The iconic Brooks B17 Saddle is a popular choice with long-distance bicycle tourists. I’ve used a Brooks B17 for more than a decade over thousands of kilometres. Here’s everything you need to know about buying the perfect touring saddle.
When I first started out bicycle touring I bought a second-hand Dawes Galaxy. Most Galaxies are fitted with a Brooks B17 saddle as standard. However, the classic leather bicycle saddle had been replaced.
This sturdy beast came with a deluxe cushioned bike saddle. It was awful. The soft gel topping squished outwards and chaffed my thighs. It was a foaming hulk of a bicycle saddle. A nice-looking thing but not a comfortable bike seat for long rides.
As I clocked up the miles and went deeper into the bike touring scene I realised that there were a lot of alternatives out there.
Choosing the right saddle for bicycle touring
Over the years I became a keen bike commuter. I loved to ride to work. It was my favourite way to start the day. I bought a new bike – another second-hand steed. This time the saddle was lean, mean and made almost entirely from a dense squeezy shiny plastic. It looked like a giant birds beak. I loved it.
A thirty-year old foam saddle
I also bought a classic Raleigh Road Ace. A Reynolds 531 steel-framed beauty that was as old as I was. This vintage racing bicycle came with a well worn yet super comfy stiff foam saddle. It was my new favourite.
Test driving saddles for cycle touring
These two new saddles were a big improvement on the huge wedge of jelly that came with my touring bike. I replaced the gel saddle with the ancient foam Selle Royal saddle from my road bike. It made for a wonderfully smooth ride over long distances. This was a great saddle for bicycle touring.
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Why I use a Brooks B17
I thought I’d found a decent solution with my second-hand saddle swap shop. I’d bootstrapped my way to a customised bicycle saddle solution. I was pretty happy with the results.
Then I tried a Brooks B17 Saddle. Everything changed.
My mate Adrian and I had been bicycle touring around the UK. Our journeys had become longer and more adventurous. We planned a summer bike tour across Europe.
We decided it was time to buy new bikes.
Brooks B17 saddles come as standard
Our new bikes came with Brooks B17 saddles fitted as standard. We had heard glowing reviews from friends and read a bunch of good stuff on the internet. That the bikes came with Brooks saddles was a deal clincher for us.
Bicycle Touring Saddle FAIL #1
A saddle that’s too soft may feel like a great choice at the start of a long ride. However, soft doesn’t equate with comfort. I discovered this the hard way with my early experiences with the gel bicycle touring saddle on my first-weekend long bike tour.
Touring Bike Saddle FAIL #2
Firm foam touring bike saddles may seem like a good choice for a long-distance bicycle tour but the fact is there’s only so much support that your rump can derive from a piece of manmade material.
Bicycle Saddle FAIL#3
Masking the discomfort of an uncomfortable bicycle saddle with padded shorts is a major error. Padded shorts are unhygienic and impractical for long-distance bicycle tours. It is better to get a saddle for bike touring that does that job in regular clothes since that’s the mainstay of a long-term bike travelers wardrobe.
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Which Brooks saddle for touring?
Brooks leather saddles are available in a wide variety of models. My 2011 Dawes Ultra Galaxy came with a Brooks B17 saddle fitted as standard. The Brooks B17 is the original and best when it comes to comfort on the bike. It is considered by many to be the gold standard in long-distance bicycle touring saddles.
The full range of Brooks B17 leather saddles include:
B17; Carved, Special, Special Titanium, Softened, Short, Carved Short, Special Short, Softened Short, Narrow, Narrow Carved, Special Brooks Lab, Team Pro Special, and finally, the Team Pro Special Short.
Brooks also produces a smaller range of new designs that take their inspiration from the original B17 saddle design. These modern Brooks leather saddles include; Swift, Swallow, Flyer; Flyer Carved, Flyer Special, Flyer Softened, Flyer Short, B67; Short, Softened, Softened Short, B66; Short, B33, B135.
These high spec leather bicycle saddles by Brooks are variations on the B17 theme which feature springs, anatomical cutouts, and graded leather finish options.
Brooks B17 Specs
Top made out of vegetable-tanned leather
Tubular rivets – ladies version
Frame made out of black enameled steel
Dimensions (LxWxH): 242 x 176 x 58 mm
Weight: 460 g
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Brooks B17 Standard Leather Bicycle Saddle
Since my Dawes Ultra Galaxy came with a brand spanking new Brooks B17 saddle in black leather I was pretty set that this was the right choice for my long-distance bike tour around Europe.
All that was left was to break in my new leather saddle before I set off!
Breaking in a leather bike touring saddle
In all honesty, I was quite precious about my new Brooks saddle when I first got it. I was super OCD about taking good care of it. I needn’t have been so protective. Brooks leather saddles are built to last.
I knew there were a few miles to do before my Brooks saddle performed its legendary magic and shaped to my buttocks. But just how many I wasn’t entirely sure.
How long does breaking in a saddle take?
Since we were leaving town quite soon I just had time to make a handful of long rides to break in the saddle. In the end, it wasn’t such a big deal and I actually enjoyed the process of feeling the leather saddle soften beneath my cheeks.
There’s a tipping point when a Brooks leather saddle goes from pleasantly stiff to luxuriously supple. I found that came sometime around a few hundred hours in the saddle. In bicycle touring terms it took about ten days to break in my Brooks B17 leather saddle from box-fresh to sublime comfort.
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Taking care of a leather saddle is easier than it may sound. As a natural material, it’s fantastically resilient and marvelously weatherproof in a way that synthetic materials simply are not.
Happily, Brooks makes it easy to care for your B17 leather saddle. They produce a substance called Proofide – the only recommended product for Brooks leather saddles.
Simply apply Proofide liberally to the underside of the saddle and work slowly and methodically to the topside working the cream into the leather with a gentle rubbing motion. It’s a very satisfying procedure.
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Brooks Saddle Review
Overall, I would highly recommend the Brooks B17 saddle for long-distance bicycle touring. My B17 leather saddle has lasted well over a decade of bike travel in climates ad destinations all over the world.
After many years of use, I found that my B17 saddle was beginning to dip in the middle more than I felt comfortable with. So, one day in North Vietnam I asked a local engineer to drill three small holes into each side of the saddle.
I threaded the holes with strong skinny rope and tied the two sides together. This had the effect of lifting the leather saddle down the middle, making it more to my riding style. This modification essentially mirrored the design of the B17 Carved Leather Saddle.
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Should you buy a Brooks saddle?
Absolutely. What else would you spend the money on that offers such longevity and comfort? A Brooks B17 saddle is a little piece of cycling history. There’s nothing quite like owning a Brooks leather saddle. Brooks has been making these fine leather bicycle saddles for more than 100 years. That kind of heritage marks the sign of quality. The Brooks B17 saddle is a design classic.
Have you used a Brook B17 for your bicycle touring adventures? Share your experiences in the comments below.