Not to give it all away in the first part of the review, but I've been jokingly calling this my "Goldy Locks review". It will all makes sense the further you read into this review.
Fabric is based in the UK and makes one of the most beautiful saddles in the world, The ALM Ultimate. This isn't the first time I've reviewed one of their saddles. About two years ago I reviewed their Scoop Shallow Race saddle. At the time I expressed that I found the shallow shape of the saddle was a good fit for me, but the alloy rails and nylon base are too soft for my liking. Two years later I've had the chance to ride the ALM Ultimate for a season and am back with a proper review of this wallet emptying saddle to see if it is deserving of its 199 UKP price tag. If you want to find out, read on.
Design & Construction.
I'll come right out and say it. This is the most beautiful saddle I've ever seen. Lust at first site. To my eye it strikes all the right chords of my minimalist heart. There is no doubt and no question that aesthetically, this should be the saddle to sit atop my forever bike. Let's talk about what's behind that design though.
Starting off with the packaging. The Fabric ALM Ultimate is delivered within a clean, slick, and minimal box. Considering most saddles are unlovingly retailed either on flat boards or loosely in a bin, the nearly stark white box is the first indication that something about this saddle is different. Inside the box you'll find nothing but the dark silhouette of the ALM Ultimate saddle. Its sits gingerly perched within cut outs in the interior floor of the box, begging to be picked up and mounted. The overall presentation of the retail packaging is spot on.
In order to create the ALM Ultimate, Fabric collaborated with Airbus Innovation Group. If you're wondering, yes it's the same Airbus that makes airplanes. The Airbus Innovation Group is home to their R&T area that works within the airline industry and on new projects outside the industry - such as this.
Working together, Fabric and Airbus first built original test concepts for the ALM saddle using 3D printed (Additive Layer Manufacturing, hence where the ALM moniker for the saddle comes from) titanium before moving on to full carbon rails and shell. This helped to reduce both overall weight and costs. Because of the 3D printing process, Fabric is able to produce the saddle shell and rails all as one piece. An important innovation not to be discounted.
Resources: Cool video on Airbus' view and excitement for ALM (Jonathan Meyer: the art of Additive Layer Manufacturing)
The single piece design of the Fabric ALM Ultimate allows the rails to connect with the shell further outboard at the rear of the saddle. This wider connection creates a leaf spring action in which the rails flex outward so the shell spreads when you sit your full weight down. All in all, this gives the full carbon saddle some comfort through flex. Especially important considering the very thin padding and cover.
Although they do not specify the manufacturer source, the Fabric ALM Ultimate is 3D printed using aerospace grace unidirectional carbon fiber. But since it's 3D printed, we do know that it's likely a chopped carbon thread suspended in resin (in 3D printing this is the 'ink') rather than a continuous carbon thread or a prepreg woven sheet. The printing process allows the fibers to be laid all in the same direction while adding layer after layer. Hence the Additive Layer Manufacturing name.
Why is carbon fiber a good material for bicycle saddles? Well, that's because it not only has an incredible strength to weight ratio, but the carbon fiber and resin composite has good vibration dampening properties. All for making a high performance but yet surprisingly comfortable saddle.
For ride longevity and comfort, Fabric have added a thin layer of polyurethane foam and a ~1mm thick microfiber cover to the carbon saddle shell. The shell is vacuum bonded (glued) to the shell and sits about 6mm inboard from the edge of the shell. This gives the ALM Ultimate another distinct look with its cover sitting atop the shell rather than surrounding it.
In terms of sizing, the Fabric ALM Ultimate sits middle of the pack at 142mm wide and 282mm long. If anything, it may be a tad longer than most saddles. The ovalized carbon rails are 7mm x 9mm with a generous 70mm long clamping zone. This will give you plenty of fore and aft adjustability in setup.
At the time of writing this review, the Fabric ALM Ultimate is available with either white or grey graphics. By graphics I mean the logo printed atop the cover at the nose of the saddle. Although I have seen the saddle with various colours such as red or green and I've even seen it with a full white cover. My preference is for the grey because it's subtle and a perfect match for Ti frames. Each saddle has some very discreet graphics on the underside. Honestly, if you didn't look really closely you'd miss the black on black Airbus name and the saddle serial number.
The ALM Ultimate was designed to be, is toughted as being, and confidently is part of the featherweight division. Despite a claimed weight of 145grams, mine tipped the scales at 153 grams (the same as the one reviewed by Road.cc) which is a 5% variance. That's far more respectable than some of the wild weight claims out there. At 153 grams the ALM Ultimage is light but not the lightest I've ridden. Obviously full naked carbon saddles are lighter and there are some sub 100 gram saddles to be found, but in a head to head against another featherweight and padded saddle, the ALM Ultimate comes in a bit hefty. For example, my Fizik Antares 00 saddles tip the scales averaging ~135 grams which is a near positive 10% difference.
