Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Brooks Saddles - Worth It?

Some quick comments on my last post about Brooks saddles have given me the idea of pumping my readers for information. You are few but mighty, and I want your help deciding some stuff.

Brooks saddles are legendary in the cycling world (among others), but I've been reluctant to fork out the money. As you may or may not know, I'm in the beginning stages of building a light touring bike on a 1988/89 Trek 520 frame. Since this is the bike I am most likely to spend long hours on, I'm thinking my choice is a little more important than on other bikes I've built.

I'm writing this in an effort to collect unbiased feedback from "normal" people, rather than just buying one, regardless of cost, because they're "the best". If you have never had a Brooks saddle, please refrain from commenting on them, since what I'm after here is first-hand experience rather than "common knowledge". If you've got a different touring saddle you love, though, bring it on! I'm guessing this stuff has been discussed ad nauseam on lots of bike forums, but frankly, I'm not as interested in the opinions of total strangers. I've come to learn a lot about how and where and for how long many of you ride, and I trust you more. There's that, and of course I am afraid of falling back into Cycling Forum Hell. It took me forever to recover last time, and I never want to write a post that long again.

Some questions I've got:

Are there any other saddles that come awful close at half the price?

Are there particular models well suited to a "speedy touring" style? I hope to remove the racks and panniers sometimes and ride this bike fast once in a while. I don't see myself investing in a full-out road bike, so this one will probably be it.

If one accepts that Brooks saddles are way better, are they so much better that their cost is warranted?

One last note: Please just go full out with your own opinions; boss me around! I'll make up my own mind, but I'm not interested in diplomacy. I don't want to end up with a bunch of comments that contain "I am sure you would be happy with your choice..." or "It really depends on your personal preference". I know that. I want to hear about your preference, and why.

If you are in a position to comment, please accept my thanks in advance. I really appreciate your help in this matter.

Three cheers for the Hive-Mind! Rah! Rah! Rahhh!



Keri said...

The first time I saw a Brooks, I thought it was surely a retrogrouch fashion statement. How could something that hard be comfortable? But over the years, I've met more and more touring cyclists who swore by them. It seemed wrong to put one on a carbon road bike, but when I got the Surly, that was my opportunity to try it. It was a big outlay and I wasn't sure... but I went for it.

I got the B17S (lady's).

I took it to my favorite bike fitter at Orange Cycle — a different shop from the one where I bought it (but I've bought a lot of bikes from Orange, though). He knocked his knuckles on it and laughed. Said he'd used them years ago and they were never comfortable. The bike shop owner said the same. He said "we used to soak them in water to try and break them in. They never broke in." Hmm. Did I fall for the retrogrouch fashion statement after all?

Since my primary use was commuting, I was never on the saddle for more than 45 minutes at a time. It never hurt me. When I moved closer to the office I stopped wearing bike shorts. It still didn't bother me. I'd run errands all day, no problem. The only time it felt really hard was on a particularly slow critical mass ride.

When I started out on our tour in July, I had never ridden more than 30 miles in a day on it, and that was doing errands. The saddle wasn't quite broken in.

First day, my sit-bones were a little sore at the end of the day. The next morning I got on the bike expecting to be uncomfortable. It was the strangest thing to sit down and feel... comfortable. The saddle was broken in. I can't explain the feeling... it fit like a glove. The saddle feels hard to touch it, but where my sit-bones hit the saddle, it has a little give.

It was like this the rest of the trip. Every day I'd sit on the saddle and just be completely comfortable. Everything else hurt, not my butt.

I've done quite a few week-long tours on road bikes with modern saddles. I've used Serfas, Terry, and several models of Specialized. I have always had a sore butt from day 2 on, until it went numb. I've also had to develop all kinds of tricks to treat and prevent saddle sores. This trip, no saddle sores and no prevention — not even chamois buttr.

There you are, friend. That's my endorsement. Was planning to put it on one of my tour report segments, may still, but didn't want to make you wait :-)

Don't know anything about other brands, but I love my Brooks.

Steve A said...

