Wednesday, May 23

Breaking in a Brooks B67 saddle

 Nearly two years ago, I ordered a bike from Oxford Bike Works (which you can read about here) and thought that I would order a Brooks saddle with it. I requested a B17, but only because it seemed that this was the Brooks saddle of choice for most tourers.  

My current bike at the time, a Trek, had a Bontrager saddle on it (see the pic below) which I was very happy with (I'd been fitted for it in my local bike shop) but the idea of having a leather one appealed to me - in particular less sweaty, but also it apparently moulds to the rider's shape - so, as I was getting a new bike I thought that this was the ideal time to try a Brooks saddle.

However, that saddle was so uncomfortable, that after collecting the new bike, I barely made it the 12 or so miles home, even with padded underwear on, so back it went to OBW. I did ask about changing it for another Brooks, as by then I had done my research on them and realized that the  B17 was so uncomfortable for me primarily because it was just too narrow, but the comment was -

 "If you don't like this Brooks saddle then you probably won't like any of them".

I knew this to be nonsense, having discovered that there were many different styles and sizes. I was given instead a fairly decent Velo saddle which enabled me to ride the bike back home again. In fact, the whole OBW bike later went back, which you'll discover if you read that post. 

The next year, to replace the OBW bike, I bought a Koga trekking bike, put the Bontrager saddle on it, and bought another one (almost the same but not quite - as usual the manufacturer had done that thing that manufacturers often do and "fixed what ain't broke"....) for the Trek. Recently both of these saddles began for some reason to feel uncomfortable on quite short journeys. I had previously been able to do 40 miles, at a push, without using the padded underwear but now I could only do about 20, so I looked up the notes I'd made ages ago on the different Brooks saddles, and read again blog posts such as this one by Lovely Bicycle, as well as lots of comments about them on cycling forums, and began to seriously think about buying one. I should add that I later remembered that I had altered the position of the handlebars on the Koga and thought that this might well have affected the comfort of the saddle. When I altered the bars back again (I wasn't that keen on the new position) the saddle seemed to return to normal! The slight discomfort on the Trek's saddle remains inexplicable. [Note on 5.2.19: Discomfort seems to have disappeared on this saddle!] I decided to try a Brooks anyway......

As I said, I had done my research on the different models, which included looking carefully at the measurements of each of them, and then finding out what I could about the rail length as Brooks saddles have short rails. As I have my saddles quite far back I knew this was important and could be a reason for me not to have a Brooks! I emailed Brooks and asked them for the usable length of the rails on the B67 and B67S, which was the model I had decided on. They replied saying - 

B67    7cm

B67S   8cm

The rails on my Bontrager saddles were about 8cm, so logically you might think that I'd have gone for the S model, but to compare lengths -

B67 260mm

B67S 240mm

My Bontrager 262mm

(I'm still trying to fathom out why the S model, i.e. the women's, has got longer rails, when it is shorter!)

I didn't like the idea of having a saddle that was 22mm shorter than my present one, and so I decided on the so-called "male" version, the B67, despite the shorter rails. Incidentally, amongst all the discussion on the subject of Brooks rail length, very little had come up (in my searches anyway) on  the subject of the position of the rails on the saddle, which even I, with a mere one A-level (I took two, but failed one....)  had worked out was as relevant as the length.  

Sit bones 

As I said earlier, I was measured up for the Bontrager saddle, on one of those clever sit on squidgy things they have in bike shops. Although I never knew what measurement it came up with, I was told I needed the largest size of the model, which was 180mm. I didn't give it any thought at the time, but I have since wondered about why my sit bones are quite wide apart, given that I am a slim person. I have since read that your general overall size doesn't indicate your sit bones size, so you can be "small" and have wide apart sit bones, or "big" and have sit bones closer together. I find this all quite fascinating stuff. It reminds me of when I was expecting my first baby, and the doctor asked me the size of my feet -

"What on earth has that got to do with having a baby?!" I thought. 

But he told me that the size of your feet is an indicator of the size of your pelvis and thus would have some bearing (pardon the birth related pun....) on your ability to get the baby out! I have size 7 feet, (which is quite large for someone of my age, though not large for the younger generation) and all four emerged without any major difficulties, so presumably the big feet helped. Thanks Dad! (who had big feet. Is that correct - does foot size come from the father?). 

Anyway, aside from the size 7 feet, I later measured my sit bones using the corrugated cardboard on a stool method - you sit on it and make depressions and then measure from centre to centre. Mine came out at just under 140mm. You need to add on a certain amount to that to get your saddle size - how much depends on your riding position. That gives me an extra 40mm on the Bontrager saddle, which should be plenty, but I must admit I still always feel as if my sit bones are right on the outside edge, but this could be just my impression, and not fact. There is also the fact that some saddles are fairly flat and others are domed, so the measurement of the saddle width alone is not really enough to go by when choosing one that's right for you. Add to this lots of other factors as well, and it all gets very complicated........

However, I decided that the width of the B67, 205mm, should be plenty for me. After all this research, which was thoroughly doing my one A-level head in, I realized that the only way to really find out if this saddle would fit my bike and my derriere, was to buy one. If necessary I could put it up against the current saddle and if I didn't think it would go far enough back, I could send it back.

Bontrager saddle

I bought it from Tredz, who were selling it for £76.99, which was the best price at the time, plus I got £5 off with the discount voucher they sent. Just a few days later they had put the price up to £91.99! (it still is). It took about 10 days to come as they didn't have it in stock, so I had to be patient. When it arrived I looked at the position of the rails on it and in particular at the position of the usable part. I had tried to work this out from photos, but when I actually came to look at the real thing I realized that they did not extend as far forward as they appear to in photos, as the rail begins to curve inwards sooner than is apparent when looking from the side. I meant to take a photo of it underneath before I put it on the bike but forgot, but see the link at the end to a website with a photo of the underneath. Anyway, holding it up to the other saddle, I reckoned that I could probably get it in about the same position, so I went ahead and put it on the bike. If it proved unsatisfactory I wouldn't now be able to send it back, but could always try and sell it on Ebay.

