Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sagging Saddles?

It seems that I complain a lot about saddles, finding fault with most of the ones I try if not immediately then certainly within a year's time. This one won't break in, that one hurts my crotch. This one is too narrow, that one is too wide. This one is too soft, that one is too hard... So what now?

Okay, I've had this Brooks B72 for about a year. No complaints about the shape, size or breaking in period - it felt wonderful from the start on a semi-upright bike. I have owned several other B72 models as well - both modern and vintage - and they've all been good. This was the one saddle of all my saddles I thought was pretty darn perfect. Then a couple of months ago I started to notice that the outer edge was pressing into my derriere. At first it was subtle, but the feeling kept getting worse - until one day I looked at the saddle, and the leather was visibly sagging in the center, with the outer edge (where the rivets are) forming a sharp ridge. Regrettably I neglected to take a picture of this before we messed with the tension, but I really ought to have emailed it to Brooks. It is unexpected that a saddle should sag that much under a 125lb rider in less than a year's time. It had never gotten caught in the rain, I am not a proofide zealot, and I had ridden maybe 600 miles on it in the course of 8 months (it is installed on a city bike) when the problem began to present itself.

Though some recommend not to mess with the tension on a Brooks we went ahead and did, and the saddle felt great again... for a couple of weeks. But now, slowly but surely, I am starting to feel the rivets pressing into my behind once more as the leather continues to sag ever so gradually. Darn.

Having spoken to a few long-time Brooks owners and retailers, I do not think that this is an issue with the B72 model specifically, but rather a general issue with quality control and the natural variation in leather thickness. A couple of retailers have told me that some Brooks saddles will sag in this manner and there does not appear to be a pattern to which models are susceptible to it. Well, that's not very reassuring. I am especially disappointed since this particular saddle was my overall favourite before the sagging problem started. I guess perfection is a myth and it is best to keep that in mind to avoid disappointment. I am curious whether others have experienced the "sudden sag" syndrome on any of their leather saddles, and if so which makes and models. Is there a cure?

48 comments:

  1. The cure - Brooks Select - from tough old swedish cows like they used to make
    http://clevercycles.com/2011/05/25/brooks-select/
    http://blog.brooksengland.com/wps/select-brooks/

    But not sure b72 available thusly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Are you sure it's the leather stretching and not the tension screw releasing? I don't know about Brooks, but it's a common problem with Selle Anatomica leather saddles: the tension screw slowly loosens over time, requiring the saddle to be re-tensioned.

    The fix for this is applying Loc-tite or similar product to the threads of the tension screw to stop it from loosening off.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had the same problem with a Brooks Flyer saddle. Real soft leather I just couldn't keep tightened. This was on an older, Sturmey saddle. The modern Selle-Royal owned Brooks are talked down, but I haven't noticed any differences between them and the SA saddles. I chalked it up to normal variation in using a leather saddle.

    ReplyDelete
  4. can you elaborate which saddles you found fault with in the past and why?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ben - it does not look like that's the problem, though it may have happened to my SA as well! Review of that one coming soon : )

    Julian - I am not sure whether that's necessary, or whether this particular saddle just turned out to be a late-blooming lemon. I am generally very easy on saddles. My B66 models did not sag at all under my weight and neither did my (rather thin leathered) B18 Lady, which is essentially a wider version of the B72. Also, some of the "Special" saddles I've owned (the intermediate step between the regular and the select) have been way too hard for my taste.

    cyclotourist - I had the Flyer Special and could not break it in after over a year. My butt hurt every time I rode on it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I experienced this rather quickly on a new B67.

    Unlike you, I could not feel confident I had controlled the variables. I'm considerably heavier than the average Brooks user (I suspect) and I may well have overdone it with the proofide.

    Your experience tells me I'll never know for sure whether it was me or the saddle.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Theo - Okay...

    Brooks Flyer Special: Could not break it in after a year plus the springs started to bounce me more over time; sold it

    Brooks B17S: Nose went up my crotch more and more and skirts chafed inner thighs as my handlebars got lower over time, became unbearable; sold it.

