Natural leather saddles aren't perfect, but then what in this world is?
Yes, plastic saddles are lighter and require little/no maintenance or care. But maintenance isn't really a concern for me -- in fact, it's one of the things I enjoy about my bikes. Some say that leather saddles require a break-in period, but I haven't found that to be the case -- for most Brooks models that I've used, they feel pretty darn good right out of the box.
The Brooks story is practically legend -- one of those great stories of industry and invention that would have to be created if it weren't already true. The company was founded back in 1866 by John Boultbee Brooks, originally as a manufacturer of horse harnesses and leather goods. According to the company's history, J.B. Brooks's horse died in 1878 and he was unable to purchase another. The story goes that he borrowed a bicycle, but hated the saddle so much that he "vowed to do something about it." He filed for his first leather saddle patent in 1882.
Over the decades, the company has made a range of products for bicycles, and motorcycles for a time, including saddles, shoes, oilskin clothing, cycling bags, and more. The company had expanded into making furniture, and at one point, in the 1930s, had even purchased a motorcycle company! Other leather saddle makers were absorbed by the expanding Brooks company, including Lycett, Leatheries, and Wrights. Some of these continued to be made for a while, though essentially overseen by Brooks.
|B-17 Standard. Nicely broken in, about 12 years old.|
|B-17 Special, with titanium rails, and larger, |
hand-finished copper rivets.
|Brooks Flyer -- basically a B-17 with springs.|
Flyer: Basically, a B-17 with springs. Rivendell's Grant Petersen says the springs don't really kick in unless the rider is over 180 lbs., but I don't agree with that. It certainly doesn't give a bouncy, bobbing kind of suspension -- and that's good because I wouldn't want that. But the springs do take some of the bite out of harsher bumps. I use one of these on my mountain bike -- a vintage Stumpjumper from the early 80s. I also have one on my tandem, which works really well because it's a little harder to unweight for bumps on a tandem.
|Brooks Professional, dated from 1972. Later versions have|
the leather on the nose a little longer to keep more of the
front tension bolt covered. I like the truncated look of this one.
In the 1970s, the Team Professional came with larger, hand-finished rivets. Eventually a "Pre-Softened" version was offered (with those very words embossed in the top) although I've heard more than a few people say it didn't make a big difference. I have the Professional on a couple of collectible vintage bikes where it is the right choice for the bike and the vintage -- but for most of my riding, I prefer the B-17.
|Swift saddle, in this case with chrome-plated|
steel rails, not titanium. I do have a titanium
version, however. The cork is an affectation,
coming out of old track-racing lore.
B-67: This is a wide, sprung saddle. I don't use these myself, as it's a good bit wider than a B-17 (205 mm) and more width than I need for the types of riding I do -- it's really designed to be a good saddle for a more upright riding position. But I have installed them on my wife's bike, and on the stoker position of our tandem. She seems to like it and says it works well for her. There is a very similar saddle, the B-66, which has an older style undercarriage with double rails, requiring an older style straight seatpost and clamp system. The B-67 has basically the same shape but with a modern single-rail undercarriage, so it works with the kinds of seatposts most people use today.
|B-67 on my wife's refurbished Trek. Wide and comfortable.|
Great saddle for a more upright position.
Maintenance on a Brooks saddle is pretty straightforward. Don't let it get soaked so often, or ride on it soaked, as it can start to sag or splay out. For my commuting bike, I have a saddle bonnet, or rain cover, tucked away in a pocket of my saddlebag that I can use in case of rain. On other bikes, I'll just tuck a rolled up plastic shopping bag and a couple of rubber bands into the saddlebag or pack -- it isn't as pretty as the "official" Brooks rain cover, but it works fine in an emergency.
Use a little leather dressing on it now and then, but don't overdo it. Brooks Proofide is the product that Brooks recommends (of course) and the one that I use, but there are other products out there that do the same basic thing, such as Sno Seal -- but regardless of what product one uses, I don't typically apply it more than once a year or so, though it can vary depending on the kind of use the saddle gets. Sometimes if the saddle starts to sag, people will use the tension nut on the front of the saddle, but it is really easy to go overboard with that. I've seen a few old Brooks saddles where the leather was pulled from the nose rivets by aggressive over-tensioning. One of the better ways to deal with a sagging Brooks saddle is to drill or punch some lacing holes along the bottom edge of the leather, then lace it up like a shoe. Pulling the sides inward tends to restore a little shape to the top because as the top sags, the sides will splay out.
When it comes to comfort -- which is really the main job of a saddle -- it is hard to do better than an all-leather saddle, and there really aren't (and I'd argue never were) any out there better than the ones from Brooks. On a more personal note, another reason I like Brooks saddles is because it is a great way to always have my name on my bikes.