The Brooks Cambium C13 is the latest model in the English brand's excursion into non-traditional materials for its saddles. There's no leather or chromed steel at all here, replaced by the vulcanised natural rubber and cotton top surface previously seen in the original Cambium models, and – what's this? – a full carbon fibre structure underneath. It's very well made (in Italy, not Birmingham, unlike the majority of the range) and there's no breaking-in period, unlike the leather models.
At 262g, it's also the lightest saddle yet from Brooks, by some margin, light enough for your fast bike.
Brooks saddles have been popular for touring and long-distance riding for well over 100 years. Until very recently, they all used a section of leather suspended between the ends of the saddle, which, over time, would soften a little to suit the shape of the owner. If you looked after it, a Brooks saddle would last a very long time indeed, and fans would commonly proclaim them the most comfortable that money could buy.
By switching to a rubber and cotton top layer, Brooks has removed the notorious breaking-in period from its saddles. We reviewed the Cambium C17 a couple of years ago and John proclaimed it "the most immediately and enduringly comfortable saddle I've ever used".
Between the Cambium C17 and this C13, Brooks launched a narrower version, the C15 Cambium, and models with a cutout (the C15/C17 Cambium Carved). Brooks is part of a group of companies including Selle Royal and Fizik, and their collective experience with carbon fibre was undoubtedly called upon for the C13.
As well as being 150g lighter, the C13 is also narrower than previous models at 132mm wide, as befits a saddle with more racy aspirations. It has no padding at all, the upper surface being composed of a dense rubber and cotton hybrid that feels quite hard when you squeeze it.
As with its leather brethren, the comfort comes from the top layer's ability to stretch a little and conform to your shape; you sit in it like a tiny hammock. The carbon fibre undercarriage is attached only at the front and the rear of the saddle, as with all of Brooks' other saddles.
With Brooks' leather saddles, you need to look after the leather if you want it to last a long time, using a treatment to keep it supple, and avoiding getting it very wet where possible. Here the rubber shrugs off rain and dirt, and this fit-and-forget resilience is definitely a welcome change for the good.
The carbon rails are really nicely made, with a grippy cloth bonded into the resin around the sections where the seatpost clamps. At this point they are an oval cross-section which is 9mm in the vertical axis; I had no difficulty with the two seatposts I fitted it to, but in some cases you might find you need an adaptor or even a new post (7mm is the typical size of most saddle rails).
Instead of the traditional copper rivets, there are black anodised aluminium 'rivets' to join the rubber to the carbon – giving an appropriate balance of tradition and tech. They're actually Torx screws.
When reviewing saddles, there's no getting away from the fact that they are a very subjective area; what works for one gnarled old salt won't necessarily suit the posterior of the next pink-cheeked whippet. I generally get on better with a saddle that has at least some padding, and when I used the C13 daily I found I'd be a little sore by the end of the week.
I almost always ride in padded bibs but with this saddle this was essential – I couldn't sit on it for more than a couple of miles without a decent chamois. With a good pair of bibs on, I could ride a few hours without discomfort, but I wouldn't put it up there with my favourite saddles (most of which are Prologos).
Other users had different experiences, and I know several people who maintain that Brooks Cambium saddles are the most comfortable they've ever tried. Our Dave Atkinson finds them comfortable but squeaky – if you're above a certain weight then the rubber top layer can get pushed all the way down onto the top cap of your seatpost, and no amount of grease will stop it squeaking.
I tried a C17 Cambium Carved by way of comparison, which, in fairness, is quite a different saddle – significantly wider and with a cutout. I found the C17 yielded much more under my weight, seemingly because the cutout allowed it to be more flexible, and as a consequence it was more comfortable for me (although wider than I'd really want). However, at 400g, it's unlikely you'll find too many of them on race bikes.
I expect the main selling point for the C13 will be the weight – it is much lighter than any previous Brooks, and really doesn't look out of place on a race bike. For the money, 262g is actually still heavier than many; that rubber is much denser than the foam and plastic more commonly used in saddles. By way of comparison, the Selle Italia Novus that I tested last year is a similar price and around 50g lighter.
I really wanted to like the Cambium C13, and it's seen a lot of use over the last three months. In the end, though, it just wasn't as comfortable for me as other saddles. We're all different, though, and saddles are an area where this is very much the case, so it's quite possible that your bum would love it. I've given it a good mark as it's a lovely thing, very well made and I've heard enough anecdotal evidence to establish that other people find it very comfortable. I'm just not one of them. I suspect that a wider version with the cutout could be a better match for my behind.
Tradition meets high-tech carbon – finally, a Brooks saddle that is light enough to race on
road.cc test report
Make and model: Brooks Cambium C13
Size tested: 275 x 132mm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Brooks says: "Brooks introduces the new carbon Cambium C13, continuing a proud racing tradition which has lasted for over a century. Tested by over 100 riders, including cycling icon David Millar who rode his C13 over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges any racing saddle might face.
"Cambium saddles are made from a vulcanised natural rubber top that follows the movements of the rider for responsive control and all-day comfort. Suspended over a one-piece braided carbon frame, the C13 is light and strong for today's performance cyclist.
"The phrase 'On the Rivet' stems from a time when all racing cyclists rode leather saddles. When attacking a short climb, attempting a daring breakaway, or merely trying to maintain their place in the peloton, racers would balance on the front rivet to achieve the perfect position for maximum effort, thus coining the famous expression. The C13 represents Brooks return to performance cycling, putting us firmly back on the rivet."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Finished with aluminium rivets in all black, the C13 is the first in a new lightweight Cambium range from which various new models will follow.
Length 275 mm
Width 132 mm
Height 55 mm
Weight 259g (claimed) 262g (weighed)
9mm Oval Carbon Rail may require seatpost adapter
MADE IN ITALY
Really nicely made – the rubber top part looks smart and hardwearing. The carbon lowers are very nicely finished with friction cloth wrapped in the resin where the seatpost clamps. Black aluminium "rivets" with Torx screws hold the two together.
It's a race saddle so feels quite different to most Brooks saddles. It is stiff and cut slim with a long nose.
It's too early to say whether this will last years and years, in the manner that Brooks became known for, but I can't see any weak points and after the best part of 1000km it looks like new. It's weatherproof, which is nice.
It is very light for a Brooks - 150g less than its previous lightest. However, for this sort of money (or less) you can easily buy lighter.
It's subjective but my experience wasn't the miraculous one I'd been hoping for. It's notably firmer than some other Cambium saddles, and the absence of padding meant that I found I wasn't as comfortable after daily use as I would have wanted. This is based upon my experience and other users I've talked to have found it comfortable.
The C13 is quite a bit more than other Cambium saddles, as you're trading up from aluminium and steel to carbon. If it suits you and you value low weight then you may well be prepared to pay its price.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
By objective measures, it is a really nice piece of kit – lightweight and offering the advantages of Brooks' famed design without the breaking-in period. However, I didn't find it as comfortable as some other saddles (including other Cambium ones).
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Looks great, very light for a Brooks, beautifully made.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It just didn't suit me as well as some saddles.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, on lower mileage weeks.
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
I've given it a good mark as it's a lovely thing, very well made and I've heard enough anecdotal evidence to establish that other people find it very comfortable. I'm just not one of them.
About the tester
I usually ride: On-one Bish Bash Bosh My best bike is: Rose X-Lite CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.