Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brooks Colt: New vs Vintage

I have a new-release Brooks "Colt" saddle on loan from Harris Cyclery (for comparison with the Gilles Berthoud) and have just received a vintage "Colt" from a reader to try out as well. The weather we've been having has not allowed me to ride either of them just yet, but I thought a side-by-side comparison might be useful for those who are wondering how the re-released version compares to the original (produced 1979-2001).

What attracts me to the "Colt" model, is its shape, which in some ways resembles the Selle Italia "Turbo" and similar models of 1980s Italian racing saddles. Those saddles have fairly narrow (but not too narrow) platforms that gently curve in a way that feels very comfortable to me. But while the foam, plastic and padded leather surfaces of the "Turbo" style saddles start to bother me after a while, the suspended leather of the Brooks "Colt" should solve that problem.

Like the '80s Italian racing saddles, the "Colt" has a fully covered, squarish, down-turned nose. It is the only Brooks model where the nose is styled in this manner, and to me the design holds the promise of anatomical comfort. The new and the vintage versions of the "Colt" appear to be identical in form, dimensions and basic construction - differing only in colour, in the shape of the Brooks placket in the back (see previous picture), and, of course, in the amount of wear.

I have two roadbikes for which I need saddles, and I have more or less decided to keep the Berthoud for one of them. For the other, I would ideally keep the vintage "Colt," and return the new one. One reason I prefer the vintage version is the classic, rich brown colour (the only normal colour the new release comes in, is black - the other options being purple, mustard, turquoise and hot pink). The other reason, is that everyone complains about the "Colt" being difficult to break in, and the vintage version looks like it has most definitely been broken in by the previous owner.

On the other hand, the vintage saddle may in fact be too broken in. The colour variations in the leather make this difficult to capture in pictures, but basically the sit bone indentations from the previous owner are so deep, that a narrow, raised ridge has formed along the center of the saddle. There are several online tutorials that give instructions for re-shaping saddles that exhibit such distortions, and I am considering doing this. The process (as described by Hilary Stone) basically involves getting the saddle wet, then stuffing it with paper and reshaping it as it dries. Curious about the experience of those who have tried it!

30 comments:

  1. I realize this is a low brow question, but being from a smallish city and not into bike culture (aside from this one blog) I have no idea what a suspended leather saddle actually is. I suspect it is build like a drum. I quick google search shows lots of top side pictures but only a few underneath pictures.

    Does this one have the network of springs underneath, or is it just leather over a metal frame?

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    1. Erin there is a nice video showing the process that Brooks uses for making their saddles. There are other comments below that describe the saddle. If you are looking for a video example here is the full link...

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9w-y24Waz4

      As an added benefit you will get to see the heritage of these wonderful saddles as well as their origins. Enjoy-

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  2. "Suspended leather" just means that it's stretched over metal rails. It can be either with springs ("sprung") for extra suspension, or without springs ("unsprung"). The models for road bikes are usually without springs; the ones for upright bikes are usually with. There are also different sizes of springs on different models, from tiny to huge, for different degrees of suspension. Hope this helps!

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  3. I’m a big fan of Brooks’s saddles and have ridden B-17s for years. My wife however has been slow to warm up to the idea of even trying one. She swears by Terry saddle, vinyl cover, foam padding and all. I’ll share this post with her…maybe she’ll convert.

    Nice post, Jack

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  4. I'm curious about their colour selection - turquoise and hot pink?? Sounds like they're marketing it squarely at the female market.

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    1. Or maybe the hipster cycling hype? With all the color matched components, the saddles have to follow...

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  5. Katie - I think they are catering to the "hipster fixie" market : ) Here is an image showing all the colours. The mustard is a much brighter greenish-yellow in real life, and the others are brighter than in the picture as well.

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  6. V. Thanks for the review. Velo Hobo. I'm a fan of the B-17 as well, but if your wife likes her saddle, why try to convert her. Whatever works works.

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  7. Velo Hobo: the colt is _not_ your typical "comfy" Brooks to get for your wife! This is a quasi-racing saddle, requires some of your weight to always be on your hands and feet, not just butt.

    I would caution against trying to covert someone away from plush/foam saddles and towards B17/and even narrower Brooks. Perhaps a B66/67, Ladies B18 and other wide Brooks are a better choice for what sounds like (I am guessing) an upright hybrid bike.

