Saturday, May 26, 2012

Leather Saddles from Cardiff and VO

A few years back, both Velo Orange and the Merry Sales/ Soma/ IRD group began releasing Taiwan-made leather saddles, which have been available as less pricey alternatives to the racing, touring and commuting models from Brooks of England. The saddles from Velo Orange are VO-branded, and the saddles from Merry Sales are sold under the Cardiff brand. Though both companies use the same manufacturer (Gyes) and offer equivalent models, they are not identical; subtle differences in specs are apparent. Still, the overall construction and design are the same. Since many have been wondering about the feel and quality of these saddles, I thought it would be useful to describe my experiences.

Velo Orange Model 3 Saddle
My first experience with a VO Saddle was when Velo Orange donated one for the vintage touring bike give-away I was doing last year. The model is what they call the Model 3 Touring and is equivalent to a Brooks B17 in width and general shape. The VO Model 3 features chromed rivets, side lacing, saddlebag loops, and a pebbled surface. 

Velo Orange Model 3 Saddle
When the saddle arrived and I took it out of the box, I was initially not impressed. I thought the feel of the leather was somewhat "cardboard-like." To the touch it felt both stiffer and more brittle than a Brooks saddle. The underside had a grid-like surface to it, almost as if the material was some sort of compound. I did not have high hopes for what something like this would feel like to ride.

Women's Touring Bike Project, VO Model 3 Saddle
However, my expectations proved wrong once I started test riding the bike on which the saddle was fitted. Saddle preferences are highly personal, so I can only say that I found the VO Model 3 extremely comfortable. It did not need breaking in. In action, it felt neither too stiff nor too soft. The width and shape felt just right for my sitbones on a roadbike set up with the bars level with saddle height. The nose did not dig into any sensitive areas. My first ride on the saddle was 20 miles without padded shorts and it felt great. It felt equally great on subsequent test rides. As this was not my own bike, I was not able to provide feedback as to how the saddle felt on longer rides and how it held up over time, which is why I did not post a review. But based on my limited experience, I was impressed and made a mental note to go for this model next time I needed to buy a touring bike saddle. The VO Model 3 is not as luxurious as a Brooks B17, but to me it felt more comfortable out of the box.

Cardiff Saddle, Soma Smoothie
When Soma offered to send me a Smoothie roadbike for review earlier this spring, we discussed specs and I asked them to include a green Cardiff Cornwall saddle. I was curious whether this saddle would be suitable for a more aggressive roadbike set-up, and I also wanted to see how it compared to the VO version I'd tried earlier. Overall, the Cardiff Cornwall looks very similar to the VO Model 3, except for the colour choices. Also, the Cardiff has a smooth surface, whereas VO's is pebbled. There might be other subtle differences in design, but I have not noticed them.

Cardiff Cornwall Saddle
Like the VO saddle, the Cardiff Cornwall features chromed rivets, side lacing and saddlebag loops. The width and shape of the Cardiff Cornwall saddle feels just as I remember the VO Model 3 - perfect for my sitbones. It needed no breaking in. Nothing hurts, the longest ride so far being 30 miles. The Soma Smoothie is set up more aggressively than the vintage touring bike I'd test ridden with the other saddle, with the handlebars 1" below saddle height. However, the Cardiff Cornwall does not feel too wide for the bike. The saddle feels great to ride on.

Cardiff Cornwall Saddle
As far as the quality, look and feel of the leather, my impressions are the same as with the VO: cardboard-like to the touch, with a general sense that the materials - including the leather, the rivets and the rails - are not as high-end as what Brooks uses. Additionally, the green dye on the Cardiff has begun to rub off after some use. Good thing I wear black cycling shorts. 

All things considered, my impression is that yes there is a difference in the quality of materials used in the Velo Orange and Cardiff saddles versus the equivalent Brooks models. However, the real consideration for me is how a saddle feels in action. While I have good luck with Brooks saddles on upright bikes, for some reason I have bad luck with them on roadbikes. On the other hand, the Velo Orange and Cardiff saddles work surprisingly well for me in that context. This, combined with the reasonable pricing, make them attractive alternatives to the other leather saddles out there. If you are having trouble with the fit of other saddles, these are certainly worth experimenting with. It is good to have options at different price points.

