Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow Saddle
Looking at this Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow opens old wounds. Selle Italia stepped on a minefield when they retired their Flite design and the shrapnel was felt under cyclists the world over. The saddle, the first of the modern lightweight saddles, was hugely popular both for roadies and mountain bikers, and many of them hung onto their saddles until they broke. Realizing the mistake they made, Selle Italia reintroduced the Flite design. The new shape and rails were lighter than the old shape and rails. And, as they did with the original Flite, and they do with all their saddles, they figured out myriad ways to slightly modify the basic shape with covers, cutouts, gel, padding, and rails to come up with an entire line of Flite saddles.
As fans of the old Flite, we have five on bikes right now and three stockpiled, we were ecstatic then disappointed by the reintroduction. Unlike Selle San Marco, which returned their old designs to production, the new Flite shape is modified in ways we don't entirely understand. The width and shape of the nose is the same, as is the radius of the flare toward the sit-bone section in back, but the distance from the nose to the flare has been shortened and the rear section, that which is behind the sit bones appears to have been lengthened. This almost seems to be a nod to the Fizik Arione, which has a triangular shelf sitting behind the end of the rails. In both cases, we don't see the purpose for the elongated tail unless it somehow helps keep the rest of the saddle's shape in place.
Another modification of the old Flite is that the placement of the rails has changed. The rails attach to the nose under the nose rather than behind it and sit under an elastomer for greater shock absorption, and the clamping area has been moved about 10mm back, which means the saddle can move about 10mm farther forward.
The rails, in this case Titanizzato rails or Ti316, are titanium and hollow. They've been upgraded so they're oval rather than round, with the oval shape oriented vertically for greater stiffness. The dimensions of the rails in the clamping area are 7mm by 8.5mm.
Selle Italia designs with the idea that saddles are on the receiving end of more force today than they were 10 years ago. Wheels are stiffer and frames are stiffer, meaning that more shock is concentrated on the saddle rails than used to be the case. It is also for this reason that Selle Italia prefers that people use vertical-clamp saddle fixing mechanisms and use saddle rail cradles that are at least 30mm in length. They believe these designs spread the stresses on the saddle over a much greater area and do a great job of reducing the risk of fatigue-related stress fractures.
Selle Italia recognizes that the worry of stress fractures are something that could put people off buying a saddle, so they've come up with a partial remedy. Selle Italia USA offers to replace broken saddle rails. These Ti316 rails, if broken, can be replaced for $39.95 as of this writing.
Out of the box, this Flite Gel Flow is intriguing when compared to our old Flites. The Gel padding, when compared to the foam of old, adds very little to the weight. And unlike the first few generations of Gel in Flites, the gel is in the padding, not laid on top. This saddle weighs in at 237g (advertised weight 225g) whereas our Flites are in the 224-248g range. More padding for no penalty. Weight variation is due to the fact that leather covers are jobbed out to freelance stretchers, who, depending on skill and attention can vary the weight of the saddle by as much as 10% depending on how much glue and leather they use. The new Flite without the Gel cutout is supposed to weigh in at 200g.
The first issue was setting up the saddle. We couldn't use either the nose or tail as reference points for determining the exact setback, so we put the nose about 10mm behind where the Flite's nose should be. Another issue is that the saddle starts out pretty flat. We dropped the overall height 3mm.
On the first ride, the shape certainly agreed with our underside. We pushed it back a little bit and tried to keep the height constant. Despite what we consider generous padding, the saddle didn't feel too plush. It felt like a slightly mushier version of our old saddles. Not uncomfortable, just with a little more give.
We're told that Selle Italia has figured out a way to take their self-modeling padding and insert the gel through it rather than just laying the gel on top. Not sure how they do this, but the gel doesn't seem to move around. It gets pounded and the shape changes a bit, but it doesn't seem to squish or slide.
After a few rides, the saddle felt a bit low. Our post hadn't slipped; the saddle had developed some sag in the middle. This was fine. We pushed it back up a little bit and continued riding. Since that day, the saddle has developed a bit more sag, which resulting in us nudging the post up a little more still.
We felt pretty solid on the saddle and we were wondering if the leather perforations had anything to do with it. Unlikely, after talking with the importers. The silvery stuff underneath the leather is Mylar, not a gripping material. The Mylar is there to keep the leather away from the gel. Selle Italia was concerned that having the leather smack up against gel would have an adverse effect on the leather, so the two materials are kept apart and the gel is sealed in from the elements.
There's a difference between sitting in a saddle and sitting on top of it. Saddles that are too soft give an uncomfortable sensation of not really being seated in one place but moving around. The gel models enough around our anatomy, that we feel pretty solid in the saddle, regardless of the power applied or the cadence we're spinning.
Now that we've logged considerable saddle time, we find this the least gel-like of the gel saddles we've tried. Since we haven't noticed the cutout, we're starting to wonder if the cutout is actually behind this sensation. Sitting on top of less material means, in this case, sitting on top of less gel. Sitting on top of less gel means less material to squish or move around on us. It's a bit softer than our old Flites, but not dramatically so. And not nearly as soft as the Selle Italia SLR T1 saddle we tried. Closer to the Selle Italia SLR Gel Flow, with a little more give. We're not quite ready to embrace the new shape, but we're definitely warming to it.