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The prototype modern racing saddle, the Selle San Marco Rolls is still going strong and is now available in a new, easy-to-live-with fabric cover.
The Rolls first appeared in the pro peloton in the 1980s and was rapidly adopted by top riders such as Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond. Although it wasn't the first, it was the most famous saddle to be constructed this way. The hard plastic shell now seems commonplace, having been adopted almost universally since, but it was a revolutionary step from the all-leather saddles of old. While some devotees claimed the leather-covered Rolls required less breaking in than an all-leather Brooks, in practice it shouldn’t require any breaking in at all – the shape of that plastic hull isn’t going to change. More likely, if your posterior is roughly the right shape it’s simply going to get used to the shape of the Rolls either straight away or fairly quickly soon after you start putting the miles in. (It has to be said that when it comes to all-leather saddles like the Brooks, there is some ‘debate’ as to whether it’s the saddle that moulds to you or you that moulds to the saddle – or a bit of both.) The upshot of all this is that whether this Rolls had a leather top or fabric, the comfort level I've experienced over a month's testing is as good as it's going to get, so sadly it won't be for me.
I don't think my Mick Jagger-like pelvis is really shaped for the Rolls. While Selle San Marco describes it as a flat saddle, in reality it has a modest dip front-to-middle, rising slightly to the back. Its 282 x 143mm feels massive. Across the width, the rounding is very pronounced. Consequently, despite a fair amount of subtle tweaking of position, I couldn't get rid of the feeling that I was sitting on a tennis ball. After a 50-mile ride I felt a bit sore.
There's an online saddle calculator here you can use to match yourself to one of Selle San Marco's saddles, and the Rolls was not the choice that fell out of the algorithm. For the record, it matched me with the Mantra Narrow, which is about as far from the Rolls as you can get.
The shape forced me well back in the saddle (no bad thing as I have a tendency to perch on the nose) so I had to set the rails fairly well forward in the clamp to maintain my leg angle over the pedals. It also combined with the abrasive fabric covering to keep me 'glued' in place. Some riders like this; others prefer something a bit easier to shuffle around on.
Some potential purchasers may be put off by the weight. Was it noticeable as I lifted the back end of the bike? Yes. Was it noticeable on rides? Of course not. I even picked up a PB on a local hill climb (one Strava tells me I've ridden no fewer than 174 times). I should confess there was a colossal tailwind.
The quality of the materials and build is excellent. The light padding is uniform and supportive; the fabric stretched over and glued neatly around the underside edge of the shell. As with all Rolls saddles, decorative riveted metal adornments also have a practical function in holding the cover in place. On this model, these are fashioned from stainless steel, as are the rails, and they look terrific. Rolls saddles are often seen on retro rebuilds but, once I got used to the chunky profile, I though this looked pretty cool on my stealth-black Cannondale.
It's practical, too. Although not entirely water resistant, the fabric (which Selle San Marco calls 'woven microfeel') dried within 30 minutes of getting wet, and at the end of the test the cover showed no sign of abrasion or staining. No doubt it would need less looking after than the leather version, but it won't develop that patina either.
For the quality of build I think this represents good value and I would urge you not to be put off by the fact that I didn't find it all that comfortable. Judging by online reviews, there are many, many happy owners who do get on with the Rolls, and they have a reputation for lasting a long time.
An easy-to-live-with take on the classic Rolls leather saddle. It looks great and if it fits you, you'll love it
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Selle San Marco Classic Rolls Saddle
Size tested: 143x282mm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Selle San Marco, in slightly strangled translation, says: "A line to which all that has been achieved from years of experience in the bicycle world inspires a selected number of evergreen saddles. A taste of retro meets modern design for the ever-changing life of cycling and the importance of essential details. A selection of Selle San Marco icons that embody the history of cycling. The comfort and guarantee of the traditionally-shaped saddles. The legacy of a masterpiece."
It's a new addition to a classic range of saddles that will appeal to riders with a respect for the sport's history who also appreciate a touch of quality.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Rail: Carbon Steel / silver color
Shell: P.P. Padding: Biofoam
Cover: Woven microfeel
Length / Width : 282x143 mm
Weight : 373 g. (our measurement)
Extra : ACCESSORIES SILVER COLOUR
Color : Black
Probably the first thing you notice when you take it out of the box, apart from the weight, is the neatness of the construction.
Saddle performance is, like comfort, a personal thing. If you like a saddle that is long and broad and keeps you firmly in place at the back of the perch you will rate the performance higher than I have. I still thought it was good, though.
Plenty of riders will testify to the longevity of the Rolls saddle. This incarnation, with a tough fabric cover, should be just as hardwearing.
Heavy by today's standards, though it will make little difference to the ride.
Again, it's a personal thing. I seem to be the opposite of a Rolls rider, so I can only give it 6.
For the quality of materials and attention to detail, plus the fact it should last for years, it's really very good value.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Rolls was designed for racing and don't write it off as too old-fashioned for that. If you find it comfortable, you'll finish a long event in better shape than on a lighter but wince-inducing design. Not being a racer, I used it for long winter training rides and short, hard hill-effort sessions and it performed well because it kept me securely in an efficient riding position.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Good looks, excellent build quality and attention to detail. I also like the easy-care nature of the fabric cover.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The length and width were wrong for me.
Did you enjoy using the product? Up to a point.
Would you consider buying the product? Sadly not, though I hanker for a leather one for the '79 Carlton.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Setting aside my personal issues with the shape, I thought this was a worthy addition to the Rolls range. Purists might insist the only true Rolls is a leather one, but for an alternative that needs no breaking in and is highly resistant to abrasion and weather, this is excellent.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale CAAD10 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking