Long Term Review: Bontrager Ajna Pro Carbon Saddle

In a nutshell:

Curved edges, firm but not-too-firm padding and comfort for a range of riding postures makes Bontrager Ajna saddle one to try if you’re struggling with the narrow sweet spot on others.

The longer version:

I first reviewed the Ajna for Australian Mountain Bike magazine in 2017. I described the pros as the pressure mapping R & D process, the choice of three widths, and durability in mud. I described the misses as the carbon rails not being compatible with all seat posts (less of an issue these days) and the name being hard for people to pronounce without hearing it first (it’s ‘Arj-na,’ with a soft ‘j’). Having recently contacted Bontrager about a second Ajna, I wanted to offer some long term insights about what makes this design one to seek out for riders (and readers) who are on the hunt for a saddle that works for them.

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While the Ajna has been known to fit men (as they also benefit from the pressure relief provided by the cutout), it’s marketed to women.

Saddles matter. So does set up. Research and design processes like pressure mapping have accelerated what we consider important regarding design and fit. This has led to an ever broader range of designs to choose from, which can feel as overwhelming for an experienced rider as a first timer. Professional bike fits for consumers allow riders to work with an experienced fitter to narrow down saddle choices and tailor the set up to individual needs. In my opinion, this is just as important as choosing the right seat (or bar width, etc).

For an interesting interview I did for SBS Cycling Central with Trek USA bike fitter Matt Gehling and biomechanical engineer Kyle Russ on saddle design and fit, head here. I’ve also interviewed Sydney bike fitter Anthony Challinor about the benefits of a personalised approach to fit rather than, say, a men’s or women’s specific approach.

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Pressure mapping has become integral to saddle design over the last few years. It was key to development of the Ajna with live data accelerating what we know about design and set up as hot spots and adjustment benefits can be identified in real time.

One of the issues I’ve had as a consumer over the last few years is not the fit of a saddle during the initial set up, but issues that occur over long rides or accumulative use. These issues can cause changes in posture, swelling or nerve damage, for instance, and may not be as obvious early on. It’s no coincidence that bike fits often involve a follow-up fit, and many saddle brands offer a trial period. It’s also the longer term use of the Ajna that has made some of its more subtle features, and their benefits, stand out.

The Ajna is aimed at riders with a more aggressive riding position. It comes in three widths (144mm, 154mm, 164mm), and three price points: the entry level Comp model (AUD $99.99), the Elite model (AUD $169.99) and the Pro Carbon model, tested, which features carbon rails (AUD $249.99). One quirk about the Ajna is that the width feels, and measures, narrow compared to the stated size. In trying the 154mm Ajna my sit bones felt like they were sitting too far down angled edges of the saddle, something that has turned other riders away from sticking with this model. By comparison, the 164mm model supports my sit bones in the way I would typically expect from the medium width (I fit a 155mm in Specialized saddles for instance). To anyone else with this problem, I recommend sizing up.

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The suspended, oversize, carbon rails add extra compliance, which is always welcome on Sydney roads!

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Graphics are subtle and will match any bike.

Women who can’t get comfortable on a soft saddle will welcome the denser cushioning of this one. They will also be glad to know that the cushioning doesn’t compress as quickly or severely as some other saddles. My initial Ajna still offers excellent support after a more than two years of regular use.

The outer covering of the Ajna has remained durable during this time, with the dirt from mountain biking and, after a bike swap, the sweat from many road kilometres making it look lightly polished compared to a brand new one. The stitching and graphics still look like new – including the measurements printed on the carbon rails.

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Those curves though…

The curved edges on the back of the saddle and around the cut out are two features which take several rides to really appreciate as they do their job so well they become invisible rather than visible. The curved design (rather than sharper edges) at the rear makes the saddle far less likely to catch on baggy shorts or a hydration pack when mountain biking (although this is much better these days due to dropper posts). The curved edges around the cut out means these don’t rub or cause friction if your posture slumps during a long ride or you find yourself leaning further forward. This, along with the excellent support and dense-but-not-too-soft-or-spongy padding, means it is comfortable on commutes without a chamois, perhaps the ultimate test for a bike seat.

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On a personal note, I have significant instability some of the joints around my pelvis which makes the support, cushioning and finish of a saddle of crucial importance. What I rate most highly about it in this respect is that it doesn’t have a narrow sweet spot. It remains supportive in a broader range of postures when other saddles haven’t. I also appreciate the hamstring clearance which was something I didn’t notice until trying another saddle that many women I ride with swear by.

Conclusion:

Saddles aren’t often the first product people will name when thinking about the Bontrager range, but a product like the Ajna suggests this is something that is changing fast. If you’ve been hunting around for saddle that addresses some of the issues mentioned here, this is one that is well worth seeking out through any store that stocks Trek bikes. It’s versatility for a non-perfect riding position, as well as for road, MTB or long-distance commutes is testament to an intelligent research and design process, while the proven durability makes the initial investment more worthwhile still. Be prepared to go a size up if your sit bones don’t feel right initially, and for the best result, with this or any saddle, see a bike fitter to decode marketing aimed at the masses and learn more about what appears to have been designed just for you!

Photos: Kath Bicknell

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