Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gilles Berthoud Saddles: Something Different Entirely!

When I started having problems with the width of the Brooks B17 on my roadbike, I received many excellent suggestions from readers. I also received a suggestion from several staff members at Harris Cyclery: a Gilles Berthoud. Bethoud saddles and luggage are made in France and are associated with exquisite randonneuring bicycles. It is generally agreed that their handlebar bags are the finest one can get, and several respected members of the industry describe the saddles as being "even better" than Brooks. However, I was both skeptical of that description and weary of the high price tag. When I returned to Harris Cyclery the following week, I still had not decided what saddle to get, and they suggested that I try the Berthoud and see what I think. So I now have the saddle on loan, and have ridden with it on my Bianchi roadbike.

The saddle I have is a Gilles Berthoud touring model, which is available in three different colours (black, natural and cork), with regular or titanium rails, and in either a man's or a woman's length. Mine is the woman's version, which is the same width as the men's (160mm), but with a shorter nose. You can read the detailed specs for these saddles here. The woman's model is called the "Marie Blanque"- after a short, steep climb in the French Pyrenees.

The Berthoud differs from Brooks and the other leather saddles available today in several ways. The leather is stretched using a different method - a modular system involving bolts instead of rivets. This system allows for the saddle to be taken a part and also for more control over tension adjustment. The leather is somewhat thicker than that of other brands.

The undercarriage consists of metal rails combined with a polycarbonate (plastic) rear support, which accommodates the proprietary Berthoud "Klikfix" saddlebag attachments. The openings can probably also be used with standard saddlebag straps, though I have not yet tried to attach one. This aspect is where the Berthoud saddles receive most of their criticism: "Not only is the saddle more expensive, but it has plastic parts?" However, both Berthoud and fans of the saddle insist that this construction method is superior in terms of comfort and adjustment possibilities, and is not prone to failure. I am cautiously open-minded on this, and would be curious to know the statistics of Brooks vs Berthoud saddle failure.

Another distinct feature of the Berthoud's design, is that the bolts (not rivets) are located behind and below the surface of the saddle - so that the cyclist's rear end does not come in contact with them no matter how far back they sit. This will make a huge difference to those who are bothered by the texture of the rivets on other leather saddles.

Finally, the very shape of the saddle is different than what I have gotten used to from Brooks. The Berthoud's surface platform is completely flat, whereas the surface of Brooks has "undulations" to it (some call it the "banana shape"). As a result,  the Berthoud works best when mounted completely level - whereas I mount the Brooks with the nose pointing slightly up, in order to not slide forward.

An additional difference, is the Berthoud's relative lack of "side skirts" (compare it to the Brooks here). Despite being classified as a touring saddle, the leather on the Berthoud is closely trimmed along the sides - typical of a much more aggressive saddle in the Brooks range.

My experience riding on the Berthoud is limited to a short (12 miles or so) winter ride, but here are my impressions so far: The saddle felt "just right" out of the box and I simply forgot about it once I got on the bike and began cycling (no padded shorts). Because the Bianchi is a bit big on me, I am leaned forward on it considerably. The saddle did not feel too wide (it is 10mm narrower than a lady's Brooks B17) and my legs did not rub against the "side skirts". Because the Berthoud is level, the nose does not come into contact with any sensitive areas. With Brooks road saddles, I need to make a lot of adjustments to get this aspect just right - but the Berthoud seems to naturally stay away from that region. As I was cycling, I was not so much experiencing any of this, as not experiencing anything. I was taken with the winter scenery and genuinely forgot that I was supposed to be trying the saddle and forming impressions of it. There were no impressions, and only later did I realise that this in itself meant that the saddle was comfortable.

I have to admit that I am "emotionally biased" towards Brooks, which is an obstacle to recognising that the Berthoud suits me better - at least on roadbikes with considerable forward lean. The Berthoud basically gives me the width of a touring saddle with the side cut-outs of a racing saddle - plus the shape does not interfere with my "lady areas". In that sense, it is also more versatile, and I can see myself using it both on a touring bike and on a more aggressive roadbike. All this is exactly what I need.  But... a $200+ saddle? I suppose that if I sell my spare Brooks B17S and the titanium-rail Brooks Finesse that I received in a trade but find unridable, that would give me the funds. But it still feels like an overindulgence and I need to think about it. Regardless of whether I keep the saddle or not, I hope this write-up was helpful to those considering a Berthoud.

