Saddle Up! Riding Gravel’s Saddle Shoot Out- by Grannygear
This puppy pile of saddles is me getting ready to sit down and pedal for the sake of you, dear readers, and since I shot that image the pile has nearly doubled. Yes, I have a plethora of posh saddles in my possession from popular purveyors of plush posterior platforms, all promising prowess in punishing gravel pedaling pursuits. Lot of P’s there.
If there is anything more personal than a saddle I am not sure what that would be. No butt is exactly the same, no riding position is exactly the same. So I will endeavor to tell you what I like about the saddles and what I do not like and why, with the understanding that it does not make them good or bad.
As far as type, I have a pretty wide variety on hand. For gravel I am thinking that a full on road saddle might be a bit firm. An MTB saddle might be more like it but they tend to be shorter and more designed for max mobility rather than long term seated pedaling. Gravel riding is a bit of a middle ground between the two. We shall see.
NOTE: My go-to road saddle has been a Romin Evo Expert Gel in a 155mm (although it ‘rides’ like a more narrow saddle) and on the MTB, a Specialized Henge in 143mm width. The gravel bike is in search of a saddle that is a keeper. Maybe it is in this review series.
So this selection of saddles from multiple brands will be on test over this spring and likely into summer. They come from the road side or the MTB side or the adventure side, but we requested all the samples with an eye towards adventure based, drop bar type riding. So you won’t see a carbon saddle with no padding. “Yes, that ‘tuned for gravel’ base would be lovely in bare carbon”.
So bear with me as I get this sorted…I am looking for a wrench and some chamois creme. Let’s get to it.
WTB x 3
We begin with a trio of saddles from WTB.
Volt: Team model with Ti rails in a 142mm width. 220g on the Kitchen Scale of Truth and Justice. From the WTB website: https://www.wtb.com/collections/medium-padding/products/volt $129.99
“The Volt is our most popular mountain saddle. Shaped for speed and comfort, time tested and proven, the Volt makes for an incredibly versatile saddle that has gained endless acclaim among riders.”
- Medium padding thickness and subtle curves make the Volt our most popular mountain saddle.
- An upward curved tail and gentle drop to the nose provide something to push against while pedaling.
USAGE: Gravel – Cross Country – Trail – Enduro – Bikepacking.
I had tried Volts before on other bikes but they had always been a narrower width. Not my cup of tea. Still, it was not horrible even in those cases and I wanted to give it a better shot. The padding seems to be generous, yet firm, not pillowy.
From the top, the shape is a flat cut across the very back and it stays wide for a good while, tapering quickly at some point towards the nose. The cut out groove is not too aggressive and the sit bones have a pretty prominent ‘platform’ to perch on. Looking at it from the side it has a pretty good rear kick to it yet the middle and all the way to the nose it never really tips back up again, just falls away.
At The Checkpoint: I found the Volt to be padded really well for gravel and that took a lot of the sting out of long days. There was plenty of pressure relief and nothing pinched or grated on me. I think I have the longest ride of the three on the Volt…6 hour gravel event…and it was fine. But, I always felt like I was perched on top of two ‘butt pads’ with this saddle and that never went away. It seemed that if I moved forward a bit I was immediately out of the sweet spot.
As well, the saddle is a bit short so the rails ended up being a bit less than I needed, length wise. I was always flirting with the limit marks, having it slid back on the rails as far as I needed, and that was not really enough. I like to be pretty well behind the bottom bracket on the road, so I always use a setback post in the 15mm/20mm range with a saddle in the middle of the rails.
At The Finish: Padding and support is very good for impacts but the overall shape and short length left me wanting.
The Silverado: Team model with Ti rails in a 142mm width. 202g on the Kitchen Scale of Truth and Justice. From the WTB website https://www.wtb.com/collections/narrow-saddles/products/silverado $129.95
“The Silverado is one of WTB’s most iconic and revered saddle shapes. Light-weight and slim, the design oozes speed while proving to be incredibly comfortable. Ride a Silverado and you’ll quickly know what everyone’s raving about.”
- Long, tapered nose and flatter platform provide ample real estate for shifting positions.
- Optimized padding-to-weight ratio make the Silverado a hit across all disciplines, including road.
USAGE: Adventure Road – Gravel – Cross Country – Trail – Enduro.
