Selle SMP - the Origin of Modern Saddle Ergonomics
Updated: Jul 26
Selle SMP is the original manufacturer of ergonomic saddles designed to make your nether regions more comfortable on the bike. They were the first company to recruit medical specialists and use science to evaluate whether or not their saddle range was permitting adequate blood flow and relieving pressure in cyclists. What’s special about their saddles?
The first thing most people notice about an SMP saddle is that they look different to a traditional racing saddle.
The design includes:
A unique wave-like shape designed to match your anatomic shape and spread load more evenly across all weight bearing regions (see image on left below).
A large central channel to unload the soft tissues of the pelvic floor and also your pudendal nerves.
A rear cut out so that the coccyx (tailbone) doesn’t contact the saddle at all.
An “eagle beak” saddle nose that points down and out of the way – no compression here, and it won’t catch on your knicks in a standing start at races.
As an added bonus they have one of the longest saddle rails of any manufacturer, which affords a much larger range of adjustment of saddle fore-aft position during a bike fit. This can really help dial in a position for some riders, for example those with proportionately longer or shorter femurs than average.
The image above illustrates how the wave like design works to unload your pelvis whilst at the same time encouraging a better spinal posture on the bike. The middle image shows a pelvic model sitting upright (not how you actually sit on a bike!) and the image on the right demonstrates how the saddle shape allow the pelvis to rotate forwards (large arrow) to achieve a flat back racing posture without the pelvic bone and soft tissues being crushed against the saddle (small arrow).
How effective is this design? At least two scientific studies have measured genital blood flow in men (Breda et al 2005) and women (Piazza et al 2020) riding on SMP and also on traditional racing saddles. When compared to a flat traditional race saddle, the blood flow and oxygen reaching the genital region was markedly higher in SMP saddles for both genders. The researchers went even further and had a group of professional cyclists test Selle SMP saddles for 6 months. They had each cyclist complete a sexual distress score (a way of measuring pelvic floor symptoms). The results were compared to their traditional saddles and the difference couldn’t have been more striking - the total score on for an SMP saddle was 12 (considered a “normal” score indicating little or no problems) compared to a traditional saddle of 41 (the worst possible score is 48 indicating maximal problems). So there is excellent evidence that the modern design is a good thing!
If you are considering an SMP saddle, it is helpful to know that their build quality is excellent. The saddles are a high quality product hand made in Italy with a 5 stage quality control process. How do you know which one in their large range might suit you best?
The first key is to find your correct width saddle (see our blog HERE for more information). Then you need to consider the padding level you might require, since many of the SMP saddles use the same shell but offer different levels of padding for comfort, which also has the effect of slightly increasing the width (see image below). In this blog I am focussing on Selle SMP’s “Professional” range of saddles with leather covers and less padding (designed for road racing), but they do offer a “Sport” range designed for both racing and non-racing cyclists including off-road use (this range utilises the same design shape but has a different cover and a higher level of padding which many riders prefer). There is also a range that suits junior riders and from first-hand experience it is a popular choice.
To keep things as simple as possible, in the Selle SMP Professional range of road saddles, there are 3 “families” of saddle: a narrow range, a slightly wider range, and the widest range. I have summarised them below. Note that for the “Composit” and “Forma” family of saddles they share the same hard shell but offer different levels of padding on top which alters their overall width. The wider series of saddles follow a less consistent pattern with the Vulkor and Nymber saddles sharing the same shell and the other saddles being more unique. For the record, I don’t yet know of anyone who is having saddle problems who prefers the bare carbon saddles but there are certainly riders who use them or the Composit or Forma unpadded saddles, albeit they are usually light weight or teenage riders.
Once you have determined the correct width, consider the level of padding. Riders with a low body weight might feel comfortable on minimally padded saddles, but riders who love long training rides, long races or Audax events or who are larger in stature such as sprinters, often prefer a more padded saddle.
My final tip is to trial the saddle (the yellow & red SMP models shown are the “test saddle” colours), as subtle differences in width can make one saddle feel amazing and an otherwise similar saddle uncomfortable. For example a subtle change in width of 1-2mm on each side may make you feel a lot more comfortable (see image below and compare the arrows to get an idea of this concept). It is striking just how big a difference in comfort this small change can make. Trialling saddles is something I offer during a bike fit on an as-needs basis.
When trialling a saddle, it should feel good immediately as it is certainly not going to feel better 4hrs later! Then trial the saddle over some regular training / racing weeks and ensure that several weeks later it is still feeling great. Sometimes a saddle can feel great for short durations but over longer periods of time or rougher roads it may become apparent that it is not quite right, and a subtle change in width or padding might be all that is required to feel great.
As always, don’t tolerate numbness or pain in the perineal (saddle) region as it often leads to some problems you’d rather not develop! At Cycle Physio I’m always available to discuss any saddle related issues you may have.
Breda G et al (2005): Development of a New Geometric Bicycle Saddle for the Maintenance of Genital–Perineal Vascular Perfusion. J Sex Med 2:605-611.
Piazza N et al (2020): The effect of a new geometric bicycle saddle on the genital-perineal vascular perfusion of female cyclists. Science & Sports 35:161-167.