    Also--gel/foam/plush saddles are supposed to be comfortable for very short rides, a few miles at a time. If that's what she does, do you really see a need to change to a saddle that scares even some of the seasoned cyclists?

    Sorry if this sounds like I am telling you what to do. :)

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  8. I agree with both of the above. The Colt is not the one to try for those new to Brooks. If you'd like an overview of the models, have a look at this post I wrote earlier. And also, if the wife likes her saddles, perhaps it's just best to leave it? Unless she complains about them, but is afraid to try something new.

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  9. I love the comment on the photo that reads "The turquoise model looked especially attractive"

    Sure it does... It'd go nicely with one of those 80's windbreaker jackets that is made of a patchwork of teal and purple with gold stitching thrown in for good measure.

    My experience with Brooks saddles also tells me it will leave a lovely teal Brooks shaped stain on your jeans as well.

    -----

    @ Velouria, have you considered a Selle An-Atomica saddle?

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  10. If I had a roadbike that was entirely black or entirely white, I would consider a colourful saddle. Especially if the bike was of the racy variety, it could look good. But otherwise I prefer a more organic "colourway".

    I have heard about Brooks staining, but it has never happened to me. I have a cream trench coat that I wear on dark brown and black saddles all the time, and it's fine. Maybe with some colours it happens more than others?

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  11. My black Brooks have stained my bottom once or twice. Both times it was very hot and it rained. (I use fenders but the air was very wet).

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  12. Turquoise? Hot pink? Mustard? On a Brooks saddle.

    Even purple--my favorite color--might be a bit much.

    I'm going to blame my own people: Ever since Brooks was bought by an Italian company, they're doing things that would leave John Boultbee Brooks turning under his high-wheeler. Those Italians!

    I, too, never experienced problems with the stains from black or brown Brooks saddles. I never had that problem with similar Ideale saddles, either. However, some of the newer colors have been problematic. That's the reason why they made gray saddles for only a year.

    If I need to try another saddle, I might go for a Colt--or, in spite of what I said earlier, a Berthoud. But I don't have that need right now.

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  13. phillipe - That's good to know; I will watch for it in the rain.

    Justine - How is your Gyes (sp?) saddle holding up?

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  14. I really like the vintage Colt. Of course you would have to be able to get the leather stretched into shape (or whatever you would have to do) so that there is not a ridge down the middle. But, would the reader who is letting you try it out allow you to do that?

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  15. Those curves are gorgeous! I'm all over anything Brooks. I don't think I'd want a used one, though. As you mention, breaking in the saddle is all about conforming it to your particular shape, so using a saddle broken in for someone else could not be as comfortable.

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  16. Jim - I'd pay for the saddle first and do it at my own risk. I have a good feeling about it, so I think it's worth it. Being an old saddle, the price is pretty good, so it's not a huge risk.

    For those interested I've gotten some further suggestions about the soaking here. I think placing a wet rag on top, rather than submerging the whole thing in water, is the way I'll go.

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  17. I am going to pass on some hearsay from way back in the dim past.

    I was 17 and working in my first bike shop job as a new college freshman, one of the other mechanics was trying to sell me a used Brooks Professional in about the same shape as your vintage Colt. When I commented that there wasn't much chance of it working out when it was obviously in a deeply committed relationship with another mans behind, I was informed that all one had to do to reprogram an otherwise serviceable Brooks was to get it wet as you say, then titen the adjusting nut till it started to stretch the previous impressions slightly, ride it hard and put it away wet and let it dry completely.

    I don't remember why I didn't buy the saddle, I was probably holding out for a turquoise or lavender one, but it was accepted by all the old farts(like 25 or 26 years old) who rode Brooks' that that method of re-breaking in a used leather saddle was effective. It makes sense.

    Really though, I think this whole question of trying to salvage some cast-off relic of Britain's glory days of the 1980s, thrilling as they were, sounds like a job-killing Eastern Elitist plot to deprive the hard working Amuricans slaving away in the wholesale import industry that has made this nation great, of the opportunity to provide their families with the boats they so richly deserve! Do the RIGHT thing, buy 2 NEW saddles in black and mustard and MAKE AMERICA GREAT!!!(and send me the old one).

