The Cycles Berthoud Soulor leather saddle is beautifully made and well worth the relatively modest time it takes to bed in because, once moulded, it's like it was custom made for your backside.
The Soulor is the sportiest in the range and, at 278x146mm, narrower than my ideal. Brooks' Swallow is probably its closest comparator, although the Soulor is slightly narrower. It comes in four different finishes, all with stainless steel rails. There's also a titanium-railed sibling, the Galibier, if you can justify the extra £30-odd.
The Soulor is a vegetable-tanned, pre-softened cow-hide saddle, which is joined to the steel rails via Torx bolts. Theoretically, this means it can be stripped and rebuilt, say in the event of damaging or seeking to upgrade the rails.
When I last looked, EU cattle must be slaughtered within a designated timeframe, following the BSE crisis, which could be why these and Brooks are slightly thinner than something like the Spa Cycles Aire and Nidd, which are fashioned from Australian hides, where cattle tend to live longer before slaughter.
In common with the Spa Cycles' range, the underside has been treated to a protective laminate, which also bodes well for longevity, especially if your designated machine doesn't have full-length mudguards.
Stainless steel rails might lack the bragging rights and springiness of titanium, but they strike a very good balance between price, performance and practicality. Here, they offer a decent amount of spring, although don't match that of my long-serving Spa Aire Ti.
The socket and backplate are made from a 'technical material', essentially a high-strength composite, completing the robust refinement.
I've broken in six leather saddles in the last 30 years, including ones from Brooks and Spa. Regardless of the brand, applying Proofide, Mars Oil, or similar high-quality leather 'food' will help accelerate the moulding process while simultaneously nourishing and protecting the hide from the elements. Just don't reapply too frequently after this – every six weeks or so will keep it happy.
Even with repeated feeding and a pre-softened hide, there's no getting round the fact that you've just gotta sit on it and drum out the miles. Despite being fractionally wider than my textbook ideal, from the off I've found the Soulor ideally suited to my sit bones. For the first 75 miles, it felt church-pew hard, though far more compliant than the otherwise likeable Spa range. By 85, we were in friendly acquaintance territory, and by 150 miles it was developing that unique patina and I was even able to indulge in some (seated) off-road fun.
Road, or trail, the long, narrow design encouraged an efficient, chafe-free cadence – slightly surprising, given my rough stuff tourer's more moderate rather than aggressive stance. By 200 miles (around 50 quicker than a Brooks) it was nigh-on formed to my shape, so only felt in the most positive sense.
The satin finish also seems to be less slippery and offer better tenure than Brooks or similarly glossy hides. There's enough scope for gentle shuffling but none of the distracting 'surf'.
One deviation from the traditionalist script is the lack of saddlebag loops.
It's no loss to me, since I'm inclined towards huge wedge packs and in particular Carradice's Carradry SQR Bag/SQR Tour luggage. Nonetheless, it's something to consider if you're looking to remain faithful on a period machine.
I've been a bit more sensitive when leaning this one up against brickwork and other rough surfaces. It's also worth investing in some decent quality leather preserve (not boot polish) and a saddle cover when you've got to leave it outside, or when a bike's in seasonal storage.
There's no reason why, with basic care, the Soulor shouldn't last many, many years and countless miles, though it's very difficult to say whether it's any more or less durable than other brands'.
The Soulor is €160, currently around £155, a sizeable investment though pretty typical of this genre, if towards the higher end. Brooks' Swallow weighs in at £145.99 and sports electroplated steel rails, while Spa's Aire Ti retails at £115 and, as the name suggests, features titanium rails. I've had mine for around eight years and with regular licks of hide food, it's retained its looks, although needed a good 550-600 miles before it assumed my shape.
When all's said and done, I've been seriously impressed by the Soulor and it just seems to get better as the miles increase – little surprise there, perhaps. It's extremely well made and fits the sportier design brief perfectly. Detailing seems a smidge better than the Spa Aire, which is perhaps reflected in the price, but it's too early to say whether one is necessarily superior.
If you're not sure whether a traditional leather saddle is for you, I'd perhaps suggest going for one of the Spa range, as they're offered at a very tasty discount. However, given the choice between this and the iconic Brooks, the Soulor gets my money (and it's currently £120 if you follow the buying link above).
Superb traditional leather saddle with some modern touches
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cycles Berthoud Soulor leather saddle
Size tested: 278 x 146mm
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?
Cycles Berthoud says: "The Gilles Berthoud Soulor racing saddle is manufactured in house from thick natural vegetable tanned leather.It is pre-softened to shorten the break-in period.
It is suitable for racing bicycles and other bicycle with a somewhat "aggressive" riding position.
The bolt assemblies at the rear of the saddle are situated behind the area on which the cyclist sits. No risk of damaging your cycling shorts or your skin!
Backplate made of technical material providing solidity and flexibility for maximum comfort.
Easy to disassemble thanks to an ingenious system of stainless steel bolts which fit into special-shaped brass washers. The cone-shaped washers fit snuggly into the leather avoiding any risk of damage.
Rails made of polished stainless spring steel.The rails have a relatively long straight part giving saddle setback adjustment. Patented tension system. No special tool is required to adjust the tension, a 5mm Allen key is enough.
Each saddle is individually marked with an unique serial number etched on the brass washer on top of the nose.
The leather density fluctuates between hides so the saddle weight can vary."
My feelings are that it's a beautifully crafted traditional leather saddle with a moderate break-in period.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Vegetable tanned, pre-softened leather, patented tensioning system, polished stainless-steel rails, unique serial number on the nose rivet.
From Cycles Berthoud:
Beautifully made and should last many years, with very basic care.
Once moulded to your shape, blissfully comfortable on and off road.
Difficult to comment about its long-term durability, but the standards of materials and workmanship are very high. With periodic applications of leather preserve it should last a very long time.
Not outlandish for a traditional leather saddle.
Bedding-in period less intense than some and, once done, absolutely bespoke.
Competitive relative to iconic brands, and seemingly better made.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Overall, the Soulor is very similar to other traditional leather saddles, just with greater refinement. The breaking-in period feels slightly shorter than others, which may be down to the pre-softening treatment. Proofide and other treatments help accelerate this process. Ride this particular storm and you'll be rewarded with sublime comfort. At 146mm it's slightly wider than my 143mm "ideal", but it's proven incredibly comfortable on and, surprisingly enough, off-road too.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Beautifully made, modest break-in period, perfect shape for me.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Very favourably compared with Brooks and, of course, relative to the specification. Those curious but not committed to leather saddles might find the Spa Cycles range a good starting point. They have a very high specification for the money but do take nearer 600 miles to assume the rider's shape.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Generally speaking, yes.
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's a beautifully made saddle and a great choice for enthusiasts of traditional leather designs.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)