Venerable, humble, perennial, utilitarian—damn, even smooth and sexy for a centenarian —yes, I am talking about a black Brooks B17 saddle. Those in the know (I only recently joined this club of aficionados—but now I can proudly put my finger to the side of my nose in a gesture of knowing) have heard, or have, a Brooks B17 saddle. The saddle has been in production since the late 1890s and its design has changed little: a single piece of saddle leather (5mm thick or more) stretched over a steel frame, and riveted in place.
The B17 does not come out of the box ready to ride. No. Made of leather, it needs to be broken in, like a good pair of shoes, or a baseball glove, or even a horse: it must be coaxed and coddled and molded to an arse. Testimonials on this saddle and how to break it in are immeasurable. Some claim to use an ointment to soften the leather, some claim to just ride a few thousand kilometers, some claim a combination of the two—all claim that it is a modern day abnormality—it is a saddle that improves with age and use—and is built to last.
I spent a good portion of this past season riding on a pillow soft Specialized saddle, thinking that its gel foam pad would give me comfort. It did for shorter rides, but on those longer rides it became annoyingly uncomfortable. Val put it into my head to try using a hard saddle (and Val, of course, could us give the technical elements of why riding on a hard, leather saddle is better on one’s ass on a long ride than sitting on a heavily padded one—Hey Val, here’s a challenge).
So, in this era of gratuitous inventions, I sing the praises of “stuff that works, stuff that holds up/That kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall/ Stuff that’s real” (Guy Clark, “Stuff That Works,” Dublin Blues): the Brooks B17