Drawing a line through the fabric of hell

Back in October 2015 I sang the praises of Selle SMP’s Hell saddle. I bloody well liked it.

As great as it was, it had its flaws. The radical “bisected-lengthwise” shape did wonders for blood circulation and helped avoid numb genitals, but it also had a peculiar sort of sagging. With time, distance, and lots of rides, the two halves of the saddle spread themselves apart over time…ever so slightly.

Not the kind of beausage you want to see on your bike.

More egregious was how its top cover wore down. Selle SMP’s general design philosophy of keeping one general seating position along the length of the saddle meant that the top cover developed cracking around the spot where I spent the most time seated. Coupled with the very deep relief cutout, the cracked cover pieces were sharp enough to irritate my groin. I took a pair of scissors to round these off in an effort to lessen the irritation and potential for chafing, but that was a quick fix at best.

Add to that the separation of the cover at various seams, and it’s fair to say the Hell was begging to be replaced at this point. Perhaps my Hell was part of a batch that wasn’t quite up to snuff, but my buddy Mario told me that other users had the same experiences. Selle SMP had gotten the design concept down pat; my saddle was at around 80% of the execution and could perhaps use a bit more quality tweaking.

So…I short-listed my options.

Specialized Power saddle in range-topping S-Works form. Photo courtesy of BikeRadar.

Specialized released their Power saddle in 2015. It takes Selle SMP’s anatomic design philosophy, and applies their take on the formula. Compared to the Hell, the Power is much shorter in the nose and wider overall. Spez does say that it is effectively a fusion of its existing saddles: the triathlon/TT Sitero for its stubby dipped nose; the mountain biking Phenom for its flat shape; and many of its women-specific saddles for its wide and long cutout.

The Comp version of the Power is all black. Photo courtesy of BikeRadar.

The basic Comp version comes with chromoly steel rails and a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic shell. At PhP4800, it fetches a pretty penny, although still lower in price than the Hell.

Three of Fabric’s saddles on display at Built Cycles Parañaque: the Cell, Line, and Scoop.

Fabric is one of the offshoots of Nick Larsen and his bicycle company Charge Bikes, creator of the original Scoop saddle, then later refined into the universally well-reviewed Spoon.

I took a particular interest in their Line saddle. Conceptually it is a spin on their classic Spoon model, but incorporates a relief channel. Unlike Specialized and Selle SMP, and more like Fizik’s Versus and Versus X saddles, at no point does Fabric perforate the saddle all the way through. Its relief channel is a trench that stops some way short of the nose, at the bottom of which is the saddle’s bare plastic shell.

With the chromoly railed version selling at PhP2780 from Built Cycles Makati, it was also cheaper than the Power. Remembering how the full-length cutout design compromised the Hell’s longevity, I wondered: could Fabric’s approach still bring the same benefits?

Even though Fabric and its progenitor company Charge still sell similar saddles, notably the Scoop, the former adopts a sleeker approach to its designs. The Line hardly has any staples, seams, or stitching that characterize traditional saddle construction. Fabric bonds top cover and foam to base plastic shell, lending the appearance and feeling of solidity.

While Fabric promises a wide range of colors, Built Cycles stocks almost all its saddles only in very basic black. At least it makes for subtle contrast. The glossy center stripe on the nose ramps down into the equally glossy plastic shell of the relief channel. Save for branding on the nose’s sides, the rest of the saddle has a matte black, slightly tacky top cover.

That top cover is tough, too. Hyro fell over twice in the span of a day, yet it’s still scratch-free.

A side-by-side comparison with Bino’s WTB Silverado Sport saddle reveals a lot of similarities with the Line. It’s the same length and width, basically differing a smidge with the shape and relief channel. The Silverado is cushier and began life with a much tackier top cover, though.

Compared to the outgoing Selle SMP Hell, except for that saddle’s split tail, the basic dimensions are also the same.

Incidentally, the Line’s rear rails are the same width as most other saddles’, unlike the super-wide ones of any SMP perch. Accessories that clip on to saddle rails, such as saddlebags and rear light mounts, will work fine.

Hanging the Hell on my baggage scale reveals a 290 g weight.

Using the same scale, the Line is a fair bit lighter at 230 g.

So how does it ride? Quite firmly, is my answer. The Line’s dense foam padding has very little give. Perhaps this is due to the way the relief channel is made, as Fabric had to make sure a rider’s soft tissues would not collapse uncomfortably into it. This does mean that the saddle gives very good support; I felt very efficient in my pedaling while riding it.

Clearly the comfort isn’t going to come from the foam; it will instead come from the shape. The narrow 134 mm width means nothing to snag your thighs on, even when riding MTB baggy shorts.

It took a bit of tweaking the Line’s angle on my seatpost to make it as comfortable as it can get. After riding around with it level, I opted to have the saddle point nose down by a maximum of one degree, to help emulate some of the Hell’s compliance for aggressive riding with hips rolled forward.

This helped, and I feel my position is now more or less dialed in. There is one aspect I miss on the Hell saddle though, and that is the way it fought off genital numbness. On the Line, it can still set in on harder efforts, and when it does set in, it does so quicker, although it’s easily alleviated by riding out of the saddle for a few seconds.

Before: Selle SMP Hell.

After: Fabric Line.

A white saddle matches the TCX SLR 2’s black/white/red livery, but the new saddle looks great and should shrug off dirt and wear better.

The Fabric Line is a pretty good saddle, but it caters to a different set of priorities compared to the outgoing Selle SMP Hell. While compact, supportive, and comfortable when properly set to a rider’s physique, it’s not quite as natural a choice for long-haul riding. It will appeal more to competitive riders and criterium racers who appreciate a solid platform to pedal from.

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