Test saddles bear visible label
Attractive display unit for Test 'Center'

Nowadays we are spoilt for choice, no matter what we are in the market for. When purchasing, say, a DVD player, a new pair of trainers or even just a “simple" cup of coffee, the options seem endless. Perhaps we are even disadvantaged when making a decision by being offered too much choice with no clear way of working out which item will suit our particular needs best.

Bicycles are certainly no exception to this rule and the humble saddle is just one more example of a world where customer choice can actually leave one with no idea where to start, let alone finish up!

Selle Italia are as guilty as any other manufacturer, producing so many saddles it is almost impossible to keep up as old favourites fall away only to be replaced with increasingly more bizarre shapes sporting equally bizarre names...

Aesthetics aside, our needs from a saddle have changed little if at all in the last 100 years or so. Admittedly, lighter and sleeker products, with less in the way of maintenance requirements than simple leather over steel frame designs, have led to “Flites of Fancy" [excuse the pun] that cater for virtually every taste and budget. But how do you choose one?

At least the marketing guys at one of Italy’s oldest and most respected saddle makers have recognised the confusion that now exists and have, to their credit, made significant efforts to help us make the right choice. Selle Italia’s “test saddle" programme allows the prospective buyer the chance to try out a design they may be interested in before making any permanent decision.

This welcome service has already been very successful in mainland Europe and can now be found at selected specialist lightweight dealers up and down the country, whose experience can help create a shortlist of features to consider before purchase.

A particular [sit? – Ed.] bone of contention recently has been the introduction of saddles with holes in the middle section or split / cutaway shells to reduce localised pressure. Scare stories about impotence and unwanted pressure causing penile numbness and worse have been well documented in the press, but still the choices remain. Those of us with slightly less hardened posteriors or a more aggressive riding position can find this perineal pressure debilitating and indeed enough to keep one off the bike. I have always been a little sceptical about such “innovation" but have, with the introduction of this programme, been tempted to try out the “Gel flow" principle first hand, as it were…

Whilst it should be made clear that the position one assumes on the bike can make a difference equal to, if not greater than, the saddle used, it still is mighty useful to be able to try individual saddles with interesting design features that just happen to “go really well" with that new dream bike you are putting together…

Personally, I was a real fan of the Turbomatic in its various guises, but this saddle is getting harder to find, is heavy by current standards and can look like a bit of a mattress on a modern high end machine, so a new perch has been on the cards for ages. Trying to convince oneself to try a new saddle after so many years of using the same model was daunting and initially the newer minimalist designs looked like a brave step to make just to shed a few grams. However, with the new Test Centre up and running, an SLR XP could be tried for a couple of weeks to evaluate before finally committing financially. As I previously stated, the scheme also allowed me to test ride an SLR Gel Flow for the first time. Despite claims from some testers that “the Hole" makes “little difference", I found interestingly that it just took the “edge" off, if that is the right word. Another reason to try a saddle rather than read about it… In fact, I have been so impressed that I am currently using the Kevlar reinforced SLR XC Gel Flow on my hardtail mountain bike with no problems to report (other than sore legs) even on 4-5hr off road rides.

The scheme is relatively simple and allows the consumer to visit one of the selected dealers running this program and “purchase" the test saddle. They then have an agreed time with said dealer to try their chosen model before returning it for either a new saddle of that type or a full refund. Not all Selle Italia’s saddles are on offer, so consult your chosen test centre to see what models they carry before heading off. It should be pointed out, however, that several of Selle Italia’s saddles now also come with a 30 day money back comfort guarantee so whilst choice has never been so complicated, saddle satisfaction is more likely than ever.

Just remember to factor exact position in to the equation when making comparison, pay close attention to the rail-shell dimensions, all saddles are not the same, and consider carefully a saddle’s lateral position as the widest points of different models which accommodate the “sit bones" can vary too…

My only criticism with this test centre concept is the fact that women-specific models appear to have been initially excluded from the scheme, but I believe some switched-on dealers have taken the initiative and added at least a couple of LDY models to their test centre programme.

  • www.selleitalia.com for product range and specs
  • www.chickencycles.co.uk for dealer participation and model availability