Since 1866 – that is how long Brooks has been producing saddles. This is no easy feat for a company that produces only saddles and bags and is operating in a fast paced industry that has seen numerous innovations, especially in the last two decades. Despite all the advancements in bicycle saddle design in recent years, Brooks stays true to their saddle design, providing a unique option for the cycling community.
I am lucky to lay my hands on a Brooks B17 Champion Standard, Aged 1, for review purposes. The B17 is one of Brooks? classic models that has been in production for decades and has several variations, namely the B17 Narrow and B17 Sprinter, all built with different purposes in mind. Our B17 Standard has steel rails and is built for mountain biking and touring purposes. It is a comfortable saddle that allows you to go for miles with no soreness in your rear end.\
It is a memorable experience holding the retro looking Brooks for the first time. While I have heard many good things about this saddle, the saddle in my hand felt hard and stiff. This is the hardest saddle (other than those carbon saddles) I have felt so far. I keep asking myself, ?Those guys can?t be serious when they say Brooks saddles are the most comfortable saddle around, right??
Without going into the intricate details, the construction of the saddle looks deceivingly simple. Brooks simply put a piece of leather hide over the saddle frame and riveted it at both ends using copper-plated hollow steel rivets. I learnt from some reviews that the coating on these rivets are known to go off after an extensive period of use. The leather in the middle is suspended with no base and would flex under the rider?s weight. Unlike the more expensive models, the B17s are machine assembled, in contrast to the hand assembled higher end models.
My B17 Standard weighs 540 grams on my kitchen scale. After some research over the Net, I found that Brooks specifies leather that is between 4mm to 5mm thick to be used on their saddle, and this may cause the weight of Brooks saddle to vary a fair bit from batch to batch. The same research also reveals that the average weight for a B17 Standard should be around 580 grams and a similar Ti version should weighs around 435 grams.
As the saddle is made from genuine leather, the saddle does require special maintenance that is not required by other plastic saddles. Firstly, all Brooks saddles came supplied with a can of Proofide and a waterproof saddle cover. Proofide should be applied every couple of months to condition and to waterproof the saddle. It can be applied on both the topside and underside of the saddle. Underside application is particularly important, as the rear wheel tends throw excessive water at it. Secondly, to protect the saddle, it has to be kept away from rain and moisture. So when riding in the rain or when the saddle is in storage, it is advisable to wrap the saddle with the saddle cover supplied. Lastly, the leather hide will stretch over time giving excessive sag in the middle of the saddle. To prevent this, tensioning of the hide is needed on an annual basis or ad-hoc basis to ensure proper tension is maintained. A special tool, which has to be purchase separately, is needed for the job.
If you have read the previous review on the SaddleCo saddle, it is easy to associate the two saddles. Brooks? leather hide replaces the wire mesh on the SaddleCo, and acts like a suspended hammock supporting the rider?s weight. The only difference is the leather provides a much firmer feel and will conform to the rider?s anatomy over time. The leather, when in use, will tweak its shape when uneven pressure is applied during ride time. Over an extended period, the saddle will mould itself in accordance to the rider?s anatomy to allow the rider?s weight to be evenly distributed across the surface of the saddle, thus eliminating ?hotspots?.
While there are a lot of claims on the importance of ?breaking-in? a Brooks saddle, I personally think the claims are overstated. The B17 feels comfortable right out of the box. Then, my B17 might feel cozy because it has gone through a factory ?aging? process that makes the leather softer than the classic Brooks. However, it does not matter which Brooks saddle you get, the good news is, they are can only get better with time, just like good old wine.
The shape of the saddle feels similar to that of newer generation saddles except for the bigger rear, which really provides excellent support for my bum. While this is excellent for general on the road riding and touring, the wider rear can be irritating during offroad rides, when riders need to transit among various seating position. I have difficulties getting my inner thighs over the wide sides, and was not able to shift as much weight as I like on the rear wheels while going down the slopes. To be fair, the B17 cannot be penalised in this aspect, as it was not designed to be a race saddle. For the racers out there, the Swallow might be your best bet with its narrow profile. The other feature I like on the B17 is the abrupt taper between the rear section and the nose, which ensures a narrow nose throughout its entire length. This transition gives some space between the thigh area and I have ridden the saddle for 120km rides with no scuffing at my thighs. In fact, this is the only saddle that I have ridden so far that gives no soreness after such long rides.
In addition to the great saddle shape, the top leather also provides a unique riding experience. The hide on the B17 is relatively smoother than the covers used on my other saddles. Moving around the saddle is a breeze due to this, but the smoothness is not excessive to the point where you cannot plant your bum on the saddle. For the saddle to work best, I recommend the saddle to be set level or with the nose pointing slightly downwards.
Riding on leather also seems to be cooler. I am not sure whether this is due to the breathable characteristics of leather, the lack of a solid base or because of the three holes punched at the bottom of the saddle, but this is the coolest saddle I have ridden next to the SaddleCo. Last but not least, these saddles are built to last. The average lifespan of a conventional saddle is about 5 years before the cover starts to develop tears. With tender loving care, Brooks saddles can easily serve you for 15 years and more.
If comfort is your number one priority when choosing a saddle and price is not a concern, you cannot go wrong with a Brooks. Do not just test the saddle with your eyes and hands. They feel hard when touched, but this sensation easily disappears under your bum the moment you sit on it. The comfort and coolness provided by the suspended hide plus a well-tested saddle profile is second to none. This is one saddle that allows you to ride for days without getting a sore bum and comfort level will get better with time! As the saying goes, no one saddle is suitable for everyone, true; but the B17 adapts over time.
The B17 might not appeal the racers and techno-weenies. For the racers out there, the B17 is an anchor. The rear is too wide for you to shift your weight around and the comfort is overkill (anyway, you do not get to sit on the saddle too often during an XC race). For the techno-weenies, the retro look of the B17 might be a mismatched on your modern full suspension bikes.
For those who like a maintenance-free bike, the Brooks might also be a hassle to own. Due to the full leather construction, it needs extra care in keeping the saddle dry and well covered with Proofide. Occasionally, the saddle also needs to be tensioned to maintain the tension in the leather hide.