64 comments:

  1. Thanks for this extremely helpful review. Comfort is king, but $200 for a saddle that is so incredibly ugly?! What a shame.

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  2. Do you really find it ugly? I can't say that I do. I like the two-tone look of the bolts and also the "lacy" cut of the leather at the back of the saddle. It's the plastic bit in the rear that gives me misgivings, but the look itself is nice.

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  3. Looks and sounds a lot like my Brooks Team Pro S, which is very flat and fairly wide at the back. Good thing it is comfortable for me, because I swear those things will never break in and I have two. I think you should stick with the Giles Berthoud, especially as it disappears beneath you. I have a similar issue with my Selle An-Atomica, it's not beautiful, it's expensive, but it is not even there when I ride. Keep it! You are worth it!

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  4. The Brooks B17 Narrow has the same width as your new ugly saddle. Yes, I agree with Anonymous. That is one butt-ugly saddle.

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  5. So funny that you guys think it's ugly! So I am considered the peevish velo-aesthetician here, yet I am okay with the looks. Do I need to have my eyesight checked?

    Anon 8:34 - I think the Selle Anatomica is downright gorgeous, but I am worried that those cut-outs might hit me in all the wrong places. Wish there was a shop near me that carried them, so I could at least have a look in person.

    raleighpursuit - But the B17 Narrow still has elaborate "skirts". I would need to get the Swift or the Swallow to avoid this issue, I think.

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  6. PS Anon 8:34 - The Finesse I mention in the end that I find unridable is a woman's titanium-rail version of the Pro, and not even remotely similar to the Berthoud.

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  7. For those of us who have no opportunity to try out saddles before we buy them reviews like this are very helpful. If the saddle made a difference in comfort for me I would go for it in spite of the high cost. But, I don't know that it would. I can;'t see paying $200 to find out and, I hate to admit it, but the idea of using plastic just turns me away.
    I wouldn't say ugly but... I'll stick with my Brooks. Thanks again for the review. Much appreciated!

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  8. I don't think it's as nice looking as the Brooks but it's not ugly like most non-Brooks saddles! Maybe people are reacting to the Franken-aspect of it? The combination of leather and hard plastic?

    I'm glad you found something you like.

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  9. I agree that the looks of the rear-end of the Berthoud are less than... classical. But I suppose that function over form must prevail when it comes to comfort. It does look like a high quality saddle, despite all that plastic sticking out of its rear.

    A lot of racers used to "hot rod" their Brooks pros, which meant slicing off the skirts and the rear sections of leather, beyond the rivets. I don't know whether it was to shave off precious grams or because of chafing. I have one of these "hot rodded" Brooks pros:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4485590728/in/set-72157622877327944/

    From what I've read, it was popular to do back in the 60s.

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  10. I've been seriously considering one of these for my Peugeot mixte in order to keep it as French as is reasonably possible. The price, however, is a significant factor in the concept "reasonable," particularly for a bike I only ride occasionally, to the point where it threatens to turn into a fetishistic collectible.

    Personally I think I looks quite nice and I've been reasonably happy with plastic saddles in the past (Unica and Cool Gear) so the use of plastic doesn't inherently turn me away. I fact, the only failures I've had on my plastic saddles have been of the metal bits.

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  11. oh god, I've been pining for a Berthoud saddle ever since they were announced a couple of years ago. but, I am also brought up short by the sticker price.

    If the saddle is durable enough to last for many miles, then the price shock can be muted, but I'd be curious to see how long it takes for the leather to stretch and sag before it needs replacing, and how much the replacement leather will cost.

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  12. cris - Based on the accounts I've heard, the leather sags less than Brooks leather. It is also supposedly more water resistant, which plays into the sagging issues as well (i.e. Brooks starts to sag faster if you get it wet).

    kfg - Have you tried to look for an Ideale online?..

