By Ed Pavelka
- Conforms to your anatomy
- Wide, supportive sit-bone area
- The traditional touch to a touring bike
- Needs lengthy break-in period
- Leather requires special care
- Looks wrong on hot bikes
Price: $60-$95 (steel rails), $155 (titanium rails)
Weight: 540g (steel), 440g (Ti)
Source: bike shops, Rivendell Bicycles, Harris Cyclery
How obtained: cold cash
RBR advertiser: no
Tested: 2 years
Editor’s Note: This is an older review from quite a while back, but it still remains just as relevant as the classic B17 saddle itself that’s still for sale and still has lots and lots of fans around the world.
We don’t pretend to think you’ll put this saddle on your sub-20-pound Sunday road machine. Heck, it’s at least twice as heavy and 10 times as clunky as the seat you’re now using.
But on some bikes, it belongs. And for comfort on long rides, you may never sit on anything better.
The Brooks B17 is one of the oldest models from an English company That’s been making leather bike seats for 138 years. For decades, the B17 has been a favorite of tourists and long-distance aficionados around the world. For years, we’ve known this. Until recently, we ignored it.
Then in early 2001, I arrived at the PAC Tour Endurance Cycling Camp in Arizona with a cyst right where I sit. It promised to make the 600-mile week hell on wheels. Camp director Lon Haldeman came to the rescue with a broken-in B17 he kept in the support van for just such an emergency. By the end of the week, the cyst not only hadn’t been a problem, it was actually healing. Of course, the antibiotics helped, too.
That week sold me on the B17. I came home and ordered three from the largest U.S. retailer, Rivendell Bicycles. I bought the gray $155 Ti-rail model and two of the $95 “deluxe,” honey-colored steel-rail models. I was ready to put those babies on my three most-ridden bikes and enjoy butt bliss forevermore.
A Hard Lesson
Then I made a big mistake. A new B17 is as hard as a pro’s glutes. It might as well be made of concrete. you’ve probably heard this about leather saddles. But I’d been told about a special break-in procedure that would dramatically reduce the purgatorial period. It involved dunks in simmering water followed by short trainer rides. Sounded good. Worked bad.
Real bad. Without even one ride outside, I managed to turn my brand-new Ti B17 into something resembling a pancake on rails. That was one expensive mistake. don’t try it.
To break in a B17, all you really need to do is ride it. Not every day right away, and not for long periods. But its shape is supportive enough tomake hour-long rides doable right off the bat. Keep at it for several weeks and the miracle of leather happens. Like a good pair of shoes or a baseball glove, the B17 softens in just the right places to mold itself to your anatomy. As that happens, comfort increases with saddle time.
Sounds like hype, I know. But in the last month, I’ve done two rides of 250 miles. I’ve been amazed to find that hours go by without any thought of how my butt’s doing. (My feet, now that’s a different story.)
The “deluxe” B17 has slightly thicker leather than the standard steel-rail version ($60) and it’s finished nicer with beveled edges. It also has big, shiny copper rivets. Fred decided on the cheaper model after listening to me glow all spring, and he’s now breaking it in on his Rivendell Rambouillet. it’s a saddle that looks just right on that long-haul bike. Like me, he’s found that the initial hardness isn’t a problem on short rides. In fact, he’s already up to three-and-a-half hours.
Unlike with plastic-shell seats having synthetic covers, leather saddles need special care for a long, happy life. Brooks sells a $6 conditioner called Proofide to prevent the leather from drying too much and cracking. This salve can also be rubbed into a brand-new saddle to shorten the break-in period. Well, maybe a little.
As the saddle conforms to one’s butt and the miles pile up, the leather will eventually begin to sag. So, a tension bolt is provided under the nose. A half turn every 6-12 months should be all it takes.
