Selle Italia SLR T1 Saddle
We believe that comfort is one of the keys to going fast. And as regular readers of this column know, we're of the mind that the harder you ride, the more firm you want your saddle to be. We can't see ourselves on one of those saddles that is only a shell, but we generally find too much padding to be less comfortable than too little. We figure that a little deformation of padding adds to comfort; lots of padding deformation is akin to riding Jell-O. Jell-O typically lacks the stability necessary for full-gas efforts.
This general advice is confounded by riding on aero bars. We've done both individual and team time trials on thin road racing saddles and the discomfort we feel from nose pressure, or rather the pressure we feel from more weight balanced on the saddle's nose, builds over the course of both events. Chamois crème helps a little, but only a little, mostly by allowing a little more movement when you're pressing on the nose. Seems that a little slip now and again adds to comfort, though it might have to do more with other skin not being under pressure and moving against the chamois which is stuck in one place thanks to all that pressure up front.
When it comes to saddles for riding on aero bars, there seems to be one constant; a soft, wide nose. Wait, is that two constants? Hmmmn. After that, saddles vary. Some are wide in back, some are shorter in length, some have cutouts.
There isn't a local weekly time trial series in the area, so we don't have a TT bike and, as such, we haven't taken the time to find our perfect TT saddle. We do have a Max Flite in our parts bin, and we were thinking that the little extra give, which is achieved by a bumper in front and saddle flex in the rear, would be sufficient if we wanted to build that TT bike when it is needed.
But, when a new saddle arrives, we're motivated to test it out, even when it doesn't seem like our kind of saddle. The Selle Italia SLR T1 is a saddle aimed at the triathlon set, but also pitched to mountain bikers. The name, as with most Selle Italia models, means almost nothing. The SLR designates that it shares a basic shell design in terms of width and length with other Selle Italia SLR saddles, though in this case, the shell is the same as the shell on the standard SLR. The width is 131mm wide in the back and the length is 275mm long. T1 is whatever you want it to be. We have a faint recollection that maybe the run-to-bike leg of a tri is called T1, short for "Transition 1." But we're inexpert on the technicalities of the 3-sports-in-1 sport.
The difference between this and the basic SLR is padding. It is rather cushy at the nose, thanks to a generous gel pad. The gel padding seems to get thinner and thinner towards the back. In fact, at the tail end of the saddle, it's hard to tell if there's any gel padding at all. It feels like a thin pad back there, much like a regular Selle Italia SLR. Overall, it's as if Selle Italia added a gel strip on top of the standard SLR and then had leather stretched on top of the combo.
The saddle is also rather wide at the nose. Our calipers measure it at 49mm wide, which is a bit over 27% wider than the nose of a standard SLR at 38.5mm wide. That's a lot of extra surface area. Even without the generous padding, the width should minimize pressure one feels from hammering while riding the nose.
An interesting consequence of all the padding up front: If you want the saddle level with the ground, the seat rails are oriented the reverse of most saddles. That is, on most saddles, if you are sliding the seat forward on the rails, the saddle rises relative to the ground. Here, when you move the seat forward on the rails, the saddle lowers relative to the ground.
The first ride was definitely a bit juicier than we're used to, but overall, the impression we got was that the shape agreed with us. Subsequent easy rides we found ourselves getting used to the gel. On longer climbs, we had assumed we sat sufficiently on the tail that we'd feel nothing from the gel. Wrong on that count; we were still on a thinner portion of gel. Not as firm as we're used to but not uncomfortable. A week of easy riding and it was almost getting comfortable. The padding is supposed to be "self-modeling," meaning that after some quality saddle time, the padding should have responded to the pressure our anatomy bore into the saddle and molded some areas in response. Selle Italia suggests it should take about 300 miles.
Then it was time to bring out the hammer. Riding hard on the SLR T1 was not quite the way we like things. Working the pedals hard, we seemed to be moving around a bit too much for our sense of comfort. 20 minutes of an all-out effort felt like we were fighting the saddle a bit for a comfortable position.
Since we didn't have aero bars installed, we tried two different means of evaluating the gel in the saddle nose. First, we tried riding in the drops and with our weight shifted forward to the nose, with our body almost falling off the saddle in front. Is this position ever comfortable for anybody? Even with the gel, we weren't too happy. Second, we sat further back in the saddle, but with our elbows resting on the tops of our handlebars as we turned over a pretty big gear. This was more comfortable, but not having up to a few hours of groveling on aero bars while flogging the big meat in the test leaves us wondering how well the saddle will do a 1/2, 3/4 and 1/1 Ironman distances.
On the plus side, this is a pretty soft saddle considering the weight. There isn't a cush-per-gram ratio metric, but if there were, we think this would do very well. Our particular saddle weighed in at 219g, which is lighter than the 225g advertised. Other SLR T1's we've measured have come in at 205g and 215g. Selle Italia expects a variation of +/- 8% on any advertised weight, due to the variations of finishing saddles by hand.
Thesis restatement. Comfort is one of the keys to going fast. If you're looking for a more than a little give in front while keeping the back of the saddle fairly firm, the Selle Italia SLR T1 should be on your short list of candidates.