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  13. We had to get right up and under it to expose the plastic bits to the camera. I am surprised that so many people think it's an ugly saddle. Maybe it's the way we presented it here. It's quite taking in person and you don't notice the plastic bits. The faux-rivets look very nice in person as well.

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  14. "Have you tried to look for an Ideale online?"

    First thing I did, as it's not merely French, but period and brand correct as well. The problem is not so much in finding one as it is in finding one where the leather has been as well preserved as the bike itself.

    If I could content myself with the idea that it's just for display and/or "parade" purposes I wouldn't consider anything but an Ideale, but I'm trying to maintain the illusion (or perhaps delusion) that the bike is intended as a daily rider, so I want a saddle I consider a daily rider.

    Plus I've so far resisted getting an eBay account, but perhaps this too shall pass.

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  15. "But it still feels like an overindulgence...." Exactly my sentiment.

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  16. thanks for this write up, ive been pondering saddles for a while now, and then you come along and give me another to throw in the mix??? now what will i do......being a heavier and taller rider, i feel i need the brooks b190 or b135 but they are so HUGE i laugh when i see one. i am however very attracted to the aged b67, but is it too small?....UGH decisions decisions!!

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  17. My own opinion - I don't think it's ugly. It's definitely aesthetically different than a Brooks, and having the simple loops on the Brooks to attach a bag to makes more sense to me than a fancy proprietary system, but if what it comes down to, is that this saddle will make that bike (or even more than one of your bikes) rideable for you in the way you want to ride them (and the saddles seem to have a good reputation for quality) - why hesitate? I mean, unless you feel there is another option you should look into first. If nothing else, you could just put away $25 per paycheck in a box until you have $200. Keeping a Brooks saddle on there that will cause you to think twice every time you want to ride the bike isn't doing you or your bike any favors, it seems.

    I don't know about the Berthoud, but I'm just getting ready to replace a 58 year old Brooks B66 saddle, so that's a pretty good return on investment, if it lasts anything like that.

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  18. Thank you for the interesting and thoughtful review of the Gilles Berthoud saddle. I had wondered about them although I agree with the earlier posts about its aesthetics - even to the use of the word 'ugly'.

    I also have a hard time imagining how it is going to be that much better than a Brooks to justify the doubling (and then some!) in price.

    Given the price and the aesthetics, and the fact that after 25 years of riding on Brooks saddles I can't think of a single reason to change, it is highly doubtful I will ever try one myself - but I can well see where that saddle would suit you perfectly. While it may seem an indulgence at that price (and I live in the UK where they cost £160!), the fact is that cycling is obviously a passion of yours and given all that, and the importance of having the saddle best suited to you, I'd say you ought to stump up and get one. Few parts of your bike are more crucial to enjoyment than where you sit. Start off 2011 in style.

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  19. Great review. You mention the front to back being flat, how would you describe the width across the back section? I really like the B17 as it's fairly flat across this section.

    I would hazard a guess (without any data to support it) that neither the Brooks nor the Berthoud would typically fail in the back section. Regardless of what the "chassis" is made of, saddles almost always fail at the rails. And that is usually due to the clamp, not the fault of the saddle/rails. The Berthoud might be easier to repair. Here's a good look at what someone did to repair their Brooks.

    FWIW, the cork finish of the Berthoud wears off over time. This may or may not look be ok with a person, depending what they expect from a $200 saddle.

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  20. Under what circumstances would one need to disassemble the saddle? The ease of access to the tensioning bolt means people will be tempted to stretch the leather. Cue over-stretched leather and in a few years a market for easily replaced leather tops.
    The parts are replaceable because they will not last as long as a Brooks?

    As for the comfort I'm sure it's fine, though I'm not sure how thicker, less supple leather is supposed to be be more comfortable. I suspect the leather is thicker to provide a recess for the fixing bolts rather than for comfort. Gilles limited number of models (1 for women, the Marie Blanque and 2 for men) seems to be more of a problem in finding one that suits ones own derriere.

    I'm not sure where the money is going in this saddle. The leather is cut by a CNC machine and assembled with nuts and bolts. For this price I'd want Gilles to tan and cut the leather himself after hand-feeding the cattle. With the Brooks you can see that the leather is hand-chamfered, the rivets hit by skilled craftsmen, that you are paying for craft. I look at Gilles' saddles and I'm envious of the profit margin he must make on these things.

