“Performance based ergonomics.” Perhaps just another way of saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” And if the bike fits, rip it! Yet there’s something very sexy in the suggestion of “ergonomic.” When we think of the term, we think: form-fitting, comfortable, an extension of our body, something God Himself would have created in The Beginning if He were a mountain biker. And where else would you need an ergonomic design on a bike more than in the component upon which we depend almost exclusively for comfort–the saddle.
Under the tutelage of Dr. Stefan Staudte, urologist and biker, SQ lab applies their understanding of human anatomy, physiology, scienctific research, and the relationship between performance and comfort in their ergonomically designed saddles. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new seat, it would behoove anyone with some winter down time to learn something from SQlab’s impressively in-depth take on saddle solutions. While some of it appears infomercial-like, they make some pretty good arguments for their designs–one of them being the SQlab 611 Active.
- Effective Width: 13/14/15 cm
- Length: 302mm
- Weight: 289/295/304g
- Rails: Titanium or CrMo
- Cover: K18, Kevlar
- Padding: Marathon foam
- Active Suspension: soft, medium, hard
- MSRP: $189 (Ti rails)
After using SQlab’s fit guide, a process that obtains accurate measurement between ischial tuberosities, adjusts for riding position, can be done at home, and takes all of two minutes, I mounted a 14cm-wide 611 Active saddle with titanium rails to my Reverb for a three-week throw down to see if my ass was worth spending $189 on.
Step Saddle Design
SQlab’s 611 Active saddle’s neck and nose are set lower than the rear, providing a uniform pressure reduction for the perineum and pubic bones–a technological enhancement they call “step saddle.” Due to the network of nerves and blood supply coarsing through the perineum, saddle numbness (specifically to the male genitals) can easily set in without warning. Some saddle manufacturers address this issue with cutouts to relieve the harmful effects of perineal pressure, but SQlab argues that while these holes allow for adequate medial blood flow, harmful peak pressures are diverted to the lateral perineum. Additionally, a small depression in the center of the 611 ensures optimal blood flow and uninterrupted nerve conduction.
Between hike-a-bikes, photo ops, and general dillydally time, I spent a fair amount of time resting the bits and pieces, but I personally have never not experienced saddle numbness on any ride involving a significant amount of climbing or seated pedaling. While SQlab doesn’t guarantee the absence of the groin-be-gone phenomenon with the 611, during my testing I found the onset to numbness was slightly prolonged, as was its rate of occurrence after rest. I’m no saddle snob and usually adapt to whatever seat comes with a bike (a total of 10 in 15 years), but the 611 is the most comfortable I’ve ever mounted.
Measuring in at about 30 cm, the nose of the 611 Active is 2.5 cm longer than most conventional saddles. SQlab looked at the importance of this design as it relates to the motocross world, where the bike is stabilized as the rider grips the saddle with the knees. The longer nose is also helpful to avoid being violated during climbs when body position falls forward.
Slacker seat tube angles and shorter saddles on a climb are a perfect combination for stuffing the nose of a saddle directly where the sun don’t shine. I ride a bike with such a geometry, and many of my rides begin with gut-punching climbs. The longer nose, while not easy on the eyes, was a welcome and noticeable improvement, as I felt better-supported when hunched over the handlebars. Truth be told, I never gave much thought to nose length and, regardless of whether I make the 611 my next saddle, it is one part of the equation to which I will pay more attention.
Perhaps the most gimmicky yet well-founded feature in the 611’s design is the set of cupped damping pads located in the saddle’s undercarriage. No, this is not “suspension.” Been there, done that. Three dampers (soft, medium, hard) come with the 611 saddle and provide a side-to-side rocking motion that mimics pelvic pattern movements during pedaling. This enhancement is believed to minimize the incidence of low back, hip, and pelvic pain, while optimizing pedal stroke. In speaking with an owner of a 611, he said it was a better solution than cleat spacers to correct for his leg length discrepancy.
My initial worry that the “active” seat would be wobbling to-and-fro, thus eliminating the performance benefits of a stiffer saddle turned out to be of no concern, as the side-to-side give during each revolution is virtually imperceptible. Given the impressive overall comfort of the SQlab 611, it may be that the active gadgetry not only doesn’t hamper performance, but improves it by working with–and not against–central pattern generated movements in the pelvis and spine during pedaling.
The 611 Active is comfortable, about as ergonomic as anyone could hope for, and aggressively advertised using fancy science terms, but it’s also less attractive, heavier, and more expensive than comparable saddles. In terms of retail price per weight, I can get close to the same dimensions as the 611 while shaving off about 100g for $60 less. But an SQlab saddle isn’t quite comparable for obvious reasons. While you can get close with other saddles, you won’t get exactly what “The Lab” prides themselves in: a wider variety of widths for any given model, an elongated nose in which I found comfort, and an added level of stability and functional ergonomics with their active damping system that, to my knowledge, no other saddle company offers.
I would recommend the SQlab 611 Active for any saddle snob who takes pride in a well-built saddle of superior comfort, and the contraption captain that always goes for the gimmicks. On a more serious note, I would highly recommend the 611 to anyone, but especially as a viable option for those who suffer from premature low back and/or hip pain and have tried every other remedy short of spending $189. This saddle is also good for anyone who spends a significant amount of time in the saddle and folks who have known leg length discrepancies and want to try something else other than altered cleat height. I’d also recommend anyone near a local bike shop who deals with SQlab to at least try a 611 for yourself.
Would I buy the SQlab 611 Active saddle? I will say this: after turning it back over to the shop and mounting up my own saddle for a ride, I missed the 611… a lot! I will continue to demo other saddles, but they will all be measured against a new standard of comfort.
Thank you to Cyclepath for the SQlab 611 Active demo saddle!