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The saddle is one of the most important bike components in terms of vertical compliance. In fact, Cervelo rates the saddle as the second most important component on a road bike after your rear tire.
It’s time to find out what the comfort differences are between three of the best gravel saddles currently available.
Let’s start with the Brooks C17 Carved saddle.
Brooks C17 Carved Saddle
This has been my primary saddle for a while now. I’ve done more than 2000 km on it, so I know its strengths and weaknesses quite well.
Brooks saddles are known to be some of the most comfortable available. But Brooks saddles are also known to need time to ‘wear in’ (well, the leather ones). I didn’t want to go through this process, so that’s why I ended up testing their C17 model.
The Brooks C17 Cambium All-weather saddle is made from vulcanized natural rubber, and according to Brooks, it is ready to ride from the first minute. Yet my experience was different and I needed some time to adapt to its unique shape.
Part of the magic behind this saddle is not the shape but the unique construction. The Brooks C17 has a flexible shell that you sit on (similarly to the new 3D-printed saddles) so your sit bones can flex the saddle while you ride. This flex has a very nice damping effect as well.
Now, there are rivets that protrude from the rear of the saddle. If you sit wrongly on them (like I initially did) they will create discomfort. But if you overcome these initial challenges, this saddle truly starts to shine.
I find the shape of Brooks C17 Carved very comfortable. And the longer you ride, the better it feels! Luckily, my vibration measurements support these subjective feelings. But before we go for the data let’s talk about another two contenders…
SQlab 612 Ergowave Active Saddle
The SQlab 612 Ergowave saddle takes a different approach.
When you are riding, your pelvis is rotating from one side to the other, and this makes your sit bones constantly dig into the surface of the saddle. The more flat and hard the surface of the saddle, the more it will bother you, especially on longer rides.
Brooks uses a unique flexible shell to solve this issue, but it’s quite a curved saddle shape. If you want a flatter saddle instead, then I believe the SQlab 612 is the best solution you can get right now.
SQlab put an elastomer under the rear of the saddle, which combined with the flex of the saddle, allows for free movement from one side to the other (up to seven degrees just like your pelvis is tilting). This construction will likely reduce the discomfort that you can normally feel on a flat saddle. It also works as a vibration-damping solution, especially when you put in the softest of the three available elastomers.
The saddle feels great from the moment you sit on it, there is no adaptation time needed. It also encourages you to pedal hard, while Brooks is more like a touring saddle for relaxing riding.
The SQlab 612 feels very good mostly thanks to the raised rear and lowered nose so you feel much less pressure on the sensitive areas (the center dip also helps in that matter). But there is also a difference in how those saddles feel after a few hours of riding, at least for me.
While Brooks gets better every hour you spend on the saddle, the SQlab starts to bother you slightly. I believe there is a perfect explanation of this and it has to do with the unique construction of the saddle itself. The construction allows for a side-to-side movement, but the middle of the saddle is not damping as much vibration.
This is why I believe the SQlab 612 saddle is perfect for road usage, but for longer trips on rough gravel roads, the Brooks C17 is the better choice.
Don’t get me wrong, this is by far the most comfortable flat saddle I have ridden. And you will see what I mean when we start talking about the data from the vibration measurements.
But before we go there, let’s talk about the third contender.
Specialized Power Comp Saddle
The Specialized Power Comp saddle is an example of a short saddle. It looks weird but it feels quite good once you sit on it.
For me, a short saddle has the advantage of lowering the probability of sitting wrongly on it (it may sound funny but the longer the saddle the more wrong positions you can achieve on it). You simply need to sit at the center of it to feel comfortable, and that is it.
Some cyclists like to change their position on the saddle while riding, so a short saddle like this will not work for them. But this was not a problem for me.
The Specialized Power Comp is a firm saddle but the well-designed shape results in very little pressure on sensitive areas.
Similarly to the SQlab saddle, it feels good the moment you sit on it. I did a couple of longer rides on it and did not feel any big discomfort. But at the same time, I did not feel that this saddle is doing much to dampen the vibrations coming from bigger hits. And the data shows it.
Vibration Test Results
I fitted these three saddles along with a bonus saddle to my benchmark bike to conduct these tests. The bike is a Jamis Renegade using an Ergon Allroad Pro carbon seatpost and supple Soma Cazadero 700C x 42mm tires (30 psi).
You can see my vibration measurement procedure & outdoor test courses HERE.
The most comfortable saddle in terms of reducing vibrations is Brooks C17. It’s able to attenuate up to 11.5% more vibrations than the Specialized Power saddle on the bumpy forest trail, and there were 6.6% fewer vibrations on the fast gravel road.
Yes, the SQlab 612 (with the softest elastomer) measures the same as the Brooks C17 in terms of measured vibrations. But when I was on a longer gravel trip I still felt slightly less comfortable on the SQlab saddle.
The Specialized Power Comp was significantly less comfortable than both of those saddles in terms of vibrations. But the biggest surprise for me was when I put a very cheap Accent Furious saddle on my benchmark bike – I found that it offers vibration-damping properties similar to the SQlab saddle (middle elastomer).
The explanation is likely simple – Accent Furious saddle is very thick, so the foam is doing a lot of damping work. But at the same time, the thick layer of foam also makes this saddle much less comfortable on longer trips. At least for me.
The Best Saddle For Gravel Riding
I had a long internal debate about this because I really liked the feel of an SQlab 612 Ergowave Active saddle. It just feels right from the moment you sit on it, and with the softest elastomer, it offers a huge amount of comfort (at least for a firm and flat saddle).
But in the end, I came back to my Brooks C17 Carved. Yes, it looks outdated compared to the SQlab saddle, especially when the rubber starts to come off. But the feel, especially on longer gravel trips, is unmatched.
So there you have it: try the Brooks C17 Carved saddle first, and if you don’t like it after a few longer rides, go for the SQlab one. You’ll have a very hard time looking for a better alternative.
You can support the CyclingAbout Comfort Lab by purchasing a Brooks C17 Carved saddle on Amazon. Simply click HERE to make your purchase, and a small commission will come our way.