2016 Saddle Roundup

With bicycle technology changing so rapidly, it’s sometimes easy to forget the importance of our bikes’ contact points–especially saddles. The lightest, most advanced bike in the world is all but useless if it’s equipped with an uncomfortable saddle. Since launching GRAVELBIKE in 2011, I’ve tried more saddles than I can remember. Over the past several months, I’ve tested different five saddles that each attempt to balance comfort, support, and performance in their own unique ways.

Model Width
Ergon SMC3 Comp (large) 160 285 248 $99.95
Fabric Cell 155 282 358 $99.99
Rivet Pearl 170 280 586 $150.00
Specialized Power Expert (155) 160 240 247 $130.00
Specialized Power Expert (168) 171 240 253 $130.00
Tioga Spyder Stratum 135 292 186 $125.00

Weights are actual, courtesy of my Feedback Sports digital scale. Measurements were taken at the saddles’ widest and longest sections.

Ergon SMC3 Comp

Ergon’s product names may not be the catchiest (or most intuitive), but what the company’s SMC3 Comp lacks in marketing pizzazz, it more than makes up for in performance and versatility. Available in three widths, the Comp features a fiberglass composite shell, TiNox rails, a microfiber cover, and CNC-machined, orthopedic AirCell padding. Sitting in the middle of Ergon’s line of mountain saddles, the Comp’s C3’s relatively flat (fore/aft) profile, wide nose, and relief channel complement one another to produce a saddle that’s easy to move around on, yet still offers the necessary support for extended road and gravel riding.

Good for the rider who spends a lot of time in the saddle (on dirt or pavement), but at the same time, wants a shape that won’t hold them back when it’s time to shred on technical terrain.

Fabric Cell

While most saddles rely on some type of foam padding for comfort and support, Fabric’s Cell saddle utilizes cushioning technology found in high-end running shoes. The result is an air-sprung layer–which, according to Fabric–helps distribute weight evenly across the saddle’s surface. With no foam to compress, there’s no break-in period, and the saddle’s feel remains consistent throughout its service life. With the saddle’s mildly curved fore/aft profile and peaked cross-section, the Cell has a definite sweet spot. Thanks to the Fabric’s long rails, dialing in your preferred position is easy on seatposts with various offsets/setback.

Good for the rider who a favors a (static) upright, relaxed position, and wants additional padding and comfort.

Rivet Pearl

Tensioned leather saddles tend to elicit strong reactions among cyclists–you either love them or hate them (the saddles, not the cyclists). Rivet Cycle Works addresses the naysayers’ criticism by offering saddles that require minimal break-in, are waterproof, and don’t stretch out prematurely. Knowing that one size rarely fits all, Rivet saddles range from 150 to 175 millimeters wide. The Pearl’s 170 millimeter width offers plenty of support, while the central cut-out reduces soft tissue pressure. Sturdy chrome-moly rails allow a wide range of adjustment, and tension is easily adjusted with the included tools.

Good for the rider who favors a more upright, relaxed position, and prefers the passive suspension of tensioned leather.

Specialized Power Expert

Saddle choice is heavily influenced by factors such as handlebar height, terrain, and the rider’s flexibility and body type. As such, designing a saddle that works well for multiple disciplines and riding styles is no small feat. With its shortened nose and Body Geometry design, Specialized’s Power Comp is able to serve the needs of both competitive and recreational riders. Because of the shortness the Power’s nose, finding the optimal fore/aft position can be a bit tricky–I found it easiest to use the rear edge of the saddle as the reference point. And in what has to be a first, Specialized’s Power saddles actually measure wider than stated width (I found the 155 version to be the most comfortable).

Good for the rider who wants a saddle with excellent pelvic but doesn’t want to sacrifice efficiency and comfort when riding in the drops.

Tioga Spyder Stratum

At first glance, Tioga’s Spyder Stratum looks like it’s missing a few key elements such as padding and a cover. Make no mistake, however, the saddle’s minimalist design is entirely intentional. According to Tioga, the Spyder’s flexible web cover balances flex with support in ways not possible with conventional saddle design and materials. I found the Stratum’s 135 millimeter width far too narrow for my backside, but flexibility and support remained surprisingly good. It would be interesting to see if a wider model would benefit from the Spyder’s design. Until then, the Spyder series is limited to 125-135 millimeter widths.

Good for the rider who prefers a narrow, lightweight saddle, but wants more flex and comfort found on all-carbon or unpadded models.

Disclosure: Ergon, Fabric, Rivet, Specialized, and Tioga provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

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