Monday, June 22, 2009

Velo Corsetry: Rescuing Vintage Saddles

The Co-Habitant has recently acquired a gorgeous vintage Roadster. The bicycle itself was in great condition, but the B72 Brooks saddle seemed to be a goner -- hard as a rock, with cracks on the verge of forming all over the surface. Rather than give up on the saddle, he decided to try the lacing technique. Lacing can rescue saddles that have become rigid and brittle with age: It holds the shape of the saddle under pressure of the cyclist's behind, allowing the leather to slowly regain its flexibility. Here is how it is done:

A dried-out saddle should first be treated with Neatsfoot oil. If the saddle is rescuable, it will begin to soften. Take care not to use too much oil, so as not to oversaturate: Rub the saddle with a cloth or napkin, never soak.

Punch several holes on each side of the saddle, through which the laces will be threaded.

Thread the laces through the holes, overlapping them underneath and pulling the two sides of the saddle closer together -- like tying a shoe. The traditional method is to use a long strip of leather, though some use shoe-laces.

The tightness can be adjusted, like a corset, to control the shape of the saddle. Afterwards, the laces are tied in a secure knot.

This is what the saddle looks like in the end. The stiching itself can be executed in several different ways. The Co-Habitant likes the "underneath" stitch, but the side-to-side stitch is also popular.

And voila: an ancient B72 saddle rescued and happily returned to its proper place. It has not cracked after being riden on. Happy saddle, happy Roadster, and happy Co-Habitant.

More information about lacing Brooks saddles is available from Wallington Bicycle Parts.

16 comments:

  1. Great information and the end result looks pretty good, too. What kind of bike has is it? It looks like a male version of my bike.

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  2. Thanks Jen! It is a men's Raleigh Roadster (not Sports), 24" frame, 28" wheels, rod brakes, 1972.

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  3. I later changed it so that the last three holes have the lace going under the saddle rails. This helps avoid interference with the seat hardware.

    I started the lace at the nose of the saddle, going diagonally toward the back, pulling in to desired tightness. There is some natural friction in the leather, so the process is very easy.

    Later I also shortened the bow.

    The whole contraption rides so well now!

    Enjoy :)

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  4. Now I want to do it to the saddle on my Lady's Sports! I think I'll do the side-to-side stitching though.

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  5. Good Luck...all of the B72's I have had seem to fail just behind the nose. I have reworked several B17's and B66/67's with good results though.

    Aaron

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  6. Interesting. How do they fail and what have you done to rework them? The B72 seems to be the typical saddle to have come with the Sports and Roadster models, so now we have two of these to bring back to life.

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  7. The leather tears across the saddle, just behind the nose. I typically try to stay away from the oils, except as a last resort. My first step is saddle soap, the lay it out in the sun so it can warm a bit then a couple of heavy coats of Proofide. I have had to lace a couple of the narrow ones, but have not needed to do the wider ones. My Superbe came with a B66 on it. I use B67's on 3 of my other bikes. In fact I just got a brand new Black one for my Twenty, I had to go with the single rail because I have gone with a modern micro adjust seatpost.

    It may be that the B72 saddles I had were just too far gone to salvage.

    Aaron

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  8. I picked through a few B72s for sale and when I was picking out my vintage Raleigh. Some B72s are seemingly in excellent shape but have cracks at the nose near the rivets. That's where they fail. I picked one that didn't look the best, was kind of dry and scruffy, but had zero cracks around the vital area. This saddle can be brought back 100%.

    In fact, when selecting a B72 (and possibly other Brooks saddles), it's vitally important to look at the nose rivets area. Does anything look like a developing failure line in the leather?

    I saw several old Brooks saddles in bike shops for sale, and they all had cracks starting at rivet points in the nose. The guy who sold me my Raleigh (and shared this piece of advice) told me he wants to do an art project from all the failed Brooks saddles that he collected over the years.

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  9. My B72 failed just the same way, I think:

    http://oldbikeblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/updates-to-huffeigh.html

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  10. @Thom

    Yep, that seems to be a weak point. I have never seen another saddle fail like that except the B72. I wonder if it has to do with the minimal springing and wider saddle type putting stress on that area? I am a fair sized human and can take advantage of the springs in the B66/67 saddles ;-)

    Aaron

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  11. Interesting. I am trying to understand about the the minimal springing and wider seating area -- shouldn't such a construction be less vulnerable to stress? The B18 Lady has the same degree of spring and an even wider seating area, but I do not think the original ones were prone to breakage.

    I have observed that many people don't like both the vintage and modern B72, citing discomfort issues -- especially women. When I get back to the US (2 weeks!), I will be able to compare a modern B66S with a modern B18 and a vintage B72.

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  12. Oh, yes, the B72 nose failures! Everyone's B72 fails exactly the same way. The reason, I think, is that construction allows the leather to flex up and down too much at the nose. It's a by-product of the seat being comfortable at the seating position, the nose flex itself is not necessary for comfort (there should be no body parts pressing on the nose of the saddle!), yet it happens because your bottom bounces on the thicker part of the B72 going over bumps and stresses the leather.

    I observed what my lacing did to the nose part and I think that it makes it less prone to stress that causes rips. The laces hold it rigid and absorb some of the shocks. Time will tell, of course, but I really like the feel of my laced B72. It almost has a hint of "springiness" and is buttery soft... I need to go take Rodney out for a spin...

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  13. Thanks for the helpful post. As a veteran of a few saddle restores I was wondering how you determine how much neatsfoot oil is enough?

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  14. Thanks for the hints. How do you stop the stitching chafing on the inside of the upper thighs?

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  15. 1.5 years later, another reader asking the same question. I just purchased a vintage b72 today and am wondering if the lacing will chafe my inner thighs particularly when riding in shorts and skirts!

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