19 Oct 2012

The arrival of the Nidd!

19th 53F, 12C, light winds, cloudy but 18C warmth is promised! I may wear just my triathlon swimming trunks and sunglasses. [This is a joke!] Where shall we go today? Nowhere, for the moment. It's raining and I have taken the mudguards off! I was promised cloudy but dry. Where do I queue for my refund?

I don't learn, do I? Having had a last look at the DMI website forecast, I left after coffee. Three whole days without rain! Whoopee!

Half an hour into my ride it started tipping down. It kept tipping down for the next half hour as I rode the third world lanes of rural Denmark. Standing water everywhere including in the countless potholes. I had been strongly tempted to leave my Aldi waterproof jacket at home. Can you imagine if I had? I would probably have dissolved by now. A distant memory and a forlorn trike rusting unattended on a quiet lane somewhere.

After the flood, the sun came out. It was warm enough to take everything off again except my jersey and sopping wet Gel gloves. (and shorts of course) I had to put my wet clothes in carrier bags to avoid wetting the shopping. It was not quite warm enough for the swimming togs I had threatened earlier.  The Ergo levers still please. The new Ritchey bars maximise the pleasure of using the Ergos. While providing new-found comfort. My back no longer feels under constant strain. Yet the angle of my torso has not changed markedly when I see my reflection in the empty shop windows. Lest we forget: 26 miles today.

As you can see: My Spa Cycles Nidd saddle has arrived safely in the post. "Hi, Honey, I'm home!" Honey, it is not. Not even remotely. Tan is the right word. It is the reddish-brown of  gentlemen's, quality, tan brogues. A very even tan colour. Nothing like that honey of the only honey Spa Cycles saddle I could find online. (and coveted at first sight) It is so evenly tanned it looks far more like some fibre reinforced plastic for a circuit board rather than real leather. Being formed to such perfection, without a single, visible flaw, only confirms the seeming artificiality. It is an artefact without human intervention in its production. The opposite, if you will, of the "hands on" craftsmanship of the fabulously real Brooks. The Nidd is robotised, 22nd century, Brooks-tech with bells on! Even the bonded material on the underside is perfectly placed. With precision margins all around the edges.

Yet the instructions do say that the Nidd should be treated as leather and wax proofed like leather from new. That it should not be allowed to get wet. Nor remain wet when ridden. It comes in a large, soft, cloth  bag with a Brooks type wrench and an Allen key. Having reached the 21st century and a bit more, the nose of the tension stud in this saddle actually contains a hex socket. Well I never!

Note the clever, nostalgia flag-waving in the neat, cardboard holster for  the wrench and key. The instructions are on the reverse of the cardboard sleeve. I just love the understated genius of the Hessian string. Somebody is really taking a massive side swipe at the Selle-Brooks nostalgia hype, methinks. It is no wonder Spa was struck off the Brooks' family tree of cringe-worthy dealers!

No jokes, please, about "rock bottom prices" or "between a rock and a hard place!" Note the lace to keep the Nidd's skirts from flaring. I could have done with one on my B17. My Brooks 'Select' lifts her skirts more than a cheap floozy at a stag night!  

The thick chrome to the Nidd's traditional undercarriage looks excellent. One slight worry is the applied fibreglass skin to the underside of the already thick leather. If one wanted to stiffen an already stiff leather saddle this would be one way of doing it. Filling it with solid, steel-reinforced  concrete would have a similar effect. But would probably weigh slightly more. "Stiff" is not really the correct word in this context. A saddle-shaped house brick? Or a roofing tile? Suit yourselves.

I am physically incapable of depressing the leather top at the sit bone points with hand strength alone. My brand new B17 'Select' was like pressing the finest kid gloves into a down cushion by comparison. The Nidd is unbudgeable and unyielding. Impervious to puny human pressure. A rock, by any other name.

Even my slow-oven-dried NOS Brooks 'Professional' was a flimsy thing in comparison. The Nidd just sits there. Unmoved by human frailty. Yet leather it truly is. The rivets are probably stainless steel and each is perfectly formed and perfectly set against the underside of the perfectly formed cantle plate. Its uncompromisingly square cut saddle loops hanging down behind. It truly is the dog's wotsits of real leather saddles. By dog I really mean K9 in this case. Not something you avoid tripping over in the park.

What should I do with this saddle-shaped piece of avant guard ceramic artistry? Hang on! It's not such a daft question. The Nidd threatens countless miles of torment before its new owner gives up the thankless task of breaking it in.

The B17 'Select' is already the most comfortable thing I have ever sat upon. Including several items of promising furniture in promisingly posh furniture shops. I have even known several settees far less comfortable than my still gorgeous Brooks. Our pocket sprung beds are firmer than the 'Select'!

