Last month, we covered a variety of ways to protect a leather saddle from rain. Through the course of researching for that article, we came across many other articles and forum posts on leather saddles. The overall landscape of information out there is disheartening. There is a lot of confusion, fear, and mystical speculation around the subject. Apparently us children of post-industrial economics have trouble thinking about natural materials, and tend to relegate them to the same bin as things like weather prediction, the Tarot, and alchemical processes. But it’s really not that complicated. Yes, you can ruin a leather saddle. You can also ruin anything else if you start poking at it without any guidance. So we’ve harvested a small heap of saddle wisdom for you to get you started.
There are a handful of manufacturers making leather saddles in 2015, some surviving since the dawn of cycling, others started on Kickstarter in the past few years. The pattern is somewhat similar to that of preserved foods, anything made of waxed canvas, hipster hatchets, and wool athletic clothing. The hype of plastic is burnt out, and we are realizing that sometimes the most technically advantageous material happens to already grow on the back of some living creature, or a tree. Our favorite manufacturer is Brooks, who have been making their saddles for a very long time indeed and, thanks to their wide distribution and eternal status, produce a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors (and special editions, and unique editions, etc, etc…). But how to pick?! Well, we can’t help you decide which shade of brown will suit your frame color best*, nor can we tell you which saddle will fit you! Only your own body can guide you, and it usually turns out, if we may borrow the old wizarding adage, that “the wand chooses the wizard.” Stop by your LBS with the hugest selection of Brooks saddles (big hint if you live in Minnesota) and test out some saddles. Start with something appropriate for your general riding style: narrower for leaned-in drop bar riders, wider for the laid-back cruiser. Put it on a chair and take a seat, and try a few! Brooks saddles are gendered (“S” for women’s fit). It’s a little old fashioned, don’t feel weird if you feel better on the “other” type, many do! We’ll help you out if you are confused, disparaged, or lost.
So you’ve found a saddle. Now we are going to give your brand new $200 leather-and-steel throne a shove down its path of decay. But we are going to control it, hold its hand, massage it, give it compliments and play it Mozart. You could just throw it on the seat post and start chugging, feeding the leather off your own oily skin and sweat. This works for some, and I salute them. They ride enough and weigh enough to use their calloused Sitz bones as shoe hammers, carving themselves a dwelling into the stone-hard surface of Brooks leather. This is what Brooks recommends, by the way. But Brooks leather is tough, and bone dry. It is shaped with heat and baked at high temperatures until the fibers set, similar to the process used to make medieval leather armor. A new Brooks saddle is a tabula rasa, waiting for your personal “touch”. It requires input to selectively soften the areas that need softening, thus:
- Acquire some Brooks Proofide.
- Load a good helping onto the middle-rear section of the seat. Think of the saddle in two parts: the nose, and the seat. You are aiming for the front portion of the seat area, where your Sitz bones land. Get some on the raw underside of the saddle in the same area. Spread a very light coat on the rest of the top surface.
- Let the Proofide soak into the leather for a bit, until dry. It soaks in surprisingly fast. Like we said, these saddles are bone dry.
- Polish off the excess with a clean polishing rag. This will unseat any dye left on the surface of the saddle that would otherwise end up on your shorts.
- Ride hard, ride often.
- The saddle should start to deform, and should be very comfortable in 100 – 200 miles.
Here’s what it looked like when we treated one of our store demonstrator saddles:
After the initial break-in period, an occasional treatment with Proofide will keep the leather supple and reasonably protected from water damage, but it will not be waterproof†. Proofide is made of waxes and oils, which don’t mix with water, but if enough Proofide were used to waterproof the saddle, it would become too soft and would stretch beyond usefulness. Don’t do it! And a final word: should you be tempted by that nice little chrome tensioning tool stamped with the Brooks logo, don’t touch it! You will have plenty of experience with your saddle before it is necessary. Now go ride your magic carpet of velo-human friendship!
* – actually we can! Stop by and we’ll give you our refined and well-informed opinion.
† – see our previous post, “Seat Thoughts: Saddle Covers“.
Posted by David G in Instructional, Product Showcase, Repair Highlight