5 May 2013

Hi, Honey, I'm home!

My new Brooks, honey-coloured, 'B17, Champion Special' saddle arrived today. DHL's tracking was accurate, useful and timely. 

Brooks really know how to present their products these days. The packaging and enclosed literature is all top notch. Only a dreadful cynic would suggest they were milking the nostalgia cow in providing this extra pleasure in ownership for their customers. 

The  protective, presentation cardboard drawer and sleeve are nicely understated.

They are obviously trying to capture an upmarket shopping experience from the past.

Nostalgia for a (sometimes imaginary) golden age is a popular selling technique. Though Brooks can at least lay claim to a long history in its own right.

The obverse of the sleeve shares the writings of the Brooks originator. The image was taken in bright sunshine which may have obscured the fine print unduly. I shall try again, in bright overcast, to bring out the text.

Presentation really is first class. The saddle being held firmly to a stiff printed card with three tie-wraps/zipties. Allowing removal for examination and return to the packaging without damage. While adding a very large card to avoid shoplifting?

The 'B17 Champion Special' warrants a free tension C-spanner and waterproof cover but no Proofide. (The more expensive 'Select' models have both a spanner and cover and also a tin of Proofide enclosed)

Proofide goes a long way so my stocks from previous models will probably suffice.

I have no plans to cheat this time. As I had to with the NOS 'Professional'. Which had been sitting in a warm storeroom for years. Allowing it to bake dry to an unflinching rock hardness.

The 'Select' received only a first coat of Proofide underneath and then nothing more. (Except repeated retensioning)

The underside of the packaging card showing the saddle attachment to the card and envelope containing care instructions. Note how the card has been perfectly sized to match the drawer. Thus providing an extra protective barrier to potential damage in transit. 

A heavy duty, proofed nylon saddle cover is provided. Tucked away under the saddle. I usually find these so stiff that I prefer a lighter cover if I do have to ride with a waterproof cover in place. This shows a fascinating insight into the subtleties of a leather saddle. Namely, that a single piece of nylon cloth should be enough to spoil the perfect comfort afforded by a properly broken-in saddle. Nor does the waterproof nylon breathe like leather does. Brooks have at least provided a really decent cover for a bicycle parked out of doors. Perhaps having to be left at the railway station by a commuter? The cover may even help to prevent theft of a valuable saddle which the owner has carefully broken in over a fairly long period of suffering. It loss would mean starting all over again. Saddle security for your very attractive Brooks should not be ignored! The thieving scum of the earth are always out for a cheap fix. These sociopaths don't have the imagination to even consider how far you may be from home with an unrideable machine. 

The side view of the gorgeous tan leather, copper chassis rails, perfectly chamfered skirts and hand hammered rivets. The rivets are set just below flush to avoid sharp edges catching the rider's clothing. Nor protruding to make the smooth leather curves uncomfortable.

The traditional Brooks stamp describing the exact model of saddle amongst many. Brooks maintains a full set of stamps going back to their origins.

The B17 is today's touring range designed for those who roughly match their saddle height to their handlebars. This usually provides a more upright position than a pure racer. Narrower models suit lower set handlebars. A whole variety of sprung models are available for those sitting even more upright.   

Underside of the saddle showing copper-plated cantle plate and rails but, rather inexplicably, a chrome nosepiece! Three ventilation holes help keep the rider cool in warm weather. Damp clothing increases friction which can lead to saddle soreness.

A closer look at the chassis showing the unique batch number on the leather. Registering your saddle number at Brooks' website will ensure you enjoy a two year guarantee against faulty materials or workmanship. Though you should return it to your dealer first rather than Brooks. Only if the dealer cannot help should Brooks be contacted. 

Like the rest of the B17 models, saddle loops are provided for hanging a traditional saddlebag. It would be fascinating to know how many billions(?) of miles have been ridden on Brooks saddles over the last century or more. Once the standard choice of road and track racers and tourists, it is still the preferred saddle of high mileage riders. The slight extra weight over a plastic saddle is neither here nor there once the saddlebag or panniers are fitted and packed. A single, full water bottle weighs more than the difference compared with even the lightest plastic saddles. More often than not those who worry most about mere grammes are carrying several stone over a healthy body weight.  Perhaps these riders should stick to water and stop worrying about the inconsequential? 

There are those who complain about the price of Brooks saddles. If so, one might like to consider why a dirt cheap plastic moulding covered in dirt cheap vinyl and throwaway foam should be far more expensive than a hand-made leather saddle. The Brooks is also made in a fairly civilised country by Asian standards. Where slave labour is actually frowned upon. Instead of actively encouraged by a corrupt dictatorship and party members demanding constant back-handers. The plastic saddle will be worn out years or even decades before a properly cared for Brooks. Making the over-hyped plastic 'toy' even more outrageously expensive! A foolish cyclist and his money are soon parted by pseudo science. 

The well-used Brooks B17 'Select' compared to the almost new B17 'Special' after only 20 miles and one coat of Proofide. It is interesting how leather darkens with use. Only the nose of the 'Select' still shows a hint of its original straw colour. Both are described as 'honey' coloured. I was rather tempted by the 'Brown' model but it was out of stock at the dealer. 

I have now applied a good coat of Proofide to the undersides with my fingers. Only a thin smear went on the topside as suggested by Brooks themselves. I will leave it overnight and then polish the top only with a soft cloth before riding it. 

Comparison of the undersides of the B17 'Special' and B17 'Select'. Copper plating and powder coating respectively. 

Brooks advice is to apply only Proofide at shorter intervals during the break-in period. Then at less frequent intervals after that. Proofide does not actually waterproof the saddle. It feeds the leather to maintain flexibility and to avoid it drying out and cracking. Proofide also has the important advantage of reducing the initial slipperiness. The leather should not be allowed to get wet. If it should be exposed to heavy rain then it should be allowed to dry naturally without added heat. 

Riding it while wet may cause it to stretch and deform. A supermarket carrier bag is often the easiest ploy if you need to protect the saddle in a sudden downpour. Sitting on the saddle while it is raining should protect it unless you ride without a rear mudguard on a bike. Fortunately a delta trike doesn't spray the saddle. It only sprays the rider as he hangs off on corners.Which may inadvertently transfer wetness to the saddle when resuming a normal riding position. Mudguards will avoid any of these problems. 

Brooks has sometimes been criticised for the shortness of the parallel sections of their rails. This limits the potential for-and-aft movement. Perhaps their ancient wire bending machines cannot produce any other shape? Those who want to add a clamp-on saddlebag carrier find they cannot fit the clamp for lack of free rail space. 

Older cycles often have very relaxed frame angles. Making saddle adjustment a vital necessity in riding comfort and body/knee/pedal geometry. There are set-back and set-forward seat posts available to help overcome this problem. Though often the saddle post is very carefully chosen for historical reasons. To remain absolutely true to the period when the cycle was new. There is considerable interest in restoring machines to original condition down to the very last detail. An older machine, which would have automatically used a Brooks saddle, may not provide an efficient riding position. At least, not by modern standards. 

I remember as a teenager always having my saddle pushed forwards to the very limit of its adjustment. The 1954 Higgins has me so stretched out that I now need a very short stem for comfort. This is despite having the saddle at its forward limit. Yet the Higgins has a small frame and I'm 5'10" with arms long enough for my fingertips to almost reach the top of my kneecaps when standing upright. Perhaps this lack of reach is an "age thing" as my back stiffens up with wear and tear.     

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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