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Back in the (Brooks) saddle again

Posted Aug 25 2008 2:43pm

When I started cycling in the early 1950s, all bicycle saddles were leather. Cheap bikes had cheap leather saddles, and the best bikes had a Brooks leather saddle.

Top professional riders worldwide rode on a Brooks. The standard road race saddle was the B17 model. The number two saddle in the world was the French Ideale Company; however, a Brooks saddle would always outlast and keep its shape longer than an Ideale.

Then sometime in the late 1960s, early 1970s plastic saddles started to appear. Much lighter and never losing their shape, plastic soon became the standard racing saddle.

I can never understand why Brooks did not produce a plastic saddle, they had the high end market pretty much sewn up, and people would have stuck with the brand name.

Anyway, they decided to continue with what they did best. It is a tribute to the quality of their product that the company has survived to this day, when all others including Ideale went under.

I decided to try a Brooks saddle again, remembering just how comfortable they were. It seems to me that race saddles get increasingly skimpier as the years go by, as bikes get lighter and lighter.

I decided on the Brooks “Professional” model. You can pay as much as $150, and at this price you get a full money back guarantee; you can return it if you find you don’t like it. This is nice, but I found a brand new one on eBay at a “Buy it now” price of $104.

I noticed that good used Professional saddles were going for around $85 or $90, so I figured I may as well save money initially and should I decide this saddle is not for me, I would only be a few dollars out of pocket if I resold it used on eBay.

My saddle arrived on Saturday and the first thing I noticed when I took it out of the box was the weight. If you are a weight-weenie you will not want a Brooks saddle. You could spring for a titanium-framed model if you are willing to shell out an extra $200.

Weight has never been an issue with me. Back in the 1950s most components were steel and a race bike weighed at least 26 lb. cycling was just as much pleasure back then as it is today. Weight saving may contribute to speed, but to the leisure cyclist the only difference it will make is mainly to your bank account.

If you are riding the latest in carbon fiber then a Brooks saddle would look as out of place as a silver hood ornament on a Lamborghini. However, on vintage steel like mine, a Brooks saddle if anything is an enhancement.

The first thing I did with my saddle was to wrap the outside in aluminum foil, set it upside down, and poured oil inside. I then let it sit overnight an allowed the oil to soak in.

Neatsfoot oil is what is commonly used, but I couldn’t find any and so bought some mink oil at a boot store. Mink oil is another natural leather softener and preservative and works just as well.

I did not apply oil to the top of the saddle as this makes such a mess of the clothing. If anything, I would use a clear shoe cream on the top side. The oil soaks in better from the unfinished underside, and adds protection if water from the road should spray up underneath.

In England, I rode and raced in the rain many times, and my Brooks saddle would get soaked. I found if it was kept well oiled and was allowed to dry out naturally, it came to no harm. No more harm than a good pair of leather boots or shoes would come to on getting wet.

On Sunday I fitted my new saddle and went out for a 40 mile ride. The Professional model is 16 cm. wide; the B17 is 17 cm. wide. Comparing this to my Concor saddle that I was previously using at 14 cm.

I was aware that I was sitting on something pretty darn hard, but there was no discomfort. It seemed the padding in my shorts, and the pair of tights I was wearing over these was enough of a cushion to prevent any soreness.

To me the Brooks saddle seems to be the ideal shape. Wide at the back and fairly flat to support the sit bones, then rapidly narrowing down so there is nothing chafing the inside of the legs.

The Concor saddle was also curved on top, putting pressure on the softer perineum tissue. Previously on a ride, every 10 or 15 miles I would have to reach down in my shorts and re-arrange the family jewels. I did not have to do this once on my Sunday ride.

So first impressions are good; It seems I will get through the break in period of 200 miles or so with very little suffering and discomfort. I will keep you posted on my later impressions.
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