When you hear someone talking about a leather bicycle saddle, chances are an image is formed in your head. And chances are that image is of a Brooks saddle.
Brooks England Ltd.
Brooks England has been in the bicycle saddle game since the beginning — Literally. They started making leather goods out of Hockley in Birmingham in 1866, and in 1882 they began producing bicycle saddles. They have been producing saddles ever since in the exact same process for over one hundred years. The B17, the model I own, has been offered by Brooks since 1910.
In the realm of bicycle saddles, you really don’t get much more pedigree than a Brooks. They made the first bicycle saddle to be made of a material other than wood and they were the first sprung bicycle seat in history. Millions, and yes I do mean millions, of cyclists throughout history have had their sitbones imprinted into a piece of Brooks leather.
Though Brooks is currently owned by Selle Royal of Italy, production is still based out of Birmingham using English-sourced leather. Brooks remains, to this day, the chosen saddle of touring cyclists, leather aficionados, and people who appreciate the timeless aesthetic of a leather saddle.
The Brooks B17 is a piece of English bridle leather (vegetable tanned steer leather) which is then mounted on and riveted to a steel frame. Then, using a unique tensioning system, the leather is stretched until it is firm enough to bear the weight of a rider.
Bridle leather is renowned for it’s incredible strength, durability, and longevity, which is why it what Filson uses on their bags. It is incredibly, insanely durable. The leather on this saddle, if taken care of properly, will last hundreds of thousands of miles, more than you can probably ride in your lifetime.
The Brooks B17 Narrow Standard uses steel hardware, which is a bit heavy (530g total), yes, but it will stand up to the abuses of distance riding and commuting for an extremely long time, again probably more than all the miles you can ride in your lifetime. The leather is riveted to the frame by 9 steel rivets. It isn’t going anywhere and it will support really any weight of rider with no problem.
The tensioning system that Brooks uses is quite fantastic. Brooks Saddles, like most leather saddles, is designed with the leather being suspended above the frame itself, between two ends of the frame. Basically, all of your weight is supported solely by the leather. As you put miles on the saddle, the leather will stretch and sag with time, which is understandable. To increase the longevity of the saddle, Brooks integrated a self-service tensioning system into the frame which allows you, the rider, to increase the tension with just a wrench as the leather becomes more broken in with time and miles. Be careful if you choose to do this however, tensioning the leather too much can cause it to tear, especially around the rivets.
Not many things even come close to the amazing aesthetic of a leather saddle on a racing bike. There is something about timeless and clean lines that harkens back to a better time, a time when all things were made with quality and heritage.
My saddle is the brown, which is a rich, almost burgundy brown. The polished leather, combined with polished rivets, black rails, and the classic Brooks badge create an amazing tapestry of clean, simple lines. I have my saddle on my fixed gear, a Bianchi Pista Sei Giorni, and it really does look fantastic. It combines modern engineering with a timeless heratige and elegance. Modern with timeless vintage.
The aesthetic of a Brooks B17 saddle brings to mind movement. The saddle just looks like it wants to go places, it’s hard to explain. I would say it is similar to a Ferrari 250 GTO in the sense that it is almost art in motion; even when it is stationary, it looks as if it is in motion. It’s a compelling aesthetic quality that draws people in and mesmerizes them.
One thing should be said, this is a saddle you learn to live with for the first few hundred miles of riding. It comes out of the box about as hard as a piece of wood and remains that way for quite a while. However that time varies with different people.
Personally, I found mine comfortable right out of the box and was able to ride with it for long distances almost immediately. And it has only gotten more comfortable since then! Some reviews that I have read, however, tell a different story. I’ve seen reports that it is so insufferably painful, you can barely ride a few blocks before having to turn around, but it gets better with persistence and time. I’ve also seen reports that it never gets comfortable, that it stays at a neutral level of comfort for life, and that it is ridiculously comfortable. So, really, it depends on your own personal geometry and biometrics and preferences.
My personal experience, however, was nothing but smiles. My first venture on a Brooks was a 15 mile ride around town, to the coffee shop, and my usual loop up into the hills. I had no discomfort whatsoever and found that it was actually quite a bit softer by the time I got home. I’ve been riding mine for a few months now and it has only gotten better and better as I continue to break it in.
There is absolutely no doubt, however, that this saddle will break in. Some people say it takes hundreds of miles, others say thousands, others say under a hundred. Really, the time it takes to break in depends on many variables. You, like me, might find it already breaking in by the time you get back from your first venture. Or you might find it STARTING to break in after two hundred miles. It is completely personal.
As it breaks in, the leather will conform to your geometry, specifically your sit bones. The leather literally indents where your sit bones are and it becomes an amazingly conformed and comfortable saddle. That, again, is a personal preference, however, as some people never find them to be comfortable. It is a really definitive line, but I stand firmly on the side of the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden.
A lot of how you will find this saddle depends on where you come from in the cycling world. For instance, if you come from the world of racing where I come from, these saddles are fluffy clouds compared to, say, a fizik Arione or a Selle SLR. But, if you are imagining a B17 to be similar or more comfortable than, say, a beach cruiser, you might be thoroughly disappointed.
Saddles are extremely subjective and extremely personal. Each person has unique and individual preferences regarding bike saddles. Brooks, however, is different. It will eventually fit every single person with time. In other words, Brooks isn’t built for a specific geometry. Rather, your geometry builds it. You, and you alone, form the way this saddle rides after time. That is why it is such a great concept and why it has stuck around for over a hundred years, because people will never get sick of comfort. And it truly is one of the most comfortable saddles on the market.
It is pretty heavy. I mean, it is steel and leather, so it is safe to assume it is going to weigh quite a bit. But if you’re not coming from a racing perspective, weight isn’t a huge deal. At 530g, it doesn’t weigh so much that it’s going to feel like you’re lugging around a brick or something. It’s very reasonable for the average cyclist and not really a big deal at all.
It is also quite expensive, but understandably so. The materials are quality and it is manufactured extremely well, and not to mention it has to be imported. And it still isn’t as much as the average racing saddle these days, which can set you back over $160 without breaking a sweat.
A Brooks saddle is so worth it. It feels as if you’re riding a piece of cycling history and man does it feel fantastic. So, if you are in the market for a classy, beautiful, and timeless saddle for your fixie, commuter, road bike, mountain bike, cyclocross bike, ANY bike really, look no further than Brooks England Ltd.