The Selle SMP saddle design is hard to miss, with a unique profile, wide cutout, and their distinct “Eagle Beak” nose. While visual appeal is an individual preference, many are finding comfort on their anatomical saddles, finding a middle-ground between traditional-style saddles and full-on noseless designs. This is our long-term review of the popular Avant model after about six months of real-world use.

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Selle SMP Avant anatomic road bike saddle review

You may be surprised (as I was) to learn that Selle SMP is actually the longest continuously-run saddle company in Italy. Founded in 1947, they produced what you’d call traditional-style saddles for the bulk of their history. That means no cutouts, anatomic shaping, or modern touches. Then in 2004, they effectively reinvented the company, giving the new saddles the distinct anatomic shape you see today. They have a long, wide cutout, curved shape, and distinct down-turned nose – called the “Eagle Beak tip”.

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What the heck is an Eagle Beak tip? Traditional saddles can be associated with genital numbness and loss of blood flow, with the nose area often taking blame. As you rotate your hips forward to reach the handlebars and produce power, the front area of the saddle can compress soft tissue, nerves, and arteries – potentially leading to long-term health problems. Of course, the severity of this can depend on your posture, where you sit on the saddle, and how high you place your bars (read: in general, the more your hips rotate forward, the more you’re at risk).

Rather than remove the saddle nose like some brands, SMP opts to duck out of the way. Their representatives told me this if for two key reasons: 1) complete split-nose saddles suffer from a lack of structural integrity up front – sometimes causing the saddle to distort, and 2) the SMP design allows for longer rails and easier fit.

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Those rails are made from a single piece, running continuously through the rear of the saddle. This adds a bit of weight, but improves the stiffness and strength of the saddle.

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Selle SMP health claims

What does that cutout and funky shape get for you? SMP claims an 83% improvement in blood oxygen to the genitals compared to traditional saddles. SMP representatives also reported that this translates to no loss in blood flow, riding seated after a warmup period, compared to baseline levels.

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The SMP health claims are based on an independent study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Choosing an SMP road saddle

The Avant isn’t the latest saddle from Selle SMP, but it’s one of their more popular models in the middle-ground of the range. In other words, they make narrow carbon racing saddles with no padding – and super-wide cruiser-type saddles, and the Avant lies roughly in the middle of this continuum. It’s fairly wide for a performance saddle at 154mm (rear width), and has the highest level of padding in the SMP Professional range.

Selle SMP has an interesting method of choosing the proper saddle: Your pants size. That’s right – they don’t use sit bone width, flexibility tests, or anything else. To be honest, having used so many different systems, I can’t say that this is any worse than anything else.

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Based on that chart, I shouldn’t really be using the Avant (I wear pants with a 32 or 33-inch waist). However, I have a preference for wide-ish saddles, and those with a decent amount of padding. I had tried some other saddles up to 145mm wide, and was curious to go a bit wider. SMP allowed me to demo both the Avant and Plus models, but I found that the Plus was just a bit too wide – causing a minor amount of chafing due to the slightly wider nose. The take-home: You can use their chart to get in the ballpark, but there’s nothing like trying it for yourself.

While they say the Avant is in the highest level category of padding, the average non-cyclist would likely call it quite firm. I call it a “medium”  to “medium-high” level of padding in the grand scheme of performance-oriented saddles. Note that SMP recreational saddles are sold in much softer varieties.

Setup and Fit

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Setup of the saddle was straightforward. I install saddles using a simple method: 1) Measure from the widest point of the seat to the center of the stem clamp (on a saddle I’m happy with). 2) Measure the height. Then I remove the old saddle.

When installing the new seat, I simply replicate these measurements. It usually gets me about 90% of the way there, with only minor tweaks necessary.

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Once you ride enough saddles, you’ll realize that there is very little consistency between manufacturers in terms of the relationship between the rails and the top of the seat. What I mean by that is – where does the max saddle width lie? How sharp is the curvature from front-to-back? And how do these relate to the rails underneath?

Having ridden a few SMPs, I’ve found that I scoot them quite far forward on the rails compared to most other brands. That’s neither good nor bad – this is just a Public Service Announcement. When in doubt, go for a zero setback seatpost. As a comparison, here is the same bike and seat post set up with a PRO Stealth from Shimano:

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On the Avant, I ended up 5-10mm away from the rear max line on the rails – versus being 5mm past the front max line on the PRO Stealth.

Ride Impressions & Actual Weight

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SMP quotes 365 grams for the Avant with stainless rails, or 315 grams for the version with oval carbon rails. My stainless model clocked in at 361 grams, 4 less than the quoted amount. Comfort weenies like me won’t care, but weight weenies should look to the SMP models with carbon construction and thin padding.