Rainy rides are the big threat. Sitting on a soaked saddle can flatten it like I flattened mine during that disastrous break-in attempt. You shouldn’t expose the B17 to rain (on rides or car roofs) without putting on a waterproof cover. Rivendell sells one for $15 but it has seams that could leak. On a rainy ride, you can stay seated to protect the top, but spray from the rear wheel will douse the underside if you don’t have a rear rack or fenders. Many touring bikes do. So do the bikes sporting my two surviving B17s.
Cyclists who ride long distances love it when they find equipment that truly makes their bikes more comfortable. I’m stoked to finally join everyone who’s put the B17 on that select list.
Real Roadie Feedback
Ed says, “We don’t pretend to think you’llput this saddle on your sub-20-pound Sunday road machine. Heck, it’s at least twice as heavy and 10 times as clunky as the seat you’re now using.”
Well, I’m sitting on a B17 when I ride my 18.5-pound (with saddle) Ti Paramount. Like I need to ride some painful lightweight saddle when the bike is already so light? — Jeff T.
I have a Brooks B17 and would not trade it for anything after more than 5,000 miles. It is just great! — Roy
Great review of a great saddle! You might want to let your readers know that the Brooks Flyer is a B17 with springs. I’ve found the springs on the Flyer to be a nice bit of suspension in just the right place for long rides. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a suspension seatpost! — Mike R.
The deluxe B17, as you note, has thicker leather. This probably makes it last longer. However, the standard B17, with thinner leather, is much easier to break in. A friend bought the deluxe version and gave up on it after about 1,500 miles. But my standard model was more comfortable than a plastic seat right out of the box. It does get more comfortable with time (15,000 miles so far), but it was fine for 50-mile rides the day I got it. — Alan A.
I’ve been riding a B17 on my Rambouillet since both were new last June. Finished the 1,500-km Paris-Brest-Paris brevet series sans saddle sores. (Liberal applications of Bag Balm helped, too.)
Asfor the danger to leather of riding in the rain, which we did for eight hours on the 600K, a plastic supermarket veggie bag works great under the seam-leaking seat cover that’s made for the B17.
If the leather does get seriously wet, wrap a zip tie around the center of the seat and behind the post, snugging it to hold the sides of the saddle in while it dries. — Charlie J.
I have several thousand miles on a B17 Champion Special and I really like it. The break-in period was about 500 miles and was not particularly uncomfortable. I just gradually became aware of how I wasn’t thinking about the seat very often any more.
My commute is about 1:10 each way and I guess that the best compliment you can give to a seat is to not notice it during your ride. It really does conform to your shape and is very comfortable without being “squishy.” I highly recommend it to any serious rider. — Bob R.
J W Haltiwanger says
Like many people it took me a while to switch to a Brooks saddle. I now have one on both bikes. The need to treat the leather and to protect it from water led me to what seems like a simple solution: Sno-Seal leather waterproofing beeswax protector. I use a hairdryer to warm the leather and spend a lot of time getting it on the underside of the saddle. I have not done any comparison tests, but so far I have not had a saddle damaged by getting wet.
guy tedesco says
bought my b17 3 weeks and some 100 miles ago. no big change in riding comfort from my wtb speed v saddle. but the wtb is a pretty damm good stock saddle. time will tell if the b 17 is all it is said to be. i’ll keep you guys posted
I bought a Brooks B17 for my Long haul trucker to set it up for tours in 2013. I have replaced a tension pin and the second one has just failed and there are cracks in the nose that is riveted in. I never had problems with Brooks saddles when I weighed 4 stone 7 oz but now as an athlete at 230 pounds 6 foot with a very reasonable fat ratio they dont stand up to touring. The nose part tension pin shackle set up acts up itself like a little guillotine that acts upon the pin with heavier men, and trying to get Brooks to reply to emails queries, well they never have replied to offer advice or support.