Logic suggests I make the Nidd into a trendy bar stool. For sitting at the computer. A saddle on a long pipe. To be perched upon rather than ridden seriously. It might even reduce the "blogging" verbiage! (with any luck) <cough!>

However, all this joking aside, my sense of responsibility demands that it (the Nidd) be given a chance. Not long ago I spent slightly less on a Velo saddle and was disappointed. Despite the initial doubts it was given a full week to perform. Inevitably it joined the twenty other saddles in my boxed collection. Too pointless to keep. Too worthless to sell. It was ever thus with saddles. Buy in haste. Repent at leisure.

Should the Nidd suffer the same fate without a fair trial?  Spa Cycles has staked its reputation on the Nidd and others in their small family. Spa are no fly-by-night, Johnny come lately, online box shifters. They have solid history. They think the Nidd is better quality than your average Brooks. They have duly paid for it in the loss of their 35-year old (Selle)Brooks franchise. In fact they (Spa) may be right about these saddle upstarts in a strange sort of way. Brooks saddles are the work of true artisans. Years of thumb-bashing practice and knackered machines. The forgiveable flaws and imperfections are just part of their unique charm. Provided the sum of the flaws does not exceed that of the whole!

The Nidd really belongs to a new era of modern, factory made, mass production, leather saddle perfection. There is no hint of the dimly lit workshops full of noise, smell, nostalgically grubby aprons and Hollywood "Victoriana" special effects. That said, I just know I'm not going to enjoy proving the Nidd's value to traditional cycle touring. 500 miles is 800km and represents several weeks of masochism suffering. Ouch! It had better be worth it!

I must say that the Nidd is extraordinary value for money in an almost universal, rip-off cycling accessory world. It has nothing whatever about it to detract from the appearance or which would undermine real pride in ownership. It looks like a very expensive saddle worth far more than its asking price. It certainly looks the part and will look good on any bike or trike.

Even its hardness and (likely) long break-in period is not unique. There are plenty of Brooks models with similarly uncompromising stiffness as new. Those unwilling to spend half a thousand miles making it their very own can probably cheat a little bit. Add small wet pads to the sit bone areas for an hour or two before taking a ride may offer some relief. Though it's never guaranteed. Even sit bone depressions offer no real promise of increased comfort. You still need the flexibility which comes with a "proper" break-in.

Yes, the manufacturer's instructions really do say "retreat" every few months. 
They obviously don't expect a rapid break-in either. ;-)

Don't blame me, or Spa, if this doesn't work. The bonded material on Nidd's bum may affect matters differently. Soaking larger areas will almost certainly bøgger up the Nidd completely. You can't blame anybody else but yourself. At least you won't be paying Brooks prices for another brand new new saddle to start the break-in all over again.

Is the Nidd better than a B17 Brooks? It depends which Brooks you buy and whether you get a good one. My B17 'Select' cost nearly three times as much as the Nidd. The 'Select' felt quite comfortable from day one and rapidly became usable for longer journeys without pain. Some will value this rapid development more than others.

Will the 'Select' last, with its pre-aged, much softer leather, as long as the unpromisingly hard Nidd? Only time will tell. I wish my 'Select' had lace holes to bring the skirts back under control. The extra softness of the left skirt is deforming the whole saddle into a slightly curved spine. I am willing to wait for it to settle down because it still looks beautiful and is so comfortable already. I dare not perforate and lace the 'Select' myself. In case it all goes horribly pear-shaped and needs to be returned for exchange or refund.

The Brooks is far too expensive to be allowed to fail. The Nidd, on the other hand, is just cheap enough to be allowed to take its time doing what it (eventually) does. And if it doesn't? It will have been an interesting exercise. One which will not have cost you as much as the nastiest, mass produced, moulded plastic saddle. Those which are usually unloaded onto every Tom, Dick and Mary as naive, new bike buyers. With the usual load of old, pseudo-scientific hype and mumbo-jumbo twaddle attached. All in a desperate bid to jack its perceived value above that of any other moulded plastic object with a cheap plastic cover. A fool and a cyclist are soon parted from their plastic. There's always another plastic saddle to try. All in the desperate search for something which will  not cripple you within 20 miles.

With the best intention of actually using the Nidd from tomorrow I have just applied a good coat of Proofide to the top and hung up my best bib shorts ready for the off.

Comparison of form and colour between the Nidd and B17. The Nidd was just placed on top of the Carradice saddle bag for the picture. It is near identical in size, but not form, to the B17. 

