. The challenge comes every morning when you show up for work. The challenge comes in always moving forward.
Peloton: One of the first saddles that really revolutionized the market was the Turbo saddle. Explain how that came about?
Bigolin: It wasn’t just the design, but the concept of having different thicknesses in different parts of the saddle to accommodate different pressure points of the anatomy. And then of course there was the Flite, which had a completely different design. A lot of riders had problems with irritation between the legs, but with the cutaway design of the Flite we really took saddle design a lot further.
Peloton: Looking back over all of the saddles you have produced, which one are you most proud of?
Bigolin: Oh, that would be the Turbo. It just changed so many things. I’ll never forget, back in 1980, we signed a contract with Bernard Hinault. He had been riding a San Marco Concorde for the past five years. But I got him to come ride our saddles. It was a real coup for us and it proved to be one of our greatest successes. Looking back, I’m still really proud of that saddle. It was just so far ahead of its time.
Peloton: The SP01 is your latest masterpiece. What pleases you so much about this?
Bigolin: Well, first it is the first saddle designed by my son Carlo! But really I am very proud of the “suspension link movement” system that allows the saddle to move ever so slightly with the rider’s body and, depending on the rider, we can have different dimensions in the split-saddle design, something that really allows each rider to find the perfect fit.
Peloton: Do you ride yourself?
Bigolin: Oh yes, almost every day I ride. Sometimes I do an hour on the home trainer, or I will go out for two, three or four hours. I never raced, but I’ve always ridden, since maybe the age of 10. It’s important for my health, but also my experience and that helps me make decisions. I can always have the opinions of others regarding new ideas et cetera. But when I go out and ride, I get my own ideas.
Peloton: What’s next?
Bigolin: What’s new? Well, in recent years we have been working closely with ID Match Bikelab that specializes in custom-fitting bike positions for cyclists. It’s a very well developed product that allows cyclists to not only find the perfect position, but the perfect handlebar shape and size or, in our case, the perfect saddle. This way a rider can really find the saddle that is right.