In response to Rantwick questions:

Yes. Some of them are even made by Brooks. Go to eBay and buy an old Brooks your Grampa might have used. Velo Orange also has new ones that are like Brooks for a lot less.

For speedy touring, I'd suggest something without springs. That energy should be going into the pedals instead of making the seat bounce.

Brooks are merely the survivor of an era when most saddles were that way. I have a Wright's saddle on my wife's bike. It's very comfy. Brooks purchased Wright's. Other than the name, they're virtually identical.

Brooks made some lousy saddles along with the expensive ones. I've got a plastic Brooks, complete with cheap vinyl cover. I guarantee it's affordable. Maybe even free, along with the Bott's Dot. Like the Dot, you have to come pick it up.

Frankenbike will have a Brooks saddle someday. It came with the Wright's saddle. It'll have copper rivets and maybe even the titanium rails. I love the honey, but black is truer to the bike's heritage.

Get one and make sure you put so many miles on it that you forget about the price. It's much cheaper than a tuneup for the Porsche. They also get comfier, the more miles you put on them.

They also look classier than hot pink brake cable housing...

Steve A said...

In all honesty, I'm not the best source about saddle info. My behind seems to do well with almost anything more comfy than a bare seatpost.

The Wright's saddle that Frankenbike was sold with is, however, the most comfortable saddle we own. I notice it instantly every time I ride that saddle.

I think Eugene Sloane had it right - leather saddles wear in and plastic ones (even plastic with leather covering) wear out.

Do NOT, as Keri heard, soak the leather saddle in water. You CAN use leatherique to help speed up the break-in period. Entirely by coincidence, Leatherique is also great for Jaguar seats.

RANTWICK said...

Holy speedy response times, batman! Thank you all, including ChipSeal who emailed me, for these responses. I'm guessing I'll see more...

Keri, special thanks for your in-depth insight. Don't worry about using it again on your blog; few people will see it here first!

Doohickie said...

I have a Brooks on my 1966 Raleigh DL-1. It's the original saddle, a B72. Based on the bike, it was ridden quite a bit. Although it has surface cracks, it's still intact and is very comfortable. It was well broken in when I got it.

The best description I can come up with is that it's like riding on a hammock for your butt.

That said, is it worth the money? I have a hard time justifying a new Brooks, or even a Velo Orange clone, for my other bikes. Don't get me wrong; I would love to have one. Just not at the price I could get one for.

My butt is pretty tolerant too, so maybe I'm not the best source for the relative comfort of the saddle.

RANTWICK said...

Oh ye of the tolerant butt: thanks for the input!

GreenComotion said...

Dear Rantwick,
Here is my $.02.

While I did not have a color TV, a computer, or other fancy electronics to play with when I grew up, I had plenty of two things: 1) plenty of books to read and 2) enough food. I am thankful to my parents for these.

The other thing that I grew up with, and I am not kidding you, is a Brooks saddle. The only bike I had as a kid was my dad's bike. I used to ride it even as a little boy, positioning myself into the triangle made up by the top tube, the seat tube and the bottom tube :) We used to call this monkey-pedaling.

Eventually, when I grew taller/my butt reached the saddle, it did sit on a nice Brooks B-33 (I am pretty sure that's the model). I rode countless number of miles on this bike.

I think from that point on till I moved to Canada, I rode the heck out of this bike.

This bike, a Raleigh Roadster, is still around. It's under my cousin's care. It's still got the Brooks B-33 saddle. It is at least 50 years old, I think. It may be older. The B-33 has torn a bit in the rear by the rivets and we had a cobbler stitch it up for us.

My guess is this ole saddle will probably last another 20 years or so.

We never used any leather conditioners on it. No proofide or any of today's fancy leather creams! It got rained on, the sun beat on it relentlessly. We didn't have any frost or snow back where I grew up. But to say the least, the B-33 was exposed to some really bad elements of weather.

So, when I got a real job and could afford more than one burrito at a time, I decided to get a Brooks saddle for my Cannondale Road Warrior 400, I bought a B-67. This later got transferred to my current commuter, the Cannondale T-800.

Later for the GCMA, I bought a B-135.