    I quite like the computer designed look (excepting the cork-effect saddle which is an abomination) but there is nothing about the saddle which is french or even suggestive of terroir. It could have been made in China for all its blandness.

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  21. Velouria said...
    " I suppose that if I sell my spare Brooks B17S and the titanium-rail Brooks Finesse that I received in a trade but find unridable, that would give me the funds. But it still feels like an overindulgence and I need to think about it. "

    This should be easy for you once you shake your emotional attachment to the Brooks name. Besides a saddle that works well with the female anatomy should settle which one to ride on very quickly.....no?

    If you view this as spending money then you will hesitate but if you view this as an investment you should act quickly.

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  22. Mike - I'd have to disagree. I think it very much is intended to, and does, evoke the cut of the classic Ideale saddles, especially the nose which you find distressing, but also in the way the fasteners at the rear go through the turn down lip rather than through the top.

    "The parts are replaceable because they will not last as long as a Brooks?"

    Or perhaps because the rails will last longer?

    Velouria - "I think the Selle Anatomica is downright gorgeous"

    I'm still quite happy with mine, although I can't make any claims as to its suitability for "lady bits," as well as still having some concerns about its long term durability (as measured in tens of thousands of miles).

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  23. Re Berthoud vs Ideale:

    I have an Ideale saddle (a Model 6, which also happens to be a lady's touring model) and I have examined several others belonging to local acquaintances. The shape of the Berthoud resembles the Ideale only marginally more so than it does the shape of Brooks, which is still not much. Like Brooks, non-racing Ideale models have considerable "side skirts". Unlike Brooks, the rivets are further back and the overall shape is different (the center of the saddle is more rounded in the way it progresses toward the sides). But do not make the mistake in thinking that Berthoud is a modern remake of Ideale.

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  24. Velouria - I chose the word "evoke" with a modicum of care, addressing only the issue of its Galliousity and not the issue of how closely it approaches the Ideale (of which all instantiated saddles are, of course, a mere shadow of Saddleosity).

    To me it doesn't look generic at all, and quite French.

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  25. I was not saying it is "worse" than the Ideale, only that it's very different.

    To me, the Berthoud definitely does not look generic; in fact I have never seen another saddle like it - be it modern or vintage. I also really like the colouring and the matte feel of the natural leather. Together with the unusual bolts and the scalloped cut-outs in the leather in the back, it is a unique look.

    Brooks saddles have a substantial failure rate, from what I can tell - both in terms of the rails failing, and in terms of the leather getting overstretched within a 1-2 year period. You need only to look at their own product pages (which have feedback posted from customers) or go on Bikeforums, to read about many instances of this. I myself have not had a problem, but it happens. I think the Berthoud saddles have been out for 2-3 years now. I know half dozen or so persons who own one, and they all became converts after getting it. The feedback I get is that the leather is considerably less prone to stretching than Brooks - and by the look of their saddles, what they are saying is believable.

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  26. The plastic bit is the only part that I find a little unattractive, but not all that much. I really like look of the bolts, and the ability to be able to take the saddle apart. The most important thing is that it's comfortable. If that was the saddle that worked out best for me, I would find a way to be able to afford it!

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  27. "I was not saying it is "worse" than the Ideale"
    And I was not saying you were saying that.

    Your volley.

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  28. "I give up : )"

    And maybe I'll just pop a Gyes on the thing and be done with it. The tires have been all Chinaficated already.

    So, what about them Red Sox?

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  29. I'm not sure how you can infer a failure rate for Brooks. To know that you would have to know the number of sales versus the number of failures. Brooks are the most popular of its type and the number of failures is probably greater than Gilles saddles total sales.

    Any leather over-stretching I would more likely blame on user error i.e. LEAVE THAT TENSION BOLT ALONE. If the Gilles saddles' thicker leather is less prone to stretching it would seem logical it would also be less prone to molding to ones 'contours'.

