I’ve went through a lot of bike seats in the last few years. Am I biking more? Sure, as much as possible but I just am also biking harder and it’s begun to shows in the durability of my seats and how I use them. Some were crap, some were okay, some were great but broke after a short time. And it’s not like I do stunts on them or something – I just use the hell out of them.
Sure, you can just jump on any old bike and ride without any further equipment (except a helmet, that’s just not smart to ride without a helmet) for a few miles here and there. Nothing wrong with that, that’s what the majority of the world does with their bikes and it’s great.
But once you start putting in the serious number of miles, frequent rides, higher speed, and more power you have to start to think about a good bike, good equipment, and sometimes replacing the stock equipment on even a good bike.
So I decided to move up to a higher quality saddle and make absolutely sure it was as fitted and correct for me as it could be. I didn’t want to buy any more seats for a long time, and I didn’t want to be stuck with a seat that didn’t fit me, or a broken one miles from home.
We don’t seem to have any bike shops in close proximity that have an array of seats to borrow so I needed to do some of my own measurements, use the knowledge that I had gained from years of use from earlier saddles, and do more seat research – not that I haven’t done lots already and have a good working knowledge of how to fit a seat.
While I have a familiarity of the science and concepts behind seat fitting I had mostly just went with what seemed right to me as well as a few quick measurements as well as keeping in mind recommendations and current “seat science”. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. And I was determined to do my own seat fit as scientifically possible as I could this time around.
[pullquote]At one point during this process of Doing Things Like The Pro’s I had an epiphany.[/pullquote]
I had been sitting, bare-arsed I might mention, on a piece of double-layered cardboard while sitting on top of a hard bench and with my feet raised a bit on a hardshell camera case, leaning ahead in a bit of an aero-type pose, wiggling a tiny bit and then I quickly jumping up to pull the piece of cardboard out from under me and carefully measure, to the precise millimeter; how wide my site-bones were.
At that moment I realized that I probably can’t consider myself just a casual, laid-back, just-in-it-for-the-fun-of-it cyclist any more. At some point I stopped being the rider who happily could toddle along once in a while at slow speed and just watch the scenery.
Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy the ride, and the scenery and everything else as much or more so than I ever have before.
BTW, here’s an article about using the cardboard method and a Google keyword search for other articles. Keep in mind, this does not work for everyone, depending on your own unique body geometry. You may want to try a more general search for sit-bone measuring methods instead or find a bike shop with an ass-o-meter (yes, that is what it is called).
Once you get your sit-bone size you also have to use some recommendations for the width of seat you need since you might have your sit-bone width but your seat certainly has to be wider than that so that your sit-bones are positioned in the perfect place on the seat, or at least as close as perfect as possible, which can be a trial and error even if you have a very precise measurement. It’s such a personal preference that even the best bike fit shop might not be able to find the right seat for you without some trial and error on your part. If you can find a Local Bike Shop that lends out seats of varying types and sizes you are going to be best off. There’s a lot of controversy and discussion on exactly how much measurement you need to add to your sit-bone width. Lots of pages and research to pursue on this search.
There are a lot of seats out there, but there’s certain manufacturers who you may see mentioned more often than others, especially when it comes to anatomic relief seats. Which is what I wanted.
In fact I don’t ride any of my bikes without one, which different models on different bikes according to their purposes. With my main road bike I wanted the best one made for general purpose and longest T.I.T.S. (Time In The Saddle). Sorry to those who are easily offended 😉
[pullquote]I think that anatomical relief seats are one of the mostly useful, most important things to have on your bike. [/pullquote]
Most seats that are called ‘anatomic relief’ are those that have a ‘channel’ down the middle – some are a depression and some are a complete cut-out. The principle here is that the hollow, depression, or hole down the middle provides relief from weight being put on the Perineal Nerve (which is a branch of the sciatic nerve that supplies movement and feeling to the lower leg, foot and toes) and arteries while you are biking, with your sit bones being the only weight you are putting on the seat, at least in theory (and if the rider is seated properly, and if the seat is the correct size and fitted correctly, and if the bike is the right fit for the person).
Bad Things Happen if you put too much weight on that nerve. Bad, Bad Things That You Don’t Want to Happen – for both men and women but especially for men, I suppose.
There are some of these seats that have wide channels, some thinner channels, some shorter or longer and any combination in between. Some are hard, or even unpadded carbon or plastic, others are much softer. Sometimes they are called hollow seats or something along those lines. Some have short noses, no noses (noseless), there’s even split ones or those with two thin noses and a long split (see my review of the ISM Adamo Prologue seat).
