The Leather Saddle from Hell; Put through Purgatory; Now Heaven!

Mick gave me a "present" of a Brooks Professional Saddle which he had failed to break. I'd bought my racing bike, a carbon fibre Ridley Orion with a synthetic saddle on it and surprise surprise had found it not bad at all, but not as comfortable for me as leather. I've used leather saddles almost exclusively since 1988, mostly Brooks and a mixture of Colts (no longer made, I think), Conquests (2) and B17s, standard width. The Brooks Professional is made of thicker leather, like the Colt and is slow to break in. In this case, glacial. Mick had ridden the thing on and off for a year. There was little flexibility in it and there was a subtle unpleasant central ridge which refused to yield. I gave it 500 miles of discomfort. No good. I then soaked it in oil for a couple of hours (wrapping the saddle in aluminium foil, lying upside down on the floor. I rode it for another 500 miles. No good. Repeated the same, soaking overnight. No good after another 500 miles. You will ask why I persisted? I don't like to give in!

I was taking it off the bike to bin it and it occurred to me to stand on it. I did, using my full 15st, heel first. I went up and down on it, along its length. I did this for a few minutes and then hopped on and off it. The saddle was right way up, off its pin on a mat on the garage floor and I was hanging onto a bench so I wouldn't fall over.

Anyway the beast was gradually broken. It's totally different now, soft and flexible and not uncomfortable any more. I Proofided it (should it be Proofhid??!!) and it's hunky dory.

Unbroken new B17 saddle on one of my bikes.

Broken B17 on my good touring bike.

Hellsaddle tamed!

19 comments on “The Leather Saddle from Hell; Put through Purgatory; Now Heaven!”

  1. Kern wrote:

    Which brings to mind the old adage ... if you can't join 'em, beat 'em! Next time we need a B17 broken in, we'll know to whom we should send it. After 1,500 miles of discomfort do you call it stubbornness or persistence?


  2. Mary wrote:

    LOL, poor you Garry, or should I say, your poor derrier!

    I have been lucky I think, Ive had 3 Brooks saddles and only had to break in my first one (A Flyer S), the other two are both Ladies Finesse saddles, one in honey on the Hetchins, the other in black on the Enigma, and not had to break these in at all.

    My Honey finesse was brand new when I set off on my 600mile tour last summer and it was very comfy. (I might be a lot better padded naturally than yourself tho'! 🙂 )

  3. Garry Lee wrote:

    Stubbornness and persistence. Most Brooks saddles, especially B17, break in quickly. The thicker Pro ones don't as they're as thick as Sir Alex Ferguson's hide!!
    Mary has two Countess saddles on her two bikes. She can't tolerate any synthetic saddle. Lizzie and Rosaleen, my daughters, are synthetic all the way.

  4. Hilary wrote:

    I had a man's Brooks Pro saddle on a bike years ago and found it very comfy but I can't seem to get on with the women's version – they seem too short and wide for me. I bought a Finesse on Ebay but I'm afraid it soon went back in its box and into storage. Lovely looking thing though! Why? bike had a well broken in womens Brooks Pro but I'm afraid I've just replaced it with a WTB Deva. I couldn't seem to get far enough back on it without sitting on the rivets which wasn't exactly comfy and the rails weren't long enough to move it further back.

  5. Stephen Almond wrote:

    Maybe you should have drilled holes in it, like the B17?

  6. Garry Lee wrote:

    Only some versions of B17 have holes.
    As regards getting a saddle further back, Hilary, you can get a seat-pin which will do that!
    Saddle comfort is an individual thing. One of the deciding factors is "width of the individual between the ischial tuberosisities". Isn't that a long phrase? Japanese would undoubtedly have one word for that. I could make up a single word for it involving calibre and a well known slightly rude four letter word.
    But I won't!!

  7. Hilary wrote:

    Garry wrote

    As regards getting a saddle further back, Hilary, you can get a seat-pin which will do that

    I did look for one but couldn't seem to find anything that was a significant improvement on the one I already had. That particular bike does have a very short top tube.

    I thought the word was arseometer! 😀

  8. Garry wrote:

    Arseometer measures the calibarse. Arsatrician is the operator.

  9. Patrick wrote:

    I must be the owner of a Brooks Bum as well as the owner of three B17s. The most recent one is a B17 Titanium which I fitted to my tourer a few days before our Holland tour (just got back). Very comfy out of the box. The least comfy, but still comfy, is my oldest one which has become a little saggy after getting it wet.

