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Rethinking the Brooks

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

For a long time, I loved my Brooks B17 leather saddle. Lately, it’s becoming less comfortable, and less practical.


Here are the problems I’m having.

  • The leather is sagging. I’ve tried tensioning. I’ve tried lacing up the sides. I can make some improvements, but it’s not enough. The saddle simply isn’t as comfortable as it was when I got it. I will probably try tensioning it more, but at this point I am resigned to the possibility that the saddle may never be as comfortable as it once was.
  • The dye has started to stain my clothes. I wouldn’t care if I only wore bike shorts on the Long Haul Trucker, where the Brooks resides. But I commute on that bicycle. I have to be able to wear normal clothes on it without staining. I have been riding with the saddle cover on, but this scuffs up the surface of the saddle, and it’s not as comfortable.
  • If it rains, I have to worry about whether the saddle is covered, or make sure the bike is indoors. For a commuting bicycle, this isn’t very practical.
  • I can’t seem to get the saddle angle set correctly. The angle I need changes as the leather stretches. I realize this could be rectified with a better seatpost, but given all the other problems I’m having, I can’t justify spending money on a new seatpost. It’d be money much better spent on a new saddle.

Maybe I’m asking too much. I’ve put somewhere around 8,000 miles on this saddle. But, I have read stories of people who use their Brooks saddles for decades. I can’t understand how that can possibly work, given the issues I am having. Am I doing something wrong? Or, maybe I’m just too heavy to expect more than this? Would a “normal” saddle last longer?

Meanwhile, the synthetic saddle on the Bianchi is working great. I had only minimal discomfort during a couple of century rides, and the Ride Across Indiana. I don’t have to worry about getting it wet, or staining anything. Maybe it’s time to get another saddle like that one. It doesn’t look nearly as good, and doesn’t have the same appeal, but I’m starting to think it’s more practical.

For what it’s worth, that saddle is a Selle Italia X2.

2010.7.18 038

I should point out that the Brooks normally gets ridden in normal clothes, whereas the I usually have bike shorts on when I ride the Selle Italia.

Despite its recent problems, I seem to have a certain, irrational attachment to the Brooks. It’s served me very well until recently, and I’ve been very reluctant to give it up. When I bought it, I felt like I was buying much more than just a comfortable saddle. I loved the idea behind the leather saddles, the entire aesthetic, the workmanship, etc. I like the way the bag goes with the saddle, and it all goes with the bike. I like the way the saddle ages, as if it has stories to tell.

The Selle Italia is just a fairly comfortable saddle, nothing more.

What should I do?

13 Responses to “Rethinking the Brooks”

  1. Chris Says:

    “What should I do?”

    From reading your post, I couldn’t find any drawbacks to the Selle Italia (looks maybe?). Unless I’m missing something, I don’t understand why there is a question. Why not duplicate the saddle that is working perfectly?

    That said, I’ve found that there is some variability, even within the same model, in Brooks saddles. Some seem to retain their shape (sag less rapidly) longer than others. I have not analyzed why this is the case.

  2. Apertome Says:

    Yeah, I guess you’re right. And I guess I didn’t explain myself very well. I updated the post to better reflect the problem. I still think the Selle Italia is the way to go, but it’s odd how disappointing it feels to give up the Brooks.

  3. Bill Lambert Says:

    Maybe it is the individual saddle. I’ve been using Proofide on mine, and while the leather is supple, it hasn’t sagged much at all after 2,500 miles. I have tensioned it 3 times, but is still ok. I have a lower end Specialized saddle that works well, even on centuries. You need to go with what feels best.

  4. Apertome Says:

    Thanks Bill, I was in the same boat after 2500 miles, even 5,000-6,000 miles. But the last 2,000 miles or so it’s gone steadily downhill. I haven’t done anything differently, in terms of taking care of it.

  5. Myles/ rattrappress Says:

    If it’s not comfortable anymore then sell it. Sure it looks great but for me at least, comfort takes priority. There are plenty of people out there that would be happy to take it off your hands.

    Lately I’ve noticed that the brown dye is staining my clothing. It’s probably due to profuse sweating in 100 degree plus temperatures. I’ve been wearing dark colored shorts for that reason.

  6. Steve A Says:

    My Wright’s saddle is still fine and it’s 40 years old. I’ve never tensioned it. It also doesn’t stain my clothing, but your Brooks sure LOOKS a lot better. I have a white Specialized saddle on my commuter bike and a Kevlar Serfas on my road bike. Both of them are nice as well. I guess I’ve been blessed with most of my saddles…

  7. Doug Says:

    I had many of the same issues with my Brooks saddle. I also loved the look of it on my LHT. The LHT never looked better. But I gave up mine after only 3,000 miles. I tweaked it and tweaked it and never got it right.

    When I built up my Cross Check in 2005, I threw on a Velo saddle that had come on my wife’s Bianchi Strada. It’s a cheap 20 dollar saddle. I didn’t have much money to spend on that bike at the time. She had replaced it with a woman’s specific Terry saddle. I still love that saddle after 25,000 miles. It is so comfortable it’s seems ridiculous.

    After the Brooks saddle I’ve decided how I can tell if I like a saddle or not. If I can go out for a ride and never know the saddle is there, then that’s a good saddle. The most comfortable saddles seem to disappear under me. I don’t have to think about them. And I don’t have to constantly reposition myself. You shouldn’t have to think about a saddle while it’s under you.

    Currently I have a WTB Rocket V on my LHT and a WTB SST on my Ellis. Both work extremely well for me.

    I went with comfort over looks. That’s what I would suggest to you.

  8. John Says:

    I have a B67 on my commuter which is now the daily get around town bike. A B17 on my touring bike and the saddle that came with the bike on my Felt Road Bike.

    I can vouch that the B17 is great for touring. I did try it on my road bike a few years ago and ended up putting the original saddle back on. My new road bike has one similar to your Selle and I am happy with all three set ups.

  9. David Crowell Says:


    I’m in the same situation with my Brooks. It’s bad enough now that I removed it from the bike, because even commuting with it was causing numbness. I was just going to lace it, but now after reading your post, I don’t know that it would be a long-term fix.

    I guess it’s time for the great saddle-hunt again. 🙂

  10. Dale Says:

    Let’s see…a growing preference for a fast(er) road bike…long rides with attention paid to overall average speed…now the probable moving away from the Brooks? The only real question is – are you shaving your legs yet?!?

  11. Apertome Says:

    Dale … haha, not going to happen!

  12. Errin Says:

    Saddles are tough. I have a friend that can’t use the Brooks for even a short ride. I’ve been able to use mine for longer rides, but now I’ve started to find the limit too. I tried WTB Rocket V and the SST and I didn’t like them, but that was a while ago. They may be worth trying again soon.

    Do you use chamois cream too? I’ve found that to be a huge help. It keeps the saddle comfortable for much longer than would be possible without it.

  13. Apertome Says:

    Erinn, if I can get my Brooks back to the right shape, it’ll probably be good for longish rides again, but the staining problem I can’t seem to get around.

    I use Chamois Butter and it definitely helps. But again for commuting I don’t need anything like that, just a saddle that’s comfortable enough and won’t stain (at least in the short term).

    On the other hand, the Trucker hasn’t been on any longer rides lately, but it still will be used for some, so whatever I use needs to be long-ride-friendly. I like my Selle Italia, so that may be the answer, but I also want to add one to my mountain bike. I just bought one additional Selle Italia, I might need to buy another. Money’s a little tight so I’m trying to spread out the cost.

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