I like a medium width seat about 25-30mm wider than my sit-bone width, with a long wide complete cut-out or deep tunnel, that way I can get down into a more aero position on the drops if needed, sit up on the hoods other times, and even move my hands back to other positions for temporarily more upright riding and even move back or right and left a bit and still have the benefit of the channel. I don’t like a seat too hard or two soft – a medium padding is perfect for me as it is soft enough to cushion my sit-bones in conjunction with the padding in my shorts, but firm enough to allow my sit-bones to sink in and stay in place. You definitely don’t want too soft of a padding or your will be moving around on the seat.
I finally settled on the Selle SMP Extra. It is the correct width, has a wide channel (the “Extra” in the name means the channel is extra wide, not that the saddle is extra wide, which it definitely is not), the proper level of padding, is handmade in Italy by Selle, and has a hooked nose which I like for leaning ahead into the aero position (I previously rode a fair amount on a cheap near-clone of this model with the hooked nose – see a visual comparison of this seat and the clone here). The seat has a Nylon 12 carbon fiber shell, is covered in real leather (black version) with lots of text and the logo in a badge hanging from the rear (which makes it look extra cool I think), with heavy-duty rails with graduations and rail-to-seat mounts. Specs are length: 10.8” inches or 274mm, width is 5.5” inches or 140mm (around 35mm from center as measured by one Amazon reviewer), and weight about 340g’s, give or take a bit. Not real light but not bad.
The descriptions seem to say it is soft but I don’t think it the padding is more or less than medium.
And this seat is definitely more geared toward riders with thinner sit bones. I always thought mine were wide until I actually measured them.
The seat just looks nice, quality is clear. And man does it look cool, between the logos, leather, rails, the open channel, and the Concorde-like dropped nose you’ll be happy with how it looks cosmetically on your bike, for sure.
Putting the Selle SMP Extra on is pretty conventional – at least the first mounting. For proper adjustment there is a great video and instructions here on Selle’s site, you definitely want to check it out before doing your tweaks. Basically you use a level that will reach from the raised nose section to the raised rear section of the saddle. A phone or small tablet with something like a level or clinometer app probably won’t reach from the raised front and back of the seat unless you put the device on a flat surface that will bridge both high points of the seat.
As with any seat fitting there is going to be recommended adjustments, and then those adjustments that are purely individual preferences. Start out with the recommended ones and work from there, making sure you have a bike tool handy as you take your first spin with the seat.
With this seat and ones like it, there is a “sweet spot” – and low part or depression or ‘valley’ that your sit-bones ares supposed to drop into (which you can see from the side view of the seat photo above – this is not referring to the channel itself) and stay in, or near. You are not supposed to ride for an extended time way up on that raised rear part, if you do you probably are going to find yourself sliding forward into that depression where you are more supposed to be, or feel stress on your arms, wrist, hands, and back from holding yourself too far back.
So if you are a person who likes to spend lots of time in various seat positions these kinds of seat may not be for you. If you are descending or something and want to slide back up on to there then it’s certainly an option, but it’s definitely not made for you to spend all of your time so far back, or real far forward either. If you find yourself wanting to be there you may need to adjust the seat further.
This is a seat where you drop your sit-bones into the proper position and then stay there for the majority of your ride (not that you can’t move a little here and there as needed). Being in the proper position in the seat allows your sit-bones to be in the most supported section of the seat that is made for them, keeping your perineum above the hollow section for elimination of any pressure there, and supporting the rest of your rear in a secondary capacity that is not putting undo pressure on anything.
Because of this valley or “sweet spot” in the seat architecture, sometimes you might have to do the opposite of what seems like common sense. In other words, for example if you feel it pushing against you in sensitive places in the front you might have to tip it back more, because then your rear will sit further into that indentation that you are supposed to be in. Of course, it depends on your bodily dynamics and if that doesn’t work tipping it forward might be indeed better, as you would do in a more conventional saddle. There is probably going to be a fair amount of adjustments and tweaks for proper positioning as you ride your first miles, so stick your bike tool somewhere handy and don’t plan on riding thirty miles right off the bat, to let your rear get used to it and especially without stopping and adjustments as needed.
Sliding my rear on the seat made me think I was slipping into an expensive Italian sports car.
Okay, maybe I’ve never slipped my dairyaire into an Italian sports car and sure; getting on a bike seat, even an Italian-made one, isn’t exactly the same. And yea, it’s not exactly Selle’s most expensive line of seat. But to me it was pretty obviously a much nicer saddle than others I have had, even after trying more expensive seats (like the ISM Adamo Prologue Bicycle Seat – see my review of the ISM Adamo Prologue here) this one just felt different, and soft and supple and comfortable, yet firm. My sit-bones were happy as probably they could be and seemed to drop right into the correct place, as I said above – this one seems to be right for my sit-bone width. And of course the extra wide middle hollow channel gave me the relief along the perineum and probably along the important bulbospongiosus muscle when on the drop bars. And of course the channel provides nice cooling for the rear.