The Silverado was a new saddle to me. Looking at the top, the shape is more rounded at the back edge and then widens out and tapers very quickly towards the nose. It’s a longer saddle than the Volt. From the side, the tail is flatter but there is more rocker in the middle as the nose climbs back up a bit more than the Volt. The rails are either in a different place or the saddle just has more rear overhang so that looked right for me.
At The Checkpoint: I loved the overall shape of the Silverado. The longer, flatter. rear section was immediately comfortable to me and the padding, although not as thick as the Volt, still worked with the compliant saddle shell to provide a very comfy ride on rough roads. I was also able to get the Silverado in the fore-aft position I wanted relative to the bars without exceeding the rail’s limits, so that worked for me too.
At The Finish: The thinner padding on this saddle does not take away much comfort and the shape allows for variances in riding position without feeling ‘out of place’. A longer saddle also works in my favor to get my pedaling position right.
The SL8: Team model with Ti rails in the 142mm width. 204g on the Kitchen Scale of Truth and Justice. From the WTB website: https://www.wtb.com/collections/narrow-saddles/products/sl8 $159.95
“Elegant, slight curves accentuate this inviting shape that redefines what comfort is capable of at such a low weight. From where the pavement ends, to B-road pursuits and cyclocross run ups, our SL8 saddle provides irrefutable comfort in a minimalist, svelte package.”
- Narrow, tapered nose and midsection minimizes chafing during longer pedaling sessions.
- Short overall length for seamless on-off transitions.
- Thin, lightweight padding keeps the overall weight down.
USAGE: Adventure Road – Gravel – Cross Country – Gravity.
If the Volt and the Silverado got together over too much wine and mood music, the end result just might be the SL8. Ah, romance! It has the flatter profile and thinner nose of the Silverado yet is wider at the back more like the Volt. It is still a bit short in the positioning set-up with the same shorter length relative to the rails.
At The Checkpoint: I really thought this would be ‘the one’ out of the three WTB saddles, but I still struggled to get it back far enough on the rails. Still, it is a Momma Bear saddle between the two without that pedestal feeling of the Volt and yet with a good amount of flex and padding, but without as much ‘rocker’ to it so the sweet spot was wider than the Volt’s.
At The Finish: Close but no cigar. If I could have gotten 1/4” more out of the rail’s length, then maybe. I never quite felt as neutral on this as I did the Silverado, and I think if I could have had more set back…who knows? Aside from that, this is a very nice compromise between the two and I could ride this into the sunset without regrets.
Overall Thoughts: My pic of the three is the Silverado. I can get the saddle where I want it to be fore/aft without maxing out the rail/clamp position. What I think is going on is that there is more ‘tail’ of the saddle behind the rails than on the others, so I end up being able to get my sit bones in a happy place without feeling like I am on the cliff edge, so to speak. The flatter profile lets me be more dynamic in my peddling position and that works well for gravel. It also just felt very neutral, barely letting me know I was perched upon it pedaling. And that is a good thing. It seems like this model had been around a while, and if so, I can see why. If nothing else in the upcoming tests catch my attention, I will come back to this one.
Now that said, if I had to bet, I would put my money on the SL8 being the most popular of the three for Gravel use. Just a hunch. It hits the middle ground really well.
Now, understand my issue with the shorter saddles and rail limits is quite likely ‘my deal’, and not yours. However, if you like to run your saddles back a bit…the new crop of saddles in the marketplace is tending to this shorter overall length with cut off noses. Like the Specialized Power Saddles and their new ilk. Meh
Stay tuned for the next edition of the Saddle Shootout coming soon…..
Note- The saddles featured in Riding Gravel’s Saddle Shootout were all sent to Riding Gravel by their respective manufacturers/brands at no charge for test and review. We were not paid, nor bribed for these posts and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
About The Author: Grannygear hails from SoCal and spent most of his cycling days as a mountain biker from the formative years of mountain biking all the way up to the present day. His day job is in the tech sector, but he has spent time writing about off road 4X4’s, 29″ mountain bikes, and cycling in general. Grannygear and Guitar Ted have worked off and on together since 2009 after a chance meeting at Interbike. With gravel cycling on the rise, Grannygear has been exploring how this genre’ works in SoCal and now does guest pieces for RidingGravel.com in his spare time.