Words By: Colin Reed
SDG Components’ Bel-Air saddle is a classic. It has been around in one form or another since the 90s and here we are with version 3. There have been quite a few iterations of the SDG Bel-Air saddle, but this one earns the V3 moniker because it’s a bit different this time around. The team behind the Bel-Air took modern bikes into consideration, especially now that seat tube angles are getting a lot steeper than they used to be. They took a look at how the pelvis sits on these new bikes and how the contact with the saddle has changed over the years. Besides changes with modern geometry in mind, they also used more modern manufacturing processes. In this review, I’m going to lay out all of the differences, what makes the SDG Bel-Air 3.0 unique, and my thoughts sitting on it.
Let’s talk about first impressions. The particular model I have is the Limited Edition Fuel, which has a black microfiber top with Sonic Welded protective sides, black gloss embossed graphics, an oil slick painted base, and oil slick dipped Lux-Alloy rails. The very first thing I saw when I picked up the saddle was the black, microfiber top and it looked nice. It certainly looked like a quality saddle, but right out of the gate, it didn’t really strike me as anything special…until I flipped it over. I gotta say, I’ve never been amazed by a saddle before, but this is without a doubt the best-looking saddle I’ve ever seen. The oil slick painted base is probably the most incredible saddle color-way in existence. It’s lightweight for a saddle meant for the realm of mountain biking in between cross-country and downhill (trail, all-mountain, enduro, mountain biking…whatever you want to call it). It’s a relatively low-profile saddle, not particularly wide, long, or tall. In other words, it looks sleek. Honestly, it’s a great looking saddle.
So it looks great, but what makes it different? Like I mentioned before, the Bel-Air has been around for the 90s, and Tyler Anspach, SDG’s fearless leader, wanted to make sure that they remained true to what the Bel-Air has always been about: comfort. But is it possible to have a performance saddle with integrated comfort? SDG definitely thought so. It starts with the construction. Your saddle is one of the three touch points on your bike, so obviously it sees quite a bit of wear. That’s why SDG turned to modern manufacturing processes to develop a saddle that can withstand thousands of hours of sweaty butts rubbing it hard. When you look at the saddle, you’ll notice there aren’t any stitches. That’s because the sides, which feature a hard-wearing material, are heat-fused to the top. SDG calls it Sonic Welding and it’s a process that adds to the longevity of the saddle because it essentially removes seams and makes it one bigger piece of material. Additionally, SDG Components uses Atmos Shaping, which includes vacuum sealing, to get the fabric to adhere to the base. This removes the need to staple the fabric to the base, resulting in less weight and a much, much cleaner look.
The Lux-Alloy saddle rails also see a revision via a heat-treatment process. The composite rails may be slightly heavier than comparable Ti-alloy rails, but they’re also 15% stronger, a worthy trade-off when you consider the kind of forces you might be exerting on those two, little tubes. And the best part of the trade-off? It’s less expensive, something your wallet will be happy about.
Comfort was one of the most important features of the Bel-Air, like it always has been. It’s a low-profile saddle, so it keeps out of the way of your moving legs as much as possible. It also features a slight rise in the rear to help keep you on the saddle instead of sliding right off when the pitch starts getting steep. There is a Hidden Undercut Relief, which might be the most underrated part of the saddle. Basically, the base underneath the saddle has a cut-out in it, allowing the padding above to push through without encountering resistance. It makes your sensitive bits a lot happier when you’re not smashing them on hard plastic. Speaking of the base, it integrates the rails using Free Float Rail inserts. This allows SDG to make more flexible wings. This might translate to slightly less power transfer, but remember, this isn’t a cross-country saddle. I found the feature welcome on the long steep fire road climbs. You can’t really feel the saddle flexing in between your legs, but instead, it feels a little like the saddle is moving with your inner thighs, that is if you’re looking for it. Sometimes the things that work best aren’t even noticeable, which is exactly the case with the Bel-Air V3. The nose, which is a little shorter than previous versions, is also slightly flexible, so when you really need to get your weight forward, your private parts aren’t gonna yell at you.
“It’s a saddle. I’m either going to get on with it or not.” Those were my first thoughts when I was slated to review the Bel-Air V3. Saddles are such a personal choice that my fatalistic thinking already had me loving it or hating it. And yes, the first time I saw it, I was instantly in love with its looks. But looks aren’t even half the battle. Who cares what it looks like when you’ve got sweat stinging your eyes and your lungs coming out of your mouth on that hellacious fire road? What really matters is whether or not it works with your butt, and everyone has a different butt. When I first read that the Bel-Air V3 was made for comfort, I was a little dubious since it looks like a sleek, performance-oriented saddle. So did it get on with my ass?
In short, yes. SDG knew what they were doing when they revised it to be more modern. Who says performance and comfort can’t work together? Apparently me, but the Bel-Air V3 changed my mind. The first thing I felt when sitting on it was the low profile. It gets out of the way easily. It’s not a chore shifting around on the saddle. Mounting and dismounting, unless you have really baggy shorts on, doesn’t result in shorts getting caught on it. Pedaling feels unique. You can definitely tell there’s a saddle in between your legs, but as I mentioned earlier, it feels more like the saddle is going with your flow rather than your legs awkwardly rubbing against it. The flexible wings really do a good job of being…flexible. But does that come at the cost of pedaling efficiency? I don’t think so, but I’ve also never participated in a cross-country race, so clearly SDG knew their customer exactly.
How does it feel after a few hours? On my first ride, it took a little bit of adjusting to make sure it’s in the right position, but that goes with any saddle. I felt a small pain point here and there until I adjusted it to be just right. The Peri-Canal is a nice little cut-out that allows for blood flow in that ever-so-critical area and it definitely reduces pressure. I couldn’t feel any hot spots after putting a couple of hours into it. It’s not perfect, as it still felt good to dismount at the top of my climb, but I think the unicorn saddle doesn’t exist, anyway. It’s a few grams lighter than my previous saddle, which surprisingly I was able to feel, and I swear I’m not a weight-weenie.
So the only question I really have left is whether or not I still believe that saddles either just work with you or don’t. I genuinely think most people who try this saddle are going to find it really comfortable. SDG is on to something with this third version of the Bel-Air.
The SDG Components Bel-Air V3 is an anomaly. It looks like a sleek, performance-oriented race saddle, but it feels like you can spend hour upon hour riding on it without much complaint. Is it the perfect enduro saddle? It just might be. It sports handsome looks, especially if you get the incredible oil slick color-way, feels great under your booty and has enough engineering to make it seem like it comes from the future. SDG did a great job staying true to their roots while launching the Bel-Air well into the modern-day.