I started out with the Selle SMP Extra leveled front-to-back and centered on the rail, and left it generally that way for the entire ride, it felt pretty good that way though I did adjust the seat forward slightly near the very beginning of the ride.
Even after having a pretty bad Summer cold and being a bit weak from that, not to mention some congestion and with some very strong and gusty winds thrown in – I still had a nice ride with the seat. I rode as upright as possible (up on the inner rear part of the handlebar), on the hoods, and down on the drop bars as well as some small hill climbing, sprints, downhills, and maneuvering through village streets and a bit of rough road construction at the end of a street. A good bit of general testing of all conditions I could think of.
It felt similar to my earlier favorite seat (which broke a few seats back), though by the end of the thirty-plus mile ride my rear was feeling the unfamiliarity of it. I didn’t worry about this, as with any bike seat there is going to be an adjustment period. And this felt like it was that kind of discomfort adjustment. Rather than discomfort or pain from a bad seat or one that is not the correct size. I don’t know; I suppose after years of riding and many miles you can have a better familiarity with your rear and how it fits on the seat. So the seat felt comfortable for the most part, but with that slight feeling of an adjustment periods being needed.
As time goes on (around a month at the point of writing this section) and each subsequent ride the seat as well as my rear have continued to get used to each other, you might say. Just like most any seat you buy, there’s that breaking-in period.
The channel seems to be plenty wide enough, though I suppose a few times while coming back down from a standing pedalling position I may have not initially gotten my perineum area centered exactly on it and had to reposition. No big deal and since the channel is extra wide it’s not hard to find a comfortable place. But an even wider channel wouldn’t be a bad thing. Though it’s somewhat hard to find one with a wider channel unless it is more of a complete large-scale cut-out.
Long climbs are great with it, as well as dropping onto the drop bars – thanks to the long channel.
I had to adjust it twice since the first few times, not because I needed to tweak the position I had put it in but because it seemed to have worked its way back a little. Not the seat’s fault or the rail on it, but likely my own from not getting it tightened quite well enough. The little depression the rear sits in makes for a stable platform when climbing and sprinting, probably putting a lot of backward pressure on the seat so a not-quite-tightened seat post is going to allow it to work its way back.
Just for fun I tilted it a couple of degrees back just for experimentation. Riding with it that way felt about the same though I seemed to feel a bit of increased pressure while going down on the drops and back and forth, so I will probably tilt it back to the nearly level angle I had it, or possibly tilt it a bit in the other direction to give it a try. No, my previous configuration was just right.
One thing that I did notice that bugs me after a bit of use is that the logos and lettering on the sides and top are showing some discoloring or fading. I suspect the lettering is just wearing off a bit from use. Is there wear on the seat material itself? No, one. But should the lettering on a somewhat nicer seat like this show signs of fading or wear this early? I don’t think so, and it is a bit disappointing though only from a cosmetic standpoint. And probably most people wouldn’t even notice it.
And as long as the seat itself shows no wear I’m not concerned a bit about it, but it is slightly disappointing.
Is this Selle SMP Extra the best seat that I have ever owned? It depends.
Is it the best quality of any bike seat I have owned? Yes, I believe there is no question. The quality of the material, the quality of the stitching and assembly, and the overall feel of the seat is definitely a cut above anything else, even the ISM Adam Prologue saddle.
Is it the most durable? I’m not sure yet as I haven’t had it as long as my oldest seat. But if the quality of the seat and it’s material is any indication I believe that it will be – with the exception of the above-mentioned logo and writing that seems to be wearing a bit. The seat itself is pristine and brand-new looking but that text is starting to get a bit of wear. A cosmetic-only issue as far as I can tell.
Is it the most comfortable – probably the most important question. I would say it comes in second to another seat I had used recently. This other seat was the cheapest seat I have ever owned, and is a clone of a clone of a popular manufacturer. In fact it was SO cheap that I won’t even tell you who makes it or how little I paid for it. Because despite the fact that it looked like it was put together just fine and well, and that it indeed was the most comfortable seat I’d ever had attached to my rear – it didn’t seem to last long. So the Selle comes in second only to that amazingly cheapo, perfectly-fit-to-my-rear but quickly-broken seat.
It took my rear awhile to get used to the Selle SMP Extra, just like most saddles; especially more specialty ones, but once I (my rear) got used to it and the seat perhaps shaped itself too – it feels just right.
As time goes on I may add updates to this review, but for the time-being I would highly recommend it with the warning that you need to make sure it is the right fit for you.
If you want something that is similar to a ‘conventional seat’ yet is better for those sensitive areas and isn’t top-of-the-line priced then this may be the saddle for you. It’s a great seat, pure and simple.