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What do you get if you combine the classic Brooks 'hammock' saddle design with thoroughly modern materials? You get the supremely comfortable Cambium C17.
The Brooks England Way is to make a saddle by stretching a piece of good-quality cowhide across a metal frame so the rider sits on a slightly flexible platform that can move and conform. Over time, the leather wears in and shapes itself to the rider's bum, rather like a good pair of shoes.
It's an approach that some swear by, guarding a prized, well-worn Brooks saddle as jealously as Gollum coveting the ring, and passing it on from bike to bike.
But some find the wait for a Brooks to fit well is too long. In search of instant gratification of the ischial bones, they work their way through a succession of standard seats with plastic hulls, foam or gel padding and leather or microfiber covers, eventually ending up with saddles that more or less work.
The Cambium is a third path to enlightenment. It has the same basic structure as a classic Brooks saddle, but instead of a sheet of leather across the ends of the rails, Brooks has come up with a combination of vulcanised natural rubber, cotton canvas and structural textile for the top.
This top is inherently flexible, like a worn leather Brooks or a new one with the tension backed off slightly, and it moves slightly as you pedal. It supports you where you need it, and the movement helps prevent chafing.
There's still a getting-used-to-it period as your bum adapts to the shape, but it's been very brief for me: a couple of 35km rides and I was completely comfortable after 100km in the saddle, buttocks cosseted by the Cambium's comfy hammock design.
As well as the flexible, slightly stretchy rubber top, the Cambium provides its comfort by suspending you between the saddle ends. Regular saddles do this to an extent as well, but their rail ends are usually much closer together than the Cambium's, so you don't get as much of a suspension effect.
But here, you have a real hammock effect and that makes the Cambium supremely comfortable, for me at least. After Sunday's 100km ride, the rest of me was trashed after the inevitable final scamper back into town, but my bum was completely comfortable.
It's quite a wide saddle, significantly broader than my previous favourite, stablemate fizik's Aliante. I'm surprised to say that didn't matter. I'd like to try the narrower version, the C15, that Brooks has in the works, but I suspect that the ability of the Cambium to move with you means width — or rather narrowness — is less important.
The Cambium not quite the first non-leather hammock saddle from the family of companies of which Brooks is part. Parent Selle Royal also owns fizik and there's a conceptual relationship between classic Brooks saddles and fizik's Kurve saddles. You can tweak the comfort of a Kurve by changing the hull tension, for example, and the rail attachment points are a long way apart.
But where fizik went high-tech with the Kurve, with lots of carbon fiber and other clever composites, the Cambium is much more down to earth and has an artisanal beauty. The cast aluminium ends are pleasingly curved and the top has a hand-crafted look, even though it must be moulded. It's a lovely thing, and not at all out of place on a high-end bike.
This isn't a saddle for weight-weenies though. At 418g it's probably the heaviest saddle with a three-figure price tag aside from classic Brooks or similar leather seats. Even the Brooks Swallow Classic titanium at 360g is lighter, though that saddle's titanium hardware does mean it's also eye-wateringly expensive.
At £105 the Cambium is right in the ballpark of high-end saddles as far as price goes, and you can see where the money's gone.
Real world longevity remains a question mark, but only because I don't yet have thousands and thousands of kilometres on my Cambium. I've no reason to think it won't be extremely durable. If it does get damaged, you can replace the rails, the nose and back pieces or the top by simply undoing the Torx screws that hold it all together.
The bottom line (sorry) is that this is the most immediately and enduringly comfortable saddle I've ever used. If you value comfort over weight, then the Brooks Cambium C17 should be on your list of saddles you must try, and soon.
Wonderfully comfortable fusion of classic ideas and modern materials.
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Make and model: Brooks Cambium C17 saddle
Size tested: Brown
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 Cambium is a range of saddles made from vulcanized natural rubber and organic cotton canvas enhanced by a thin layer of structural textile for added resilience and legendary Brooks longevity.
The uniquely flexible, maintenance-free, waterproof top is designed to follow the rider's movements to deliver immediate comfort and ease of use.
To the eye, the C17 may appear quite racy in its shape and lines, which indeed it is. A saddle you can really settle into, the geometry and dimensions are based closely on that of our most recognizable model, the B17, ensuring the same timeless comfort mile after mile.
Unarguably heavy compared to other £100 saddles, but that's not the point.
The most comfortable saddle I've used. I had high expectations, given the hype; the Cambium lived up to them.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The comfort, the construction, the repairability.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It would be nice if it were lighter. Brooks is rumoured to be working on a lighter version.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Only the weight stops me from awarding this saddle full marks.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Brooks says: The new construction of Cambium Saddles works like a hammock and delivers immediate comfort while absorbing vibration and shock, performance traditionally found only with natural leather saddles. This saddle is assembled from replaceable parts and requires no special tools for servicing. The vulcanized rubber top is practically indestructible; should your Cambium frame suffer an unfortunate accident, repairs can be quickly and easily accomplished by you or your trusted Brooks Dealer of Excellence.
Age: 48 Height: 5ft 11in Weight: 85kg
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
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: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding,
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.