Home
Why this British leather saddle is still going strong after over a century

The Brooks B17 leather saddle is about as traditional as cycling components get. The Brooks company, now based in Smethwick in the West Midlands, was founded in neighbouring Hockley in 1866 by John Boultbee Brooks. Initially making leather harnesses and tackle for horses, Brooks filed its first bicycle saddle patent in 1882. 

Brooks catalogue 1.jpg

Brooks catalogue 1.jpg

The B17 is the archetypal leather saddle, appearing in the Brooks catalogue for the first time in 1898. The profile was wider than today’s but essential features remain unchanged.

Brooks B17 side (1).jpg

Brooks B17 side (1).jpg

A B17 saddle comprises a leather top that’s attached to a nose piece by rivets (hence the phrase “on the rivet” to describe riding at maximum intensity), and to a metal cantle plate at the rear. The steel rails (on most models) are attached directly to the cantle plate but they’re connected to the nose piece via a threaded bolt. 

Check out our guide to the 2017 Brooks range here.

 

This design allows the nose piece to be moved independently of the rails in order to tension the leather. If the leather starts to sag, you adjust the bolt. Clever, huh?

The thing about leather is that it gradually conforms to the size and and shape of your sit bones (or ischial tuberosity, if you want to get technical about it). Some people find a B17 comfortable immediately but others need to go through the breaking in period first (and some people, it must be said, never get on with a leather saddle).

Brooks b17_standard_green (1).jpg

Brooks b17_standard_green (1).jpg

You might have heard that braking in a Brooks saddle takes months. Depending on how often you ride, it’ll probably be quicker than that. Some riders have their own methods for speeding up the process but Brooks suggests that you stick to just riding on it.  

Brooks B17 vintage (1).jpg

Brooks B17 vintage (1).jpg

“This model is undoubtedly the most popular speedman’s saddle that has ever been made,” said the 1920 Brooks catalogue of the B17C Champion model. 

“Although lightness has been one of the principal aims, this has not been attained at the sacrifice of strength.”

Brooks catalogue 1920.png

Brooks catalogue 1920.png

A Brooks B17 can’t rival today’s synthetic saddles in terms of weight – you’re looking at 520g for the £90 B17 Standard – but fans talk of an unrivalled level of comfort and outstanding durability thanks to leather that’s 5mm thick. Treated well, it’s a saddle that could easily outlive you!

Read our review of the Brooks B17 S women’s saddle here.

Seen on the bikes of serious racers for decades, the B17 is these days most frequently used by touring, Audax and other long-distance cyclists, but there’s no reason why you can’t fit it to the vast majority of seatposts out there for any type of riding.   

When she reviewed the women's B17 S saddle for road.cc, Lara Dunn said, "The additional weight over modern style saddles is not significantly noticeable in use on tourers and what tend to be heavier bikes anyway, and the durability of the Brooks definitely compensates for this, as does the way the leather moulds to the riders shape with use, making for a uniquely comfortable custom fit.

"It’s a sleek, smart, well crafted saddle that’s a good all-rounder for touring, recreational riding and commuting and it’ll give you comfortable service for years and years."

Brooks b17_black_copper (1).jpg

Brooks b17_black_copper (1).jpg

Various B17 models have been available over the years and today there’s one with titanium metalwork (£185), another with a cutaway centre (£90) to relieve perineal pressure, and a narrow version (£90). There are also models for women. Brooks sometimes releases special models in small numbers, such as the Black Copper Ltd Ed (£105) which, as the name suggests, comes with black leather, copper rivets and copper-plated rails.

Brooks is today owned by Selle Royal, the Italian company that’s also home to Fizik and Crankbrothers, but its saddles are still made in England. With well over a century of history behind it, the B17 is still Brooks’ best selling model and it looks set to be around for a whole lot longer.

www.brooksengland.com

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

9 comments

Avatar
DanielCoffey [18 posts] 2 months ago
4 likes
Quote:

You might have heard that braking in a Brooks saddle takes months.

