SQlab is a German cycling outfit with a focus on ergonomics. They offer a range of components that are designed to optimize the contact points with your bike that include grips, saddles, handlebars and more. Even if you’re not familiar with SQlab, you may be familiar with the concept of choosing saddles by width, popularized in the US by a certain bay area company.
SQlab initially researched saddle ergonomics in 2001 and offers products based on their manifesto calling it the Step-saddle concept. While many companies focus on a cut out that relieves pressure on important soft bits down there, SQlab created the Step-Saddle design based on pressure mapping to optimize geometry of the saddle to address a common issues from cyclists: numbness.
Their tips to reduce numbness include the following:
- Ride in a more upright position
- Ride out of the saddle more often
- Avoid riding with a heavy backpack
- More pedal pressure reduces the pressure from the saddle
- Reduce body weight – reduces pressure from the saddle
- Use a thinner saddle padding
- Sit as far back as possible on the widest part of the saddle
- Tilt the front of the saddle down slightly
Solid tips regardless of what saddle you run, and based on these findings SQlab offer saddle models in a variety of widths to accommodate both sit-bone width and sitting position on the bike. The goal being the reduction of pressure on the perineal area of men and the lower positioned pubic bone arch of women. (you can read more on SQlab ergonomics here)
To determine the ideal saddle width, SQlab has a fit kit, which pin points your sit bones, and based on riding style/ body position, offers a recommendation for the ideal width.
Based on my fit, Kenny from SQlab sent two saddle models to try out: the 611 Active MTB (cromoly rail) and the 612 road carbon.
SQlab 611 active CrMo MTB saddle
The 611 Active saddles utilizes the SQlab stepped profile and adds a unique feature, SQlab Active Design. The active system is essentially an firm elastomer spring that allows the saddle to rock slightly to match the movement of your pelvis during the action of pedaling. It also features an extended nose to aid in technical climbing.
The synthetic leather of the saddle features beautifully executed embossing that adds a small bit of grip and subtle branding. The textured areas are placed in the main sit zone at the rear of the saddle and on the nose.
On the trail
Finding the perfect angle for the 611 is the trick for making it comfortable. A slightly nose down position — as SQlab recommends —ended up working best. On my first ride with the SQlab 611 I decided to ride to the local trail head and log some pavement miles. The saddle had a very firm feel initially and didn’t start off very comfortable, and I had a hard time finding a sweet spot to plant myself in.
The firm padding of the saddle wasn’t comfortable without a quality padded short, but I pretty much ride with one for any rides over a few miles. I also found it took some time to warm up to the 611 but once I did, it was a good match for rides with long hours in the saddle and I never experienced any issues with numbness, or parts falling asleep down there. The leather cover has proved to be durable to date as well, having had the misfortune to lay the bike down on the tarmac a few times. Though abused, the saddle has yet to display obvious tears or damage.
My experience with the SQlab seats has so far reflected my experience with high end custom motorcycle saddles, which also tend to firm, with minimal padding. While less comfortable for more casual riders, on long rides you can avoid numbness that occurs with excessively padded seats.
At 304 grams, the 611 CrMo isn’t the lightest out there, making it a better choice for training, commuting or touring. The 611 saddle found a place on my rigid 29″ custom hardtail that serves as my light trail slash commuter slash do-it-all urban rig. I’ve since logged hundreds of miles on the 611. As for the active “rocking” element, I don’t notice its there, the sign of a positive experience in my book. For those looking for lighter weights, its also available with Ti and Carbon Rail versions.
The 611 Active MTB CrMo saddle lists for $169.00. Check it out at RadsportUSA.
SQlab 612 carbon road bike saddle
There are lighter saddles equipped with carbon rails out there, but I had high hopes for the 612 after talking to Kenny Roberts, the US brand manager for SQlab. Like the 611, the 612 features the stepped down profile, but is optimized for light weight skipping the active elements with a more streamlined body. Like the 611, the 612 uses firm, minimal padding and a flat, slim nose for optimal pressure relief in the perineal area.
- Stepped design distributes body weight in the right spots
- Weights: 187g-208g (based on saddle width)
- Size used: 15cm (208g)
- Uses SQlab’s Marathon foam padding
On the trail
Though the SQlab 612 is designed for the road, I initially ran it for trail riding. Ultra lightweight saddles often end up as expensive experiments, as the drive to keep the weight down often results in a lack of comfort on the bike. My experience with the 612 was similar to the 611; this saddle is designed for enthusiasts that log serious saddle time, and are concerned with seat and groin numbness that could potentially lead to more serious issues.
Though on the high side of the spectrum, the 612 carbon is priced inline with other carbon saddles, and features the same attention to detail on the leather seat cover. After already logging some hours on the 611, I had a good idea of how to angle the 612, with the nose dropped below the tail end. Though it took some time to optimize the seat angle to to point where the seat disappeared below me, once I found it, I found it to be a good saddle choice for big days of pedaling. (Grinduro style riders, bike packers and gravel riders take note)
The carbon rails on the 612 are slightly oversized, which didn’t play well with the seat clamp on our Cannondale Synapse, but we found that to be the case with all the carbon seats we tried.
The SQlab 612 carbon road bike saddle lists for $215.00. Check it out at RadsportUSA.com