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
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.