the biggest problem with tradition is deciding when something deserves that particular honour. in terms of recent events, placing real or synthetic pine trees in a corner of the sitting room, bedecked with lights, baubles and tinsel is undoubtedly a tradition, even if the origins of such would be hard to define. santa claus, however, has only dressed in red from the early part of the 20th century, when coca cola thought it something of a wizard wheeze. dressing in such a manner is certainly considered to be traditional, but hardly with the same palmares as the christmas tree.
traditionally, the round church in bowmore has been presented with a christmas tree by one of the island's estates. however, in 2013, they claimed to be unable to do so, as christmas had arrived more quickly than the growth rate of their trees. somewhat of a hard excuse to swallow, i'll admit, but one that has now broken an apparent tradition, though if they receommence in 2014, no doubt the faux pas will be forgotten.
as mentioned in the opening paragraph of a cycle sport article recently, "cycling has long traditions, but short memories", doubtless partly due to the perennial changes and technological development foisted upon the innocent bystander of today. for old fogies such as myself, it is almost whimsical to realise that there are riders in today's professional ranks who have never ridden with toeclips and straps, nor have ever had to judge the amount of lever to pull in order that one of those five rear sprockets might be of immediate use. project this to the not so distant future, and there will soon be riders blissfully unaware that mechanical gearing ever existed at all, let alone that the levers used to fit on the down tube.
which is sort of why it's darned near inexplicable as to why brooks leather saddles not only continue to exist, but on even casual evidence, to flourish. in an era of weight-weenies and implausibly featherweight carbon structures, surely the notion of plopping a hefty piece of tensioned leather atop that nano-fibre seatpost, is something of an anachronism? as one possessed of a posterior immune to all but the worst of saddle offenders, i can attest to the comfort of the modern day item, proffered in a myriad of variations by a substantial number of manufacturers.
given the alacrity with which we have adopted each dinky piece of technology thrown in our direction, ought not we to have praised the efforts of john boultbee brooks, but let them slip quietly off to the museum?
there may be all sorts of reasons as to why the brooks saddle has defied the star trek generation virtually unaltered since the halcyon days of yore. riders such as the mighty dave t, along with his peer group rode brooks saddles when there was little in the way of alternatives, but he has no truck with them nowadays. i, on the other hand, own several, preferring their constitution to the majority of modern day alternatives. agreed, placing a featherweight saddle on an already light bicycle is hardly an onerous task, but it's hard to deny the sense of pride that those copper rivets confer upon any make of bicycle. a sense of tradition, you might say.
but then, without so much as a by-your-leave, brooks all but ignore the tradtion for which they are solely responsible and bring a new kid to market. and as if that were not enough by way of blasphemy, it's not made in smethwick, but in italy*, and it's not even leather. no longer is there a small serrated spanner to be found in the box for the purpose of tensioning the saddle top, nor indeed a cute little tin of proofide. on the contrary, not only does this new brooks cambium saddle require no tensioning throughout its life, but it has already been waterproofed for life.
in a hyphenated word, it has been de-faffed.
but worst, or best of all, depending on your point of view, it needs no breaking in. seemingly gone are the days when a new brooks leather saddle would ride like a coal bunker for the first three months, where it often seemed a contest as to who would capitulate first. and that is, of course, because the cambium is utterly devoid of leather. constructed to sit hammock-like over a die-cast aluminium chassis, the seat is composed of organic cotton and vulcanised gum rubber. there are still the trademark rivets along the rear edge, but rather than having been hammered in place, these are fastened below with torx bolts. effectively, this means that the top can be removed and repaired or replaced should there ever be such need in the future.
it has been too oft repeated that the modern day cyclist is intent on emulating the pain and suffering said to be a part of his/her perennial right of passage. hark back to the brooks saddles of previous reviews and of legend, and it was often a case of suffering for my art come time time to inform you of the latest addition to the smethwick panoply. this is mostly due to the stiffness of new leather and the weeks long battle between bum and that same leather to see who would emerge victorious at some undefined point in future time.
vulcanised gum rubber has no such axe to grind, even when combined with organic cotton woven into a canvas like texture on top. certainly this surface is of a more tactile nature than polished leather and thus perhaps less kind to the lycra that will inevitably sit atop. i'll need to get back to you on that one. however, come the heavy rains (in truth, they have not stopped since the cambium arrived), there is no need to fumble for the often ill-fitting waterproof cover supplied with members of the brooks leather range. though i confess the water has not sat in moisture bubbles in the manner of the brooks website video, a daily soaking seems to have had no ill effects whatsoever.
however, back to that pain and suffering; it is completely absent, removing any bragging rights and demonstrations of man/womanhood more often associated with the brand. the combination of steel rails and the saddle composition would appear to be bang on the money, from my point of view. ride number one was so well constituted from the sitting point of view, i only remembered to show off the saddle on dismounting for the traditional froth supping.
always aware of accusatory fingers being pointed, and the admission that the cambium was sat on an ibis hakkalugi 'cross bike for the initial part of this review, i left it not where it was. you see the ibis is of a most relaxed nature and highly forgiving carbon fibre. add to that, its wheelsmith wheels were clad in 33mm challenge 'cross tyres which inarguably offered a greater degree of comfort than would be the case on 100psi challenge 25c stradas. so to satisfy my own curiosity and that of the pelotonese who would be unlikely to bolt a cambium to a similar velocipede, it currently resides on the steel framed chris king cielo, with every bit as much comfort as offered by the ibis.
the cambium also seems a particularly hardy breed; no real need to be overly concerned as to how preciously it is leand against a dry-stone wall or cafe window sill. it is far too early to tell how sturdy the fabric top will be in the long-term, but brooks having seeded a number of pre-production saddles to the great unwashed worldwide around a year ago without apparent distress, would seem to augur in its favour. the model tested is marked as a c17, augmented by the ladies' c17s also currently available and a racing version stamped as a c15, due for release later this year.
though brooks have revelled in the tradition that is theirs and theirs alone, continuing to offer a huge range of leather saddles, the development of the cambium is surely testament to a desire not to remain in the past. if the new c15 turns out to be truly a racing saddle, it might not be too long before we see the return of the brooks name to the professional peloton, rejoining a wonderful tradition where they left off just past the middle of last century.
such has been my joy with the cambium c17, i think it more than likely i'll be fitting another cambium to one of the colnagos in my beleagured bike shed.
*(i will defuse at least a part of my argument by pointing out that only the initial production of the cambium was carried out in italy. production has now been moved to smethwick)
monday 6 january 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................