56 comments:

  1. I have the Cardiff Wessex with springs that I bought from Rivendell a couple of years ago. I use it on a citified 1980's Kona Explosif with Albatross bars at saddle height and I find it to be a very comfortable ride and the quality of the leather seems just as good as my Brooks B17. And the fore/aft adjustment is longer.

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    1. did not know rivendell carries cardiff saddles, must check it out... but no way is the quality just as good, unless the sprung models are radically different from the unsprung that i have

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    2. I do not think Rivendell carries them anymore, but they are available from VO and Soma.

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  2. I have both Brooks & Velo Orange saddles.

    I personally prefer the chromed rails on the Velo Orange saddles to the black enameled ones Brooks has used in the past decade.
    The softer thinner leather with woven backing on my VO saddle has held up quite well for the past 3 years. The Brooks saddles on the other hand have far more substantial leather and take quite a long time to break in.

    I feel that the VO saddles are great for casual riders that want something comfortable, that will last quite a while, do not want to wait forever to break in, and are possibly not completely sold on the idea of an expensive leather saddle.

    The Brooks saddles on the other hand, despite a long period of discomfort to break in, have a higher quality of leather, which I would expect to last forever with proper care.

    I've also noticed that both the VO & Cardiff saddles tend to have better quality control than the Gyes branded ones. There's also been an improvement in the Cardiff saddle's finish quality over the past few years when I've looked at them in stores. Competing models of Velo Orange and Cardiff saddles probably are slightly better than one another if compared in a store nowadays, whereas previously I think VO had an advantage.

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  3. Funny you should mention the dye rubbing off; I have a Wrights saddle that must be more than 40 years old (and looks it :-) and it still leaves marks on my clothes.

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    1. I rode a 50yo black Brooks saddle once and it stained my lilac skirt, ruining it. However, on the Cardiff saddle it's not just a matter of staining, but of the colour literally rubbing off; it's a pretty bad case of it.

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  4. "It is good to have options at different price points"

    I have mixed feelings about this. In this case, I would not opt to buy a Brooks alternative when I could have a Brooks (for just a little more!). I don't think anyone buying a VO saddle can't afford a Brooks - it's not like people are putting leather saddles on $200 WalMart bikes.

    Same goes for Carradice vs Zimbale - why support the imposter, especially if it may result in the obsolescence of a higher end, original brand? Hopefully Brooks and other quality brands will never be at risk due to production of cheaper "competitor" brands in Asia. Doc Martens recently moved production out of the UK to Asia due to rising costs. Sad.

    On the other hand, I would like a white leather saddle for one of my bikes. Brooks does not currently have one in production, so I may be tempted to look elsewhere. Or I'll just support Brooks again and get another honey B17S.

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    1. Errr I don't know.

      I have a Zimbale 7L saddlebag in addition to a Carradice Barley saddlebag. At the time I bought the Zimbale, it was only because there were zero Carradice bags in stock anywhere. This was spring 2010 and literally no one had them at the time, and I needed a 2nd saddlebag for another bike. So I went ahead and bought the Zimbale, thinking eventually I would replace it with a 2nd Carradice and sell it. Two years later, and I actually use the Zimbale 7L more than the Carradice Barley, because I find a few of its features to be more convenient for my needs. And unlike the Gyes vs Brooks debate, I do not see any differences in quality of construction between Zimbale and Carradice. Brands copy each other all the time. IMO Zimbale bags have a sufficiently different closure method and other differences in features to deserve being described as an alternative, not as an impostor.

      Re white leather saddles: Have a look at Selle Anatomica.

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    2. V, I noticed the closure differences between the bags, and I would prefer the closure on the Zimbale. But I didn't purchase it because it's a total Carradice rip off, IMO. They even have a little tag that says 'original'. Way too close for comfort! If I were Carradice I'd be offended, I hate brands copying one another.

      Thanks for the Selle recommendation - I will definitely check them out. Wish they made a model with a shorter nose. I really want a white saddle and white tape for my pink mixte :-)

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    3. I have a Zimbale 11L bag, and in addition to the Z's more convenient closure method, I think the black w/brown leather Zimbale just looks better than the similar Carradice. The fact that I could buy it from a local shop (Harris) was another plus.

      Charlie

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    4. Jax - I see your point, and I agree about the "Originals" tab - I think they undermine themselves with that detail severely. But I daresay it would rock your world if you learned of the extent to which even the "old and respectable" brands in the bicycle industry copy each other shamelessly. Given the things I know now, the Zimbale vs Carradice thing just does not bother me. At least Zimbale puts out a truly useful product of excellent quality.

