Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Saddle Relief

Well, I finished my test period on the Brooks B-17 Imperial, or "Carved" saddle. I'd put several thousand miles on the saddle in that time, but when the year-long test period was over, I was actually glad to swap the saddle on my commuting mule. I took it off and replaced it with the Brooks C-17 I had been using previously, and it was a relief.

The C-17 saddle's top is made of rubber and fabric bonded together. Its look is somewhat more "modern" than the B-17, but the "feel" is similar. I find that it more or less "disappears" under me, like a good traditional B-17 (without the big hole in the top). I chose it for my commuter because it is more of an "all weather" saddle - more impervious to occasional rain showers.

The "carved" B-17 Imperial is supposed to relieve perineal pressure, but I hate to admit that I never got used to it. If anything, I felt that the big hole in the top led to more pressure - not less - and chafing. Even with padded riding shorts, I could feel the edges of the hole "digging in." I had hoped that it might get better as the saddle got more broken-in, but the sensation never really went away.

If someone is still tempted to try the Imperial, I'd recommend taking out the laces right from the start. Unlike regular versions of the B-17, the lower skirts on the Imperial are laced together from the factory, which is a trick people will use to firm up the top of an old saddle that has gotten too soft and saggy. But on a new saddle, it seemed to be overkill. I used mine as it was shipped, with the laces, for at least 6 months, and it made the top feel way too solid, as if it would never break-in. I eventually removed the laces, which allowed the top to flex more. It helped, but I could still feel that damned hole.

In the end, I'm just going to say that the regular non-carved B-17 - and also the C-17 (which has a similar width to its all-leather cousin) - are pretty hard to beat. Even if someone has concerns about "perineal pressure" I think these saddles - if properly set up for height and angle, etc. - will provide a lot of comfort, making the huge hole in the top unnecessary. 


  1. i tried cutout saddles- albeit padded over a nylon structure -in the early 90's and share your observations. The edges of the cutouts dug in after an hour or two, and did nothing to relieve numbness in the personal bits. i happily traded them in for Brooks & Ideale traditional leather saddles.

  2. I much prefer a rubber+textile saddle such as the Cambium to the plastic ones, but in the end even the Cambium suffers from the same problem, the material is not "alive" and won't change its shape...

  3. Saddle conversations inevitably end up at "your experience may vary". I rode a rock-hard Brooks Team Select for decades, it never broke in - the leather was double thickness. As I matured I began to experience numbing where one would rather not. After years of trial and error, I found relief with a C17 Carved. Last year I traded the Team Select for two barely-used B17s and tried one. From the start it was the most comfortable saddle I ever rode. After 15 miles - numb. I had a fellow who specializes in such things add the Imperial-shape cutout and it's perfect, for me anyway. I am unaware of the cutouts in either saddle while I ride, and would buy another in a heartbeat. As a wise person once said: "Come to terms with your Ass, for it bears you."

    1. Fair point, Andy. A friend of mine always qualifies his opinion on such things with YMMV, or “your mileage may vary.”

  4. I have never liked a saddle that doesn't have smooth top. I tried those early Avocet saddles with the "bumps," and a couple of saddles inspired by them. I've also tried cut-out saddles (or ones with a hole or gap in the middle) from Terry (which was made, I believe, by Selle Italia), another manufacturer and Brooks--the B17. Never again!

  5. I've used plastic and foam saddles for pretty much all of my riding as an adult, which is ~16 years now. I've never had any pain "down there" even on 8-hour rides. I recently replaced one that had gotten horribly swaybacked after ~12 years with another plastic one from the local shop's used saddle box. If/when I need another one I'll look into the Brooks Cambium as a good vegan alternative to the legendary B17.

  6. Fortunately I've only ever been bothered by cheap saddles. I've been riding on a Brooks Cambium recently which seems fine, also a couple of older San Marco Rolls saddles, I have them mounted on different bikes. I used a Gyes (leather Brooks copy) on my first century 5 years ago, no problems and I still have that saddle which I may use again at some point. I came across someone online advocating for squirming around on the saddle a bit from time to time, something I've always done anyway, also stand on the pedals now and then just for the sake of getting your butt off it for a few seconds. Merckx was known for constantly fiddling with his saddle position, there's a brief scene in a film of him adjusting his saddle while speeding along mid-race (himself, not a mechanic leaning out of a team car).

  7. I have a Brooks B-17 on my 1973 10-speed. I thought it was perfect until I put a Brooks Cambium on my 2019 single speed.
    I much prefer the Cambium.

  8. I tried a B-17 for a couple of years - never loved it. I traded it to a guy for a carved c-15 which I like much better. I may try a carved c17 to see if the additional width is more comfy.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience, I was wondering if the carved model actually relieved pressure in those areas. I used to ride a b-17 and then a flyer, and have more recently been riding a gel monstrosity that I'm hoping to replace with another brooks (again stuck between a b-17 and flyer). Unsure of the cambium, I'm pretty committed to the b series, but will look into them now!