saddles

Even as we complete the first quarter of the 21st century, bicycles are fundamentally still Victorian Era Contraptions. Aside from material changes and everything becoming oversized [with the exception of pedal bearings] because “more is better”, they have remained essentially the same.

This is true of the contact points as much as any other aspect: handlebars, saddles and shoes are now made of carbon fiber or “microfiber” instead of leather or wood, without consideration of the most fundamental design ethos of any piece of athletic equipment: ergonomic function.

Saddles are a very relative piece of equipment. Most riders settle on something that isn’t a hatchet and ‘deal with it’ because changing a saddle is time consuming, potentially expensive, and it is easy to get lost during the process. I offer a saddle test program to help solve this problem.

Below is some information about some of the more popular and unusual saddles I carry in my shop.

For video introductions on some of these saddles please see my Product Introduction Videos Page.

SMP saddles

If you are unfamiliar with Selle SMP, you are not alone. It’s not a saddle you will likely see on a World Tour bike any time soon, as the company chooses not to spend hundreds of thousands of euros to pay teams to ride their product. Instead, they focus on making some of the best saddles in the world. In case you didn’t know, World Tour athletes don’t choose the saddles they ride on, they are paid to ride on a particular saddle, and the saddle they ride is a function of contracts that are written to fund the team, not ergonomics or even performance.

Note: “Selle” simply means saddle in Italian…some people confuse Selle SMP with Selle Italia. These are not the same company. Selle Italia literally translates to “Saddle Italy”. It is the equivalent of a US saddle company naming itself “America Bicycle Seat”.

I began carrying SMP saddles in 2013. I carry all types of SMP models and can order any saddle to have it in my shop in three to five days. Additionally, I keep stock of common choices and colors on hand in the shop. In most cases, this means I have one saddle in most models in stock, in black with steel rails. They are available for order in several different colors, with steel or carbon rails. All the color choices, weights and technical details can be seen here:

Selle SMP Saddles

In my opinion, SMP makes one of the best products on the market. Saddles are a highly personal choice, and one type of saddle won’t work for every rider out there, but in my experience SMP saddles are a significantly improved saddle choice, or what I call a “final solution” for a high percentage of riders I work with. If you have never ridden in a cup shaped saddle with a large cutout, the comfort of a SMP will likely be a welcome change to your bicycle interface.

I also recommend Steve Hogg’s excellent article on SMPs. He describes the various models in detail and it can give you a great idea of where to start in their line up.

SMP makes three basic base shapes, and each of these shapes are available with different levels of padding. Normally a rider will try all three base shapes, and agree with one more than the others. Then, we can figure out what level of padding is needed. This comes down to personal preference, but in general less padding means lower saddle weight, less pelvic motion and greater stability.

If you have never ridden on SMP or have no idea where to start, the best thing to do is order a TEST KIT. This kit will contain one of each of the 3 saddles, so you can try them back to back. Typically when riders try all three saddles back to back, the experience is very illuminating. Back to back trials are always best because we can quickly become accustomed to something that is not optimal, but we have been conditioned to “deal with it” due to the glorification of suffering that is prevalent in endurance sports culture.

This misguided ideal is incorrect. There is constructive discomfort that is intentionally undertaken in the process of athletic growth [example: sore legs from long rides] and unconstructive discomfort which is at a minimum a detraction from the total effort one can put forth into sport. At its worst, this unconstructive suffering is the cause of injury or compensated movement patterns [this is a common outcome of a poor saddle choice].

The three shapes are:

  1. Composit / Vulkor
  2. F Series
  3. Forma

VIDEO of SMP saddles.

There are two options for the SMP test saddle program:

  1. The customer places an order for a SMP THREE PACK. This will consist of the three saddles listed above, so they may be tested back to back. The price will be $300 which includes shipping both ways [a return label will be in the box], and a SMP set up guide [both written and video]. The only choice to be made is the slightly narrower  Composit [129mm x 263mm] vs. the slightly wider Vulkor [136mm x 266mm]. Before you email me with your “sit bone” measurements, read below. This TEST THREE PACK can be used for 3 weeks from date of receipt, which should normally be enough time for someone to try all the saddles and figure out what works and what doesn’t. If the rider wishes to purchase a retail saddle, they will purchase the model and color on my webstore. When the TEST THREE PACK is returned, they will be refunded $250. Effectively the fee for testing the 3 saddles is $10/ saddle plus shipping [typically $9-11 in most cases].
  2. The customer places an order for a single test saddle. The price will be $110 with an $80 refund coming back to the customer upon return of the test saddle. If a retail saddle is desired, one can be purchased on the webstore.