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    5. Velouria, say it isn't so! For shame. Don't tell me such things, it will crush my standards of character and originality! ;-)

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    6. I don't know, I hardly think Brooks has a monopoly on leather saddles. There's only so much you can do with saddle design. Some will be leather. Some will be stretched, suspended leather. I don't really see it as a rip-off, any more than I see similarly shaped fizik, bontrager, specialized, etc. saddles as rip -offs of one another. Kind of like saying anyone who makes blue jeans is ripping off Levi's.

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    7. Not that I want to be a troll, Jax, but I purchased a genuine Carradice a few years ago. Within one year each of the snaps pulled out of the fabric (thankfully it still has a zipper) and a year later the wood dowel started poking through the end of the bag. I don't have a Zimbale but chances are it would be of better quality than my Carradice. Meanwhile, I have a Brooks b17 on one bike and VO Model 5 on another and I like each for different reasons. I prefer the brooks' leather top to the VO's but I greatly prefer the VO's tensioning mechanism.

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    8. Commenting on the how noone would put a leather saddle on a $200 Walmart bike. I have wanted to put a leather saddle on a late 1950's department store bike I got at a garage sale. But simply couldn't justify putting a $100 saddle on a $5 bike. The old vinyl one is cracked but a regular saddle just looks out of place on a bike with classic aesthetics. I was quite happy to find more affordable saddles in this style.

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  5. I've been riding Gyes saddles for the last several years, and think they're very comfortable. I bought mine from Crow Cycles online.

    My bike snob friends sneer at them, but I didn't have to break the Gyes in, whereas my Brooks still isn't comfortable.

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  6. Simply not as good as Brooks for not so much less. I'm a big fan of VO and Soma gear, but I think the Gyes saddles miss the mark. Most of us buy leather saddles because with wear, the leather gently conforms to our sit bones. Gyes uses lesse grade leathers and glues a nylon mesh to the underside. This is an attempt to stiffen up the weaker hide. The downside to this construction is that the leather does not give. The Gyes saddle will be as stiff (that cardboard feel) after months of riding. Those little bum dimples that make Brooks feel so good. Simply will not form in a Gyes saddle. You might as well buy plastic unless you want a leather look without the true feel.

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    1. I actually think that when Brooks "conforms" to one's seat bones it gets ruined. Well, maybe not ruined, but certainly worse than when it was new. I prefer my Berthoud saddles and my stiffer Brooks saddles that don't lose their original shape and don't form a ridge in the middle with sunken seat bone area.

      Think about what conforming to seat bones means. The seatbones sink deeper into the saddle material and you begin to carry more weight on your soft tissue in between. That should never happen.

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    2. "The downside to this construction is that the leather does not give. The Gyes saddle will be as stiff (that cardboard feel) after months of riding."

      I would argue that in some cases, that can actually be a positive thing. For instance, if the saddle feels comfortable out of the box, is it not a good thing that the leather never changes shape? One problem I've had with the newer Brooks saddles is that they sag and deform over time.

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    3. Once the saddle has a ridge and two depressions it's life is over. Ruined as MDI says. Sometimes it just happens. More often the saddle was wet. Or you're sitting too high and the saddle is doing it's part to get you down where you ought to be. Or the rider has too much weight on the saddle. It's very hard to make a saddle that will work for a rider of any size or weight, riders who park upright and riders who have their weight on the pedals. Brooks is close to a do-anything saddle but there are limits.

      Most of the broken Brooks I see belong to riders with conspicuous position errors or orthopedic problems or the saddle is really really old and loved

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    4. Like Velouria, I have this issue with my Brooks, and it's not for being too heavy. I'm 5'7" and less than 120 pounds. I should be like a feather on a well-constructed saddle! My saddle has never been soaked, I've only ridden short distances in light rains. Can't comment on position, other than I've never been totally comfortable on any bicycle and want to sit more upright.

      I've had my B17S for about a year and a half, had to tighten it once, which improved comfort greatly, but I feel it's due again. Might not last as long as I envisioned.

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    5. My last attempt at a Brooks on a drop bar bike was the green B17 special (tougher leather) that I got for my fixed gear. It felt good out of the box, but soon began to feel too soft - flexing as I pedal. I really wanted to have a Brooks on this bicycle, as it is an English bike and an English saddle would be more appropriate. But I will probably replace it with a Cardiff or VO out of sheer necessity. Maybe I just have bad luck in this respect, or unusual sit bones.

