29 October 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: WTB Rocket V SLT saddle

While saddles are rarely a good reason to choose one high-end mountain bike over another, I was pretty excited when a bike that I purchased this summer came crowned with a very nice looking WTB Rocket V Ti-railed saddle. The Rocket V would be my first WTB saddle- amazing given the company's 25 year history and my 20 year cycling career. Their saddles have been popular forever, but somehow managed to stay out of my stable. The Rocket's shape is slightly hammocked at the center with clipped wings at the rear (a la Titec's early Bontrager saddles). There's a Love Channel down the center to help ward off the dreaded sleepy peepee. and the padding is dense but thick- far more supportive than hard. The saddle is stitched together from a number of differently-colored panels, which may or may not be to your liking- I happen to like the look and haven't noticed the seams at all. The rearmost panels are even reflective- a nice touch.

If I had to describe what I look for in a saddle, the list above would more or less cover it. For mountain bike rides of up to two hours, I found the Rocket V to be pretty comfortable. Not blissful, by any means, but certainly not bad. WTB claim that the shape of the shell "helps increase power output by properly angling the sit bones"- a claim that I'm not sensitive enough to either confirm or challenge. If it is true, it's by a very small amount. It was on longer rides that problems began to arise. For the kind of hammering that my bottom takes on even medium-sized rides (despite my 5in travel XC bike), the Rocket V simply wasn't up to the task. I like to be comfortable sitting on my rides, so dug an old, squeaky saddle out of the parts bin and resolved to resume my quest for the perfect saddle at a later date.

Looking at the forlorn but handsome Rocket V on the bench, though, I again noticed the reflective rear panels and thought that they might come in handy on the road bike (which I also use for commuting). A couple of months later, I am happy to say that I've found a worthy replacement for my ageing Selle Italia Flite Trans Am. The Flite and Rocket actually share a similar shape (with the exception of the clipped rear wings), and I'm thinking that fans of the former will likely get along well with the latter. I've ridden the Rocket V on the road bike for up to four hours at a go (enough time for my hands and toes to get all tingly), with no issues down below. Marginal shorts are now back in rotation. Happy days are here again.

As an OEM saddle, especially on the road bike, the Rocket V SLT is a helluva score. Sure, it comes in 50g above the 210g advertised weight, but 260g is still a very reasonable weight for a comfortable saddle. Aftermarket, though? $165 is a lot of cash to drop on an item that you won't know if you like until it's too late, and the $90 Pro and $60 Race versions have different (though not necissarily worse) padding and hit the scales a bit harder. Happily, more enlightened shops have signed up for WTB's 8-saddle Test Ride Program (available for a rediculously small buy-in, I'm told, from QBP), so you may be able to twist your local shop's arm into signing up and letting you find a saddle that works for you. If it does, then (given the heights that saddle market is reaching at the moment) the price may well be worth it for you.



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