A Christmas present to sit on

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving — and the odd drink, p'raps — and I received the perfect present from Secret Santa — a Brooks B17 Imperial saddle, for my fixiethumbs up

My new Brooks B17 Imperial, courtesy of Secret Santa

My new Brooks B17 Imperial, courtesy of Secret Santa

Brooks leather saddles are the main-stay go-to saddle for all long-distance cyclists, because over time the leather shapes itself to your buttocks and they become the least-uncomfortable saddle available.  Forget gel saddles and all of that type: massaging your meat with jelly is actually incredibly painful, because the constant and forced rolling motion of the skin caused by the side-to-side instability of the gel layer of the saddle actually causes blisters and sores.

Since London-Edinburgh-London in 2013, which I rode on a B17 Standard — the one without the hole — then I suffered from certain worrying gentlemen's issues for months afterwards, so now I use the B17 Imperial avec hole: the hole reduces the pressure applied to the bundle of nerves around the perineum and helps against the aforementioned issues.  I rode a B17 Imperial for Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 and I didn't suffer anywhere near as much!

My new saddle Proofided and wrapped for a gentle cooking

My new saddle Proofided and wrapped for a gentle cooking

Leather saddles take a bit of work to break in and maintain properly: before use they need to be waxed in, using something like Brooks' own rather pricey Proofide.  I use an old toothbrush to get plenty of Proofide onto both the top, polished surface and into the grain of the underside, unfinished surface, including into all the corners around the metal frame.  I then wrap the whole thing in clingfilm to keep the Proofide liquid and sit it on a warm radiator for a night or two.  When the clingfilm comes off then I gently polish off the excess from the top side only — the underside needs to retain its wax layer to prevent moisture damage.

Being a B17 Imperial then it has to be laced to prevent too much sag — the removal of some of the ridgeline material from the structure means it's not quite as strong and does tend to sag much quicker than a B17 Standard.  I've used red laces this time.  I've fitted the saddle to my new-ish fixed-wheel bike, which I've been riding with the stock Specialized saddle, and I'm looking forward to riding on it for the first time on tomorrow's CTC Sunday ride (if the weather holds).

My new Brooks fitted to my fixie

My new Brooks fitted to my fixie

Mind you, I've still got 500 miles or so of minor discomfort to break my behind into the shape of this new saddle — it's not a quick process, but it will be worth it — it usually is!

UPDATE 10 January 2016

Okay, I rode it out with CTC today and a couple of points:

  • It's not very comfortable when new, because the leather's still hard and not yet buttock-shaped
  • From new the saddle surface is shiny and slippery, which is a bit disconcerting, because it feels like you're sliding around all over the place;  this fades with use and it achieves a decent level of friction against nylon cycling shorts, making it more comfortable and reassuring.

I know it's going to be comfortable, these are just growing pains.

Nick Wilkinson

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