Rantwick, I did not buy these saddles to show off. I bought them because they keep my donkey happy :)

I ride in regular shorts, pants, non-padded kind. I don't use that Chamois Buttr stuff either.

I do get sore if I ride over 85 miles or so, not in my donkey but general, overall soreness, the kind you take some anti-inflammatory pills for.

While I have not gone on an official unsupported bike tour, I have ridden a bunch, even on consecutive days.

I would prefer not to settle for anything other than a nice Brooks saddle, if I can have my way!!

Brooks are pricey, I do not deny it. But you would not find me drooling at a 159" Plasma TV either :)

While Brooks are pricey, I have seen the B-17s on sale at Bike Nashbar from time to time. Used ones are probably available on ebay as well!

Steve is right on the money! There are non-Brooks leather saddles available. Velo Orange has their own line. I believe now Gilles Berthoud has his own line of saddles as well. Wallinford Bicycles carries both Brooks and Gilles!

In addition to these, there are Brooks knock-offs, which you can probably buy for a fraction of the price. I am NOT suggesting these!

Keri has provided some really good advice also. Yes, there are a lot of theories about how to break in a Brooks saddle! I believe the best way to break them in is to ride on'em a lot!

As far as selection of sprung v. non-sprung saddle goes, if you want to be like a racer dude, I would say go with the B-17 or the Swallow. These do not have springs.
You could even buy ones with Titanium rails ($$$!!!).

If you care more about your donkey than the speed at which you ride, like me, then go for sprung versions of Brooks (or other reputable brands). Get one of these saddles, ride your bike around UWO and enjoy the cushion-y ride!!

Peace :)

PS. I hope you don't bar me from your blog for writing so much!

RANTWICK said...

Chandra - Bar you? Are you kidding? Thanks very much for the whole post. I love learning stuff about the people who read my stuff. Plus, what kind of donkey would ban such a pleasant and peaceful soul as yourself? Not this one.

GreenComotion said...

Thanks, Rantwick! Now, go get a saddle from ebay or something!!

Peace :)

baldsue said...

Four out of five of my bikes have Brooks saddles. Yes, they're worth every penny I paid. However, they squeak occasionally, providing me the challenge to find out what is causing the squeak. Not so fun.

But I endure because of the comfort. I ride my bike 30+ miles every day and wouldn't be able to spend so much time in the saddle if it weren't for my Brooks--(2) B67s, B17s, Champion Flyer S

No other saddle has come close to the comfort I've experienced with my Brooks. Each saddle took about 500 miles riding to reach ultimate comfort. One saddle got soaked in a downpour and I let it dry after reshaping it.

As Doochickie said, they're like hammocks for your butt bones. This was proven to me when I saw my drenched, deformed saddle after a 20-mile ride, the last 16 miles in a pouring rain.

A word of advice, and maybe this is true of all saddles: Don't wear undies under your bike shorties if you're going to travel more than 20 miles in a shot.

Todd S. said...

I have a Champion Flyer - the B17 with springs. I have another saddle on the way for a new bike I'm building. This one is a Cardiff - Brooks clone. We'll see the difference.

For the Brooks I have, I forget that it's there. My break-in period was pretty short. About 20 miles I'd say. Break-in may take longer in the winter when you're not sweating on the saddle ;) The sit area does indeed fit me like a glove. For that reason though, you'll never find a used Brooks, and if you do you'll not want to get it.

As for the cost, the B17 standard (which is the saddle most folks get) is about the same as 2 pairs of decent bike shorts. Less than 2 pairs of high-end bike shorts. And you only need one, whereas you have to change your shorts a little more frequently :)

Surprisingly, Nashbar carries them, and they frequently have 10-20% off deals to make it even cheaper. Personally I wouldn't get the "special" edition saddles as the differences are mostly cosmetic.

Some more affordable competitors are: Cardiff http://www.cardiffltd.com/ and Persons http://www.permaco.com/ . VO has nice ones as well, but I think they might be made by Cardiff and the Cardiff ones are cheaper.

Psyclepathic said...

I can't speak for the comfort of a Brooks as mine is not broken in, yet. Initially, I made it ridable by using Brook saddle treatment stuff and massaging it with my forearm for a few minutes a day over a week or two.