This is where I had the saddle positioned first - as far back as it will go, and more or less level from front to back -

Brooks B67 as first put on the bike

I tried it out on very short rides (longest about 6 miles) and have to say it felt hard and slippery, and particularly because of the slipperiness I felt less in control of the bike than on my other saddle. However, it was nothing like the discomfort of the B17, so I thought that maybe it was just a question of getting it in the right position, and that I would be able to break this one in. I had read other people's accounts of having to get the tilt of the saddle right, and in particular about having it slightly nose up, so that the back of the saddle is level, meaning that your weight is transferred more onto your sit bones.

Here it is after I had altered it to this position, the back of it now level (with the coal bunker - how handy was that!) -

As I later put it on, more nose up

From the rear - just in case that's of any use to anyone

To begin with I didn't even feel able to ride further than up and down the quiet flat road in our village, but then I went out on a ride of about 6 miles, most of it on a road which had been resurfaced last year so I knew wouldn't be too bumpy!

I have since done a lot of pfaffing around with it. I have read that other people have had to do this to get the position just right, in particular regarding tilt, and fore and aft position, though for me regarding the latter it was just a case of having it as far back as it would go. I had been reading so much stuff about saddle position that something made me think that perhaps I had the saddle too high, so I put it down a bit, but then I put it up again, and then again a bit more! I was hoping that this would work for me as I knew that this would also put it slightly further back. Another thing I did was to decide on which of three pairs of shoes I was going to fix the saddle height to, which might sound a bit over the top, but I knew there was quite a difference in the thicknesses of the soles of the three pairs of "flat" shoes that I normally wear for cycling, and that this could then affect the ideal saddle height. Of course, length of foot will make a difference too, which few people mention.

I also tilted the nose just slightly down a bit. After these two adjustments, tilt and height, it is indeed much better and I think I have just about got it dialled in (as they say...) now. Possibly it could even go a bit higher. All this reading, and watching of You Tube videos, makes me realize that you need to take in all the advice but in the end you just have to have the confidence to set the saddle as it feels right for you, and not as someone else says it should be.

This is the position it is in now -

Apologies for this photo not showing the bike in exactly the same position as the one above - I know that would have been more useful for comparison. The piece of white tape witha line on it on the rack was my method of seeing how much the saddle went back when I raised it. I put a tiny mark on the edge of the saddle to line it up with.

Today I managed a ride of about 15 miles (without padding) which is progress! Admittedly it was in three sections, with breaks in between, but the saddle is most definitely improving. I no longer feel like I am going to slide off it. I keep trying to put my fingers under my sit bones when I am riding to try to feel whether they are inside the area of the metal frame, but it's very hard to tell - I'm just hoping that they are, as if they are not and I am riding on the part which is over that metal frame then I will never break it in.

I have now done just over 50 miles on it, and every time I return from a ride I look at the saddle to see if I can see any impressions of my sit bones. Not yet......

The past.....

As an aside, and as someone who often thinks back to the past and the way things were done then, and about how "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!", I have thought a lot about how ALL bikes would once have come with a leather saddle, and probably, in this country anyway, more than likely a Brooks. My first little Raleigh bike that I was given to me for my sixth birthday in the 1960s, probably had a plastic saddle on it, as by then leather saddles were going out of fashion, but my mum's old black bike that I sometimes rode as a teenager, not having a bike of my own at that point, undoubtedly had a leather sprung saddle on it. Every bike I have ridden since then has had a synthetic saddle on it.

Recently the BBC showed a wonderful programme on the Raleigh bike company, and it included this lovely clip of a 10 year old who cycled 100 miles on her bike with her father and cycled home the next day! Wow!!!

Raleigh clip

I'm sure she's got a Brooks saddle on her bike!

I would have loved to ask this lady if she got saddle sore.

And did Billie Fleming when she rode nearly 30,000 miles in 1938? She also must have ridden a leather saddle.Watch this interview with Billie Fleming.

I have read that a lot of cyclists, particularly tourers, using leather saddles do not wear padded shorts, or padded underwear. Padded shorts were only introduced (correct me if I'm wrong) when mountain bikes became popular in the 1980s, and even then it was at first only a chamois lining without padding. Did anyone ever use any kind of padding before this?

Torque wrench

Just to add a little about the tool I have been using to aid me with all this pfaffing. At Christmas I thought -

"Husband would love a torque wrench"

Actually it was more a case of -

"I would love a torque wrench so why don't I buy one for Husband and then I can borrow it!"

After researching them (that's the trouble with the internet - you feel obliged to do a load of research before you buy something!!) I decided on this X-Tools Essential Torque Wrench kit from Wiggle, which I see has now gone up by £5 since I bought it. Previously I had just used Allen keys but had always been a bit unsure about whether I was tightening things up enough, or maybe too much, so felt that a torque wrench would give me the certainty that I was tightening bolts etc the correct amount. I find it easy to use, and despite some reviewers saying that they didn't always hear the vital click that shows you when you have reached the correct torque, I always do.

Torque wrench kit

Some useful links -

Bocage Biking (useful photo of underneath a Brooks B67)
Lovely Bicycle! (who is not writing about bikes any more but search her site for articles on saddles) (Very informative article!)

There was another very good article on Brooks saddles that I came across, but unfortunately in the midst of all this research our computer went on the blink and I lost all my "favourites", and I can't now find it.

That was a bit of a marathon post. I'll stop there.....

What is your experience of saddles??