    Brooks B68: Not enough cush for the width, just felt weird; tried it and returned it.

    Brooks Finesse (lady's version of Pro, got this in a trade): could not break it in, super painful; sold it.

    Various vinyl/padded saddles: sitbones sink, unbearable pressure for long rides; out of the question.

    San Marco Zoncolan racing saddle (originally on loaner Seven): felt surprisingly good for under 20 miles, but after that edges cut into my butt; replaced it with my own saddle.

    ReplyDelete
  8. V: I had a similar problem with a B72 some years back. I think its leather is thinner than on some other models, such as the Pro and B17. However, I think the problem is not only a matter of the thickness of the leather. The B72 is one of Brooks' wider saddles. So, the leather is spread over a wider area, and has to span a wider area between the support areas of the saddle carriage.

    It's like having a longer hammock, which will tend to sag more than a shorter one.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My B72 got really saggy after a year and a lot fewer miles than yours, but I'm 220lbs. In the end I opted to give it about 8 good turns of the wrench which has corrected the problem and returned it to being comfortable. Brooks indicates that saddles should hardly ever be tightened, and only a quarter turn at a time, but with my B72, and my Swift I finally had to resort to somewhat more drastic tensioning. With my Swift I eventually tied the skirts together as well to give it less sag. So don't give up on your B72 yet. There's a lot of room on that tension bolt...

    ReplyDelete
  10. I had similar problem with B 67 saddle. I can not ride on it any more how uncomfortable it is. But again, I experienced the same problem on other saddles before, and funny thing is that after awhile, suddenly one can become comfortable again. I hope this is the case with B67, that is why I keep it in the closet.

    ReplyDelete
  11. @Ben,

    I had a similar experience with my first Brooks, a B66. After a while I felt the sag and adjusted the tension. All was well for a while but eventually I had to do it again, every few months. I still almost all of the bolt left left though, I can only assume that the vibration I encounter when riding loosens the tension bolt, which must be periodically tightened. At least the problem doesn't appear to be due to the stretching of the leather.

    @Velouria,

    Have you tried any of the new select "organic" leather saddles? The cows from which the hide is derived were farmed less intensively than most livestock, supposedly resulting in a thicker and more consistent hide. Plus the B67 select has the lovely wide copper rivets in it too.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Brooks looks great but I've never gotten the courage to try a hard leather saddle with no comfort spacing in the center. I've had good luck and comfort with my Terry X-Liborator leather saddle and my Selle Italia gel women's leather saddle. It's an anatomy preference.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Boy, I guess I've been lucky. I've heard of some of these problems and been wary but so far am pretty pleased with Brooks. My concern is with the rivet placement, but on the B17 (and other forward riding saddles) this is mitigated by the forward riding position. On my saggier seats I think I'll try - like a previous writer suggested - to lace the sides.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm noticing this on one of my B17s, but not others. And I have two Brooks pros: one has zero sagging, the other has some. But the one with sagging is 45 years old and has gotten wet and also has had several proofide treatments. A little sagging is expected. But I did NOT expect sagging so early on one of my B17s. It was lightly proofided, but not overly so.

    I've also noticed that the new B17s do not seem to have as thick leather compared with the older ones.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I drilled holes in my B72, and laced it up with an old shoe string. It's been working out pretty well for me since then.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Justine - That would not explain why my B66/67S are the same width and the B18 wider still, yet do not have that problem; and also the older (and well used) B72s I've encountered that had not sagged at all.

    Bone - lacing helps with flaring, but here the skirts are fine only a specific part of the rear/central area sags. I do not think lacing would be helpful. We have laced other (vintage) Brooks saddles in the past though.