    Spindizzy

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  18. : ))

    I am partly trying to counterbalance the obscene cost of the Berthoud, but also the vintage version of the Colt being brown is a factor. Why on Earth did Brooks not add classic brown to the line up for this model?? The classic vintage look is in with the hipsters too, after all.

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  19. That's the second used Colt I've seen that has ended up with a pronounced ridge in the middle. Here is a much more severe case from a recent ebay auction. I wonder if the shape of the Colt makes it prone to this kind of wear pattern? I'm skeptical of the ability of the damp water treatment to restore the shape AND STRENGTH of a well -used saddle. However, I also like a good experiment, so will be interested to hear what happens if you give it a try.

    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=120671735089&ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT#ht_500wt_1156

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  20. There has been no real reason why we did not release the Colt in brown, we simply did not. Perhaps we will in the future.

    As for why we brought the Colt back, I'm sure that the color range we selected makes our decision fairly obvious. Brooks must cater to a large spectrum of the cycling public, and as such we make an effort to have something for everyone (even hipsters)

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  21. DavidK - Goodness, now that is a serious ridge!

    bregan - I understand your reasons entirely, though I still wish for brown. I am glad that Brooks appeals to lots of different segments of the population, as this ensures the company remains in business. And I think it is important to keep a product contemporary, while not compromising on core principles. All of this Brooks has done well in my view.

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  22. ...Oh wait - and we do have a green Brooks on one of our bikes : ) At some point, I can see myself on a green Swift or Swallow. But green is a special colour.

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  23. The ridge-of-pain business happens a lot to Ideale saddles for some reason. There are no new ones to be had, and I've only seen a few vintage ones in person, but many online pictures of used Ideales from the past seem to have that ridge. Maybe they were all used a lot, or maybe they are more prone to it, I don't really know.

    I have a Brooks Flyer that I rode a lot and it could be headed in that direction. I think the mechanism for the ridge is this: people ride their saddle plenty of miles, some in the wet and it gets very soft and supple. Perhaps too much so. Next they decide they can't keep riding such a soft saddle anymore, since it needs to be fairly tight to support their weight well, it gets uncomfortable, so they have a choice--replace it or tighten it. Naturally, if they tighten the bolt, it is the central portion that experiences the most tension and together with additional riding that begins to form the ridge. I am sure it happens to some extent without tightening, but if the deformation is too severe and the leather is too thinly stretched, the saddle may be approaching end-of-life.

    I think this particular Colt is fine, though. We'll figure something out with it.

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  24. Interesting. So what you're saying, is that you think that saddles that show sagging or the "banana effect" have been ridden a lot and not tightened, while the ones with longitutinal ridges were tightened? But how do you explain then that the effects seem to be model specific? For example, I have seen many "banana" B17s, but none with these ridges. And conversely, I have seen several Ideale saddles with ridges, but no banana Ideales.

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  25. It seems to me that the few leather saddles I've seen with a ridge were the ones that appeared to get the least(or worst) care. I've seen some but the vast majority of old, well used quality saddles didn't have a pronounced ridge and the ones that did appeared to be on bikes where the saddle may not have been nose-high enough and the rider was sitting in the middle of the unsupported area and too far from the rear of the saddle(don't misunderstand,I'm not one to actually sit on the rivets or the actual steel support). But I'm wrong on this sort of thing about as often as I'm right.

    Spindizzy

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  26. That's a beautiful blue fabric you chose to display the seats.

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  27. My Wife is looking at geting a violet colt saddle for her Pink Brompton which has got white and yellow flowers on it Janet up to 2 years ago hated the thourght of riding a pink bike she has always bean a blue colured Girl

    but when she went throught that thing that all youu girsl go therough she came out the other side a diffrent sort of girl it was like been married to some one else its grate got a new wooman without the pain of a split any Janet has tryed my b17 and said it was not to bad but do you think the bed in on the colt is worse than the b17 which i founn not to be to bad at all

    Regards Alan

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  28. I was lucky to found one of this at a Salvation Army store for $25. It was a like a dream come true because I always wanted a vintage Brooks for my vintage bicycle :D. I do like the vintage one over the new one because the character of the break in leather. Since it's already break in, it was very comfortable to ride on.

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