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On test: Selle Italia SLR Teknologika Flow saddle, March 30, 2007

Have your cake and eat it, too

The classic SLR shell profile
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Selle Italia melds old-world craftsmanship with new-world technology to produce what is arguably its most advanced iteration of the long-standing SLR family, the SLR Teknologika Flow. Cyclingnews Tech Editor James Huang sets off for the horizon to find out if Selle Italia's latest SLR actually has comfort to match its stunning appearance.

Save for the ubiquitous Flite, Selle Italia's minimalist SLR line has been one of the company's most successful, having found its way on to the bikes of road and off-road racers alike as well as recreational riders seeking a lightweight saddle that still offers moderate creature comforts.

Now in its 110th year of operation, Selle Italia is showing few signs of slowing down, and the SLR family continues to grow. Eleven distinct models now cover a wide range of disciplines and preferences, from the bare carbon-shelled C64 (claimed to weigh just 76g… so why is it called the 'C64'?) to the more amply proportioned triathlon-specific SLR T1. Seemingly straddling the fine line between shedding grams and maintaining a modicum of cush, however, is Selle Italia's new premium featherweight, the SLR Teknologika Flow.

Old-world hands, new-world tech

The SLR Teknologika Flow strikes perhaps the most delicate balance
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

The predominantly carbon fiber content in the SLR Teknologika Flow is its most visually stunning feature (and we mean the real stuff here, not just some 'carbon reinforced' Legoland foo-foo composite). Selle Italia makes liberal use of the stuff for the gracefully curvy shell as well as the rails, and the company leaves the material in its bare form to display its naturally beautiful weave pattern to the world.

While not necessarily intended to be an ultra-plush saddle, Selle Italia nevertheless puts forth some effort to make the SLR Teknologika Flow a reasonably comfortable place to plant yourself for a while. The top of the saddle is covered with a barely-there appliqué of Alcantara synthetic leather over a thin layer of dense EVA foam that provides just a bit of cushioning to what would otherwise be a rather brutally rigid base. In addition, the shell also features the company's 'Trans Am' cutout to relieve pressure on sensitive areas.

Edges of the shell are wisely curved inwards
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Unfortunately, the Alcantara covers only the top surface of the saddle, though, and there is no protection whatsoever for the pretty carbon shell in the event of a crash. Not like you need more motivation to stay upright, but a shredded US$449 carbon saddle might just hurt a little more than that road rash on your hip. And no, this would not be a good opportunity to resurrect your old hot pink Lycra saddle cover; everyone knows that neon green is a much hardier color, anyway.

Even with all of its high-tech content, the SLR Teknologika Flow still smacks of good old-fashioned craftsmanship. To be sure, the carbon fiber shell and rails are ejected out of some sort of coldly unemotional mold, but the act of joining them together and applying the EVA foam and Alcantara top quite obviously involves at least one loving pair of human hands. In fact, our test sample even displayed some very subtle asymmetry flaws that a machine probably wouldn't commit.

When all is said and done, the result is a wonderfully light 126g masterpiece with killer looks, but also a killer price to match.

I'm supposed to do what?

The SLR Teknologika Flow is dead flat from front to back.
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

As with nearly all saddles, the installation of our SLR Teknologika Flow tester was completely routine but for one exception: the graduated carbon fiber rails are far too short and offer little in the way of fore-aft adjustment, particularly on seatposts with a longer cradle. Potential buyers may want to budget for an additional post just in case the limited range requires something with a different offset to produce the desired fit.

With the installation out of the way, it was time to actually sit on the thing. Speaking strictly from first impressions, the SLR Teknologika Flow doesn't seem terribly inviting what with its pared-down shape and stiff carbon shell. But hop on I did, all in the name of journalistic integrity (oh, the pains I endure for you people). Its unfriendly looks notwithstanding, the SLR Teknologika Flow actually felt quite comfortable right from the get-go. As suspected, the carbon shell doesn't flex much, but the shape so closely mimics that of Selle Italia's other SLR models (and most of the rest of its range, for that matter) that there's little to give away this one's distinctly paltry weight when you're actually on top of it.

Any questions as to where this is made?
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

First impressions don't hold much water when it comes to saddle evaluations, though. While I logged numerous shorter rides on the SLR Teknologika Flow, there is arguably no better torture test for a saddle (or the rider?) than a long early season ride in the mountains so off I went for an extended jaunt into the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.

Amazingly, that initial comfort sustained itself throughout the entire journey. The well-shaped carbon shell provides even better long-term sit bone support than softer alternatives and Selle Italia's 'Trans Am' cutout maintained feeling to my privates. In addition, the EVA padding provides just enough squish to keep you from feeling like you've been sitting on a park bench all day, but it's still likely best suited for later season rides after you've got some good base miles in your butt or for fitter cyclists that are more accustomed to thinly-padded saddles.

The Alcantara top provides an appropriate level of grip that holds you in your 'sweet spot' for as long as you want, but isn't so grippy that it impedes moving around a bit (just like the Recaro sport seats in your S4 Avant… what, you don't have one? Loser.). Coincidentally, the material stops short of going all the way up to the nose of the saddle, which is probably a good thing since you wouldn't want to hang your hat there for long, anyway; it offers virtually zero flex and is best suited for very short efforts.

It's a keeper… for me, at least

Rails are inserted
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

At the very least, the SLR Teknologika Flow stands as an excellent testament to the theory that a saddle's basic shape has much more to do with its comfort than an assortment of acronym-laced features. That being said, saddles are still a fiercely personal issue just as they have always been. While Selle Italia's latest model worked well for yours truly, others that prefer more of a 'saddle-shaped' saddle or have more widely-spaced sit bones may not have the same pleasant experience.

Five hours later and with a hot, fresh chicken burrito in hand (Illegal Pete's… yum), my early season butt was no worse for wear than when I left. In my case, the SLR Teknologika Flow's excellent shape provided a firm platform with excellent support that proved to work astoundingly well over the long haul. Those would be positive words for just about any saddle, but the fact that the SLR Teknologika Flow weighs just 126g is just icing on the cake. In this case, it appears that you really can have it all.

Weight: 126g
Price: US$449
Pros: Amazingly comfortable as long as the shell width suits you, handcrafted quality, ultralight weight
Cons: Saddle rails are far too short, saddle nose is very rigid, bare carbon fiber edges probably won't hold up well in a crash
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com