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Selle SMP holds to tradition while splitting from the norm

  • By Lennard Zinn
  • Published Oct. 2, 2012
Selle SMP builds some of the most unique saddles in the world in Padova, Italy. Photo: Lennard Zinn | www.VeloNews.com

PADOVA, Italy (VN) — Searching for a way to earn a living in the demolished post-World War II Italian economy, Martino Schiavon decided to start a company building bicycle saddles, as he already had some pre-war experience making them. Today, Shiavon’s sons are responsible for the most unique design in the saddle market.

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He founded Selle SMP in 1947 in his hometown of Padova (Padua). The name stands for Schiavon Martino Padova (“selle” means “saddles”). Schiavon made leather saddles riveted to steel undercarriages, and he continually adapted with new materials and construction methods as new technology came along.

Two of his sons, Maurizio and Franco, took over management of the company as the energetic founder gradually gave up the reins to them. Today, SMP exports 75 percent of its production to 50 countries, produces five million saddles per year with EU-certified quality standards, and has the capacity to make 30,000 saddles per day, with three shifts running around the clock on a street called Einstein.

Over 90 percent of those saddles are relatively inexpensive models for OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) use, with few distinguishing features other than the SMP logo — they are sold to bike manufacturers, mostly in Europe, to be built into complete bicycles.

SMP makes those OEM saddles on three giant, automated carousels that squirt liquid polyurethane into polyurethane saddle covers hand-placed into molds, close the molds with polypropylene saddle shells injection-molded in-house, expand the liquid polyurethane under heat and pressure to form the foam padding, and heat-mold and bond the edges of the covers to the shells.

However, it is not due to those soft, inexpensive saddles that VeloNews readers know Selle SMP. Rather, you likely know SMP by the distinctively-shaped, handmade SMP 4Bike saddles.

Martino Schiavon died in 2006 at age 94, but he was there to see his sons launch the 4Bike line that has made SMP a strong presence in high-end saddles. The fully-split 4Bike saddles with an eagle’s beak nose are perhaps the world’s most recognizable saddles. In 2006 and 2008, SMP won Eurobike design awards for them, and the company has four international design patents on them.

In September 2005, the “Journal of Sexual Medicine” (the “bible of urology,” according to Maurizio Schiavon) published a study demonstrating superior genital blood flow with SMP 4Bike saddles relative to control saddles. Professor G. Breda of the S. Bassiano Urological Hospital in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, conducted the study using 35 male cyclists, according to Schiavon.

While the study was conducted with males, Schiavon declares that women also can experience serious gynecological problems with bike saddles, sometimes even more severe and permanent than problems some men have encountered, and that many find relief with SMP split saddles.

As testament to the utility of SMP split saddles for women, Yana Belomoyna, the reigning cross-country mountain bike world champion and silver medalist in the London Olympics, races on SMP saddles, as do Giorgia Bronzini, the 2011 road world champion, and Giada Borgata, the 2012 Italian road national champion. Among male mountain bikers, the Italian Braidot twins, Luca (2012 European championships team relay gold medalist) and Daniele (2012 cross-country world championship bronze medalist) are SMP devotees.

SMP is certified by IQNet and CISQ/RINA as producing saddles completely designed and produced in Italy and claims to be “the only one in the world that can boast” this certification. However, unlike the OEM saddles and the 4Bike Tourism saddles sharing the same split design but with softer padding, more flexible shells and polyurethane covers, all of which are completely produced in-house, the separate high-end components used in the 4Bike Professional saddles are sourced nearby.

The Professional saddle rails and shells, whether full carbon for unpadded saddles or carbon-filled Nylon 12 for padded models, come from local suppliers, as does the much firmer saddle padding used in Professional saddles, which is pre-molded in the saddle shape.

SMP uses no titanium rails; rather, high-end saddles get either tubular stainless-steel rails, which Schiavon claims are longer lasting and more resistant to breakage in a crash than titanium, or carbon fiber rails with stainless steel reinforcing plates for the saddle clamp. The highly complex, six-part mold for the carbon rails was a complicated design project.

Black 4Bike Professional saddles have leather covers, whereas white and colored saddles have Lorica (microfiber artificial leather) covers, which holds colors better than does leather.

SMP’s sizing system consists of looking up one’s pants size on its online sizing table. Schiavon says that SMP studies have shown that pants size (i.e., waist measurement) is closely associated with ischial tuberosity width. Sizing this way will not work for everybody, he says, but he claims that for most people it does and allows riders to fit a saddle for online purchase without trying one out in a shop first.

SMP is confident that any high-mileage cyclist that gives its saddle design with the eagle’s beak nose a serious try will prefer it, and it is trying to make finding, testing and choosing saddles as easy as it can.

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Lennard Zinn

Lennard Zinn

Our longtime technical writer joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a framebuilder, a former U.S. National Team rider, and author of many bicycle books, including Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn's Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ.

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