No point in doing anything to the Nidd's leather bottom in the presence of the neatly bonded material. One presumes this is completely impervious to anything. Though my earlier quip about "fibreglass" is probably well shy of the mark. It may just be a suitable material, which limits excessive stretching of the leather over extended use. Being so thin I doubt the material markedly increases stiffness over the very thick leather itself.

Even Brooks saddles do stretch beyond rescue by any string of surreptitious adjustments of the tension nut. Usually carried out in the semi-darkness and fumbling privacy of the bicycle shed. I  would humbly suggest that bunging a knackered saddle in a bucket of water overnight, with the tension nut slacked right off, might just perform miracles of resurrection. Given enough faith. Just don't ride it until it is bone dry again! BTW: Don't Proofide a damp saddle.

The Proofide just sat on top of Nidd's unflinching leather like wet varnish. So I have left it to do its thing overnight. We shall see if it is absorbed, at all, by any change in its appearance in the morning. Placing the saddle on my computer chair cushion for a trial fitting provided one of the least sympathetic and unyielding surfaces on which I have had the displeasure of sitting! I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I am making in the search for knowledge. That bloke who jumped from a balloon doesn't know he is born. Not compared to a saddle test pilot! I broke in a Brooks 'Professional' and lived to tell the tale! 24 miles? That's less than my daily ride to the shops! Nor do I have to wait for good weather, like he did! ;-)

20th 55-60F, 13-16C, heavy overcast, light breeze. The Proofide was still sitting there on top of the Nidd saddle this morning. Perhaps the slightest hint of matting in some places? Though I had to look very carefully to see it. I gave the saddle a rub and some orange dye came off on the cloth. I sat on the saddle (briefly) but it still feels like a rock. Wish me luck! :-)

The Nidd proved to be quite a bit taller than my B17. So I had to stop to drop it by about a cm. It is still a smidgen too high but I didn't want to disturb my saddle pin marking tape while I was out. The tape will have to be raised on the pin and a note made of the difference in height.

On first acquaintance, the Nidd has absolutely no right to be as comfortable as it is! Yes it feels rock hard and unforgiving. I can feel every single bump in the road. But I was able to forget the Nidd for quite a lot of the time. Which is quite patently ridiculous! Had it been a tiny bit lower it would have been even better. I'm going out again after morning coffee and have no hesitation in leaving the Nidd in place. It is now just possible to depress the sit bone area with thumb pressure by a micron or two.

I tipped the saddle back by the thickness of the saddle pin Allen key. Say about 4mm difference with my 18" builder's level resting on the nose and tail. Riding on the hoods was noticeably more comfortable than sitting upright with my hands on the tops. 15 miles so far. I'll probably do another 20 more miles now. It has turned horribly dark after starting much brighter. I'd better take my waterproof jacket. It might save me from being shot by all those huntsmen who are out making firework noises this morning!

The second dose of Nidd medicine was a rather mixed experience. I was far too much of an optimist as usual. It must have been the brightening sky. The longer I rode the more unforgiving it (Niddy) became. Not agony, but hardly pleasant. 22 more miles for 37 today on the Nidd. Perhaps I should have worn a better pair of shorts but I wanted to give the saddle a fair chance. Without any cheating on my part. Despite appearances the Nidd must be about 12-15mm taller than the B17. So make sure yours is the correct height if you usually travel without tools. The Autumn TA Gazette arrived in the post. I'm busy reading it from cover to cover.

21st 50F, 10C, overcast, still. After trying the Nidd (briefly) this morning, I bottled out and fitted the 'Select' for today's Sunday ride. I'm going to have to sneak up on the Nidd with shorter rides to avoid too much pain. Provided the rain holds off it would be a shame to waste a still day by struggling for distance on an uncomfortable saddle.

No ill effects from yesterday's Nidd trial. I wore orange sunglasses to cope with the grey skies and was treated to autumn on steroids!  Saw a Kestrel using an extractor chimney as a viewpoint. Just did a circuit of the shops for 20 miles. I saw a girl on a racing bike going the other way. I was reaching the top of a long climb and was still going well at about 100rpm. Well, I was impressed! :-)

It feels as if it is turning colder. I'm going out again after coffee. Fifteen more miles riding around on the quiet lanes waiting for it to rain properly. So I could go home for lunch. A group of nine Plovers were going round in circles too. I also saw a pair of Coal tits. The Brooks 'Select' was very comfortable again. Without a moment's distress. I remembered to loosen the skirt lace in the Nidd after reading an owner's experience. I'm bound to forget until it's fitted and all but inaccessible. Rain forecast for tomorrow! I wish I had a bowling ball. I could hang it in my bib shorts to slacken the braces. <cough>  :-)

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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