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    6. I'm 180# on a good day. I get 20,000 miles on a Brooks Pro. Except when I get more. I've never created the ridge and two buckets pattern on any saddle.

      My sweetie is 105#. She has one bike and one saddle. It's a Pro that has been in one place since 1991. IMO that saddle is a year past due, when we agree there's a choice of saddles in the basement.

      I've a friend who breaks Pros in 200-500 miles and discards them at 1500-2000. He's 140# and not all that fast. He's tried everything, including my feeble suggestions. Of the options that don't work that great he likes Brooks best. He's resigned to buying three saddles a year. He does have enough problems with his hips and knees you can identify that rider up the road at 200 yards.

      If you've hit the point you're spending ten cents a mile just for saddle leather you should rethink what you're doing. The fashion points that come with the little plate behind the saddle aren't worth it.

      I will give you a 100% guarantee that if you ride too high or too far forward or at too much tilt your saddle will have a short life. Those are not the only reasons a saddle goes quickly, they are common ones. The problem is never all in the saddle. Every saddle is different yet I've never seen a Brooks that was just bad. The problem is the saddle and the rider.

      Saddles are one of the easiest parts to find secondhand. Often it's worth buying an old bike to get the saddle. Even if you must have NOS or nothing saddles are an easy one to find. If Brooks is not doing it for you there are Ideale, VeryBest, Pearl, Fujita, Leader, lots of choices.

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    7. "Once the saddle has a ridge and two depressions it's life is over. Ruined as MDI says"

      Actually, more often than not a saddle with a ridge can be rescued via "blocking" - a wetting and reshaping technique. MDI and I did this with a 40yo Brooks Colt that had a pretty severe ridge to it. Now it's perfectly ridable and comfy.

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    8. My experiments with blocking have had very very limited success. I've never met anyone who's done it and been happy with the results. Can you share the secret?

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    9. Oh seriously? Sure, I'll write about it. We followed the standard method. It took longer than I expected, but it definitely worked and the saddle had been unridable to start with.

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    10. Seriously. Please. At the moment I've a '79 NOS Pro Select that lost its shape going nowhere. Stored in hot attic? All the old guys I talk to who usually know that stuff have sadder tales of messing up good saddles than what I've done on my own.

      And there are lots of saddles that could be salvaged. Lots. I assure you that most badly ridged saddles go to landfill. I'm offered them for free and I pass as quick as if the leather was torn.

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    11. I spent way too much effort on it, and it wasn't worth it. It may have worked permanently, or maybe it's just a temporary fix. Either way, don't recommend. It certainly won't work as well with the thinner leather saddles (or with wide upright saddles) that developed a ridge + dimples. This was an old Colt, quality leather and it's narrow enough that I think the trick worked. I am reluctant to share steps because I think I just got lucky with this one.

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    12. Thanks MDI. If I ever meet an old saddle butcher who knows & isn't guessing I'll be quick to share.

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  7. I have a well-worn, six year old Brooks B-17 on my Surly LHT and just replaced a two year old VO model 3 on my Surly Pacer with a similar Gyes model (same dimensions and color but with cutaway skirt.) I would rate the VO saddle in the same comfort category as the Brooks with a higher rating in refinement for the Brooks. My initial impression of the tightly laced Gyes model is that it is cool looking but lacks the vibration dampening of the Brooks or VO, perhaps attributable to the high number of laces it employs. VO offers a similar saddle but with titanium rails.

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  8. I looked at the Cardiff Saddles some time ago and didn't get to the riding trial stage. I didn't like the mesh underneath and the whole look was cheaper and a little flimsy. As for breaking in time, I guess I was lucky with my B17 - comfy straight out of the box! I've put that saddle and the LHT through hell over the years as I'm rather clumsy and tend to wreck things. Bike and saddle just keep chugging along stoically.

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  9. We like B17 on Touring bikes with upright handlebar. B17 narrow and Professionals with lower handlebar.

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  10. Hmm, I was riding said vintage touring bike this morning and wondering if I would be more comfortable on it once it got broken in, and was thinking of dosing it with obenaufs. I feel like I'm sliding around on it (side to side) perhaps its not wide enough for my sit bones. I was hoping that the slight dome to it would flatten out and create a more level surface.