Time to check the brake pads then?

I had a B17 Honey Copper on my last bike and have the standard Honey on my current Surly Disk Trucker. Despite a 6-year break between the two bikes, I very quickly settled into the new B17 and really enjoy it. I didn't use the Brooks Proofide on the new saddle as I remembered the old tin of Proofide went rancid fairly quickly. I used Obenauf LP which I had on hand for my leather boots and jackets. Works really well and keeps the worst of the rain off.

Brooks saddles really do last well and I love seeing folks at the local Farmers' Market with their old Brooks.

Avatar
alotronic [527 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Love/hate.

Most of the year I hate them. I have a narrow and a normal - the narrow I've been trying to get along with (I have a theoretically narrow compatable butt) and had since new and really don't like it much but I keep thinking it has to get better because...

I have a normal which I got on a 2nd bike 15 years ago that is properly old and is wonderful. I just did LEL on it, no issues. I am worried it has to die soon which is why it only comes out on the long rides, but when it does, excellent. Strangely it even works with aerobars set in the endurance position (high).

But if you are going to be touring or audaxing or anything with bars at or just under seat height then a b17 in the stable is a good idea. They don't really work with lower reaches to the bars, the nose comes up too high for that - and this gets worse over time as the middle sags a little.

Avatar
StraelGuy [1042 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

When I built my Strael I took my new honey B17 off my carbon Giant Defy and fitted it to the Strael. Looks odd (but great with tan bar tape) but super comfy.

Avatar
Woldsman [181 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

My touring bike came with a 'lump' of a saddle, as someone called it, so when I had the frameset resprayed I took the old B17 from my 'winter' bike and put it on the tourer. I do think I had put too much Proofide on - it sagged in the middle. 

The new B17 went on the winter bike and I put hardly any Proofide on. It's still looking - and feeling - good. 

I never had a problem breaking in the saddle. In fact when I took up cycling again I used mainly running clothing. My first ride on the Brooks was about 70 miles and I was wearing regular undercrackers and running tights. 

I would probably agree with the point about not having the bars much lower than the saddle if the saddle sags too much. My winter bike has what some might consider a long and low position. 

Avatar
DanielCoffey [18 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

If the saddle sags, you have tightened the nose bolt a quarter turn, yes?

Avatar
Flying Scot [978 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

I feel that Brooks rider fall into 2 categories, the first that always used, then people newer to the game who didn't ride them in heir heyday.

Thing is, in the 70's and 80's most couldn't wait to get rid of them for a Rolls or Turbo. - or if you were mental - a unicator.

They really dont suit everyone, I hate them and am now comfortable I have sold all the old ones from the shed, loft etc. The only one that suited my big torque low cadence style legs was the swallow, the others were always too deep. I personally think the Brooks style leather saddles suit the lighter rider. That said I would take a Brooks over a big lumpy padded broad thing like you get on city bikes.

Bearing in mind I ride a 1950's bike I really should have one, but then I dont use 1950's brakes either!

 

 

EDIT..... I have a Raleigh Chopper saddle in the shed, it was indeed a Brooks!

Avatar
nniff [193 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

I have one and it suits me, and I had another many years ago.

 

They do say that the best way to break one in is to place it in a bucket of warm water with a rock.  Leave the saddle there for a few hours, then take it out, throw it away and sit on the rock instead

Avatar
RobD [520 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

I do love seeing the occasionally incongruous bike parked up at one of the local cyclist stop offs, something super modern and carbon fibre with a brooks saddle on it, it makes me smile that someone is happy to go with what they prefer rather than  trying to get on with something that looks in keeping with the bike.

Some of the more modern and racy saddles look fantastic on steel or Ti frames, and having ridden a cambium (I know it's a very different idea) as well as a swift I think it's hard to beat when you're not going for full gas racing.

Avatar
BarryBianchi [345 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

I have several Brooks.  They are all less confortable than modern saddles and weigh about the same as a small family hatchback.  Can't get rid of them though.