Selle Italia SLR Gel Flow Saddle
What do you think about gel padding? Maybe you're a fan of Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Insoles or Spenco Gel gloves or gel pads under your handlebar tape. You need the cush to make things right. Or you're the kind who finds the gel distracting and uncomfortable. Or maybe you don't care. While we initially liked the gel idea, we've come to think gel in our shoes, gloves and saddles are bad things. The non-compressible flex material makes us feel less stable and less secure, most notably in our shoes. We're not gellin' like that felon Magellan. At the same time, we try to be open to the possibility that it works in the right application; we found a little gel under handlebar tape can be a good thing for long bouts of rough roads, though we generally prefer minimal padding at the handlebars as well.
Selle Italia is a long-lived saddle manufacturer compared to the upstart Fizik. While old age in cycle manufacture often means a reliance on tradition and a reluctance to change, Selle Italia hasn't been shy about working cutouts, gel, and unusual shapes into their saddle matrix. That saddle matrix is huge, much bigger than appears in the US. They're going avant-garde, or at least not bowing to the god of tradition. Most of their new designs are a far cry from their iconic Turbo, which once dominated the peloton, and can still be seen, barely updated, in the discontinued but still ridden Turbomatic 3. The Flite was possibly more loved than the Turbo, and they've discontinued that, too.
SLR, according to Selle Italia, means nothing. Pity; we assumed it meant Super Leggero Racing, due to the lighter than Flite SLR saddle which the SLR Gel Flow's shape is based on. The SLR is a 135g saddle with a minimalist shape, titanium rails, and light padding, and it is the saddle from which the entire line of 13 SLR saddles is based on. Every one of them is 131mm wide and 275mm long. They have different coverings, paddings, cutouts, and rails.
Our saddle is covered in Black leather with rubbery grip dots inset. There is stitching along the sides and atop the nose for more grip, and a carbon-fiber patch for aesthetics. There is a cutout down the middle, 11cm long getting to 1.5cm wide, to relieve pressure in that nether region. The padding is foam with silicone gel injected into it. The "Flow" of the title is for how the gel feels like it is moving, not because the gel packet moves back and forth under the leather. The rails are made of Vanox, a vanadium and titanium blend. The right-side rails have markings for making small fore-aft adjustments easier. The saddle weighs in at 225g, spot on with the manufacturer's claimed weight.
After our fitting debacle with the Fizik Arione, we decided to minimize our interactions with a ruler and just go by feel when setting up the saddle position. Ride rollers for 15 minutes at a range of cadences, then get off, and try to ballpark the new saddle on a fresh seatpost. Use the Fit Stik, but mostly to get the position close. Then get back on the rollers and fiddle. And not go back to the Fit Stik for a few days. Whether feel was a better method or the more-familiar shape was the culprit, we can't say, but we felt the position was pretty close after the third ride on the saddle. We noticed that the saddle was shorter and flatter, but overall, we felt like our position was pretty good. The hardest switch for us was getting the height right. This saddle is mostly flat while our old Flite is swoopy. We also pushed the saddle a bit further back on the rails owing to the shorter overall length, thinking that not only was the saddle shorter overall, but the rear section longer than we're used to sitting on.
We didn't know if the gel padding would mean the padding would compress more or less than we're used to. The first few rides were getting used to the slight position change that the saddle gave us. After that, we tried to zero in on what we felt. The padding in this saddle is definitely thicker than we're used to riding on. But getting on the saddle and riding, we didn't notice any more padding than we had on our Flite. In many respects, the overall seated experience led us to believe that the saddle is actually less flexible than our Flite. We don't know if that was because the gel flows so slowly or is denser and the saddle shell less flexible than the shell we've been riding, or of the flat shape somehow results in more pressure to our crotch. It didn't hurt, but we definitely didn't think that the saddle was any softer than what we've been riding.
In this respect, the softer-but-harder padding, the saddle reminded us of our dalliance with a Selle Italia Gel Flite. The gel in this saddle was less comfy than the gel-free Flite we had broken up with, so it went to eBay while our old Flite returned.
Another issue could have been the covering. The leather is not the smoothest, at least when new. The seams, stitching, and grip dots are all supposed to limit the sliding one does on the saddle. Flat shapes are often suggested as the kind of saddle you can nudge yourself fore and aft pretty easily. We did not experience this with the SLR Gel Flow at all. If anything, we felt more stuck to the saddle than we typically experience.
We also didn't think we'd notice the shorter overall length. Here, too, we were wrong. We noticed it when we were racing all-out and needed a little extra oomph when we were already digging deep to latch on to the group several seconds up the road. Maybe we didn't want to shift our position forward much, or maybe we wanted the curve of the saddle to press against, but either way, we did notice the difference.
We've refrained from discussing the cutout. The saddle should be the sum of the ride, not the missing material in the middle. The question for us is does the saddle work? Saddle cutouts have been sold as anti numb-nuts technology ever since the genital numbness paranoia swept cyclists and saddle manufacturers thanks to an article based on research by a single urologist. Despite the doubts raised by other urologists, the story had legs. Not only did the issue suddenly spring up everywhere, like recovered memories, but other journalists and media outlets rushed to cover it. At the time, we thought the article was poorly done, indicating us a possible research bias toward finding a problem rather than accurately assessing how much of a problem existed. While the outsized response was perhaps foreseeable, it demonstrated shoddy journalism all around. Whether it was the research or the seemingly outsized response that convinced saddle manufacturers to change saddle designs we can't say. Today, we've got remnants of the craze, mostly in the cutouts, but cyclists are no longer told not to ride, or ride recumbents, or ride a road bike, but without a saddle.
Do the cutouts work? To us, we doubted they would because while there wouldn't be any pressure on the body where the hole was situated, but potentially, there would be more pressure on the body along the sides of the hole. Same body weight, less surface area supporting that weight, thus more pressure. A reasonable response to that theory is that the issue is where the pressure is placed, not how much. Whatever. We neither noticed a reduction in pressure where the saddle wasn't nor an increase in pressure where the saddle was. Numbness hasn't been a problem before, nor was it an issue with the SLR Gel Flow.
While we could probably ride happy on this saddle for many a mile over many a month, it didn't have the "it" factor we want from a new saddle. We want to be bowled over. We don't know how a saddle could do this for us. Maybe it isn't possible.