    ReplyDelete
  17. My VO leather saddles are still too new to sag, but Rivendell Reader 42 offers solutions to saggy saddles on pages 44 and 45: http://www.rivbike.com/assets/payloads/212/original_RR42.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  18. My Brooks Flyer has the loosening bolt problem - I'm looking around to find some Loctite Blue, which should solve the problem. It also stains my pants, so it has been moved to the tourer. It has been replaced with a VO Model 5, bought a couple weeks ago on sale at VO - so far it's a very stiff saddle. My B17N just doesn't get enough miles to sag or even really break in, but it is comfortable.
    Mark

    ReplyDelete
  19. Replaced my Brooks with a Fizik Aliante XM Gamma Saddle (rediculous name). Felt great the first time I rode it, feels great 1000 miles later.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have a B66 and a FlyerS. I don't know if it is significant, but the B66 was the first Brooks saddle I bought that was comfortable from Day 1. That may have been a tip-off because, with daily riding, it has begun to loosen, although less dramatically than what you describe! I hope it will just stay as it is, because it is nearly perfectly comfortable right now...

    My FlyerS on the other hand was rigid and uncomfortable from day 1 and has since undergone the neatsfoot treatment, is ridden all the time, and is only just starting to break in.

    ReplyDelete
  21. MFarrington - Same experiences with my B66 and (formerly owned) Flyer.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Leather will change with the seasons, the humidity, the temperature, etc. It may tighten up a bit on its own this fall when it cools off and dries out. Has it been warm and humid where you live lately?

    Leather saddles have tension adjusters for a reason and the myth about never adjusting a Brooks tensioner is just that. What Brooks is trying to avoid is people's tendency to over do. If you continually over tighten the tensioner it will stretch the leather and/or bend the frame. So, turn the screw enough to take up the slack and ride.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm not sure this will be beneficial, but my B72 was so saggy that I had a leather professional punch holes in the sides near the bottom and lace it up. I'd only been using the saddle for about 6-8 months at that point, and it had pretty well sagged from the get=go, but I was at my wits-end. I haven't had an issue with it since that was done. I realize it will still stretch at some point down the line, but I'm hoping that I'll just be able to continue to tighten it in this manner. It's been about 3.5 months since I did this on a bike I ride quite a bit and it doesn't seem to have had the problem again. I know some people say you shouldn't do this to your saddle until it's quite old and it's as a last resort, but I'm very happy that I went ahead and did it.

    ReplyDelete
  24. My B17 is a little over a year old and I've been feeling a little less comfy on it in the past few weeks. Relatively suddenly it feels like the saddle is at an awkward angle when for most of the past year it's been fine. I've been thinking about whether lacing it would help; kind of glad to see this post and realize I'm not just imagining the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  25. The leather is stretching, the tension bolt is slipping, and there's no loctite on it.

    Of course it's perfect - it's a cow.

    ReplyDelete
  26. MelissatheRagamuffinJuly 6, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    I have a B17s, and I noticed the UpMyCrotch Syndrome. I pointed the nose of it down, and that helped for awhile. But, yesterday, I started noticing UpMyCrotch Syndrome again. I stopped at a stop light on my way to work this morning and it dug up there bad enough that it brought tears to my eyes. I had to get off and remount.

    Anyway, having said all that - with what I paid for the thing - if I get that kind of sag after only one year - Pissed off won't even begin to describe it! I could buy a Bontrager Gel and replace it every year for three years for less than I paid for that dag-gone Brooks saddle.

    ReplyDelete
  27. MelissatheRagamuffinJuly 6, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    And when UpMyCrotch Syndrome isn't an issue, I do love my B17s.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I sense all of my near-term musing will be infused with melancholy. My daily ride got nabbed yesterday. I'm a 155 lbs rider and this is about my daily ride's leather saddle.

    I bought a used 70s Wrights leather saddle about ten years ago. The shape was like a Brooks Professional. A bit more narrow than the B17. It was brown.

    Ten years ago when I built my daily ride and adorned it with that Wrights saddle I was more of a 230 lbs rider. For about nine years, at approximately 230 lbs, it was my daily ride. It mostly stayed out of the rain, but there certainly were some unfortunate slips where it got a drenching. When I first rode it, it was rock hard but was a pretty good fit for my butt.

    Well, over the last year I became a 155 lbs rider, as recently as two weeks ago it got a little wet in a rain, and in the ten years of near daily riding up until yesterday it never really changed. It was kind of hard, sagless, but sort of fit my butt pretty well. I paid $35 bucks for in in 2001.

