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Monday
Aug112008

My Brooks Saddle: Butchered but not Blocked

My Brooks leather saddle now has over 1,600 miles on it and is extremely comfortable. When it was new, it was hard, like sitting on a wooden bench.

Even so, it was comfortable and there was no soreness after riding. I was just aware that I was sitting on something pretty hard. It probably took about 200 or 300 miles before the hardness wore off. Now when I ride, I am not even thinking about my butt on the saddle.

Having decided to keep it, I cut the back and the nose off, which is what we used to do back when leather saddles were the only saddle to ride, during the 1950s and before. We usually rode a B17 Standard, and had to hacksaw off the bag loops.

There are no bag loops on the Professional model, which I have, so it was an easy matter to take a sharp knife and slice the rear overhanging leather flush with the metal cantle. The cantle is the curved metal piece that is the back part of the frame where the leather top is riveted.

Blocking was the other practice when leather saddles were the norm; cutting the back off was a prerequisite to this, and was probably how it got started. A wooden block was cut on a band saw, with a concave curve. The shape of the metal cantle was then altered by turning the saddle over, and hammering it into the concave block.

The most popular hammer for the job was a Thor Hammer,  which has a copper face on one side and a rawhide face on the other. Great care was needed in doing this as it was easy to get the cantle and the frame bent unevenly, resulting in a lop-sided saddle that was difficult to correct.

I don’t recommend this practice. One of the reasons a Brooks saddle is so comfortable is because the back part is wide and fairly flat. This means it supports the two sit bones that are part of the pelvic bone, (Left.) leaving the softer tissue that is the perineum clear of the saddle.

Once the saddle is broken in, the leather conforms to the shape of the pelvis, giving even more support and comfort.

The problem with many modern road saddles is that they are narrow and curved in shape and the sit bones come outside the saddle. The result is the pressure is on the soft perineum tissue. A super fit racing cyclist is riding hard most of the time, and much of his weight is on the pedals and handlebars.

However, for someone like me who rides at a more leisurely pace these days a wider, flatter saddle suits me fine. The other benefit of a Brooks saddle is that leather breathes, so it stays cooler in the summer heat; whereas, a plastic or gel-filled saddle holds the heat.

Cutting the back off my saddle is really a style thing, so unless you are a vintage poser, like me, it is not necessary. However, my spare tubular tire does fit better now. I carry one tire and CO2 pump and a spare cartridge, wrapped tightly in a piece of plastic, and secured under the saddle by a toe-strap.

You will notice in the top picture that nowhere is the tire touching the saddle or seat post. This is good because it is easy for a tire to chafe and rub through against a metal part.

One complaint I have with the Brooks is that it is longer than it needs to be, and as I ride a small frame, I find the nose of the saddle touches the back of my legs when I am climbing out of the saddle. By cutting the nose part off, I shortened it slightly.

The other suggestion I would offer Brooks, is that they re-design the frame to give it more rearward adjustment. Back in the day, frames had much shallower seat angles, but frames that are more modern are steeper.

The tools I used are shown above. A sharp knife, I recommend one with a stiff blade, as it is easier to keep the cut straight; I also have a diamond knife sharpener to keep the edge sharp. I used a woodworking file or rasp to even out the leather where needed. Also shown in the picture is the strip of leather that I cut off, with the Brooks nametag still in place.

I did this with the saddle mounted to the bike, as this is as good a way as any to hold the saddle firm. Please be aware as I was, that if the knife were to slip, it would, A.) Cut my other hand or some other part of my body; or B.) It would put a large gouge in the paint on the frame. I managed to avoid both by being aware, and careful.

My feelings are now the saddle is broken in, I will never go back to a plastic saddle. This is just me, a Brooks is not right for everyone, so if you decide to try one make sure you are going to keep it before you butcher it as I did.

If you want to see what the saddle looked like before I modified it, go to my previous post when the saddle was brand new.

More information on "Blocking and Butchering," on the Classic Lightweights UK site.

Reader Comments (6)

One thing which puts me off a brooks saddle is the extra weight. I like a saddle less than 125grams for racing. Maybe later I will be choosing comfort over the odd gram though

August 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTejvan Pettinger

...ah yes...the arcane science of british cyclists & their brooks saddles...i believe on several occasions, a number of them have accidentally stumbled upon the alchemist's dream of learning to transmute base metals into gold while they were pursuing the proper brooks "break in" procedure but they were always more concerned w/ getting those saddles "just right"...

...at least, that's what i've heard...

August 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbikesgonewild

Another reason that racing saddles can be narrow is that as the pelvis rotates foward to make the back flatter, the sit bones get narrower. (Look at the illustration) Sitting more upright (45 degrees) puts you on a wider part of the bones, which is why the Brooks is so popular with touring cyclists.
I broke mine in last year during the Savannah Century, riding in rain for at least 75 of the miles.

August 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterD White

The B-17S is a bit shorter but a bit wider than the standard B-17. My wife never liked it so I put it on one of my bikes. Very nice.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterb battle

Interesting...but I don't think I'll cut up any of my saddles like that, at least not yet. Check out my Rambouillet bike build at http://myrambouilletbuild.blogspot.com/

Great blog, Dave. One of my favorites!

August 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterD Dau

I'm still kicking myself in the arse for letting go of the Brooks Pro that came with my Raleigh Professional that I purchased new in 1977. I broke-in my Brooks after getting thoroughly soaked in a thunderstorm during the Arkansas USCF State Championship Road Race and the Brooks fit my arse like a glove thereafter. I put thousands of miles on that saddle. Unfortunately, I let it go in 1986 because I figured that I needed an Italian saddle to go with my newly built-up Ciocc. I suppose that I've been paying for that ever since. Silly me . . .

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Whitting
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