I don’t know if its because they are Masons that do not like people that think for themselves speaking out with regard to compromise and favoritism in the allocation of public office and accollades. That sees sincere problems with a coterie of full grown men that swear blood oaths to lie on their cohorts behalf in Court should the need arise even in cases of Capital infractions and mandatory secrecy with when Epstein didn’t kill himself, but I will not fix it again nor buy another and if you are over 200 pounds advise you to find some other brand. It might of been back luck, but I was unlucky twice. Just like the Rear Orlieb Classic pannier that fell off once, I give it the benefit of the doubt I might of botched up putting it on so start taking extra care, to have it again fall off on not ridiculously bumby terrain, but this time, it jams into the chain drive and rear wheel and spits me into a traffic light post and then the bitumen. popping 2 spokes completely ruining another two and cosmetically ruining a project that cost me 4000 to set up. Orlieb at least replied with “words” of apology and a couple of new hooks (i had 4 panniers including a handlebar bag that cost near 1000AU, but they asked for my address 4 times, then passed me on to the local distributor who asked for it again as they did not send it to them. I was angry and harsh but these were insincere and the lonely planet site had over 200 cases of these failing in exactly the same way but for some reason had closed down blog if you can find it at all now keeping potentially life saving information away from the public on an item that has been faulty for going on 10 years. I am an honest man and was treated me like I was an idiot, Ortlieb demanding photos of the damage (i mean I could sent anything right or made the damage worse looking quite easily but didn’t to then tacitly imply the damage was minimal TO THE BAG MATERIAL ITSELF but replaced a 700 back wheel with a good second hand replacement for 300 ) completely missing the point panniers are supposed to fall off and tangle themselves in back wheel it took and hour to unravel it all and the fact the tears I wanted to repair with patches to make them again water proof being small holes is neither here nor there.I should of sued them. There.s been problems with the entrapment mechanism for years and its still happening. I did not doing anything wrong like leave flapping straps and gave them the benefit of the doubt on the first instance though there was not much damage at all the first time.
The bicycle industry seems to be rather unregulated on a machine that can end your life if not kept in order with quality components fit for purpose.
A kid in Brooklyn doing wheel stands (obviously the machines are not designed for this kind of usage but people do right) and snapped a gooseneck off so he was left holding the bars with the front wheel still half in the air and a jagged piece of steel where the gooseneck was. When he came down with no handlebars to stabalise him on what was now to all intents and purposes a badly designed unicycle his mass caved onto the jagged goosneck it tore a hole in his throat and Carotid sinus. He died in under 3 minutes, and they buried him on Potters field Hart Island. They are a common machine but it is important they are fit for purpose.
David Stihler says
I’ve also attended PAC Tour Cycling Camp in Arizona. And, like the author of this article, I tried wetting one of my saddles and ruined it. My B17’s are Ti Special and they are all on high end sub twenty pound bikes. One point, if you get a saddle, even the B17, and you feel like you’re in pain, get rid of it. No amount of breakin will fix it. A Brooks saddle should feel comfortable, though a little hard when you get it. If it hurts to ride it, get another model. People claim it takes 1000, 2000, 3000 miles to break these in. That’s nonsense. After 3 to 5 hundred miles if it isn’t working, move on. The three Brooks B17 Saddles I own and ride on are all equally comfortable and look great on my bikes. I have at least 20,000 miles on them.
Wish I could send you a pic of the Brooks on my Waterford Touring bike!
Jon Stark says
I have a Brooks Swift Ti saddle with over 28,000 miles of use, now on its second Seven custom frame. My first Seven was destroyed by a drunk driver who hit me from behind. Luckily, the only damage to the saddle was snapping of the tension bolt, which fell out and was lost (along with the shackle) somewhere at the accident scene. I salvaged the saddle from the tangled mess of the old bike, ordered up replacements for those missing little metal bits (promptly shipped from the UK by Brooks), put them in, and now that I’m healed I’m enjoying that same saddle again on Seven number two. I wouldn’t part with that saddle for anything. I just bought a second one to put on my Wahoo Kickr Smart Bike trainer to get similar comfort. I don’t really care how it looks on either bike. Long ago, my backside was an endurance issue, but Brooks cured that for me and that matters far more than appearance. I like the copper rivets anyway.
