I haven’t written much about bicycle saddles, and there is a reason for that: saddle preference is a matter having little to do with “cycling lore” and much more to do with your body, the bike you are riding, and your riding style. Just because I like a particular saddle on a particular bike does not mean anyone else will feel the same way. That simple fact must be maddening for saddle manufacturers, which may explain the vast array of saddle choices available in the marketplace.
Leather saddles have survived the test of time, and are enjoying a resurgence of popularity today. I ride on a couple of leather saddles on a regular basis. However, there have been a few leather saddles that I have simply had to remove from my bike due to the astounding discomfort I experienced. Over time, I have developed my own technique for breaking in leather saddles, which is probably true of many cyclists who prefer leather over other materials. Daniel Rebour had his proprietary break-in technique as well. I also ride regularly on some leather and non leather covered plastic base saddles, which I have found to be on par with the comfort offered by some leather saddles. Comfort being a relative term.
One of the plastic base saddles that I find very comfortable is this WTB Deva saddle with cro-mo rails, shown above as mounted on my 1972 Mercian. Bearing a strong resemblance to an ironing board, it is a saddle that many riders would probably eschew. But, actual comfort is counter-intuitive when it comes to bicycle saddles. Thick padding decreases comfort. Wide and heavy saddles with large suspension springs may not necessarily be comfortable either. I discovered this WTB Deva saddle only because it arrived on a frame and fork I had purchased a while back. I was going to donate that well-worn saddle to the Community Cycling Center, but decided to try it out first on one of my bikes. I was amazed at the comfort the saddle provided – it supported my bum in all the right areas, and was equally comfortable on a bike with low handlebars as well as a bike with a more upright riding position. I tried riding the saddle with jeans, and after experiencing no discomfort, decided to purchase several of these saddles to keep on hand in case I wanted to install them on some of the bikes I ride regularly. One thing I have learned about cycling components is that if you like an item now, buy several, as you may never find that model again.
One saddle that I could never make peace with is this beautiful Brooks Team Pro saddle. I have never ridden on a more uncomfortable saddle, and I’ve ridden on a lot. This Brooks would not break in, even after years and miles of use. It has been treated, lubricated, left in the sun for days, pushed and pulled, but the saddle has never relented.
Here is the Brooks Team Pro on my old Davidson. On this journey, about a decade ago, I decided to explore the cranberry bogs of Bandon, Oregon. Unfortunately, the saddle became so unacceptable on my little tour, that I cut it short and headed home. Bad, bad, saddle.
But, there have been several Brooks saddles that I have loved, two of which were used on my Cannondale T2000 for many years – a Brooks Champion Flyer and a Brooks B-17. Both saddles broke in easily and provided many miles of service.
Because of the inconsistency in Brooks saddles I have used, I currently ride Cardiff leather saddles. Shown above is the Cardiff on my Meral (left) and the Cardiff on my Panasonic (right). These saddles resemble the Brooks B-17 saddles, but have a slightly different shape, as well as longer saddle rails. This model is the “Mercia” which is 10 mm wider at the back than its Brooks B-17 counterpart. As with all leather saddles, each one is different, even though the same model. The darker saddle on the left is actually far more comfortable than the saddle on the right. Why? It could simply be that the saddle mounted on my Meral is more optimized for a less upright riding position than that of my Panasonic winter bike.
From my own experience, Ideale leather saddles seem to have it all over Brooks and other competitors. The saddles shown above are just a few examples of the many models manufactured by Tron and Berthet – a company founded back in 1890 and which went out of business 100 years later. Too bad. These are probably the nicest leather saddles ever made. Below is an advertisement dating to the 1960’s. Each time I have ridden an Ideale saddle on one of my restorations, I have been pleasantly surprised by the comfort Ideale saddles provide.