Brooks saddles, made in Birmingham, England, are the de-facto bicycle saddles for touring. They also have a stronghold in the commuting markets and the… erm… cool types. You know the ones, they have (at the moment) long sleeve shirts, skinny trousers and crepe soles. It strikes me as unusual that what suits the terminally trendy also appeals to the nomadic traveller as well as the cantankerous, heritage supporting, northerner (such as my friend Adam) and even the casual cyclist, father of three, who just wants to ‘pop’ to the shops to replenish his secret stash of Werther’s Originals in his shed.
When you think about it, there is little else in the cycling industry that can make such a boast – Brooks saddles are in a league of their own. Nostalgic, functional and eminently stylish. It was for those reasons I bought my Brooks B17 Special several years ago. The leather was dark green (British racing green?) and was supported by beautiful copper plated metal work and rivets. Many buy a Brooks because they find them more comfortable than other saddles, once they have worn in a little. I’ve never had any complaints with a saddle, so that wasn’t part of my decision in buying a Brooks, but it was as comfortable as I had heard. I liked it from the first ride.
I remember, on that first ride, sliding around on the smooth leather surface. For a moment I wasn’t sure I liked that but I soon realised that it gave little friction allowing my hips to move in a comfortable way. Since then the Brooks has been a pleasure to ride, ergonomically I can’t fault it, but, for other reasons it’s not perfect.
If you look after your Brooks saddle it will last much longer than the one pictured above but it’s not through casual negligence that mine now resembles a wizards cuff – Brooks saddles require a lot of care. At the very minimum, to ensure a long service life, your Brooks saddle must be regularly waxed, to ensure the suppleness of the leather and water repellency; tensioned, to maintain the shape, and kept out of the sun and rain as much as possible. At home, these jobs can be either a chore or a noble, satisfying, almost meditative delight but on tour they can be very inconvenient.
Any cycle-tourist knows that in the morning, especially after a cool night, your bike will be stashed in a bush or long grass covered in dew. The leather of your Brooks saddle will be cool and damp. Fast forward an hour and you’re cycling along giving it the usual buttock induced abuse, fast forward one more hour and you’ll probably have stopped for a coffee, breakfast or some scrumping and your Brooks will be awash in harmful UV light. As the Brooks dries out, it begins to heat up. Next comes more of the standard abuse, a few knocks and dings, a shower or two and then back to the cool damp nights.
To protect my saddle from this physical tirade I have a saddle cover that I remember to use roughly 20% of the time, Brooks’s own wax, that melts in my panniers and leaks out of the tin, and a specialist spanner, to tension the leather from the nose, that I may use once for every two months of touring. Despite all the hassle of looking after it when on a long tour and despite the weight (the B17 Special weighs a whopping 540g, without leaky wax, the saddle cover and the spanner!) I think my next saddle will be a Brooks.
Nothing, in my opinion, adds character to a bike like a Brooks saddle. It’s that personal touch, the expertly crafted timeless design recognised by many. Knowing, then, than I had already been overcome with sentimentality and knowing that for better or for worse I would be needing a new saddle and that saddle was to be a Brooks I headed to www.brooksengland.com to see what was new.
It so happens that Brooks have been very busy indeed. There is much to admire about Brooks’s offering in 2014, there are new colours, new panniers (I presume, by the design, manufactured by Ortlieb), gorgeous handle bar tape and even a clothing range. But, what instantly snagged my undivided attention was the new Cambium saddle. Diverging from their traditional leather roots the Cambium is constructed from vulcanised rubber and organic cotton. It’s a thing of beauty, somehow managing to look both elegant and robust. This saddle addresses nearly all of the problems I was willing to put up with regarding leather Brooks saddles; no more messy wax, no more tensioning, less weight and less worry and maintenance but still with all the character and charm you’d expect from a Brooks.
Seeing the Cambium C17 I was duly excited, it would be perfect for my fully loaded touring bike. But, that was only the beginning; what really interested me was this small diagram at the bottom of their webpage – a clue about what’s to come:
Look at the profile of the C15 – what manner of saddle is that!? It looks racy, light and, if it uses the same materials as the C15, it should also be attractive and rugged. I haven’t had the opportunity to see either of these saddles in the flesh, and living in New Zealand it might be a while before I do, but I suspect the C17 would be great for my fully loaded touring bike whilst the C15 would be great on the ultralight bicycle – as long as the weight is comparable, or only slightly heavier, than an average road bike saddle.
What do you think, are you looking at a Brooks and does the Cambium range interest you?