there have been times when the thought of reviewing a brooks saddle would have brought tears to the eyes of a bronze statue, though it's a reputation that was not always deserved even when we're discussing their leather-based seating products.
in my misbegotten days of mountain biking, i did own a brooks leather saddle, the model number of which i'm afraid i cannot recall. this may or may not be due to subconscious posterior trauma, but either way, for the first few months, it rode with all the comfort of a coal bunker. however, always one to attempt favouring style marginally ahead of pragmatism, i persevered until, like flann o'brien's third policeman either part me became part of the saddle or vice versa.
in my opinion, not only did that leather masterpiece look every bit the biz atop my muddy fox mega, but when broken in, i doubt there was a more comfortable saddle anywhere this side of easter island. foolishly however, and very much as a result of being convinced i knew what i was doing, i would regularly add a few turns to the nose bolt on the saddle to retain tension on the leather. i say 'foolishly' because there was obviously no real need for the number of turns i applied with my proprietary brooks saddle spanner.
i had obeyed the laws of the firmament by regularly applying proofide both top and bottom (whatever happened to that little tin?), safe in the knowledge that i was proving a fit and proper guardian for my seated heritage. the saying 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing' was never more true. within two years of purchase, i had successfully split the leather about an inch back from the nose of the saddle, rendering it all but useless to man and beast.
i still own several brooks leather saddles, all of which have remained intact after years of use, but despite having enquired further of the experts at smethwick, i still harbour feelings of inadequacy augmented by mental squirming if ever called upon to apply a twist or two to the saddle nose bolts.
it may well be that in the interim period my backside has become more macho, for the 'cross bike is shod with a brooks colt, a leather saddle that his given scarcely one moment of discomfort since it was attached to the ibis seatpost. and the brooks b16 atop the stately taurus corinto, despite one or two complaints from the springs, is every bit as comfortable as the armchair in which i sit and type. perhaps the brooks reputation for engendering posterior discomfort has been heralded entirely at the behest of the less than practised cyclist?
maybe we'll never know.
however, only a few years ago, the folks in smethwick's downing street introduced their first ever non-leather saddle in the form of the cambium c17. this consists of an organic cotton canvas top, melded to a gum rubber base, offering all the benefits of brooks' engineering but without the need for a tuning key. similarly, no longer was it necessary to construct a marquee around the latter section of the bicycle in order to keep the saddle protected from the elements. cotton canvas and gum rubber simply laugh in the face of climatic adversity.
as an added bonus, in my opinion, that canvas top fades gracefully and authentically as the weather and cycle shorts work their magic.
the cambium c17 begat the narrower and ostensibly racier c15 (a saddle already being used by one or two cyclocross competitors), a seat more forgiving of the stretched-out-on-the-drops position and aesthetically more pleasing when affixed to a colnago c40. the cambium range needs no breaking-in period as required by the brooks leather range; it is no longer necessary to circumnavigate the globe in order to have the saddle just right for an august sportive ride. they're already just ginger peachy as far as i'm concerned.
but saddle science bears more than just a singular approach, already paid testament to by the more than extensive brooks leather range and by their recognition that the c17 was not the be all and end all of organic cotton tops.
at almost regular intervals, one of the weekend newspapers will point out that the latest bike boom is endangering the virility and comfort of one's undercarriage, a practice if not halted that is likely to see the end of the human race as we know it. though common advice is to ensure that you raise your athletically honed personage from the saddle every so often, there are proponents who recommend using a saddle with a hole in the middle to relieve pressure on the perineum, thus ensuring the longevity of human kind.
brooks already offer the flyer imperial, a leather saddle with just such a cutout, but with the cambium range proving extremely popular, the addition of the cambium c15 carved was probably a prudent step forward (there is also a cambium c17 carved version). very much of the opinion that the c15 is every bit the right stuff to attach to the very best of road bikes, i fitted a review model of the c15 carved to my colnago master where it looks as sleek as the bike itself. if only this were an attribute that could be conferred upon its rider.
i have ridden one or two holy saddles on previous occasions, and though i couldn't testify to being greatly uncomfortable, they failed to offer the advanced comfort that i perhaps mistakenly hoped they would. this may be at least in part due to the rigidity factor; the transition from the gap to saddle top was a rather abrupt one at best. and here's where i believe the cambium carved may have at least partially solved this dilemma. canvas and gum rubber are inherently more pliable than many of the plastic-based options available. manually manipulating the saddle top results in a degree of flexibility that could be seen as either a liability or a benefit to seated comfort.
as it turns out, certainly in my case at least, it's the latter aspect that made the cambium carved a pleasure to ride. just to be sure, i remained seated when traversing cattle grids (i have plenty to choose from) and opted to ride across roads that often seemed to have been borrowed from paris-roubaix for the occasion. i mentioned during my recent review of the ashmei bibshorts that they alone seemed to have a disagreement with the cambium's cutout, one i presume that results from the idiosyncratic shape of the chamois pad. however, i have ridden wearing shorts from endura, rapha, mavic and castelli all with no adverse sensations down below.
i am fortunate to have a bum that is predominantly saddle agnostic; only a few examples have elicited discomfort on a level that demanded comment. i find both the standard c17 and c15 cambium models to be perfectly comfortable and thus no real demand for one with a hole in the middle. however, after several weeks and hundreds of kilometres riding the carved version, i may have created a metaphorical rod for my own back(side) when returning to the safety of solids. maybe i'll take a gap year.
if you experience frequent discomfort on a regular sadddle, or like me, find other slotted models to be less favourable than you'd hoped, might i suggest you at least try the brooks cambium c15 carved? hopefully you'll be as pleasantly suprised as i have been.
saturday 18 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................