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Patented bicycle seat appears at Olympics

LUTZ — Steve Toll had great success at the Olympics, and at first he didn't even know it.

A former Tampa police officer, Toll, 53, patented a bicycle seat designed to take the pressure off the nerves and blood vessels in a cyclist's groin. For many cyclists, men and women alike, putting weight there can cause pain, numbness and circulation problems.

Although he first marketed his Ideal Saddle Modification seat to triathletes, he recently learned that some top traditional cyclists have taken to it, too.

On Aug. 13, cyclist Emma Pooley of Great Britain won a silver medal in the women's time trial competition in Beijing on one of Toll's bike seats.

Toll said he learned of the feat in an e-mail from a New Zealand triathlete who uses his seat.

"I was pretty happy," he said. "I was stunned, actually."

Toll said he didn't know who Pooley was before the race and didn't know that any British racers were using the seat. He does sponsor two U.S. women who competed in the Olympic triathlon, plus the team's alternate, but they did not medal.

Toll said he started marketing his seat to triathletes because "the road bike industry is a lot more conservative" when it comes to new products.

Unlike traditional bike saddles, Toll's seat has a U-shaped opening instead of a protruding "nose" at the front of the seat. He said he came up with the idea for the seat in 1997 after a ride with his wife, Laura, on the Pinellas Trail. While sitting on the commode reading, Toll realized that he was more comfortable on the toilet seat than on his bike seat. He decided to design his own bike seat, only without the nose.

It's a design that researchers have studied and recommended. In 2004, scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that using a bike seat without a protruding nose significantly reduces pressure on the groin associated with erectile dysfunction.

Toll's company began manufacturing the seats in 2005 and has sold about 20,000 at prices that range from $59.95 to $169.99 for the kind of racing seat that this year made its Olympic debut. Locally, one store was recently selling the touring seat for $49.99.

After hearing about Pooley's medal, Toll e-mailed the British Olympic cycling team to ask about arranging a sponsorship with Pooley.

In response, an assistant to the British team's performance director e-mailed Toll and suggested he watch the televised competition in the women's individual pursuit. It's possible, she said, that two other British cyclists would use his saddle.

And four days after Pooley's race, British cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel won the silver in the women's individual pursuit, also using one of Toll's seats, he said. Watching the start of the race, he clearly saw his red, white and blue racing seat on her bike.

After years of work to bring the seats to the market, it was a gratifying sight.

He had already seen online photos of Pooley's race. None of them showed the whole seat, but even looking at only part of it, Toll said he had no problem recognizing it.

"Kind of like identifying your kid in a crowd," he said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

>>FAST FACTS

It's a winning seat

Steve Toll of Lutz invented a bike seat that a couple of British cyclist used while winning silver medals in the Beijing Olympics. This seat is similar to the one that the Olympians used, but is not the exact one.

Patented bicycle seat appears at Olympics 08/28/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 11:28pm]
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