    As for asking people who have spent $200 on their saddle to report honestly does lead to a bias. To quote from wikipedia "Post-purchase rationalization is a common phenomenon which occurs after people who have invested significant time, money, or effort in something try to convince themselves that it must have been worth it. Many decisions are made emotionally, and so are often rationalized retrospectively in an attempt to justify the choice."

    I think to compare a saddle that's been on the market for 2/3 years with Brooks and then justify its purchase on no data but purely on anecdote is not valid. Buy it because it looks good, because it's a rare item, because you can afford it.

    ps I would like to see some shots of the saddle off the seatpost, upside down so that the rails and how they attach to the rear and nose is visible.

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  30. Until now, I'd heard very little about the Berthoud saddles.

    If the saddle works better than the alternatives do, then by all means get one! One of the best things equipment can do is be "transparent" to the user; to become an extension of themselves, so to speak. That's rare enough to be worth a premium.

    I'd rather have a expensive saddle on an inexpensive bike than the reverse.

    As for design, it's a handsome saddle. I think the classic old-tech materials blend well with the modern space-age ones. Nothing is really intrusive.

    The mounting bolts in their brass retainers remind me of a "parisian eye" inlay, which I use as a design feature on my instruments.

    Two thumbs up from me.

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  31. "Do I need to have my eyesight checked?"

    I think it may be the photos, not the saddle. Many of your photos emphasize the rear back plastic part, and even the pictures on the Harris site don't really do the saddle justice. I was surprised by all the "ugly saddle" comments because from other pictures I think this is actually a very attractive product. Here are some photos from another site, which also illustrate how the frame attaches to the rear underneath.
    http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/bersaddles.asp
    Thicker leather, narrower skirts, lighter weight all seem like pluses for Berthoud. Bicycle Quarterly also had better experience with durability of the Berthoud saddle compared to a recent Brooks sample, though that experience is obviously limited to individual saddles.
    I wonder if the absence of ventilation holes on the top of the Berthoud will make any difference during hot weather or long rides compared to the classic Brooks models? I'm also curious what the effective width of the Berthoud saddle is in the part of the leather surface that supports the sit bones. On a Brooks, the effective width of the leather sitting surface is about 30 mm narrower than the listed width, because the edge of the leather is occupied by rivets and sits directly above the metal frame. For example, the outer edges of my sit bones are about 140 mm apart, but that means I need a saddle in the B17 family (170 mm width) instead of a professional or narrower racing model in Brooks land (160 mm or less). Berthoud lists a width of 160 mm for their own saddle. However the attachment method is different enough that I wonder if it provides an effectively larger surface for sit bone support, at least for the part of the leather suspended entirely within the frame. Could you drop a ruler on yours and see how much of the surface is located entirely within the frame in the rear? If there is at least 140 mm of leather surface that is entirely suspended instead of resting directly the frame, I'd like to give the saddle a try sometime.

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  32. kfg - Not to worry, a VO saddle review is coming soon (that's made by Gyes, is it not?)

    Mike McLennan - I don't know the statistical failure rate of Brooks, that is why I wrote in the post that I'd be curious to know it. Speaking anecdotally, I would say that over half the people I know who own Brooks have experienced what can be categorised as a failure - in the form of some sort of breakage of the structure, or sagging of the leather within a relatively short period of ownership (1 year or so). This seems to be happening with newer Brooks, made in the past 2 years. If you look it up (enter "Brooks saddles sagging" or similar), you will find a number of forum discussions addressing this as well. That is one reason I'd be curious to see the actual statistics.

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  33. DavidK - Hmm. I've seen the pictures on Peter White's site and don't necessarily find mine less attractive. I included the underside shots, because I knew that everybody would start asking about that aspect and also precisely because other websites don't feature this as much. Still, I don't find any of it bad looking! Just a matter of taste I suppose. As for ventilation holes, not all classic Brooks models have them. For example: the Swallow, the Swift, the Pro and the Colt do not.

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  34. "that's made by Gyes, is it not?"

    That it is. I look forward to hearing what you think. What model(s) do you plan on reviewing?

