What’s so good about traditional leather saddles from companies such as Brooks? They look old-fashioned. They’re heavier than modern saddles with plastic bases. They need a bit of care to maintain. An they’re made of leather, which is thoroughly old-tech compared to the clever textiles wrapping top-end bike perches. Yet, for anybody who uses their bike to rack up big mileage, the leather saddle is a non-negotiable component. So what’s so good about traditional leather saddles? The answer really needs only one word: comfort.
To understand why traditional leather saddles are so good we have to understand how they are built, and the natural qualities of leather. Unlike most other saddles which have a plastic base topped with padding and a cover, traditional leather saddles use tensioned leather that is suspended rather like a hammock between a bridge at the back and the nose of the saddle at the front.
Because the leather used is thick and stiff, and it’s pulled taught between the front and back, the saddle retains its shape. However, because there is not a rigid base beneath it, and the leather is relatively soft, comfort arrives in two ways. First, the leather flexes and gives underneath the rider, removing the need for padding. Second, over time, the saddle becomes ‘broken-in’ to perfectly match the shape of your bottom.
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There are two elements of care needed when buying a leather saddle: care for the saddle, and care for the rider. We’d recommend you apply a good covering of proofide to your new saddle , this will help make the leather shower-proof and will also soften it up to aid the breaking-in process. Speaking of which, when we say ‘breaking-in’ we mean a process that can take hundreds of miles, starting slowly and split up into manageable distances. Don’t think you can hop onto a new leather saddle and use it for a 100-mile ride straightaway. It will leave you in some discomfort.
Finally, because this is leather, put a rainproof cover over it if your bike is parked outside during a shower, try not to get it too wet, and reapply proofide every few months.
While the traditional leather saddle might be the traditional choice for seemingly pretty traditional kinds of riders — cycle-tourists, old school roadie club members and sensible commuters — it’s worth remembering that until the 1970s, leather saddles were the first choice for Tour de France riders. So their heritage is from a performance background and leather saddles can be suitable for almost all cycling disciplines. Leather saddles come in all shapes from wide so-called touring specific models to much thinner sports versions. We’d suggest you only use the name of the saddle as a vague guide to its suitability for your purposes; the same criteria for saddle comfort — matching the width of the saddle to the width of your sit bones — is as crucial as ever.
Finally, enjoy it. We can’t all have the best bikes in the world, but in a leather saddle you really can have the best saddle for you, and which has been uniquely moulded to your specific requirements. Treat it right and your leather saddle can be your lifelong, comforting cycling companion.