The Brooks B17 Standard Saddle.
When I started cycletouring I had one of the latest gel filled anatomic wonders which I thought was the bees knees. On Cycletouring Club runs I would wonder at the weird selection of Brooks leather saddles the other members sported. Many were hideously deformed into parodies of their owners nether regions, grotesque twisted shapes from a modern art gallery. Their owners had had them for years and lovingly dubbined them until they looked as though they were made of polished teak. The thought of actually riding one of these monstrosities was enough to make me wince, but one day a fellow club member persuaded me to swap bikes for a run. Revalation, "The road to Damascus"- this was why these old guys searched scrap yards for leather saddles. Suddenly for the first time I found myself truly comfortable on the bike, the thing was like a hammock, gently cosseting those areas that Gel doesn't reach. So a week later found my shiny new lightweight tourer kitted out with a refugee from the last century, and me wondering how long this thing would take to break in!
So there's the story of my conversion to the Brooks cause, and it's a conversion that sooner or later almost all British touring cyclists go through, both men and women. When Breton Bikes was set up there was only one choice of saddle I could make, and now I regularly have to beat customers off with a stick while they try to buy the - now eight year old - saddles that they have fallen in love with on their holiday.
Brooks have been making saddles for over 125 years now, and the B17 is as traditional as they come. It is as heavy as hell, mine tips the scales at 550 grms, due to a hefty steel frame needed to stretch 5mm thick saddle leather tightly over it - And of course ownership of a Brooks is a unique experience. With any other saddle it's simply a case of fitting it to the seatpost and riding it. The comfort and condition of the saddle will then slowly (or quickly in some cases) deteriorate until a couple of years later you bin it and buy a new one. With a Brooks it is the first few weeks that are the make or break of the relationship. Like a top quality pair of walking boots, Brooks need to be broken in. To buy a new one and then immediately use it for a tour is asking for trouble. In truth the difficulty of this breaking in period is exaggerated. A new Brooks has a good shape, and though initially hard as teak it quickly eases to bearable... I personally speed this process by wiping the saddle with damp cloth until it becomes soft, then I ride it until it dries. Do this a few times and it will take your shape more quickly. Brooks don't like you doing this as they say it loses the saddles shape, but I'm all for speeding the process up! As the saddle breaks in the slack can be taken up by turning a hefty (that word again) nut and bolt arrangement at the front of the saddle.
Although Brooks will cope with a huge amount of neglect and abuse, to get the best from it the saddle needs regular, perhaps once a month, applications of Proofide, neatsfoot oil, or dubbin, this helps it soften and resist rain. Don't overdo this, some people soak their saddles in oil, but I find this weakens the leather, and treatment is better little and often. After a couple of months you will have the most comfortable saddle you will ever ride, custom built for you, by you! To add icing to the cake the saddle will then last for many years, generally longer than a bike and often longer than their owners. Eventually the leather will split, I have seen ancient cycletourists almost in tears at the demise of a loved and cherished friend, or perhaps it's anticipation of the breaking in of another Brooks!