Scheduling (and publishing) reviews is always a bit of a balancing act. Manufacturers want to see their products reviewed the moment they’re released. Readers, on the other hand, want to know how products perform over the long haul. As luck would have it, Ergon’s SMC4 arrived just a few days after I posted GRAVELBIKE’s 2016 saddle roundup.
Since then, I’ve tested the SMC4 with a variety of gravel, mountain, and road bikes. The saddle has seen use with conventional rigid seatposts, as well as suspension and dropper-style posts. In typical Colorado fashion, Mother Nature provided a wide range of weather conditions during the test period.
If you placed Ergon’s SMC3 and SMC4 saddles next to one another, you would have a hard time detecting any major differences. You may notice some minor cosmetic variations, but the biggest difference between the two saddles is what you can’t see. While the SMC3 utilizes the company’s orthopedic AirCell padding, Ergon’s SMC4 features a combination of orthopedic comfort foam and gel pads. If you raised an eyebrow at the word gel, forget what you think you know about gel saddles. This is not your father’s gel saddle.
Gel-padded saddles sometimes get a bad rap because the gel inserts feel like an afterthought (both literally and figuratively). Not so with the SMC4. The wide (160 mm), flat platform is complemented nicely by the softer foam and gel pads. Together, the combination does an excellent job of distributing pressure across the sit bones. Ergon’s SMC4 foam/gel combo is soft enough to reduce road buzz and trail chatter, but it’s firm enough that you don’t feel like you’re fighting the padding when pedaling hard.
Navigating technical off-road terrain proved easy with the SMC4. The long, flat nose was particularly well suited to steep climbs, and the tapered rear section made sliding behind the saddle a no-brainer. And just like the company’s SMC3 mode, the SMC4 performed equally well on paved and gravel roads. As with most MTB-oriented saddles, the SMC4 favors a front-biased position. If you prefer a more rearward position, you’ll probably want to pair the SMC4 with a setback seatpost (I used a 25 mm offset post on my gravel rig/commuter).
Ergon offers the SMC4 in three versions: the basic SMC4 ($59.95), the $79.95 Sport Gel, and the Comp Gel ($99.95). All three saddles share the sample shape and profile, but only the Sport and Comp are equipped with gel padding. To accommodate different size riders and riding positions, each model is available in medium and large sizes (widths). As with every other Ergon saddle I’ve ridden, fit and finish were excellent. Ergon lists the Sport Gel’s weight at 315 gram, but my (large) review sample came in at 301 grams.
If you’ve been put off by gel saddles that are more like pillow top mattresses, check out Ergon’s SMC4 Sport or Comp Gel models. The gel padding all but eliminates pressure and hot spots while still providing the necessary support for spirited performance riding (on- or off-road).
Disclosure: Ergon provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.