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I used the Avant for a period of roughly six months on my Surly Midnight Special. The quick summary is this: It’s the most comfortable road saddle I’ve ever used. Of course, I haven’t tried every saddle on the planet, and I’m always open to finding something better in the future… but for now – this is it. While I used padded cycling shorts for most rides, it’s comfortable enough for short jaunts around the neighborhood in street clothes.

Overall, I like having full support with the wide rear end, along with a decent amount of padding. However, my favorite part is the overall curvaceous nature of the saddle – no sharp edges or pressure points of any kind. I’m not flexible by nature, and something about flat saddles doesn’t work as well for me (typically causing pressure points under my sit bones). The Avant evenly distributes my weight, and I never get saddles sores. It was an experience of “set, ride, and forget” – exactly what I want out of a saddle.

As for their health claims, I don’t have the equipment to verify or refute, but I experienced no numbness or any other problems “down there”.

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The only tricky part was getting the tilt of the saddle figured out, since there aren’t any flat surfaces on the saddle. The center of the saddle has a “scoop” to it, looking at the front-to-back profile. It took one or two rides to decide exactly how I wanted to angle it. Once that was set, I left the saddle essentially untouched for the remainder of the test period.

The Avant sells for $260 for the standard version, or $400 for the carbon rail version. There’s a variety of colors, from classic black or white, to red, Bianchi green, and even neon yellow. If you’re in the US, SMP is available through bike stores that purchase from Albabici, an importer for Italian bike parts on the west coast. Otherwise, check out SMP at the link below.

SelleSMP.com

13 COMMENTS

  1. I tested about 30 saddles and owned about 20. Smp really kills it, best road saddles i’ve owned. After a composit and a dynamic i ride the (softer) lite 209, it’s just sooo good. I put SMP Extra on commuter.

  2. I’ve been riding their Trk from their “Tourism” line. It’s much less expensive and looks just like this one. I’ve now got it on all my bikes. I too found the angle to be a bit tricky to get right.

    I can fit mine using a set back seatpost, which will flex more and give a smoother ride.

    • Not sure about this one, but since the rails systems are the same throughout on SMP…great. I have a SMP glider on just about every bike I own. I’ve used them for 100 miler MTB races, DK200, road, and CX. Only problem with them is they are so darn expensive. I’ve used them for 10 year and of all my saddles, I did snap the rails on one of my mtbs but that could have been an issue with the clamp style as well. I did buy a lower end one (TRK I think) which retails for under $100 and the material was too slick and I kept sliding all over the saddle.

    • @Jason West, I would have no qualms about using this on an MTB. It would probably be my first choice if I was building up an XC bike.

    • Absolutely agree with Collin S: I also have Glider saddles on all my bikes, including a full-suspension 29er and a hardtail mtb. Couldn’t ride any other saddle now, they are so great. I also had the cheap Extra and Hell (Well) models before, but the Glider is far better (at a significantly higher price, of course). The low-end models are more padded and also have wider nose sections, though they are still good value for money.
      Two words of advice:
      1. You must absolutely test several models. Before the Glider, I also tried the Dynamic, but didn’t like it. The differences among SMP models may seem minimal (a couple mm in width, more or less padded), but they also have different shapes, especially the cross-section, which just makes a huge difference. See Steve Hogg’s excellent overview here https://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/bikefit/2011/09/all-about-smps/
      2. Even when you’ve found your best fit (as I have with the Glider), you need to play around with saddle angle, depending on your saddle to bar drop and position on the bike. Start with the saddle level (which in the case of SMP means putting a hardcover book or a cutting board on the highest points of the saddle, i.e. at the rear and at the nose, and then use a digital level meter on top of that), and then drop the nose 1-3 degrees if you need. My Glider on the road bike, for example, is tilted down 2.5 degrees. Even 1 degree makes a big difference.

  3. I had a Selle SMP Hell (now called the Well) from their more affordable Tourisme range. Great for comfort. My real beef with it is its cover started cracking precisely where I was seated along its length. What was a comfy saddle for long rides now felt like hell to sit on after a year of riding.

    SMP’s concept and design philosophy is spot-on, but I wish their materials and craftmanship matched their lofty design goals. I’ve since moved to a Specialized Power, which delivers a similar kind of comfort in its shape but with a slightly firmer platform overall.

  4. I switched all my saddles for SMP’s!!. I have the Avant and Lite 209 in my collection and the Avant is what I used for a 10 hr ride last year. Incredible saddles.

  5. I’ll add another +1 to this comment section. I have been riding an SMP Stryke which I believe is now the Avant for 10 years. First saddle that worked for me. I have wide sits bones so I need the width. I like the plush padding as well. I am quite flexible and this saddle works on the hoods, in the drops, and stretched out on the clip on aero bars.

  6. After having issues with numbness in the past after rides like PBP, I’m now happily using SMPs. The pant size thing doesn’t work for me though; 32″ waist and Dynamic up to Hell/Well is good, but Evolution was not. The tilt adjustment needs to be very precise, but once it is the seat disappears. 🙂

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