Clearly excited about its 2014 product, Selle Royal forwent the usual Eurobike launch in order to show a handful of European cycling press the product first hand at its Vicenza factory. Mark Sutton reports on a fresh take on saddle design by a giant in the business…
As anyone who has pedaled a few miles over a cobbled road, or through a churned up field will agree, the importance of having the right saddle under your bum can’t be underestimated. From comfort, through performance, right down to linked medical issues, if your customer’s serious about cycling, they’ll want to get it right.
On the front line of the cycle trade, there is gradually more and more money to be made from matching customers to their ideal saddle. Whether you’re measuring bums as part of a bike fit, or simply placing a female customer on a saddle designed specifically for the female form, there’s an art to getting it right.
It’s something saddle manufacturer Selle Royal knows a thing or two about, with around 20,000 saddles produced at the Vicenza factory for the firm’s brand catalogue daily. That number doubles in high season. As owners of the Brooks, Fi’zi:k and Crank Brothers, you’ll find boxes of saddle rails, rolls of material and stacks of saddle moulds stacked sky high in the firm’s factory, all set for distribution to more than 70 countries globally once assembled into the finished article.
It’s an operation run like clockwork, with 210 staff on the production floor and another 90 in the sleek office building, making the firm second only to clothing manufacturer Diesel in terms of numbers employed in the region.
So why spoil the surprise of Eurobike launches by giving us journos a ticket to roam the building and get hands on with production line staff to see first hand the processes that go into creating a purpose built saddle?
Well, presumably it’s because you’d assume there’s nothing more than a bit of plastic, some fancy gel and a bit of glue going into the production of a top-end saddle? Well, you’d be wrong. A handmade saddle, as many coming from Selle Royal’s factory are, is far more time consuming than you may realise.
“Selle Royal has paid close attention to what different types of cyclists require from their saddles,” explains Selle Royal brand manager Roberto Bucci.
“We’ve come up with a number of fresh takes on the performance and comfort market, with a simple guide for dealers to establish quickly and easily the best fit for their customer.”
The focus of Selle’s presentation revolved largely around the new Performa and Comfort catalogues. The former concept, targeted at the athletic cyclists out there revolves around three design principles – badged by Selle Royal as Flat, Wave and Anatomic – each served by two saddles, a high and a mid-range unit. These are set to retail for around €69.90 and €49.90, respective of the tier, once Raleigh receives stock in the UK just after Eurobike.
The Flat concept is for the cyclist who frequently shifts their position in the saddle to gain maximum pedalling efficiency and flexibility. Middle of the road, the Wave is contoured to support the rider just a shade more than a flat design while maintaining a sporty position. For maximum comfort, but with a retained aggressive stance in the saddle, the Anatomic saddle is best suited to the longer-distance cyclist who may need additional relief on the perineum.
The packaging indicates strongly which best suits the customer and the Comfort line is no different, with the steps between saddles revolving around the stance of the rider. There’s Athletic, for a low to the handlebar 30 degree stance, moderate for the rider who is not all out sporty, but perhaps likes to do the occasional Strava segment and Relaxed – a true sit up and beg suited saddle for your Dutch bike riding customers. Alongside these recommendations you’ll find a guide to the gender each saddle suits, or whether it’s unisex.
Selle has employed the services of former Mercedes Benz designer and high-end watch creator Motoki Yoshio to ensure the styling is just right on the Performa catalogue, to boot.
Selle Royal has also been busy developing its eco-credentials with another launch – a four saddle, €59.90 priced environmentally friendly line dubbed ‘Becoz’, which also includes matching ergonomic grips. Telling the press that every stage of production has been analysed, the Becoz line utilises a 100 per cent bio base, natural oils, leather offcuts otherwise set for the landfill for the motif and FSC certified conifer wood flour to create what could be the world’s ‘greenest saddle’. The combination of unusual materials gives each saddle its own unique distressed finish, which is said to be as resilient to wear and tear as conventional designs.
There’s subtle technologies worked into even some of the most niche saddles too, with some black saddles in the comfort line covered with a material that reflects the sun, as opposed to heating up.
Then there’s the introduction of folding bike and electric bike specific saddles with handles and finger grooves included in the areas the customer will be gripping onto mid-fold, or while lifting a heavier e-bike out of the shed. There’s even a saddle specific for the customer who may not have ridden for some time, capable of supporting a load of up to 150 kilos.
On the standard models, a sample from each batch sent out is stress tested with a pressure of 100 kilograms applied through a cycle of 1,000 reps to ensure the product will last.
With such depth now in the catalogue, the production line has never been busier, with ‘work wives’ hand stretching material over pre-glued bases, working in pairs to iron out any creases and hand finish the product with tools not too dissimilar looking to a pair of thick tyre levers and a scalpel to cut off any excess. Anyone present at Raleigh’s recent dealer meet would have no doubt have noted colour-matched Fi’zi:k and Selle Royal saddles on numerous bikes in the room, including HaiBike’s flagship builds. It’s no exaggeration to say that the OEM business now caters for some of the world’s top brands, such is the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail shown by the manufacturer.
To view BikeBiz's photo gallery of the tour, see here.
Well worth a visit: www.worldwidecyclingatlas.com