I am here to give you hope for a price that won't set back your other plans for the build. I picked my brand new B17 with chromo rails for... wait for it... $27 at an end of season sale. You and I, we live in a climate where bike shops switch to ski shops for half the year. All that bike stuff has to go some where. The general plan for it is to send it to your house for a fraction of the cost. Keep your eyes peeled for end of season stuff at your local LBS('s).

jeff said...

My brother is old school, rides a Rivendell he put together, and when I bought a hybrid way back, he sent me a Brooks that he'd found on sale. I got another when I bought my Surly. I bought the Brooks leather cream and rode enough to break-in the saddle. It's the most comfortable I've ever ridden. Centuries, week-long tours, I don't have one on my Madone (that would be wrong) but I'm a fan of Brooks.

Andrew said...

I have B17s on both my bikes: a Devinci Stockholm commuter and a
Rivendell Canti-Rom.

I tried one on the Devinci as the stock saddle was killing me. Everthing I read said the Brooks would be murder until it was broken in, but I found it comfortable right out of the box. I didn't try any of the break in tricks like neatsfoot oil & the like. I proofide (the Brooks 'magic' leather treatment) twice a year. My can of proofide is 5 years old now, a little goes a long way.

I ride in bike shorts, regular pants and shorts and the saddles work for me.

On my second B17 for the Canti-Rom, I had a squeak that turned out to be from the nose of the saddle where it contacts the frame. A couple of drops of lube looked after it.

If you like to set your saddle way back on the seat post, you may have some trouble as the rails don't allow a whole lot of fore-aft adjustment. You can compensate with a seat post with lots of setback.

If you ride in wet weather, I suggest proofiding the bottom of the saddle, and to use fenders on your bike. I carry a plastic bag stuffed between the rails of the saddle if it's really pouring to cover the saddle. Of course most of the time your butt will be covering the saddle.

I've never had to tension either of my saddles.

RANTWICK said...

Holy Cow! Thanks for all who posted comments. I couldn't have asked for better or more complete feedback.

Baldsue: You are definitely right about the undies, and that goes for any saddle. Wearing underwear and bike shorts completely defeats their purpose.

Rollz said...

I have a question to all the posters. I also have been looking at buying a brooks saddle for a fuji s-10-s.You talk about them being broke in and fitting like a glove. My problem is my "donkey" changes size through the winter months. Will it still fit when the weather breaks in the spring? Sorry Rantwick for using your blog to ask more questions.

RANTWICK said...

Rollz - No problem! That's what the comments section is for! I'm guessing and stand tobe corrected, but your perenium and "sit bones" aren't going to change, so the important bits of the saddle that get worked in should be just fine.

Ed W said...

Sure, I'm coming into this late, but here's my $0.02. Try to find a used Brooks in a local shop or on your local Craigslist before going to ebay. Ask on local email lists. Someone may loan you one.

I've used the Brooks Professional and B17, as well as the much older Ideale 90. The B17 fit best, and I'd like to get another, but I have 2 Professionals in the garage right now, so there's no hurry. I've found that my butt tends to slide forward on the Pro if I have it level, so I tilt the nose slightly upward. In any other saddle, that causes numbness, but it hasn't been the case with the Pro. Dunno why. And I HATE having numb naughty bits.

GhostRider said...

Looks like I'll be the lone dissenter here (a role I'm quite comfortable with) -- I don't like Brooks saddles. Yeah, I said it. I've tried and tried -- and some of my first "real" bike experiences were aboard a bike with a Brooks B17 and later a Swallow.

It never broke in to the shape of my sit bones...and hurt me like nobody's business.

For my own personal anatomy, I've found that for a lengthy ride, nothing beats a WTB SST saddle (old or new models). That's just me, though, and you can see that thousands of folks swear by Brooks. There must be SOMETHING to them, but my anatomy just doesn't agree.

RANTWICK said...

GhostRider - Dissent is very good, especially when based on experience, which is what I asked for. Thanks!

BikeBoy said...