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    1. Funny, that slight dome is just perfect for me. I will buy the saddle from you if you decide to replace it with another.

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    2. Actually, do you have any saddles you didn't like that you'd like to do a test swap on? There needs to be some other way to test a bunch of saddles than to buy a whole bunch and end up with rejects. I've had such luck with the B66's, but I'm sure they won't work for the leaned over position.

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    3. I have this new VO saddle [with springs] I'll sell. I think I need a wider saddle.

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  11. Thanks for this honest review. It's useful to know that the Gyes saddles feel more comfortable to some than Brooks, and it is also useful to know about their shortcomings. While I am very pleased with my older (pre-2005?) Brooks saddles, all of the newer ones I've bought have had problems with the leather stretching out or deforming too quickly. I have now switched to Berthoud as a result, but that nice VO brown could be a more economical option for next time. What do you think of the pebbled surface?

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  12. It's great to read a full review of the VO and Cardiff saddles.

    I got a B67 (the wider, softer Brooks with springs) for my Breezer as a birthday present, a year and a half ago. It felt much more comfortable than the original padded plastic saddle (and I don't wear padded shorts) ... for the first 2 months. Then while staying away from home for a month, the leather appreciably stretched. I managed to find the right tool to retighten the leather, but that only lasted a month. Since then I've laced the sides and retightened the nose a few times, but eventually the center started forming an uncomfortable ridge while the sides were too soft, after only 1 year (about 2500 miles) of use.

    In contrast, my wife's honey colored B67 has only required 4 tension adjustments and still is going strong, after the same amount of use, and we both weigh about 135 lbs, so the leather quality is variable.

    I ended up buying a VO model 3, as pictured above, a couple of months ago. It was much firmer than I expected, but after a week of soreness (due to riding 11 to 30 miles at a time in work clothes, no padded shorts) it is now as comfortable or better than the B67. I think I would have preferred a B17 in retrospect, since I now lean forward on my longish trip home. The VO saddle has not yet stretched at all, and feels the same as when first bought. I agree that the feel and finish are not as nice as a Brooks, but I am happy with the choice so far. I hope this saddle lasts more than 3000 miles.

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  13. Thank you for an objective and helpful review, Velouria. Overall, it reflects very little bias, and will probably be helpful to any of your readers who are in the market for a new leather saddle.

    That being said, allow me to flex my biases a little bit. To begin, I totally do not hold any ill will towards Gyes for offering a lower-priced Brooks "knock off". I am not even sure that the knock-off term applies, as Brooks definitely did not invent the suspended leather saddle, and I cannot think of how another maker could possibly make such a saddle without being compared to Brooks. I might consider buying a Gyes-built saddle, and if I did, I'd go to http://www.crowcycleco.com/ , where I could enjoy more selection and better prices than if I went with the versions offered by talentless hack middlemen.

    I think the problem with these saddles is not with the quality. I've seen some Cardiff and VO saddles, and while the leather doesn't have the same hand and the overall construction seems as though it will neither outshine nor outlast a real Brooks, they don't seem like bad saddles. The Gyes saddles have positioned themselves between pricier/nicer Brooks and the cheap/yucky Permaco/other Indian firms' offerings.

    What makes me queasy is the fact that ppl are paying more for the VO or "Cardiff" names. The Cardiff thing is particularly shameful; naming the "company" and each model with wistfully Brit names seems both misleading and embarrassing to me. The "About us" page on the Cardiff site is thoroughly wince-inducing. http://www.cardiffltd.com/cardifftale.html Let's face it; the only thing British about these saddles is the company whose market share is being stolen by these Merry imposters.

    I think I'll continue to buy Brooks saddles b/c they seem like the best bet for long-term use, and I know that part of the reason they're so expensive is b/c the workers are paid a relatively considerable wage. The Gyes saddles use cheaper materials and far cheaper labor, yet are only a few bucks less. The VO/Cardiff versions are priced even closer to the Brooks, with the additional proceeds presumably being used to line the pockets of the obnoxious middlemen who produce the nauseating ad copy.

    -rob

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    1. Rob, you said what I wished to say - only better.

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    2. "The VO/Cardiff versions are priced even closer to the Brooks, with the additional proceeds presumably being used to line the pockets of the obnoxious middlemen who produce the nauseating ad copy."

      I agree with the gist of your critique, but this bit hardly seems fair. More likely the additional proceeds go toward the extra QC efforts that some have mentioned here and toward custom spec.