Aside from the crazy cool design, the star of the Fabric ALM Ultimate is its shape. Like the Scoop Shallow saddle I reviewed previously, the ALM Ultimate has a scoop shape to it. From the side you can see how rather than a pan flat profile, this saddle has a bit of a wavy curvature. It fits like a hammock you settle into. This particular style of saddle shape is really meant for cyclists who tend to or like to stay in a locked position. If you do like to move around the scoop won't work for you because you can't really slide fore or aft on the saddle. Although my go to saddles are near flat, I can't say exactly what it is about the curvature of the ALM but it's one of the most pleasant shapes I've tried.
Mounting and fitting a scooped saddle is a bit trickier than a flat saddle because you need to measure to where your actually going to be sitting. On a flat saddle it's a little less specific because the saddle is well, flat. You'll sit at the same distance from the bottom bracket no matter how fore or aft you mount the saddle - if you're not on the nose or tail that is. But with a scoop saddle you're going to be sitting in the depression of the scoop. And depending on how set back the saddle is from the bottom bracket, that spot will not likely be directly in line with the seat post tube and seat post. So there is a bit more trial and error to dial it in. For me I found it hard to nail the perfect position and eventually had to take the saddle off because it was causing knee pain and I needed a break. The pain would start to appear when nearing the 100km mark on rides so it wasn't preventing me from decent riding. It just needed more tweaking.
On The Road
If you're this far into the review you might be thinking and asking "But how does the saddle perform?" Good news, here's the answer.
Clearly and without apology, the Fabric ALM Ultimage means to be a race oriented saddle. And it rides like one too. Fabric say that it has a "flexible" carbon shell base but it definitely feels like one of the hardest saddles I've ever sat on. To be honest, it took me a bit of time to break in my sit bones. On the first ride out I put in ~70kms and when I got home I thought I had broke my arse. I took the saddle off and gave myself a break before remounting and tweaking the saddle position. From that point on I was able to comfortably perch myself atop the ALM Ultimate for rides of 100 to 130kms no problem. I will say that I did prefer to ride with bibs that have a bit thicker of a chamois. Like the ones found in Morvelo bibs. Happy to report I never acquired any hot spots or saddle sores from the ALM Ultimate despite it's unforgiving stiffness.
I've read reviews of the early ALM Ultimates where riders found that the cover had separated from the shell. So far this hasn't happened to me, but strangely enough, I wouldn't mind if it did. I'm a bit curious to see what the ALM would look like as a naked carbon saddle - in fact Field Cycles just posted one.
There are a lot of positives things to say about Fabric's chart topping, no compromise, ALM Ultimate saddle. It's shockingly comfortable considering its stiffness but there are downsides to discuss.
The sides of the saddle are quite sharp and abrupt. They could use some more gentle rounding because they can tend to dig into your thighs on long rides. This does lead to some discomfort. However, it can somewhat be remedied with bibs that have a wider chamois like those in Assos bibs. And those sharp carbon edges also do a number on your bibs. The friction just loves to wear them out prematurely. So your expensive saddle might be costing you your expensive bibs too.
There's one more grievance with the carbon edges. Up in the design section I noted that the saddle cover doesn't extend all the way out to the edges of the shell. There is about a 6mm setback and the matte finished carbon tends to get a pretty nice buffed shine to it after all those miles of your bibs rubbing back and forth. There is no performance issue but it might put some people off.
Lastly, I heard that Fabric may be doing away with the grey version of the printed graphics in favour of new colours. If this is true I'd be disappointed and have to make this a critique. Not everyone wants bold logos everywhere on their bike and if your bike doesn't match the colours they choose, you might be out of luck.
Here's what you need to know. Visually, the Fabric ALM is one of my favourite saddles, hands down, maybe ever. The shape of the saddle may be perfect for me, however, the Scoop Shallow version is too soft and the ALM Ultimate is too hard. So which one is right? I'm still trying to figure it out.
Despite it unforgiving stiffness, the Fabric ALM Ultimate has been surprisingly somewhat comfortable even through long days in the saddle. While some extra cush in the chamois helped out, unfortunately the truth is that it's just a tad bit stiff. And I wasn't able to dial in the fit leading to some knee pain. Therefore had to remove it…. Albeit very reluctantly.
Who is the Fabric ALM Ultimate right for? If you prefer a scoop shaped saddle, put a high priority on weight, and want an unforgivingly stiff saddle, but aren't scared off by the high end price tag? You should check out this saddle.