9 May 2015

9th May 2015 Saddled with a Cambium!

Saturday 9th 47-53F, 8-12C, cool, overcast, windy and grey. Showers or rain are forecast. With a risk of a clearing late morning. Expected to gust to 25mph later. I should have had a proper ride yesterday but was feeing tired, head-achy and unwell. Possibly the result of trying to capture that sprayer, but who knows?

I was up early today so had another look at the C17 in flat morning light rather than bright sunshine. I also sat sat  rather briefly on the C17. It hadn't become any softer overnight. Though I resisted the temptation to give it a good dollop of Proofide. This was meant as a rather silly joke but I did wonder how the cloth and its bonding would actually respond to waxing. Presumably the top would get a coat of whatever escaped through the rider's shorts. By which I mean sweat and any padding lubricant the rider might employ. Hopefully the surface waterproofing process will take care of staining even in the longer term. Though I wouldn't suggest draping a dirty chain over a Cambium saddle!  

The very open weave of the cotton cloth seems to be only lightly embedded in the surface of some black substance on top of the rubber base. This black substrate [for want of a  better word] is visible through the weave and around the rivets. As can be seen in the image alongside. Others have shared similar images and incorrectly supposed this was wear. When in fact the bonding agent is simply exposed locally by the manufacturing process. Perhaps a worn press pin which distorts the carcase too much for the cloth to remain perfectly adhered in such tight radii? Or simply wear on a mould.

I have drawn a line on the image above to show the depth of the original spinal sagitta [downward curve] from new. The leather saddles are similar in form but gradually sag deeper with wear. Re-tensioning is possible with the leather type. The Cambium presumably remains the same shape into ripe, old age.  In case there is any doubt, I set up the Cambium dead level with my 2' builders spirit level with the trike on the level floor of the trike shed. Trikes and bikes with a [modern?] sloping crossbar do not lend themselves easily to any other means of checking if a saddle is level. Using a level on non-level ground is very apt to waste your time.

Brooks do offer an extended, ten year guarantee for the Cambium. Which shows considerable faith in their longevity. One presumes they have accelerated wear and weathering testing facilities in their R&D and quality control labs. It is said that the Cambium has been years of steady development in the making. Some early owners have remarked on solar bleaching. Which some will probably prefer as a badge of honour from honest use. Much like the leather saddles take on a character of their own with exposure and normal riding abuse. At first glance I had assumed my own Slate model had been sunbathing in a shop window but the effect is much too even for this. The cloth is the colour it is. Spanish slate rather than Welsh, isn't it?

The shape has obviously been honed by marketing and R&D and is certainly very elegant. It belongs to what I call the "lollipop" family of saddle forms. [Without getting too technical.] That is, a rounded rear with long, thin nose. This can help to avoid chaffing of the lower buttock line compared with shallower angles between the seating platform and the nose. Like many other saddles the Cambium seems to completely change shape depending entirely on the angle from which it is viewed.

I read a lot of online reviews, including Brooks own, before ordering [and afterwards when my nerve had failed!] There was repeated mention of firm but not painful. The problem is knowing from which previous saddle and riding behaviour such comments arise. Few high mileage cyclists would leave home for a ride in jeans. The seams on the popular denim garments are bunched together precisely where one should never [ever] place a saddle! So are only those who wear "proper" racing shorts or preferably bibs the most reliable reviewers? How can one tell?  If only one had this information from glancing through the usual short text reports attached to Amazon and the other online cycle dealers.

Rider weight and personal padding over the sit bones will have a considerable effect on perceived comfort. The rubber will deform to sudden upward movements of the machine pressing against the sit bones backed by the considerable momentum of the rider's heavy bod. Pressing a saddle with the fingers or thumbs is rarely an accurate test of flexibility in actual use. Getting someone in high heels to stand on the saddle makes [only slightly] more sense.

You could always weigh yourself and calculate the cross sectional area of your sit bones. Then see if you can emulate that same pressure by squeezing a pair of bathroom scales in the hands. Of course your entire body is not entirely supported on your sit bones but quite a lot of it isn't constantly pressing down on the pedals or resting on the handlebars. The more upright you sit the more weight there is on the saddle. The weaker the rider pedals the more pressure there is on the saddle. Pushing really hard on the pedals can actually lift you off the saddle. So as you tire on a long ride you are reinforcing the saddle pain for all the above reasons as you reach for the tops of the 'bars to relive your aching back.

The manufacturers have to take all this into account before releasing anything onto the market. The young teenage "stick insect" on a bike will feel a very different saddle to the aggressive, 20 stone "weekend warrior" mashing the pedals.  Both will have certain tolerance levels for pain and discomfort depending on their mileage and enthusiasm.

One high mileage Brooks B17 user gave the Cambium a go but soon found it wanting. I hope I don't have the same experience! Getting away from the B17 break in/broken down routine is my real desire to extend the potential length of my rides. The plastic-based offerings which I have tried so far have [sorely] failed to please. Only the Vetta SL keeps returning to my trike for one [more] last go. I think its secret, apart from the padding, is its relatively flat shape. Nothing else I have tried [apart from a B17 frozen in time at break-in] is remotely so forgiving.

It remained grey and windy but dry for my walk until the very last moments when a shower arrived. I saw a fat brown field bird sitting on the track. After deliberately leaving my trike out in the rain I discovered that the water does not readily bead off the Cambium but is partially absorbed by the cloth. The result of its first short shower are seen above. One presumes it would eventually have darkened all over. Given how little free cloth is actually exposed one assumes a quick squeegee with the bare hand will dry it sufficiently for further immediate use. The wind is already roaring in the trees so I hope they were right about the brightening.

And, no, they weren't! It rained and then it tipped down and then it got worse! I was soaked to the skin over most of me except my torso. My scull cap was soaked and cold as were my socks and everywhere the waterproof jacket wasn't actively covering! The water was running down the Medusa's dreadlocks on my calves and into my MTB boots. My gloves were soon saturated and cold.

I spent most of the ride hopping up and down trying to find a comfortable spot on the Cambium! Most of the time it felt like a badly shaped block of wood! Selle-r-Brooks should have aimed for a perfectly broken in B17. Not a brand new, rock hard one, straight out of the box!!! Not a happy bunny at all! I wonder how many decades it will take for a C17 to increase in value as a collector's item because of its incredible rarity? I bet it's the same structural fabric which ruined the Nidd! Huge potential utterly wrecked by insecurity over longevity. The only chance of the sit bone area sinking is a direct hit from an asteroid, a falling Russian rocket or aeons of constant exposure to weathering! 23, very unpleasant, miles.

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