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  35. I do not think this saddle is ugly at all. It appears to be very well made with a somewhat classic look, aside from the plastic part at the rear. Comfort is a major requirement for me, especially when it comes to saddles, and is the most important consideration in regards to keeping one or not. All my bikes have Brooks on them. Some of my buddies think I'm crazy for spending $120 on a Brooks. But after seeing your review, I'll admit to wanting to try a Berthoud now. The $200 price tag will slow my quest somewhat, but at some weak moment, I'll probbly give in.

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  36. FWIW, there's a Berhoud saddle for sale on eBay right now. Thanks for this post. I was unfamiliar with the brand.

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  37. Hi, have you tried the BROOKS Swift? same width, cut flaps and gorgeous hand hammered copper rivets... and NO platic parts it even has the BROOKS logo on it! (I know you like BROOKS)

    they list the swift as a "racing" model but you can use any model for the purpose you want if it feels good (at the shop where I work, we've even sold a B.66 and fitted it on a road bicycle!). you could even do some "butchering" and cut part of the flaps of an other model if you feel confident enough... or just punch holes in the flaps of your B.17 S and tie them so they won't spread and rub your thighs...

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  38. Very nice write up. I have been intending to do a 1 year review of mine, but at this point it is more like a year and a half. My first impression was similar to yours, set it up level and it just goes away, support in the right places and no rub in the wrong. The mottled finish is wearing off a bit on mine, But I love it. Also, I have had mine in the rain for a few weeks now without a cover, fenders, but not protected by any more than my but. It has held its shape and shows no signs of the drama needed to protect a brooks. I hope to have a full review by next week.

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  39. I'm in shock that people think this saddle is ugly! I have been lusting after one, in a large part because I find the colors and texture of the leather and the bolts, but also because I'm not all that convinced that the universally popular B17 is for me. Now that I hear how confortable you found it, I'm really wondering whether I should swap the colt I bought for my hillborne with one of these... they DO cost a pretty penny though.
    Thanks for the review!

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  40. Back in the day when I worked heavy construction I quickly learned that the money spent on well made boots paid big dividends in how I felt at the end of the day. I feel the same way about saddles and bars on my bikes. I'm all for whichever parts allow me to ride farther without discomfort, and hang the cost. I have two bikes, a $2000 K2 mountain bike with full suspension, all high-end components and a stiff saddle, and a $15 Nishiki with cheesy components and a sprung saddle. If I'm riding anywhere other than the trails that begin half a mile from the house I jump on the Nishiki.

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  41. "Post-purchase rationalization is a common phenomenon which occurs after people who have invested significant time, money, or effort in something try to convince themselves that it must have been worth it. Many decisions are made emotionally, and so are often rationalized retrospectively in an attempt to justify the choice."

    Hmm...Do I see the history of the Bush Administration and the Iraq invasion here?

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  42. I'm pretty well convinced that saddles with bumps or cutouts just don't work well for me. So, if I were ever to become dissatisfied with my Brooks saddles, I'd probably try a Berthoud. That said, I'm not crazy about the way they look, and I think the "cork" one is downright hideous. Maybe it's because I've never cared for clothing or accessories with leopard (or other animal)-skin prints,

    They "look French" in the same way as le Centre Pompidou, I guess.

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  43. Hello,
    I've put a lot of miles on Brooks B-17 Specials, Team Pro's, and most recently the Berthoud Touring saddle. Most of the riding on the B-17's has been light touring and commuting. The Team Pro has seen about three years of Randonneuring, including one super randonneur series (200, 300, 400, 600k) plus extra 200k's and associated training/riding. After the SR series two years ago my team pro had pretty much given up the ghost. It had excessively stretched out, and reformed into a rather uncomfortable shape. Not to mention that the leather at the rivets had stretched/pulled away. With my team pro I had noticed what I thought was undue wear and stretching even before I attempted an SR series but I continued to ride it for various reasons. While I have since been able to work the saddle and rivets back into a rideable shape, I no longer trust the saddle to hold up to more extended miles and riding and has been relegated to a short distance bike. I have noticed my B-17's deforming and stretching out somewhat quickly as well, much to my disappointment. I still continue to ride them though. For the price, they are a great light touring/commuting saddle.