      It also seems unfair to assume that just because saddle A is made in Taiwan (by a company that otherwise specialises in leather-upholstered furniture, but whose proprietor is a serious cyclist who wanted to try his hand at affordable saddles), it was made less ethically or with lower wages (relative to the local economy) paid to its workers. We do not know what goes on in the Brooks vs the Gyes factories.

      As for ad copy... That's pretty complicated stuff. Yes, the copy on the Cardiff website is funny, as is naming a saddle the "Cardiff Cornwall" (imagine a saddle named the Boston Rockport - makes no sense). But it's funny precisely because I bet, unlike Brooks, the guys at Merry Sales did not pay a marketing consultant to come up with that stuff. Brooks on the other hand, hires experts to play the old-timey British card very effectively. Look at the fox hunt ads from last year. Look at their entire website design, their newsletters. That stuff is so effective that no one even questions it. And yet Brooks has been owned by Selle Royal (not an English company) since 2002.

      I like Brooks. I would prefer a Brooks over a Gyes-type saddle if they felt equally comfortable. But I am uncomfortable with the extent to which Gyes saddles are maligned based on issues of perceived authenticity as opposed their quality and functionality alone.

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    3. Unknown--Thanks; I do my best.

      Velouria,

      Re: wages. I never meant to imply that the workers at the Gyes firm are treated unethically, or that they do not receive a living wage. To be honest, I don't know enough of the specifics here. However, I think we can all agree that, in addition to the cheaper materials, *labor rates in Taiwan are far cheaper than they are in the UK.* My over-riding point here is that, even if the workers in the Gyes plant are treated kindly and paid a nice wage relative to Taiwanese line cooks or whatever, the labor costs for a Brooks will be greater than the labor costs for a Gyes. Combine the cheaper labor with the cheaper materials, even if we account for the slightly longer journey from the Orient, one might think we ought to be seeing a difference >$10 USD between a real b17 and the various knockoffs. To me, that isn't fair to the workers (whether their wages are paying their bills or not), nor is it fair to the consumer, who is paying near-Brooks prices for a non-Brooks saddle, which is aggressively marketed as something quite Brooks-ish.

      The Cardiff marketing ploy isn't very funny in my opinion, b/c it is hideously gauche and deliberately misleading. I'd agree that these guys probably aren't paying a marketing consultant, because they seem to fancy *themselves* to be kick-azz marketing consultants. (What other function might they possibly have? They sell knock-offs that are produced by other companies, which are often already producing the knock-offs before the Merry Sales guys enlist them.) I guess, funny or not, the joke is on the consumer, as Merry's customers are the ones paying the viciously inflated consultant fees, to the tune of about $40 per saddle.

      I hope you didn't get the impression that I was calling the Gyes saddles' authenticity into question. I had mentioned that the suspended leather saddle is an ancient, public-domain type of invention that has been used the world-over for more than a century. The authenticity questions come into play once the middlemen get a hold of 'em, and begin to imply that the saddles are Brit or French. (As for the quality, from what I've seen, they're not so nice. I still *might* give one of the natural tan Gyes saddles a try...the price is right. But I'd never buy a VO- or Cardiff-labeled version.)

      -rob

      ps- I'm sorry, but the Zimbale bags are such flagrant Carradice knock-offs, I cannot bring myself to forgive them. Even if the price is a bit nicer, and the straps are better sorted, it's pretty clear that they were trying to steal Carradice's design, look, and vibe. Uncool.

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    4. Screech, if you can produce leather saddles of the same quality as Gyes/VO for a significantly lower price, please do so! I'd be happy to buy one. You seem to know a lot about saddle manufacturing.

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    5. I don't have to produce leather saddles of the same quality of the Cardiff/VO offerings for less, b/c one can buy a Gyes-branded version from crow for less without having to deal with me.

      One doesn't need to know a lot about saddle manufacturing to see that the various Gyes/VO/Cardiff saddles are made of cheaper materials than Brooks, or to know that labor is cheaper in Taiwan than in the UK.

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  14. I've had similar experiences. I found the VO saddle to feel stiff to touch but actually broke in much sooner than my equivalent Brooks saddle. The pebbled surface seems to keep me from slipping around on the saddle as opposed to the smooth and slick Brooks; yet, I don't feel any uncomfortable friction from the VO.