Arthur Berger says
I have 4 bikes: A time trial bike, a titanium break away road bike, a carbon race bike and a carbon road bike. All of my bikes have Brooks saddles. I got my first Brooks saddle in 1976. Still riding with it. It takes about 500 miles to break in a saddle. Once you completed the task, your……..will never hurt again. Others parts will. After every ride and I mean every ride, I rub the saddle with proof hide. I keep them covered if I am transporting the bike in the rain. If you were to look at my saddles you would think they were brand new except for the natural darkening that takes place over time. I have ridden on other leather saddles but none compare to the Brooks. When I sell a bike I keep the saddle.
David Kamp says
A distance cyclist is anyone who buys a 17 pound bike and puts a 2 pound saddle on it.
Don Gillies says
I used to own a brooks swift but I weigh more than 200 lbs and so a team pro or a B17 is a better choice. If you buy the TI rails the saddle is significantly more comfortable and will need less breaking-in before you start enjoying the ride. There is NOTHING like the smooth-as-glass finish of a leather saddle, to make it efficient for your legs to slide across as you pedal. I often buy them on clearance from the UK for < $200. However, I don't understand why the Ti versions weigh 430 grams when there are many TI saddles weighing 210 grams. I feel like they could make the cantle plate and/or nose in carbon fiber to make a lighter – yet still classy and durable – saddle.
I think the main reason many people find them to be comfortable is because they’re much wider than most of the modern “men’s” saddles. Main problem for me is the rail length/position puts the saddle way to far forward for my long legs (even on a post with 35mm offset).
I have two Brooks, a Swift and a Swallow, and soon I will have a B17. But with those saddles, as mentioned in the article, water is not real nice to them, while sweat will stain the leather it won’t ruin it, but raining and riding on the saddle is a short trip to the trash can.
There are two things that I do, yes I use Proofide but only once a year, and you have to rub it in with your bare fingers till it’s all soaked in, then next what I do is use Kiwi neutral colored paste shoe wax, don’t used colored wax because it will stain your shorts which will draw some odd looks from people! I use the Kiwi about once a month.
HOWEVER Kiwi alone isn’t enough to stop water damage you have to use a waterproof cover like was mentioned, they’re cheap at around $15, the author mentioned it has seams, yes it does, and yes water will leak through those seams, but there is a trick you can do to seal the seams, buy a tube of Gear Aid Seam Grip WP, it’s cheap at around $7 on Amazon, and people use it to seal tent seams with, and it works very well and lasts very long, it could outlast the cover, it won’t peel or crack over time, and it’s flexible. That 1 ounce tube can seal a lot of seams, enough to do 12 or so tents, so you’ll have more than enough for seat cover. Just follow the directions to the letter, and you can watch Youtube videos as well.
Breaking in a leather saddle does take time, but a huge world of caution, follow ONLY the directions given by Brooks for breaking in your saddle, do not listen to anyone on the internet or some friend claiming they have a better way.
Also adjust the spanner bolt doesn’t need to be done very often at all. Initially with my saddles I turned the bolt only a 1/4 of a turn, not a half a turn, but I did that about once a month for the first three months, then I didn’t have to adjust again for 6 months, and again 6 months after that, I’ve had my Swift now for 17 or so years, and after that first 1 1/2 years I think I’ve only adjusted the saddle maybe 6 or 7 times and only a 1/4 turn each time. The saddle will sag a bit, this is natural, they are designed like a hammock and hammocks sag, if you keep adjusting your saddle a half a turn every year you will eventually run out of bolt, over tightening can also pull the leather cover away from the rivets…not a good thing. You can tell when the bolt is too loose, if you can easily turn it with no friction of pulling on the leather then it’s too loose, so tighten it gently till you start feeling resistance and then a 1/4 more. I weigh 175 pounds so a heavier person may need to turn it more often, not more turns. I test my bolt every year for resistance, or lack thereof, and when it lacks resistance is the only time I adjust the bolt.
