It’s funny how times change, and how certain things that were once considered geeky turn to cool. Beards, woollen jerseys, and leather saddles to name just a few things that two wheel hipsters sport with pride these days, but were once seen as the work of the anti-style council.
Despite having ridden and raced bikes most of my life, and growing up just 50 kilometres away from the Brooks factory in the UK, I’d somehow managed to avoid actually riding on a leather saddle.
I started riding bikes seriously in the late 1970s, which was a decade on from the all encompassing latter glory days of leather saddles, and a time when the Brooks name was just about the only thing any rider of taste chose to perch on.
By this time these distinct and hefty beasts with the repute of stallions had well and truly had their day, and the only people left riding them were indeed bearded men with plain woollen jerseys, chromed lugs and saddle bags – huh, what was I just saying about how things come around.
Following a very rough patch, and liquidation, Brooks was bought by Italian saddle makers Selle Royal, who have somehow managed to completely transform the image of the brand and align it perfectly with the rise of premium high-end accessories. Brooks saddles have once more become de rigeur with discerning cyclists of a certain genre.
A couple of years back I dropped by the Brooks factory in Birmingham (UK), and was amazed at just how little things had changed in more than a century of saddlers craftsmanship (or so it seems). Many of the early machines are still in use, and almost the exact same hand crafted process is used on every single saddle, which really is great to see in such a mechanised and bland era of manufacturing.
It was somewhere around about this point that, for the first time ever, I developed an appreciation for these leather and chrome masterpieces – they are true pieces of art.
Even so, I really could not quite align my admiration with those past image hurdles littering my mind. However, I had seen the new C15 Cambium saddles around, and decided that this non-UK produced modern Brooks branded saddle could be the answer for me.
As fate would have it a mix-up led to a B17 leather saddle arriving in the post, and not the C15. It took a while, I looked, admired, thought about it, and then put the saddle back in the box – after all; despite the fact that I’m no longer a racing snake, or even close to it, surely I could not be seen with this on my bike?
It took a few weeks, and eventually I decided to give it a go. The saddle truly is a hand-crafted beauty, heavy, but built for the long haul, and once set up it looked an absolute treat, even if it is a century old in design.
The word on the road had always been that it took months to break in a Brooks saddle, a lengthy and painful induction that had forced many a rider back to the mass produced plastic and foam seats that now dominate the market.
Needless to say I was dreading this process, and sat astride the saddle expecting an excruciating first ride, and that simply did not happen. The ride was comfy and very forgiving, and I’ve ridden the saddle on and off now for a while without any discomfort issues – and am nowhere near even taking the shine off the hide, let alone breaking it in.
For me it was something of an eve opener, and I finally got what Brooks saddles are all about; they’re pure and functional class. These saddles are distinctive, and you’ll love or hate that, but having seen what goes into making them I have a whole new appreciation for that classic styling.
Sure enough they’re hefty beasts, and are not something I’d consider for racing if weight were my prime concern. It’s amazing how detrimental preconceptions and image can be, but I got there in the end, and I can see why these saddles carry so much respect.