Friday, January 7, 2011

The Joy of Leather

I took a leap of faith in 1999 when I installed a new Brooks B-17 Special (available from Rivendell Bicycles, here) onto my mountain bike for my commuting experiment. I’d gotten several thousand miles of comfortable use out of the same model on long-distance tours but I wasn’t sure how the material would hold up to the rigors and extremes of daily, year-round commuting, particularly rain and freezing temperatures. But things turned out really well! It was soon clear that the saddle was not going to disintegrate or stiffen into some kind of unrideable mass. It was comfortable, just like my original leather saddle; and as time went on, showed no unusual wear or fatigue. Indeed to the contrary, constant use seems to preserve the material rather than degrade it, and after 12 years and some 28,000 miles of all-weather use the leather looks no more worn than simply “broken-in”. Have a look:

Apparently the best thing you can do for a leather saddle is to ride it all the time. What I figure is, sure, the saddle is outdoors a couple hundred days every year, in scorching sun, drenching rain and temperatures ranging from 12 to 103 degrees – but I’m always sitting on it. And while that’s not a place I’d care to occupy for a couple hundred of hours every year, the constant 98 degree temperature, shade, shelter and gentle buffing provided by my – well, netherlands – seems to suit the saddle perfectly.

Otherwise the saddle is undemanding. I store the bike indoors out of the sun and the rain. When the saddle gets wet I let it dry on its own schedule (usually just overnight). Maybe once a year I’ll slather it with Brooks Proofride and let it sit for a few hours before buffing it with a cloth. The only problem I’ve ever had is breaking the tensioning bolt at the nose end a couple of times; but it’s a cheap part and the folks at College Park Bicycles know how to reinstall it.

So. I love this saddle, and recommend it highly. Its comfortable, durable, and easy to maintain. At this point I will probably be disappointed if I don’t wring 25 years and 50,000 miles from this $145 purchase.


  1. My brand new Velo Orange Model 8 saddle just arrived in the mail this week. Wow, it's like a piece of art with it's chrome rails and springs. I'm replacing my rather ugly vinyl sprung "tractor" saddle that came on my Torker Cargo T last year. I'm not looking forward to the break-in period but overall I'm hoping the leather saddle will be more comfortable and perhaps a little cooler in the summertime. Time will tell.