    Leather saddles come with a bunch of different stories, like your saggy B72. Mine, is one of the stories of a leather saddle that worked, was seemingly bulletproof, and was the poster child for patina.

    All that said, I'm hoping it's next rider finds it horribly uncomfortable and it gives them blisters.

    So long Wrights, I'm thinking you were the longest and best fitting intimate relationship I've ever had. I'll miss you.

    ReplyDelete
  29. What a great looking bike seat. I have a post this week of me traveling though the Amish country side in Pa. On my blog Amish Stories if anyone is interested. Thanks folks. Richard

    ReplyDelete
  30. I'm a big guy, and I probably shouldn't be using a Brooks yet, but I did have a sagging problem. I tightened it up a bit and the sagging went away, but a few weeks later, it was back. I was seriously considering replacing the saddle but I never had time to find a new one. I rode on it for a while and low and behold, it's not uncomfortable anymore. Dare I say it was just breaking in more?

    ReplyDelete
  31. I have two Brooks saddles, each are two years old. Neither have sagged. I'm about 160 lbs. and ride daily. I've Proofided them only once. Each took a number of miles before feeling broken in, but now are on their way and feel like 'home.' They are both Professionals.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I've noticed this problem when applying proofide to the bottom of Brooks. Breaking in is faster, but you end up breaking down the cellular structure of the leather faster (a good thing gone too far?). I've also noticed the Brooks seems cushier/tends to stretch in humid weather versus drier seasons.

    I seriously don't believe its possible to have 100% consistency in sat leather, and one should be okay with this. At my coffeebar, our milk foams better during stretches of dry weather... when it rains, there is apparently less proteins in the milk - and it doesn't hold together. The seat is, like milk, after all, an organic (non-synthetic) product.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I have a black B17 that is about 6 years old. I haven't used it much, of late, as it can't shift far enough back on the seat post on my current bike to give me a good position. So it only has about 9,000 miles on it.

    I weigh 190 lbs and have never had to adjust the saddle tension. There is no sag whatsoever on it.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have a Brooks Pro, now with about 300 miles on it. I can never imagine that it can sag, its thick, hard and feels as if its solid wood - but still feels right.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I have a b67s, which was comfortable immediately and has become more so over the past year. I found it broke in more slowly than the b66s I had on my old bike. I have never proofided. Wow, that last sentence looks wrong.

    I have a non short medium shiny brown b17, too, and it is seriously hard yet somehow pretty comfortable. Does not appear it will ever break in, though I ride that bike less frequently. I don't think it's weight (am 115), but just these are mega rock solid, no?

    ReplyDelete
  36. neighbourtease - I think weight does play into it a lot. It took me a year to break in the B17S and other lightweights seem to have the same experience. But I know heavier riders who broke it in within a week.

    ReplyDelete
  37. MelissatheRagamuffinJuly 6, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    I didn't realize there was a weight limit on Brooks saddles? Doesn't it also have something to do with how many miles you ride as to how long it takes to break it in. I think my Brooks B17s is pretty well broke in, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I've put almost 800 miles on Miss Surly in the 10 weeks I've had her than my weight - which I will keep to myself thank you very much.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Had my first B-17 in 1965. The sample variation on Brooks saddles has always been enormous. That's never changed.
    Over the years, and especially under Italian management, the leather has become thicker and softer.
    A quick comparison just now of an early 60's B-15 Swallow, late 60's Pro, late 70's B-17N, late 80's Pro, and two current Pros shows steadily thickening leather. Before Italian management Brooks saddles started life as hard as boards and took much break-in. Lightweight riders resorted to ballpeen hammers, rolling pins, oxalic acid, neatsfoot oil and god knows what to soften them up. From my point of view all Brooks saddles are now pre-broken. Those who complain about how hard they are now would not have been potential customers then at all.
    B72s and their wide brethren were formerly made from much thinner leather than the racing saddles. They routinely morphed to fantastical shapes. While never actually cheap, they cost a lot less than a good racing saddle. Now that they are high-priced the complaints should follow.
    My 105-pound sweetie rides the late 80's Pro mentioned above. Not huge miles, but always in use, never parked or stored. At 105 everything lasts a long time for her, but I can't see a new saddle going that long. The late 60's Pro went at least 50,000 before retirement. I wear them out now in 15 to 20,000. (And no longer save them near the mantle.)