As Paulie says, they do tend to sit forward even with an offset post. Hopefully that’s not the end of the world because they are stunning saddles.
As someone else mentioned, Sno Seal and a hair dryer is the way to start this saddle toward having a long foolproof life, fender or not.
I finally could ride my Serotta ‘Attack’ for more than 30 miles once I put a B17 on it. Older guys need good saddles on their race bikes!
Doug (Madison, WI) Kirk says
I put a new B-17 on and went out for a 25 mile first of the season ride and it felt perfect right out of the box. I’ve ridden B-17’s since 1975 on all my bikes. Not true. The 1975 saddle was a Pro and that one did take 10 years to break in. The B-17 supports me perfectly. I wouldn’t hesitate doing a century on a brand new B-17. Only thing more personal than saddles is chain lube.
Hah! Too true. Pour it to it…
Richard Stum says
If you want to quickly (2-3 days) break in a leather saddle such as this, please check out my blog: http://www.randorichard.com/saddle-break-in
Love my B-17 but why won’t Books put longer rails on it?
Nicholas Gimbrone says
Hated my B17 which never felt quite right, but love my C17… and it is maintenance free (no worry about rain, etc.).
Hi. First of all I want to thank you for a well written review. I’ve been thinking about buying a good saddle for my mtb for a while and B17 is one of my favorite choices. I do have a few questions though to make sure it is a good fit since it will stretch me quite a bit financially to buy this saddle.
I want to give some info about myself first. I am a 42 year old male weighing 110 kg (244 lbs) and my height is 180 cm (5’10”). I have certain health problems with a herniated disc on lower back and neck being the worst ones. I wasn’t always this heavy I gained a lot of because I couldn’t do sports as much as I used to. I am trying to get back in the habit with ~50-75km rides daily.
After all that I only have question. Is b17 a really good choice or should I consider a good jel saddle?
Scott Peterson says
Given your back and neck problems, I would probably get some other lightly padded MTB seat if you are really going to be riding offroad, especially if you have a hardtail bike. Assuming that you’re already riding with some level of comfort on a conventional saddle,
The shape of a Brooks seat is highly personal, and it’s one of the reasons that many people mention that it seems comfortable even before it is broken in. It seems like there is a lot more seat touching me, and spreading that load around. That is the easiest way for me to explain it. That said, these leather seats offer very little shock absorption when faced with MTB level rocks and roots. I have been very happy riding a B-17 40 and 50 miles on some road rides, but I did not like it for offroad riding where I have to hover over the saddle and tend to have a seat slamming back against me hundreds of times on a ride. I do much better on a WTB seat , with light padding . I use narrower models like 135mm wide, for reference. Also the considerable extra weight of the Brooks seems like more of a factor for offroad riding.
There are many very accomplished cyclists here who are taking 100 mile road rides, where you are spending hours spinning and in nearly constant contact with the seat. This seems to be where the Brooks really shines, and I have really enjoyed mine. Just don’t expect it to be suspension, and maybe you would be better of with a suspension seatpost for the money.
Ask around and see if you can borrow a Brooks, before you make the commitment.
A B17 is a great choice but it’s also a personal choice, a B17 may work for me but you might hate it.
If you have herniated disks in your back and neck a B17 isn’t going to do a darn thing for those areas. What you probably need to look into is a suspension stem and seat post to get the shock from traveling up into your bad areas. Redshift ShockStop Suspension stem would work for the neck and arms, I would probably get the 30 degree rise stem so you don’t lean over as far on your bike, by doing that you would put less strain on the neck and back. Also Redshift makes a suspension seatpost called the ShockStop, yes they named them both the same, anyway this seatpost will help take the shock off your spine.
Christopher Myron says
Just got a new B17 for my Torelli. Yeah, she’s a racing bike, but The extra weight is worth it. Being a messenger for 23 years, riding 8- 10 hours a day 5 days a week, I highly recommend. The only downside (aside from having to bag it in the rain) is the tweaker bike thieves who now target them.