Recent out of the field, a Brooks England B-17 is an imposing factor. A single piece of thick cowhide stretched over metal rails, it’s heavy, stiff and coated in rivets that don’t look bottom pleasant. It appears to be like like one thing from one other period, and that’s as a result of it’s. First launched in 1898, the B-17 arrived only some years after the comically large entrance wheel of the Penny-Farthing bicycles went out of favor. On my first journey, I slid off the onerous leather-based seat with each pedal stroke.
I purchased my B-17 saddle earlier than I had any enterprise proudly owning one. The seat is designed for grizzled adventurers and their epic rides throughout the nation. As a 17-year-old, I largely rode it to my part-time job at a diner, the place I earned the cash to purchase it within the first place. However I didn’t let that deter me. The saddle was an announcement. It was an emblem of the individual I wished to develop into. I dreamed of driving down the backbone of the Americas, from Alaska to Patagonia—or at the very least throughout Europe. In the meanwhile, I settled for the one a part of that image my dishwashing wages would afford me: my honey brown Brooks saddle. That it clashed horribly with the svelte pink and white aluminum LeMond bike that I pedaled round city was only a non permanent setback.
The great thing about the B-17 is what occurs when you break it in. Because the leather-based stretches and softens, it transforms right into a hammock on your bottom. Like a great pair of shoes, a leather-based saddle will conform to your individual distinctive anatomy with time, one thing an extruded wedge of bum-shaped plastic won’t ever do for you. Scrapes and scuffs that will destroy a foam seat simply give the leather-based saddle extra character. Generally the previous issues stick round as a result of nobody has improved upon them. However as Sheldon Brown, the legendary bike mechanic, as soon as wrote, “Leather-based saddles aren’t any extra out of date than leather-based baseball gloves.”
Breaking in a leather-based saddle takes a very long time. And amongst those that care about such issues, there may be heated debate about the best way to pace up the method. Some dunk their saddles in scorching water to melt the leather-based. Others swear by rubbing them lovingly with oil or leather-based conditioner. Earlier than his record-breaking rides throughout America in lower than 10 days, legendary ultracyclist Lon Haldeman was rumored to soak his saddles in motor oil.
Scared of ruining my new buy, I let time and stress do the work, because the purists do. Earlier than lengthy, nevertheless, my B-17 was topic to an unconventional break-in course of: neglect. Deferring my desires of cycle touring, I headed to school. There, I spent most of my time on the scholar newspaper, my bike pressured to endure 4 dreary Pennsylvanian winters chained up exterior. I thought-about shopping for a seat cowl however all the time spent my cash on beer as an alternative.
Brooks aficionados say that rain is the nemesis of the leather-based saddle. Rain causes a saddle to dry out and crack. I used to be fortunate, although. Mine by no means appeared to thoughts. It survived.
After commencement I lastly realized my bike-touring desires, engaged on path crews in the summertime and touring within the offseason. I took off on these adventures on a procession of low cost bikes, normally picked up — and offered once more — on Craigslist. A classic Fuji that wanted, however by no means had, its wheels trued. The fixed-gear conversion that was two sizes too small. A ‘90s-era Specialised Rockhopper purchased for $60 from a stranger in a Walmart parking zone. However my B-17 was a continuing companion. As soon as I connected my very own saddle to the seatpost, the shortcomings of my secondhand bikes diminished. It gave me the boldness to set out on my subsequent journey in a brand new place, whether or not that was touring the South Island of New Zealand or discovering the quickest path to work after I moved to Boise, Idaho.
My Brooks is 15 years previous now. It’s outlasted buddies, girlfriends and jobs. It is aware of a sure a part of me extra intimately than anybody. It’s rakishly scuffed, a bit lopsided. It has an expiration date: There’s a tensioning nut that sits beneath the nostril. When the leather-based sags, I rigidity the nut to cinch the saddle proper once more, and someday I’ll run out of threads to show. I attempt not to consider it an excessive amount of. I do know it’s only a bike seat, however we’ve been by means of lots collectively.
Not way back, I purchased a metal touring bike, one thing with chrome fenders and brown bar tape to match my saddle—the sort of journey a B-17 deserves. Seeing my Brooks sitting on a correct journey bike has jogged my memory that I used to be proper about at the very least one factor after I was 17. I nonetheless see the Brooks B-17 as a pathway to epic journeys. That’s partly due to its storied place in biking historical past, but in addition as a result of I’m now satisfied it’s essentially the most snug bike saddle ever made. Once I lastly get my act collectively and journey my bike from Alaska to Patagonia, I’ll at the very least know which saddle to convey.