Don’t judge a saddle by its appearance

Hyro’s stock saddle was a Giant-branded unit made by Velo.

Now, saddles are very personal items; what fits my, uh, undercarriage may or may not work out for yours. That stock unit was a decent saddle to start riding a road bike with. It even looks rather good; I’ve heard people compare it to Fizik’s Arione, and I’ve seen people pay more money for these original-equipment items compared to their counterparts when other riders immediately replace with something else.

Compared to even Bino’s stock saddle, though, it was always a little behind in the comfort stakes.

I always found it a little slab-sided. Not enough to chafe my thighs on long rides, but it could have had a slightly better shape and less material on the sides to better accommodate my pedaling motion.

It also, quite literally, gave me numb nuts on longer stints. Its relatively flat shape, combined with the road bike seating position, meant that there was impingement on what saddle makers call my “soft tissues,” specifically to the perineal arteries and nerves.

Finally, I had also ridden it long enough to wear through the corners of its nose. At this point you can’t say I didn’t try to make it fit my physique. It’s still a serviceable saddle, but it’s seen better days.

Fizik Antares Versus (2016)

For a long time, I had been looking at more ergonomically designed saddles. Many of them have a “pressure relief channel” (basically an indentation in the foam running down the length of the saddle) or a physical cut-out, in an effort to solve the numb-nuts problem.

None of them comes close to what some would call the abject craziness of a certain Italian saddle maker’s designs, though. That saddle maker is Selle SMP.

SMP prides itself on having 100% Italian-made saddles with a full-length cutout, very long saddle rails, and an eagle-beak nose that dips downward at the end. These features, supposedly, are to reduce artery and nerve impingement, even when the hips are rotated forward in aggressive riding positions.

They also look very strange. I see lots of comments joking about the family jewels going through the cutout and getting snagged on its edges. In contrast, acquaintances of mine who ride on SMP’s perches swear it’s like sitting “on a miniature toilet bowl” – supposedly, such is the absence of soft tissue pressure – and report comfort even after riding 200- or 300-kilometer randonnees.

I picked up their Hell saddle.

That name…is facepalm-inducingly unfortunate, to say the least. But “Hell” it is called, so “Hell” we shall refer to it. SMP’s garish detailing doesn’t do its saddles any favors, either. Branding aside, the markings and visuals make it look a little childish and over-the-top.

Beyond appearances, how is it to sit on? I’ve ridden the Hell on commutes, long rides, and through the mud of Heroes Bike Trail. It rides nothing like hell; it has been very comfortable through all of them. I had concerns about the Hell being a one-position-only saddle due to its wavy profile, but it doesn’t matter where you sit along its length – neutral, front, rear, all positions just work.

The Hell is 140 mm wide and 280 mm long; a little shorter than stock. Its sides are also shapelier and more sculpted, less likely to get in the way of my thighs.

SMP’s “crazy” design features mean that no matter how much you rotate your hips forward on the saddle – when riding in the drops, for example – your genitals are almost guaranteed not to get squeezed by your body weight. The only way I’ll get numb nuts seated on the Hell is after doing ten full-power sprints of Daang Reyna…by then my fingers would have gone numb much earlier from all the road vibration.

For all the praises I sing about the Hell, there are downsides.

  • Saddle cutouts are an effective shortcut into your cycling shorts for mud or spray thrown up by your back wheel; not a problem for me since I run full-length fenders almost year-round.
  • The distinctive shape means setting your saddle angle and layback is slightly different. The saddle rail position that yields level on an SMP saddle will result in a nose-up position on anything else.
  • The saddle rails are set very wide at the rear edge. Many mounting brackets for quick-release saddlebags or rear lights will just not work; they’re just not long enough for the wide rail spacing on this or other SMP saddles.

Along with my SKS fenders, the Selle SMP Hell saddle is proving some of the best money I’ve spent on bike parts. Actually riding a randonnee on this won’t be a hardship.

Update: Selle SMP have renamed this saddle in the middle of 2016. It’s now called the “Well.” Personally, I liked the Hell name better.

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10 thoughts on “Don’t judge a saddle by its appearance

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking about getting a new saddle as well, since I find that the stock saddle on my Dahon ends up causing my tail bone to hurt after longish rides. 😦

    The Selle models seem rather out of my price range though. But I’m currently looking at the Velo Plush saddles, and hopefully one of them will do the trick. :O

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    1. Just a slight correction: “Selle” by itself isn’t a brand. “Selle” is the Italian word for “saddles.”

      Brands that have “Selle” in their name are really identified by the name that comes afterward – in this case, this is a Selle SMP saddle. There’s also Selle Royal and Selle Italia, which are arguably better known saddle brands than SMP is.

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  2. hi sir. ok po ba ito? im an average mtber and scale the wall on weekends (timberland, san mateo). I stay on the saddle on the climbs, and tend to ride on the saddle’s nose. as a result, i (almost always) have numb nuts when im on the gate to cool down. after a bit of standing off the saddle, numbness goes away. thanks. oh and do you know how much and where can i buy this specific saddle (the hell). thank you.

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