Say “Selle Italia”, and it will ring a bell in every cycling enthusiast’s mind. Since 1897, Selle Italia has prided themselves as one of the premium bicycle saddle maker in the world. Through the years, they have made numerous innovations and helped shape the directions of the saddle industry. The Flite Titanium was one of the world’s lightest racing saddles at its prime, and is still commonly used by cyclist all over the world till today. The only difference is the added variety within the series. It is not surprising to know that the all-time favourite Selle Italia saddle since its introduction in 1991 is the Flite Titanium with black leather. In the last 2 years, the popularity of the Flite has been gradually overtaken by their new range of SLR saddles which has set the new benchmark for lightweight racing saddles. Other than the Flite and SLR, Selle Italia has also a wide range of saddles to cater for very specific needs.
In this review, we feature the latest 2006 SLR XC Gel Flow saddle. For 2005, the sales figure of its close cousin, the SLR Gel Flow saddle, has been very encouraging worldwide, with a couple of regional markets frequently running out of stock. The new SLR XC Gel Flow is not a replacement for the standard Gel Flow, but is a new variation made more durable yet lighter than its peers.
Let’s get technical
The first thing we noticed is the smoother top leather and the all new Kelvar edges at the rear of the saddle. The saddle comes with elegant graphics and is only available in mystical black. After going through a weight loss program, the new saddle weighs only 175g, a good 40g lighter than its counterpart. Dimension wise, there are no changes. The length of the saddle remains at 275mm while the width measures 131mm. Rails are made of titanium to take advantage of its natural ability to flex, and its weight, or rather lack of.
On paper, the SLR comes with a carbon composite base which is lighter and stiffer than the nylon composite base used in some other Selle Italia models. The fact that a stiffer base with moderate padding is being use means that SLR was not built with daily commuting in mind but rather for racing.
The shape of the saddle plays a pivotal role on the comfort level, and it is this factor that determines which saddle is suitable for you. The SLR series has a shorter nose, a longer, larger and flatter sitting area. For riders that shift around a lot, a flat saddle will be more comfortable as it provides more riding positions than a curved one. Example of a curved saddle will be the Flite. These saddles will be good for riders who usually have only 1 or 2 riding positions. Riders who have narrow sit bones will want to note that the flat nose of the SLR might cause excessive friction between the legs when you pedal.
For those who have been reading lots about Gel Flow saddles from Selle Italia, how many of you know what that means? Saddles labeled with “Gel Flow” actually indicates that it has a soft tissue hole in the saddle foam/base plus real surgical gel located around the soft tissue hole, and in those areas where the sit bones go. The strategically placed anatomical cutouts in the Gel Flow saddles aims to improve comfort in the frontal soft tissue area anatomically designed for woman and man. The “Genuine Gel” line is pretty similar except for the absence of the little hole in the foam/base. Selle Italia also claims their gel insert to be the lightest available in the market and has absorbing properties that is 3.5 times more than traditional padding.
To the field
The SLR was mounted on a pretty rigid hardtail with an aluminum seatpost for this review. This setup ensures that the frame and post does not help in smoothening out the ride.
On our first short ride, the saddle felt firm and solid when seated upon. When compared to previously reviewed saddles like the Gobi, Brooks and SaddleCo, the SLR possessed the most solid feel of the lot. However, the firmness of the saddle is not such that it causes discomfort.
On the trail is where this saddle really shines. As claimed by Selle Italia, the flat and lengthened surface of the SLR did indeed provide more useful seating positions for the rider. The longer surface gives the rider more positions to choose from, while the flatter surface allows rider to easily position themselves on the various position without slipping back into a “preset” point as like on a curved saddle. So, here is your secret weapon that gives you more choices when you need to redistribute your weight on the trails. Coupled with the smooth leather, transitioning between the different positions is a breeze as the rider’s tights slide along the leather easily.
The flatter nose upfront helps to lighten the effort during seated climbs. No marked difference over here; just a slight advantage over saddles with a narrow nose. While the flatter nose aids in climbing, riders with narrow sit bones has to take note that this feature might cause excessive friction between the legs as mentioned earlier. For the rest of us, the overall narrow profile of the saddle still provides enough leg-room during seated effort.
During longer road rides, most of us felt comfortable on the SLR for up to 40km on the saddle, after which, we can feel discomfort coming on. If you are stay on the saddle continuously for more than 1 hour, chances are you might feel a bit of numbness around your groin area too. Ironically, the groove at the center of the saddle is supposed to relieve pressure on the frontal soft tissues, thus preventing numbness, but apparently, it does not work for every rider. While some swear by it, others may feel a bit disappointed when the hyped feature does not work for them.
The Kelvar edge at the rear of the saddle is a useful upgrade over its peers. The rear of the saddle has the greatest risk of being damaged during storage, transportation and in accidents. By having a Kelvar edge, it effectively helps to minimize damage to this area, allowing the saddle to last over a longer period of time.
Like all race saddles, the SLR XC Gel Flow is not built for daily commuting though it is capable of providing a comfortable ride for distances up to 50km on a fully seated ride. Its main forte is on the dirt whereby it offers multiple useful riding positions without sacrificing comfort or weighing like an anchor. The sleek profile and smooth surface ensures that transition to different positions can be done speedily.
Riders who find the normal SLR (135g) a bit too harsh might want to try out the XC Gel Flow. Both saddle shares the exact same shape except for the groove. The total weight gain is 40g, but the additional groove and gel insert would keep you comfortable for a longer period.
At the end of the day, remember that the “XC” designation on the saddle did not get there by chance. This saddle is designed with cross-country racing in mind. While XC riders will not be disappointed by it, for riders who cycle long distances on road, there should be better alternative out there in the market.