    Almost two years ago I got the Berthoud touring saddle. Like Velouria said, it felt right, straight out of the box. I got it set level, and in the correct fore/aft as well as vertical position, and off I went. In that time since, I have put another SR series on it (a rather wet one at at that), as well as a grand randonnee (1000k+), plus numerous 200k's and training/fun rides. So far no unnecessary stretching or wear. The bolts on the Berthoud have not backed out or loosened, and I have not had to tension the saddle. Nor have I had any issues with the plastic base (noise, undue flex, cracking/fatiguing).

    I'm not trying to brag, or show how much I ride, or to sound like a schill for Berthoud products. I am mainly writing to put the durability and quality of this saddle into context in regards to my personal experience to this saddle compared to that of Brooks.

    I have sprung for another Berthoud saddle and am having similar experiences to that of my first Berthoud. I must say, so far I am much more impressed with the fit/comfort, durability, and functionality of the Berthoud saddle than I am of any Brooks saddles that I own or have tried. I am confident that this saddle will prove it's worth through this years SR series, PBP, and for quite a while down the road.
    Okay, thanks for reading.
    Gabe

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  44. If one searches for "Brooks saddles sagging" one will find info on Brooks saddles sagging - thanks for that tip. If Brooks had a 50% failure rate I'm sure it would not have the reputation it has.

    ps The first entry on your suggested search on bikeforums was a person who had ridden their Brooks for 26 years and was wondering whether to tension it some :-)

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  45. "le Centre Pompidou"

    That doesn't even look Earther.

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  46. Velouria,
    I did a review of my Berthoud Aspin saddle after a couple thousand miles. It is here if interested. Worth every penny!

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  47. Personally, I think that's a great looking saddle, but I have a hard time justifying $100 for a saddle, much less $200. Thanks for the review!

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  48. On a rather different note, could you tell us what about the Brooks Finesse doesn't work for you in comparison to your other Brooks saddles?

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  49. Anon 1:03 - I have not been able to break it in at all after several hundred miles. There is only so much bruising my butt can take : (

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  50. These pictures of the Berthoud testing and process have officially converted me. What do you think the comparable saddle tested against the Berthoud was? Brooks?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallblog/3637431008/

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  51. Is the berthoud saddle the same height as the b17 or did you have to readjust your post?

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  52. Champagneanemone - The Berthoud sits higher than the B17 and the Turbo-like saddle that originally came with this bike, so I had to lower the saddle.

    Anon 12:44 - Wow!

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  53. After commuting on my Berthoud saddle for several months in Portland's rainy winter, I can officially say I love it. No water damage, feels better than my swift after a year of breaking in, and looks lovely. Not to mention the design allows for the replacement of any part of the saddle. (Ask anyone at a bike shop, rails breaking on Brooks saddles is somewhat common) $200 too much for a saddle? Not if you are planning on putting any real miles on it, and hell most people spend that on gas in two weeks, or a couple of sushi dinners. The real question is not "is it too much?', but "are your priorities in order?"

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  54. Hi I too have one of these and love it! Anybody out there know how tight the front bolt should be? There is myth and magic about messing with these bolts on traditional saddles. Mine seems to me to be quite slack and since I have had to tighten the screws holding the hide cover on I wondered. Any help welcome.
    Kevin

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  55. Just chiming in here that my Berthoud saddle has been amazing from the get go two years ago (and I've had plenty of brooks saddles before that I thought were pretty good) - it's also quite beautiful in person. I've used it on my randoneering bike and my mountain bike for endurance races. It's quality of construction is remarkable, and it's so comfortable that I no longer require padded shorts for riding. While it does seem like a lot of money for a saddle, it is a saddle I expect to enjoy for years and years, and one of the three points of contact, arguably the most comfortable.

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  56. I've broken in two of the Berthoud Aspins. It takes me about 500 miles. A B.17, by way of contrast, is good for 50-60 mile rides right out of the box, and fully broken in for centuries after about 70 miles.

    The fit of the Aspin is quite different from a B.17: all the weight is borne on the sitbones, and break-in is mainly about contouring the sitbone area.

    Another difference, and one that might be quite significant for some, is that the Aspin has longer rails than the B.17 and might well work in a situation where sufficient setback might not be available with a B.17. That's the case with my AM-series Moulton.