    There's no way the hides can be the same. England is much hotter, much drier. The grass is not so lush and green. Even organic cows carry a load of environmental chemicals that did not exist decades ago. You cannot walk twice through the same stream.

    ReplyDelete
  39. hi, if you can punch few holes on each sides, then tie it with a shoe lace it's going to be firmer and sag will *disappear*.
    it's the bast thing you could ever do.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I find the evolution of this blog to be quite interesting. Fears of various shifters, clip-ins, skinny tires, etc. are prevalent in early posts. Fast pace rides on a Seven and complaints about leather saddles more recenty. The comfort-speed continuum has many points on it, and finding the sweet spot for any individual takes time. Look forward to reading this two years from now when you have a Pinarello Dogma. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  41. MHL: I think we've been talking about lacing/dealing with leather saddles since day 1 here.

    ReplyDelete
  42. A post from October 2009 complaining about my Brooks Flyer saddle : )

    ReplyDelete
  43. My B17S will eventually need to be punched and laced at the sides as there is slowly more and more of a ridge along the back where the rivets are. However the 'sag' so far that is there after several thousand kilometres is simply my sit bone dimples, custom imprinted for me by my butt! So far I still can't identify why exactly i'd need to adjust the tension screw.

    I have a leather covered foam stuffed Selle Italia Flite - more of a long and narrow road cycling saddle, but surprisingly good. Used it on my drop bar mixte. That and the B17S are my favourite two saddles I've ever used.

    ReplyDelete
  44. If the sag really is due to leather stretch, I bet the relative thinness or stretchiness was related to how quickly it broke in.

    Win some, lose some.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I find the Cardiff leather saddle to be excellent with no hint of sag although I am only 150 lbs.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I'm sorry it took so long to find this post and comment.
    I have owned over 100 brooks saddles, my oldest on a 1893 Raleigh Pneumatic and my newest from just last week. There was once a time that a ride to the Wellesley, Natick and Sherborn dumps would yield at least one.
    Sagging saddles of leather have a very simple fix.
    First, its true, dont mess with the bolt. I use to do this and they all ended up breaking after about 3 years, some times the bolt and sometimes the leather. The ones I never touched, never had this problem.
    To un-sag a leather saddle simply do this:
    Soak the saddle in temped water for about 2 hours. Re-shape the leather to what it looked like new. Dry with a soft cloth. Stuff news paper under side. Wrap with soft cotton string like you use for cooking and let sit in a ,not warm, dry place for about a week. Finish with Profide, top and bottom. Its amazing what this process will do. Don't expect it will never happen again, but repeat as needed. Like servicing your bike, your leather saddle needs is too, Funny we might think that all you need to do is to buy it and ride it!

    ReplyDelete
  47. I know this is an old thread, but I'm glad to have found it. It's nice to know others have had this sagging Brooks saddle issue, and that 1-2 turns of the tension bolt probably hasn't ruined anything (the seat is still plenty flexible, and certainly doesn't feel taut enough to damage anything). The next step is to punch a few holes in the side and lace it up.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I'd find it daunting to buy a new leather saddle, not least on grounds of cost. Thankfully, my Wrights WM-3 (probably from the late 1950s) shows every sign of lasting for ever. Someone once told me they made them from elephant hide. I thought this rather fanciful, but now I'm not so sure. The leather is certainly thick enough. It amuses me that leather saddles are now seen as a premium product. My first bicycle, bought for me at the age of six in 1958, came with a Brooks leather saddle and matching leather tool bag. It was far from an expensive bicycle, with rod brakes and a single speed, but it never occurred to anybody then that a saddle should be anything other than leather.

    ReplyDelete