  10. Garry wrote:

    B17s are the most comfortable from new but don't last like the thicker saddles

  11. Chris wrote:

    Another Brooks Bum here. Put it on, and when the weather cleared up after the winter before the last one I rode 75 miles with no problems (apart from being tired generally). I just hope I never have to use that tightening thingy underneath the saddle. I've read that you shouldn't use it if you can avoid it. My Brooks B17 Standard saddle has kept its shape, but I suppose it's still early days...

  12. Patrick wrote:

    I've noticed Garry has his saddles fitted distinctly nose-up. Mine is only slightly nose-up. Too much and the central ridge digs in. My original 'softish' B17, incidentally, can be stiffened by holding the sides together. If it becomes too saggy I'll try some lace.

  13. Garry Lee wrote:

    I do indeed but that's because I ride them "lowish". There is a range of about 1 cm which is in the "correct" range of height for an individual. If I raise mine to the upper limit of this, my saddle has to be flat. My criterion is simple, am I inclined to slide off it or not!! When you see people with their saddle nose tilted down, they are a little above the "correct" height.
    The technique I use for saddle height is an old one and I recommend it to everyone who asks for advice.
    In your bare feet, your foot parallel to the ground and your pelvis not tilted to one side or another, the heel of your bare foot should be about 5 mm shy of the pedal with the crank in the fully down position. Best done with the left foot down and the right on an adjacent chair, or leaning against a wall.
    To get the 5mm, achieve the height where it just touches and then raise 5mm.
    I suppose that most people do this. It's fundamentally the same height that racing cyclists use. Many new cyclists start with their saddles too high and this causes back pain and fundamental pain as well, if you get what I mean!

  14. Mick F wrote:

    My 'Pro is perfect.
    It was perfect and comfortable from Day One.
    Day One was over 15,000miles ago, and I couldn't be happier with any saddle. I worry that eventually it will have to be replaced.

    It's was hard as nails when it was new, and is still hard as nails now, perhaps my bum is too.
    Both of "us" must have already been hard as nails when I bought the 'Pro!


  15. Garry Lee wrote:

    It wasn't the hardness that was the problem Mick. It was that it had a central ridge like the keel of an upturned boat. Try sitting on a keel for a while!! Speaking of keels, the Cullins in the Isle of Skye are called after the Norse for keel because that is the impression they gave our friendly pillagers long ago! This could've been called the Brooks Cullin, now it's the Brooks Lincolnshire.

  16. Patrick wrote:

    I think the difference is the angle of the saddle. What you are aiming for is your sit bones located roughly in the centre of the triangles of leather on either side towards the rear of the saddle and where the sit bones create a slight softness in the leather that is hardly noticeable if you press it with your fingers. Nothing else should touch – only your sit bones – and the model of Brooks that suits you best is the one whose width matches those bones.

    Mick's saddle (left in the photo) is level front to back. Garry's slopes down noticeably towards the back with a tendency for the raised central ridge to press in to your 'anatomy' where it should not – for most cyclists at least. If you have it right, even a hard saddle is comfortable. There will be a degree of bounce but you might as well be sitting on wood. It's comfortable in the same way as a wooden chair is comfortable (and wooden chairs can be the most comfortable of all).

    When a Brooks becomes soft and saggy the leather begins to make contact where it should not and it loses it's comfort. All of this depends on sit bone contact and a more fleshy individual will find it more difficult to achieve the fit. There will be more contact between the rider and saddle than is optimal for comfort. My Brooks saddles are more or less the way Mick has his and they are just about perfect even when new. There is no need to break them in.

    If there is any breaking in, it's developing that slight softness in the spots where the bones make contact, and when the saddle has 'bounce' but has not lost its shape (that is really just a form of suspension).

  17. Garry Lee wrote:

    If I ride with them higher, as I do if I'm in a triathlon or similar, I have them flat. It makes no difference to where my sitbones are, which is in the right place.
    When they become soft, as you describe, to the level of becoming a little uncomfortable, I tighten them. I've always done this, though some think you shouldn't.

  18. Patrick wrote:

    Well, maybe your sit bones stick down more than mine! If so, I think we agree. For me, front to back angle is critical for comfort on a rigid Brooks saddle. It has to be just about horizontal, perhaps with a slight rise at the front and no slipping forwards or backwards. Even one notch on the clamp makes all the difference.

  19. Elaine wrote:

    I have just bought my first Brooks B 17 saddle and I must say it has been very comfortable from the word go. However I must admit I am not as tough as you lot seem to be, mine is an 'aged' one which I can thoroughly recommend. Why go through pain?

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