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  57. I've ridden on Brooks saddles since 1969 and have been reasonably satisfied with their comfort but I felt that they didn't hold up well. If they lasted four years, I felt lucky.

    So, when I ran across the Berthoud Aspen saddle, I thought I'd give it try. It broke in easily but it hasn't held up well. The leather acts like sponge - regardless of how often I treat it - and the frame has 'distorted'. I'm 'left dominate', weigh about 190. The frame has shifted to and lists to the left. I think the problem lies in the plastic components.

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  58. Unlike a couple of your readers, I don't think the Berthoud is an ugly saddle, but it does seem to be missing a certain character. It seems to lack all the natural and handmade character that a Brooks saddle has. It almost looks like a synthetic 'faux leather' saddle even though it is leather. The bolts even give it an aura of mass production. Where a Brooks saddle hearkens back to the Victorian Steampunk era, the Berthoud seems, at best, to reflect a Dieselpunk idiom.

    Finally, at a price of $220, it's well beyond consideration for me. I'll stick with Brooks: they have been making bicycle saddles since 1866 in an area of England known for saddlery since the 1600s. They work well for me and look great. So in terms of my requirements, I say, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

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  59. Thank you for your review of this saddle. I spotted one at a shop here in San Francisco and couldn't stop thinking about it. It seemed the right thing to invest in Brooks, but frankly the out of the box comfort you mention here seemed more appealing to me. On Wednesday, I bought the saddle for my Surly Cross-Check and after a slight angle adjustment it seems really comfortable. The look of it seems debatable to some, but I really love those bolts (outweighs any aversion to the plastic).

    And thank you for your blog in general. Almost every time I am searching for useful/fun bike related info, I find myself back here.

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  60. Thank you for a great review!
    My husband and I are getting ourselves ready for a cycle tour from Uk - Australia. The weeks are counting down and we are still without saddles! So, seen as we are now going to have to bite the bullet and make our choice, this has steered me very positively toward the Gilles Berthoud. If you would like to see how we get on in the months to come, check out

    http://www.nowhere2far.com/index.html

    and we shall also post our thoughts on our final saddle choice.

    Thanks again!

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  61. I'm thinking of buying one of these saddles. I have a Brooks Ladies B17 and am beginning to wear it in but I want another for my Brompton. I would transfer the already worn in one and then wear in the new one. I can't decide whether to go for brown or cork.

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  62. Sorry for the anonymous comment.
    I have to state first that I'm French, so one might consider me biased. And I also happen to have encountered Gilles Berthoud, who conceived the saddles - and the machine to make them - and yes, having visited his place, can tell you that they are made one by one by one employee.
    Anyhow: I've abandoned Brooks since I bought one of his saddles, finally a saddle which will not sag nor hammock in after a thousand or two kilometers, as all Brooks saddles now are made with a very thin leather which one cannot control in any way, and that goes for their high end saddles, not just the B17... I do strongly think Brooks' reputation is based now solely on past quality and very high marketing costs, geared toward "vintage" and dandy aesthetics (which I do not shun, yet find insufficient to justify such a drop in quality).
    If one considers cost per mile, the Berthoud saddles (a few have been added, for the gents around, and I can only speak for the Marie Blanque) are fantastic. Period. My first one has never bulged one bit (I am light, true, yet swallow quite a few miles, on all terrains, with often a loaded bike for camping) and after trying one, I even had to part with my Swift, which was anyhow nosed up way to much anyhow to counterbalance its transformation into a banana hammock.
    Berthoud's aesthetic is, in my mind, gorgeous (the initial light tan took on a sweet honey tone), maybe because it's so confortable that whatever small purist qualms I might have had are long forgotten.
    So yes, if one considers priorities, Berthoud's saddles are a league ahead. Trouble is: how long will he last?
    Great rides to you all, and thanks for your blog!

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  63. I'm amused at people calling this saddle expensive compared to a Brooks. The equivalent Brooks saddle isn't the B66 but the Flyer, for one thing. For another, this price is still around midrange for a racing or touring saddle. Well, maybe a bit low highrange. If you don't ride over 100 miles a week, definitely overkill, but even Grant Peterson thinks most amateurs would be satisfied with plastic saddles.

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