8 May 2015

8th May 2015 Brooks C17 Cambium.

Before you start wondering how many saddles I have now, I do have ample justification. I find the B17, in all its varieties, is superb just as it reaches a certain point somewhere between just broken in and saddle-backed. Beyond that point my comfort is rapidly limited to a few tens of miles before I become acutely aware of the saddle beneath me.

I tried tying the saddle cheeks together on the advice of one whom I call truly expert in these matters. This delayed the depression but could not put it off altogether. The sag forces one riding position on this particular rider. Trying to sit further back puts me on the [relatively] raised cantle plate. Moving forwards puts more pressure on the soft bits. Gravity inevitably pulls me down into the lowest point.

The C17's initial appearance is very odd having removed it from the usual Brooks packaging. They do like to impress the buyer into believing they receive value for money. Or do at least remember the new arrival.

The "Slate" grey I had ordered was much lighter and had a definite "brownish" warmth in the bright May sunshine which I was really not expecting. From reading online reviews I thought I was getting very dark grey bordering on anthracite black.

The "cloth" bonded to the top also looked rather rougher than I had imagined from the images shared online. I was surprised that the C17 looked strangely "big" and wider too than the B17. Though it proved to be only a minute 4mm narrower at its widest point. 163mm to the B17's 167mm is hardly a worry. Though the C17 is much more curved across the back than the B17. Which really was slightly worrying as this effectively narrows the saddle where the seat bones rest. Quality of finish was fine and actually made the B17 look rather scruffy in a side by side comparison. Previously I had admired the  B17 for its obviously man-made qualities, hand beaten copper rivets and gently ageing but stained, real leather. Now it just looked stained and much used. The C17 alongside looked rather 'posh frocks' and more obviously a factory made and carefully designed product. I was caught somewhere between admiration for both and unsure quite what I felt. Had I seen a C17 in a shop I might have responded differently. It was certainly not love at first sight. More grudging glances at its fine form and figure.

My recent longer rides on the B17 have been marred by discomfort despite wearing quality bibs with excellent padding. I can't say that I was in agony but when I start lifting off the saddle quite often something is definitely wrong. Some ten miles then pass when I remain very aware of the saddle before a new sense of numbness takes over. Only toothache outdoes saddle discomfort for prolonged misery.

As regular readers will attest I have tried many saddles with very mixed results. Initially promising saddles have joined the others in storage in a series of slightly less than expensive mistakes. Even this fool and his money have never been sorely tempted by a really expensive saddle. I may fondle a Fizik in the privacy of a dark corner of a bike shop. But have never actually left the premises with one secreted about my person to the detriment of my all too frequently overheated plastic.

But! In my defence: I have saved a fortune over the last few years by only rarely using the car. The trike is my daily transport and my long distance shopping trolley, bus, delivery van and taxi. Not to mention my private, fresh air gym and exercise machine. Is that enough justification for yet another saddle? Suit yourselves.

Fortunately for the saddle manufacturers I keep trying their wares with a degree of optimism they probably don't deserve. One size fits all makes no sense to me. So I risked my saddle purchase optimism yet again and ordered a C17 rubber jobby from E-Bikes in Copenhagen. For a very comely price indeed too compared with the usual UK dealers or Brooks themselves. With free shipping, within Denmark, only gilding the lily yet further as rapid delivery followed. 

I swapped over to the C17 from my B17 'Special' after riding 6 miles first on the quality Brooks leather. Just to remind myself what I liked about the B17 and what I didn't. The C17 has proved much firmer than I had hoped. Which is slightly at odds with the ease with which one can depress the textured top with assorted, experimental digits. The middle is most easily flexed downwards. As are the minimalist skirts. While the sit bone, VIP reception area, is much stiffer. There is vague talk of structural reinforcing fabric. A material which had quickly undone another of my previous purchases based on the B17 [The Spa Nidd]. Though that one was made of real and very thick leather. There is also a difference in shape between these two. With the C17's rear end more obviously accommodating. The lack of side skirts make it look sleek and fast and curvy.

The initial sense of firmness gives an immediate sense of speed compare with the [relatively] sloth-like B17. The C17's sweet spot proved to be well behind the broken-in B17 Special's. At least an inch further aft and perhaps more. I found I had to move the C17 right forwards to match the B17's sunken in the middle, riding position despite its recent re-tensioning. Otherwise it felt as if I was back on the Higgins and desperately trying to reach the handlebars! 

First riding impressions matched the stationary one: Firm but not exactly hard. I have to ride the 200 yards of rough gravel drive before I can even reach the road. The road itself was resurfaced with huge gravel and has not smoothed out much despite the constant traffic. Which includes many lorries, buses and agricultural vehicles. The C17 did not hide the 'buzz' produced by the road gravel. In fact it felt as if I had just inflated the tyres by another 10psi. However, it was not all bad news. The C17 certainly felt firm but not really uncomfortable. I had no desire to lift off, get off or even take it off altogether. Let's just say I was now, suddenly more aware of my sit bones. On the B17, earlier, I was aware of an area forward of this but not my sit bones. The sit bones only came into prominence when I tried to slide back on the B17. But it is impossible to maintain that position for long.

Further research proved that the C17 offers some useful low frequency isolation/suspension on the slightly bigger stuff. Things like sunken drains, hardened farmer's mud and raised tarmac patches were not so harsh as the B17 transfers to the rider. I deliberately sought out some more lumpy bits to confirm my findings. Loose, large gravel was noticed but not jarring. I am a skinny looking 12 stone @ 5'10" after gorging on birthday chocolates. So that may affect matters of suspension frequency and travel on the C17's rather firm rubber. I usually hover at about 11 1/4 stone in the summer when I am riding further more often. Or perhaps I just don't eat so many chocolates in the summer?

I had added rather too much height to the seat post to compensate for the difference in rail height. The C17 is a low 45mm profile to the B17's 50mm tractor-ish clearances. So I returned home after a quick loop to correct my settings by lowering the pin and moving the C17 well forwards. I then rode a longer loop and was more comfortable in both reach and saddle height.

Sitting down again after climbing out of the saddle was not an unpleasant surprise. Much too early to say so I'm not making any promises about longevity in use this time. The C17 is not remotely as hard as a new Brooks B17. Not by several nautical miles! The C17 is firm but much more curved than a broken in B17. It has a strangely flattened nose. Which I failed to capture in my images but was a desperate attempt to spread the load without spoiling the look of the slender proboscis.

The cloth finish does not grip my DHB shorts as much as I feared. I was easily able to adjust my position without needing to lift-off. Though it lacked that perfect subtlety of free movement possible on well polished Brooks saddle leather. This may be an advantage if it stops me sliding into the middle as I do automatically on the B17. Though I do not think I need fear sliding into the middle with the C17. Tomorrow will tell whether I can learn to live with the C17. Let's just say that I ought to have ridden much further today but felt disinclined.

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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