I have a B17 on my daily-commute bike, which also happens to be my long-distance touring bike. It's by far my most comfy saddle for multi-day trips; given what high-end saddles (with gel, unobtainium rails, etc.) are now selling for, a Brooks seems almost reasonably priced!

Ditto Ed W's comment about slightly nose-up seeming to work best. It looks funny to my eye, but the proof is in the comfort.

It didn't take long for my saddle to break in; I had to add a bit of tension after a couple of years, as it was getting a little slouchy. I dab a bit of Proofide on the saddle a couple times a year, and it has kept my B17 looking nice, and seems to help protect it from sweat and sun.

Only downside to a Brooks, in my opinion, is the need to keep it out of the rain. I keep a couple of plastic grocery bags tucked in with my spare tube, in case I need one.

RANTWICK said...

BikeBoy raises a good point... how bad is it for a Brooks to get wet? As some of you may know, I will ride in just about any weather. Is the saddle safe enough with me on it? What about a real deluge? And is any damage permanent?

Apertome said...

I have to admit, I have not read all the other responses. Found your blog through Big Oak Bikes, btw.

I have a Brooks B17. This thing is amazing. Here is what my experience has been. Yours may differ.

1. At first, I was very frustrated. I found the Brooks saddle had to be a just the right fore/aft position, and just the right angle, or it was uncomfortable. It took quite a while for me to find the right position. And even though some people say they don't need break-in time, I found that in my case, it took a while to break in.

2. HOWEVER, once I got everything figured out, the saddle was amazing. The right height, angle, and forward/back position, the saddle was more comfortable than any other saddle I've ever ridden.

3. Gradually, as I rode more and more on my Brooks, I started doing more and more rides in normal clothes. I discovered that padded shorts are really optional. At first just for short rides, but now I have done rides up to 65 miles, 15 of them gravel, on this thing without padded shorts.

Last weekend I did a ride with the padded shorts again and I was wishing I hadn't worn those shorts. In all fairness, they weren't my favorite shorts when I did wear biking shorts more often.

The Brooks saddles may be expensive, but I have found that mine was completely worth it.

I suggest you buy a Brooks. I bought mine from Wallingford Bicycle Parts because they have an unconditional 6-month satisfaction guarantee on all Brooks saddles. If you're not satisfied, you can send your saddle back within 6 months for a refund. I don't work there or anything, I am just a satisfied customer. You should also get the maintenance kit which comes with proofide, a polishing cloth, and a wrench.

You could try a knockoff (I believe Rivendell actually has some now) or one of the Velo Orange saddles (which look very nice). But I say if you're going to do it, do it right and get the Brooks.

Apertome said...

Also, a Brooks will do just fine in light rain. I got caught out in a deluge for a couple of hours recently and my saddle is fine. It took a while to dry, and I didn't ride on it while it was drying. The surface seemed a little weird but after applying proofide it is back to normal. I think it might have suffered a little damage, but it seems to be fine.

However, I wished I had a bag or some way of covering it. I try to keep it out of a downpour when I can.

RANTWICK said...

Apertome - thanks for your observations, especially the one about not being wrecked by rain. I will, of course endeavour to protect the saddle if I get one.

Anonymous said...

I spend a lot of time on bikes. It is my only mean of transportation in cities, especially in Turin, Paris, Milan. I do have a bike in each city. Lately, i bought an old 50's bike, bought it for the rear weel, with a turmey archer stopbrake. It was covered of rust, and the saddle was coverd with pigeons degrets, mud, etc. I cleaned it out , before trowing it away. It was a brooks b-17 sport saddle. I tried it about 6 months later. It was too heavvy, i thought, for my sleek sporty bikes. Once i tried it, i started moving it on every bike i had. Nothing is like riding on it, All my carbon, or italian or high teck saddles went in the garage. Finally, exasperated by mounting and dismounting the same saddle on all the bikes, i bought a new one. The firs impact was traumatic, it had no similarity with the one i was using. But i read about breaking in, and i did it (some long rides) and now it is almost exactly as the other. In some years will be at its best, and my children and the children of my children will ride on it with incredible unparalleled confort.

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