SMP saddles are 100% made in Italy. Rail choices are hollow stainless steel or carbon fiber with a thin bonded stainless plate to prevent the saddle rails from being crushed by the seat post clamp. These saddles are very high quality and last for many years with proper care. For models with padding, there is not really a “break in period” and the carbon reinforced nylon base does not break down or sag over time.

SMP Composit Series

SMP F-Series

SMP Forma Series

Gelu saddles

Gelu saddles are handmade in Portugal. The saddles are extremely lightweight and well made. For several months I tested various models and landed on the F-3 for myself, with the leaf spring design, which is available in any model. This is something like a modern version of a Brooks B-17, but a much more elegant construction.

The magic of the Gelu is the blend of stability and movement that is supported by the ability of the SI joints to move while the sacrum has a stabile platform. They are designed to have the ishium sitting just outside the cutout, which is in contrast to the SMP, where the ishium lay along the top inner edge of the cutout [in theory].

For a while I had the SMP Forma on one bike [I have ridden primarily this saddle since 2014] and a Gelu on another. Switching back and forth led me to figure out over time that the Gelu allows more movement of the SI joint, while maintaining a stable base for the sacrum. The result is a pedal stroke that feels unrestricted while at the same time, I am supported. This is probably what a narrow, old school saddle like the Conor would allow, except that with a convex center profile, it would not be a stable base and would likely result in a pelvis that rolls from one side to the other. Not to mention an intolerable amount of perineal pressure.

If you are still on a saddle without a cutout or some cup to the shape, you are still in the 19 century.

Gelu Saddles

Infinity saddles

The Infinity saddle is a line of products created by Dr Vince Marcel. I had him as a guest on my podcast in this episode.

Infinity saddles, in particular the E2 and E3 models are very unusual by conventional standards. Dr Vince explains why he came up with this design in the podcast. In some cases these saddles are a “hail Mary” choice for riders who simply cannot find a comfortable saddle from another manufacturer.

Infinity Bicycle Seats

Why I don't care about your sit bone width

Riders frequently email me with questions about SMP saddles and offer their sit bone width. I don’t mean to be callus when I say this, but I don’t care. Sitbone width is a red herring and doesn’t really give us any actionable information in most cases.

We don’t sit on our “sit bones” [more accurately ischial tuberosities], we sit on our pelvis, which is composed of bones, nerves, fascia, muscles, veins and arteries, and other biological tissue. The bony aspect of the pelvis that makes contact with the saddle is the inferior [underside] aspect of the ischium, which can be thought of as rocking chair feet: they are curved and are arranged such that they are closer together at the front side of the pelvis. This is the basic reason why most saddles are wedge shaped.

As our torso position changes, our pelvic angle changes [hopefully] which changes the relationship of the ishium with the saddle. This means the saddle must accommodate dynamic postural changes, which are influenced by rider function, terrain, bar height, hand position, tissue hydration and fatigue. Generally, most riders will sit on the saddle in the area between the ischial tuberosities [basically, little bumps at the back of the ischium] and ischial pubic ramii [little bumps at the front of the ischium].

However, the bony landmarks are only one aspect of a pelvis that interacts with the saddle. Being direct, we are all sitting on or very close to our sex organs; this is not something the human body evolved to tolerate.

Pelvis showing bony ischium

Pelvis showing various anatomical elements

What is a Final Solution?

A Final Solution is the point in a saddle journey in which the rider is satisfied. In endurance sports, where suffering is glorified, sometimes riders have to be educated about where their suffering should be distributed. The fact that this is the case says a lot about the culture of cycling.

Incorrect: you ride a saddle that causes numbness, pain, swelling, tingling, excessive pressure, bleeding, a long period of adaptation, regular saddle sores, chaffing, or requires chamois cream on every ride.

Correct: you ride a saddle that you don’t think about on most rides, supports your pelvis and torso, and more or less disappears under you.

The Final Solution is a saddle that is Correct for this period of time.

Note: The Final Solution saddle may not be your final solution forever. Why? Because human bodies are always adapting to physiological load, and your physiological load changes throughout your life. As you change, your relationship to your equipment changes. This may mean that a saddle you rode happily for 3 seasons becomes completely unridable. This has happened to me and I have seen it with many clients. In case you are wondering, yes, the same thing can happen with shoes. People want to have their brand and model and have it be done but it doesn’t usually work that way.