Thursday, August 13, 2020

Trying Out a New Brooks

Last month I got an email from the folks at Brooks Saddles informing me that I'd been selected to test one of their new saddles. When I got back from my camping vacation last week, I found a box had been delivered from Brooks, and I eagerly opened it up to see what they'd sent. What I got was a bit of a surprise: a B17 "carved" or "Imperial" - the one with the big cutaway in the center. Why was that a surprise? Well, I was under the impression that they were testing a new model, but to the best of my knowledge, the model has been around for over 10 years. If there's something new about it, it must be something that isn't obvious to casual observation. Regardless, I'm happy to use it and give them my impressions, and I may post a bit here, too.

I've got several bikes equipped with Brooks B17 saddles. It's safe to say that they're a favorite of mine. The shape works really well for me, and I typically find them to be pretty comfortable right out of the box - even before they've "broken in" (despite all the mythical horror stories about the brutal break-in period). I've tried the "narrow" version (didn't like it as much) and I've got the "standard" and "deluxe" versions, but I've never used the version with the big cutaway. Another difference is that this model comes with holes punched along the bottom skirt, ready to be laced. Lacing is supposed to firm up a leather saddle by keeping the bottom skirts from splaying out. People will sometimes drill the holes and lace up an old Brooks saddle if the top starts to sag too much (that method is less likely to accidentally damage the saddle than over-tightening the adjustment bolt at the nose). The "carved" or "Imperial" saddle comes laced right out of the box.

The saddle I received is in their antique brown color - and it came with blue laces. I decided to install it on the Sequoia for now, since that bike has been getting more use than most. By the way, I really liked that paper the saddle came wrapped in.

The brown color and blue laces make it a natural fit on the Sequoia. After I start back to work, I may move the test saddle over to my commuting mule because that will be the bike getting the most miles at that point.

Okay - so about that big hole. If you're a man and you've spent any time on a bike in the past 20 years or so, you've no doubt heard warnings about bike saddles leading to impotence. And there aren't many words that strike more fear into men, or make them cross their legs more self-consciously, than "impotence" (I assume it is second only to "castration"). I don't remember who the doctor was, or exactly when the report came out, but 20 years ago seems about right, and the scare stories were all over the news. There were articles in all the bike mags, and I think it was even on  20/20, or 60 Minutes or something like that. Since then, saddles with big "pressure relieving" holes have become common.

Interesting fact about the "pressure relieving" cutaway is that Brooks introduced saddles with that very feature back in the 1800s - for the very same reason as today - The ads said "preventative to all perineal pressure."

Here's the thing: I've always been skeptical of the fear mongering, and I'm generally skeptical of saddles with cutaways, grooves, nose-less designs, or other methods for reducing pressure. I believe there were some serious flaws in that original study that linked biking to erectile disfunction, and there have been numerous studies conducted since then that are far less dire in their conclusions. It really seems to me that a quality saddle that is wide enough to support the "sit bones," and is positioned optimally for the rider (proper height, and angle, etc.) will eliminate most issues, with or without the gimmicks. Also, sensible riding style can make a difference too. Using handlebars that put a rider low and forward can lead to problems, and staying in one position on the bike for too long doesn't help either. But seriously, if you're on a long ride and you start feeling numb or tingly "down there" - get out of the saddle for a bit! And if it keeps happening, re-examine things like saddle shape, angle, and position.

Now, having said all that, I know that suddenly I'm going to start getting emails from people telling me that a grooved or cutaway saddle saved their sex life. Okay - that's cool. But just like diagnosing the source of a creaking noise on a bike can be tricky and inexact, pinning down the exact reason or proper cure for erectile issues can be similarly speculative. Heck, I think I'd rather pin down the creaking noise, as there are far more limited variables.

One concern I've had with pressure relieving saddles is that I wonder if some of the designs might not actually be worse than a traditional design. It's just speculation - but what I mean is that if you look at the nose of a traditional saddle, the curve of the top surface is usually one large, broad curve, with a radius of maybe an inch or so. But on some saddles with a big groove in them, that broad curve over the nose is replaced by two narrow ridges, each with a much smaller radius. So instead of one broad "pressure point," you get two much smaller, sharper pressure points. Does that make sense? I don't know. . .

So getting back to this test saddle. I'll be interested to see how it feels, and what differences (if any) I might be able to detect between this one and the ones I'm more familiar with. I've been on a couple of rides with it already - including two brief rides with unpadded shorts. Was it my imagination, or could I feel the edges of that slot? Not sure. With padded riding shorts, I haven't noticed much difference so far, except that with the skirts being laced, the saddle may have a bit less "give" to it, even accounting for its brand-new, non broken-in condition. Maybe I'll loosen the laces a little. However it feels right now, it's important to remember that it will likely change as it breaks in.

Last thing - and again, I really have no idea, so I'm just curious. Brooks was sold to the Italian company Selle Royal back in 2002, but the Brooks website says that their leather saddle models are still made in England. So why did the shipping label on the box this sample came in list Italy as the point of origin? Curious.


  1. I am another huge fan of the Brooks saddles (or Wrights). I can ride them right out of the box and they only get more comfortable as the miles go by. My go to saddle for drop bar bikes has been the Flyer. I like springs as they take a bit of the sting out of the road. You do pay a bit of a weight penalty, but that it is one thing I seldom worry about. For my upright bikes I use the B66/67. I actually went with complete decadence on my Raleigh DL-1 Tourist and used the fully sprung B33. It is like riding a Lazyboy recliner.


  2. I love your Sequoia and the saddle is a good match. Those cutouts always scared me. I imagine something getting pinched in there. I have a brand new one I acquired when buying parts for a Specialized Expedition but haven't found the courage to try it out. I recently bought a beautiful black B67 Special for my mountain bike and think I know the packing paper you're talking about

  3. That paper is so fun. The B66 I bought for my All City Macho Man came off a bike shop wall so no fun paper. But my butt is comfy.

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  5. I think that the PR dept is in Italy but the factory is definitely still in the Midlands. Brooks very kindly "Imperialised" five of my saddles for me. Once the doc gives me clearances to ride again I will have the acid test. Ooh err!

  6. I know bike seats can certainly be a pain-in-the-arse, so to speak. And I do remember numbness down in the regions, but I think what you need to do, is try another seat or have an assessment of your biking position. In respect to that other "topic" regarding ED; anybody who thinks the bike seat is the cause of their reproductive dysfunction, has their head in the sand. They need to talk to their doctor as soon as possible about it, to make sure they don't have a treatable condition like Heart disease or Diabetes.

  7. some say that these saddles cause shorts to wear out faster, something to do with chaffing on the edges of the cuttout, can't say as I've seen this on mine but it's not on the bike I ride the most.