Cycle Saddles and Seating Comfort

Saddles are the interest for one reason: Comfort in Riding. This comfort comes not just from breaking in the saddle correctly. It is a part of a total cycling seating program. I will try to cover it all.

I have been lucky and gotten to ride many miles on various modelsof Brooks saddles. I have done a transcontinental in 1985 with Lon and Sue Haldemann (14.5 days) on a Brooks Professional. All of the riders on this "Rapitour" rode on Brooks saddles. We averaged 210 miles a day. This is a lot of time in the saddle. In 2000 I rode from San Francisco to Boston on an 1888 model B70 saddle mounted to a 1887 Rudge 54" ordinary (Penny Farthing) (29 days 9 hours 3 minutes). I was in complete comfort posterierly on both of these rides! This was due to:

  1. Use of a well broken-in Brooks Saddle
  2. Good cleanliness habits (shower right after the ride to get off the sweat and grime) and
  3. Use of Silic 15 brand of Barrier cream ... morning and night after the shower.
Barrier cream is babies diaper rash preventor and a common cream for invalids to prevent bedsores. Silic 15 is an Australian brand which is 15% dimethecone at its active ingredient. I am sure American pharmacists have an equivalent.

Before talking about how to break in the saddle, I want to address the greater issue:

Saddle Comfort.

Saddle comfort has two aspects:

Each of these in turn has seperate aspects: This year I rode from my Golden, Colorado bicycle museum (web address: to the national meet of the Wheelmen ( in Elgin, Illinois on the 1887 Rudge 54" front wheel Penny Farthing bicycle with the 1888 Brooks saddle (1126.9 miles in 8 days and 14 hours...averaging 131 miles per 24 hour day). Again there was no discomfort in sitting on the saddle. I used Silik 15 and the Brooks B70, as well as clean clothing. I sometimes use lycra....sometimes cotton BVDs under Cotton or Wool Knickerbockers. The knickerbockers are the appropriate items for riding a penny farthing. Lycra is not needed unless you want to look like a modern racer. Dora Reinhardt of Denver, Colorado rode 20 centuries in 20 days in 1896 wearing a dress (with cotton undies?!?.... I cannot be sure since I was not there in 1896 to peek). She also rode 2 double centuries that summer...without lycra. She enjoyed her riding.

Now, let me say the following about saddle construction before discussing the softening of Brooks Leather Saddles.....

Saddle leather starts soft on the back of the steer. Belly leather is not used. Good saddle leather is cut at the proper angle to the hide. There is a grain to the leather from centerline of the back down the side of the steer. Generally the cantle (rear) of the saddle is near the center line of the steers back. The tongue of the saddle is down the back from the center line. Thus you can imagine a steer with 2 rows of saddles laying on his back with the noses pointing down to either side. Actually, for efficient use of the leather you push these saddles apart by 3 inches and have another set pointed the opposite way interleaved between them...nose up.

Thus the saddles all have a lengthwise grain...this grain limits the stretch of the saddle. If it were cut the other way, the saddle would need more range in the tensioner (under the nose of a Brooks saddle).

In the manufacture of the saddle, the tanning process is done to get the leather to a certain point and no further. Then the blanks are cut and they are soaked in water (over night) to make them very stretchable. They are then stretched over wooden forms with the length pull tight as possible. This is the pull "With the grain".

After it is tacked for length, but still very wet, it is pulled down the side of the mold to each side at several points....and tacked. After drying in this position it is cut along the line of the final saddle outline and removed from the mold. It is then hard....and can accept the light finish coating which sets up the leather to reduce further stretch and to give color.

It is then applied to the saddle frame...and is ready for you to soften.

I want to start with basics. There are 3 aspects to softening a saddle:

  1. Softening Agent (Brooks Proofide, Various Leather oils, Snow Seal)
  2. Heat (Lamp bulb ...small wattage, Sunshine, Radiator....)
  3. Physical Manipulation (Your Butt, A Baseball Bat, Strong Hands)
These are the necessary softening agents for Brooks Saddles. There are many candidates for each of these categories...and many orders of application. I only listed a few ...and highlighted the best. I have found that a few iterations of:
  1. applying Proofide to the leather and
  2. letting the saddle sit in the sun to get it to soak into the pores works very well. I apply to top and to bottom....some will say not to do the bottom. I use the sun as it falls on the concrete driveway. It is a great spot. I do manipulate the side flaps of the leather and push down on the top a bit with my hands (it improves my handshake also). Baseball bats have been known to be used.
Then, after the worst hardness is out of it, I ride! Riding continues to break it in....and get it to be a match to my personal lines. It also breaks in my bottom.

I wish you all Happy Trails...and Cycle Recycled Cycles.......'specially the 1880s style!


Steve Stevens
Golden Oldy Cyclery