Review: SQlab Saddles

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From Cycle EXIF’s technical correspondent, Richard Gearing. I forget how I came across the SQlab ‘Super6.1’ saddle, but having seen it I had to know more and, as a fan of carbon saddles and the surprising comfort they offer, was keen to give it a try. Unfortunately at the time of writing it was still being finalised, but my queries prompted the supply of a few of the SQlab range of saddles to test.

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The first thing to do to identify which saddle width I should be riding is to measure my sit bones. Krischan of EightyOneSpices.com.au – the Australian distributor for SQlab – sent me the kit to do this, and on feeding back my findings to him he was able to send me the correct width saddles.

Under advice from Krischan, the first of the the saddles to try from the three he sent me was the 611 Race. This is a titanium-railed model and utilises the SQlab ‘Stepsaddle Concept’, which is what creates the striking appearance of the SQlab saddles as they lower the nose portion of the saddle to maintain support and alleviate pressure.

Positioning the saddle takes a bit of time as the lowered nose means you have two different levels on the saddle to measure from. I found that setting the higher rear portion of the saddle to your usual saddle height feels about right, and seems to mean that you will drop your seatpost down by a few millimetres (worth being aware of if your bike has an integrated seatpost).

In addition, it may also be necessary to move the saddle slightly forward of where you might normally run it to help encourage you to sit right on the back of the saddle to make the most of the ‘Stepsaddle’ design. Finally, I found I needed to tip the nose of the saddle up slightly to feel less like I was falling forwards (SQlab suggest tilting the nose up as much as to be in line with the rear – i.e. horizontal across its whole length – if necessary).

I expected the shape of the saddle to feel odd and take some time to get used to (SQlab suggests up to six rides may be necessary to acclimatise), but I felt immediately at home, and the level of comfort was quite surprising. The purpose of the SQlab design is to sit right back on the saddle – it can be challenging remembering to shuffle back initially but the shape of the saddle helps encourage this, and the benefit of the stepped design becomes immediately apparent when you do.

One excellent feature of the saddle shape needs calling out on its own: Despite all of the ergonomic features SQlab have crammed into the design of these saddles, the nose portion has been perfectly produced to be wide enough to offer support yet narrow enough to avoid restricting thigh movement during pedalling. Given the width of the rear of the saddle I believe this to be an excellent bit of design execution, and I struggle to understand how so few saddles manage to achieve this.

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After some solid miles on the 611 Race, I moved onto the 611 Active – essentially the same shape saddle as the Race, but with the rear portion of the saddle having been designed to move with the rider’s hip movement. This is achieved by the point at which the rails join the rear of the saddle being partially disconnected aside from a web of plastic.

The gap is filled with an elastomer, which can be easily changed for a softer or harder version to change the damping and movement that the saddle offers (the saddle arrived with the ‘medium’ damper installed). Again, I took some time to get the saddle position right – this time using the position and angle of the 611 Race as my start point to get it dialled.

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On the road, and with the medium damper in use, the 611 Active didn’t feel too much different from the 611 Race. It was definitely apparent that some extra movement was occurring, but I expected the saddle to feel softer. Switching this damper for the soft version on subsequent rides, I then really began to feel the benefit of the setup.

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Having previously dismissed concepts like this on the grounds of being gimmicky I had to swallow my pride as I realised the movement of the rear end, the stepped design and the narrow shape of the nose all worked brilliantly together to offer incredible comfort.

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Perhaps the only downside here is the saddle weight – but (despite my own general love of light weight carbon saddles) this really is not the part of your bike to be cutting back in that respect, especially if you suffer with ‘normal’ saddles in any way.

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Finally I came to the 612 Carbon – currently the only saddle in the SQlab range to run carbon rails. This is the lightest in the SQlab range until the Super6.1 comes to market (which is due after the 2015 EuroBike show). Again, the excellent SQlab shape and support is present here, as is the Stepsaddle Concept design.

The carbon rails enhance the look of this saddle over the two 611 options, but they do also seem to firm up the ride a little. It’s worth noting that SQlab suggest you should expect their saddles to feel firmer as, once your sit bones are used to this, it helps your sit bones relieve pressure from other areas.

I’m used to a firm saddle so this still isn’t a major concern for me but, having come from the 611 Active, it was definitely noticeable. Having since also ridden on one of my more typical light weight carbon saddles there is still a clear benefit of the Stepsaddle shape used on the 612 Carbon, despite this extra firmness. Perhaps more specifically, going back to one of my normal saddles no longer felt as comfortable as I remembered.

Saddles are incredibly personal items on a bike. The wafer-thin carbon saddles I have found comfortable on previously look and feel to some like razorblades, whereas the sofa-like perches some prefer give me nothing but discomfort. With the different widths and variations available in the SQlab range (the three saddles tested here are each available in four widths) I really believe there could be something for everyone.

Although SQlab don’t distinguish between male and female saddles they do ensure their Stepsaddle Concept works perfectly well for both sexes so, as long as the correct width saddle is chosen, women should be able to find a saddle in the range that is perfectly comfortable. Based on this three saddle test I heartily recommend starting with the 611 Active.

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As this is Cycle EXIF, should the looks be of a concern to you our good friend Mick Peel of Busyman Bicycles has already re-covered a couple of the 611 Race for customers to inspire you:

Busyman Bicycles/SQlab 1
Busyman Bicycles/SQlab 2

The best way I can describe this range is that they offer the comfort of a worn-in Brooks saddle that has spent years conforming itself to the shape of your backside, but without the lengthy bedding in period. If the Super6.1 continues this theme in a light weight, shiny carbon finish when it comes to market then I might have to sack the expensive and jump onboard (pun intended) – the most recent versions of it look incredible.

SQLab Website | Facebook

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