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    1. I recently purchased the VO saddle reviewed, only with springs. Its uncomfortable right now and I ride further back so the rivets seem more in the way than a Brooks saddle. Any idea how long the VO saddle takes to break in?

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  15. I'm still riding 3 Brooks B17s from the 90's, but have already retired 3 Brooks' (B17s and a B67) purchased after 2007.

    They don't make them like they used to.

    I have 2 theories: 1. Brooks deliberately makes them less tough now in a bid to mitigate their unfortunate (wildly exaggerated) reputation for taking a long time to break in. In which case they are succeeding too well, with saddles that wear out too fast. 2. British cattle are slaughtered younger nowadays as part of a mad cow disease (BSE) control program. It's baby veal leather.

    Brooks now offers the "Select" line, with leather sourced from mature Swedish cows, un-dyed, said to last much longer (and take longer to break in). I think my next new Brooks will be one of these.

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    1. I had considered theory 1, but theory 2 had not occurred to me. Could be a bit of both. But as you and others point out, there is definitely a difference between saddles produced before and after some critical point in the mid-2000s.

      Have not yet tried a Select saddle yet.

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  16. I agree that when Brooks saddles soften and give they are less comfortable. However, I have a couple of Raliegh's that came with them that way. I laced them up. It made a world of difference in comfort. Laces make them quite stiff. These are upright, a B66 and B72. I can't speak for B17's.

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  17. They just look like Brooks ripoffs. Creativity meh.

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  18. For those who complain about the center ridge that develops on a Brooks one easy solution is to "Imperialize" it. Cutting a center channel removes most of the offending ridge and minimizes perineal pressure to boot. I've cut channels on each of a VO Model 5 and a B17 I purchased used before they even developed a ridge and they're both astoundingly comfortable.

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  19. Several years ago I visited the stand of a new Taiwanese leather saddle manufacturer at Eurobike, the big bike industry expo in Germany. I think it was the same manufacturer as the Gyes/VO/Cardiff but I just don't remember. When I asked which models they offered the gentleman just handed me the Brooks catalogue and asked which ones we needed. I suppose you could say that they were also saving some some money by not designing and printing marketing materials.

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    1. Oh that's terrible. Although it was more likely these guys. They were exhibiting at Interbike 2011 and the saddles looked just like Brooks. On the other hand, you cannot really mistake Gyes for Brooks.

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    2. No the saddle in the photo with crooked logo on crooked saddle is very different. The saddles from this Taiwanese firm matched your pictures and description in this post: vaguely cardboard like, a sort if fabric bonded underneath, colored with something more like paint than dye...

      I just don't have literature or remember the name so I won't make any blunt accusations.

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  20. Very interesting review. It once again reinforces the point that reviews in general and those of saddles in particular are necessarily subjective and personal (which is not a bad thing).

    My experience with the VO and Brooks saddles is quite different from yours. I posted my first impressions of the Gyes saddles a while ago, and in the meantime I've ridden enough to give an informed opinion of at least the Model 1. I'll post a full review on my blog sometime soon but here are some main points:

    * My partner is riding the Model 3 and for her it was most definitely not comfortable right out of the box (in contrast to her Brooks B17S). The saddle was very stiff and is only now beginning to be broken in. The bike it's on is mostly used for commuting and therefore she hasn't done all that many miles but the Brooks was both more comfortable initially and adapted to her posterior more quickly.

    * The Model 1 started showing signs of breaking in right after my first 120 km ride. The same was true for my Brooks Swallow. The Model 1 was comfortable right away and is almost equal to my B17 Imperial. The Model 1 is slightly more sensitive to the choice of underwear than the B17.

    * One major difference you haven't pointed out are the stronger rails of the Gyes saddles. A number of people, including me, have had Brooks frames break. The diameter of the Gyes frames is larger and hopefully that means that they will last longer. I don't share your impression that the VO rails don't look as "high end" as the Brooks parts.

    * I agree about the leather: My Model 1 is not quite as smooth as the Brooks leather. I wouldn't describe it as cardboardy but it doesn't look as nice. In terms of function and feel I don't notice any differences though.

    * I absolutely disagree with the claim that deformation of the saddle means it's ruined. If you think that's the case then why get a leather saddle in the first place?? As a vegan, I'm not very happy with using leather products but after having tried many non-leather saddles I came to the conclusion that leather saddles are the only ones allowing me to ride in comfort over long periods of time.

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