Saturday, May 4

Saddle Comparisons

My Commute Bike Saddle, After Four Years of Steady Use. It Is/Was a "Specialized Phenom"
Over the last year or so, I've come into the possession of not one, not two, but THREE new saddles. One is a replacement for my erstwhile Specialized saddle that's been worn almost beyond recognition. The other two are the main topic of this post.

The two saddles are very similar in some respects. One is a Brooks Swallow and the other is a Berthoud Aspin. As you can see, the shapes and sizes of the two saddles are VERY similar. Shown beside them is the third saddle; a Specialized "Toupe" that's made of modern materials

At Left is the Brooks, With the Berthoud in the Middle and the Specialized at Right
Comparing the two leather saddles, I'm surprised at how similar they are in some respects while still being entirely different. As you can see, there's not a whole lot of shape difference between the Brooks and the Berthoud saddles.
Both saddles are leather with steel rails. That being the case, there are more differences in the construction details than you'd expect. The Brooks leather is thinner than the Berthoud, and is riveted to the steel frame. The Berthoud uses Allen screws that attach to a plastic frame.

The "Swallow" Rails Are Well Below the Saddle and are Set Up for a Saddle "Nose Up and Back" Position Compared to Berthoud
In addition to the attachment and construction differences, the makers used different rail approaches. The Brooks saddle rails are entirely well beneath the saddle while the Berthoud rails are tucked up higher. In addition, the Brooks rails intend for the saddle to be placed further back on the seat post and in a "nose up" position compared to the Berthoud. The rails are clearly different relative to the otherwise similar saddle shape in that regard. Even easier to spot are the different philosophies of the saddle frame design. Brooks is a "steel is real" outfit while Berthoud is NOT. Which is better? Personally, I sort of like the notion that I can replace the leather and polycarbonate is a pretty good material, but how often do you replace leather anyway?
Brooks Above and Berthoud Below. Note How the Rails and Frames Differ. And Yes, the Leather on the Berthoud IS Thicker
Comparing weight of the two saddles, the Brooks is a touch heavier than the Berthoud, tipping the scales at 499g compared to 484g for the French entry. IMO, the Brooks steel frame more than offsets the thicker leather and threaded fasteners used on the Berthoud saddle.
Brooks is 499g, Berthoud is 484g
Neither saddle is light, however, compared to the modern Specialized Toupe, with its titanium rails and synthetic materials. The Specialized entry tips the scales at less than half the weight of the two leather saddles. It will not, however, last the way the two "real" leather saddles will, based on how my first saddle wore.

"Modern" Specialized Saddle is Much Lighter, Though it'll Also Wear Out Quicker
Which of these is the most comfortable over time? I think it depends on the rider and what the rider is doing. Myself, I'm putting the Specialized Toupe saddle on "Buddy" to replace the saddle in the top photo. The French saddle is going on "Madeleine." The Brooks is going to replace the Selle Italia on "Frankenbike."

Conveniently, the new "official" saddle cover for rainy weather storage that I got will work on all three saddles. Of course, when it is used, it'll reside underneath one of those cheap, plastic shopping bags that "green" types want to ban. My favorite cheapies are bags from Wally World.

Saddle Cover of Heavy Duty Latex. Suitable as the Lower Layer Underneath a Cheap Plastic "Disposable" Bag


cafiend said...

I've used whatever was closest to an Avocet Racing II saddle since 1980. The Selle Italia Turbo 1980, recently re-released, is basically the same saddle.

Leather is wonderful, but then you have to have your wet weather cover whenever you suspect you might encounter wet weather. A compromise like the Turbo is a little less precious. I keep almost getting a Brooks, but then I don't.

Ham said...

My oldest Brooks has transferred across 4 bikes and just feels right. Most of them are B17s of different sorts, I've recently switched the selle Italia off my carbon road bike for a B17 Imperial which has proven to be a successful choice.

Not everyone gets on with Brooks, but if you do then they are perfect, you can forget about them. Occasional smear with Proofide is all that I give them, one tin lasts years, and I don't worry about the occasional wetting. My normal technique is to tie a carrier bag over the saddle when I leave it rather than the proper cover. This has the dual function of keeping it dry but also making it look pretty tatty and less nickable.


Chandra said...

I love your ideas for protecting the leather saddles.
Shower caps from hotel stays work too.
Let us know how the Gilles Berthoud works out.

Peace :)

Steve A said...

Chandra, I actually HAVE a shower cap but it is a little fragile. I'm working on the fenders before I put the Berthoud saddle on. Fender mounting = PIA.

greatpumpkin said...

I've been riding Brooks saddles since 1974 when a Brooks Professional cost about $25 (of course, I was making $1.60 an hour back then). People talk a lot about breaking them in--I have never seen a need to do so. They just need to ride them enough to get used to them. In my experience, the first day after not riding for a while feels great, the second day I notice the bruises from the first day, and the third day onward feels great. I guess I'm breaking in myself instead of the saddle. I did have one of those Selle Italia saddles for a while (courtesy of Cafiend) but it was not very comfortable after an hour or so, so I gave it back and put a Brooks B17 on the bike, and that was much better. I find I also have a greater feeling of control of the bike when riding on a Brooks saddle. I've looked at the competition from Berthoud and Velo Orange, which are nice, but I get the sense they are still working out their designs and construction, while Brooks has been making saddles for about 150 years and the B17 has been in their catalog since 1898. As for replacing the leather, how often are you likely to do that without replacing the frame as well, and where would you have it done? You're not likely to take it to the local show repair shop--if you can find one--and if you did, and even if they could do it, the cost would probably be more than a new saddle. And Brooks will replace leather on old saddle frames for you. A little (very little, like a fingernail scoop) Proofide once a year will protect it very well. Do not soak saturate it with anything, as this actually shortens its life and defeats the design, which is based not on being soft and cushy, but on being the right shape for your pelvic bones (therefore the choice of the model that fits you can be important). I always Proofide the underside as well on a new saddle. Unless it's soaked with water a lot of the time, it will hold up well. I have a B17 on my old road bike, a Flyer (B17 with sprung frame) on my touring bike, and I had a B66 (introduced 1927) on my upright city bike. The extra weight, which doesn't seem to have mattered back in the days when all the pros rode Brooks, doesn't matter now either.

Dominic Porter said...

I don't think it's fair to accuse Berthoud of "still working it out". I personally think the replaceability is really more for the sake of the rails. I've seen loads of Brooks with failed frames, and modern style plastic shell saddles as well. Berthoud also offers ti rails that you could simply slot in to your experienced and adapted old shell. The nose piece is like a million times better thought out as well. The Brooks starts off misaligned and requires this absurd open ended box wrench to adjust. I can't understand people's attachment to a needlessly anachronistic engineering solution. I'm all for steel, but used like this it's agricultural at best. I'm looking forward to when they introduce leather versions of the cambium design.

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