Leather saddles: Brooks, Lepper, Selle Anatomica, seat covers, saddle maintenance, etc.

selle anatomica diagonal view before using it

General:

Saddle tests and comparisons:

Various:


1 News and future additions to this page

Due to circumstances, I could not do new saddle reviews nor have I made other updates from late January 2011 up to and including July 2011, but even after that tests only got underway slowly, too slowly. I could only do a few saddle tests even up to early 2014. I hope this will change but for now bicycle lighting is what I will continue to concentrate on. Note that I usually test saddles for a minimum of 2000 km before making a judgement on how good/bad a saddle is, so a test takes a lot of riding and time and work, to keep track of changes in the leather top over that time period. In some cases I have used a saddle a lot more such as with the B17 Imperial where I wanted to to see what happens with the cutout after a long time.

Most of the important tests with saddles had been done early 2011, giving a broad view of which saddles (and should give a view of how suitable some saddles from other manufacturers will be, that have a similar shape saddle top as the saddles I have reviewed) are suitable for which style of riding.

Future: I would like to do tests of other saddles from brands such as Gyes, the newer types of Gilles Berthoud, newer saddles by Selle Anatomica, Pearl etc. as there should be more competition to Brooks and thus proper tests of such saddles are needed, but unfortunately I probably won't get around to it the way things are going. But if you have a specific saddle in mind that should be tested, let me know...

1.1 Latest updates

Please read this: Future of this site/reviews, August 2013. I need to make some decisions on how to proceed, so read this and perhaps give some feedback. I will start with a paypal donate button. If enough readers want this website to continue in the current way, with expanded reviews, perhaps the other options are not needed then.

Support this website, http://swhs.home.xs4all.nl/fiets/ with € 10 (or more ;-)).

Or you could buy a saddle or bike lighting components to support this site :)

All changes since 2011 can be found here.

1.2 To be added (tests done)

  • Brooks B17 Swallow Imperial modification.

1.3 Coming updates

  • Colour: Is the Voyager-standard-natural uncoloured? (the soft-touch light brown gives off colour...)
  • Test of the Brooks B17 select, comparing to the B17 standard/special.
  • Test of the Brooks Swallow chrome, comparing the 'bounce' on the saddle with the titanium railed version.
  • Perhaps: Lepper Voyager standard (ca. 5 mm leather) and comparing it with the Lepper voyager soft-touch.

2 Introduction

I've used various saddles and although saddle types that are right depends on the width of each person's sit bones, here are some facts from my experiences that may be of use (note that I have fairly close sit bones, ca. 8 cm apart, and my weight is about 80 kg; breaking in duration of a saddle and whether that saddle is suitable for you, depends on both...):

Firstly, I've used various normal plastic saddles that came with bikes. Never thought about comfort but I used them for city use mostly. Hardly any 'long' rides (say 10 km or more).

Secondly, I've used a few saddles with gel, and there was only 1 that was comfortable, the Rolls ergo saddle that came with my Koga Miyata Terraliner carbolite (1992). I used that for trips from 10-30 km and the occasional longer trip up to ca. 160 km for about 15 years. No problems at all. Another saddle with a thick gel layer was so bad, that after just a few km, everything went numb. In general, saddles should be hard in at least a few specific places, those places being where the sit bones are located... As the sit bone width differs per person, a saddle I find comfortable may not be comfortable for you. But, gel saddles are in general bad if they're too soft (when the gel layer is too thick, for example). The gel will be compressed and soft areas around the sit bones will get a high pressure which is bad.

So, after that introduction, here are my experiences with lots of leather saddles:

In 2007 I started having a look again at leather saddles when faced with the need for a replacement for the damaged Rolls ergo. I don't care about the weight, comfort is more important and they have a certain coolness as well. Perhaps that's because I grew up with them as my dad used Brooks saddles. On my city bike in my youth up to a few years ago, I used a saddle which I believe is a Brooks B66 Champion which always felt comfortable (I still have it, but the lettering is worn off), which has an old style saddle clamp but also, this saddle is very worn, so I tried to find a similar one. In the end I got a few types of saddles and used Brooks saddles on all my bicycles. Another saddle I used was a B66S on my dad's old bike. I didn't know this was the ladies version of the B66 saddle... (I didn't look closely at the type number, and only realized later what this 'S' meant). More information on this can be found in the description of the B66/B67/B68 below.

Btw, I've got various Brooks catalogues, and e.g. from 1937/1938 which you can find scanned here. Quite interesting to see how little things have changed (as with most of cycling).

3 Various considerations: Leather or not, seatpost types, sit bone width

3.1 Reasons to use leather saddles

3.2 Reasons not to use leather saddles

As to the issue of variations in saddles, you can see this especially with Brooks saddles: Sometimes the leather shows a grain (line in the leather) which can also mean colour differences in the saddle. The name plate is often crooked, and the holes of the Imperial saddles are usually not very symmetrically placed left and right, the camfered sides are often not symmetrical left-right, even the cut of the leather is not always symmetrical. The leather thickness can vary a lot too, from about 4mm (extremely thin, I think I only saw this once) to 5.5 mm (very thick). These deviations are not considered defects, except that I consider the 4.0mm think leather too thin. To me the other differences show it's handmade product, and none of these issues affect the saddle's suitability, only some of the very thin leather I could consider a defect as it surely means longevity will be not high.

So those leather issues are not a problem except for the really thin ones, but I did have some real problems with the carriage on a few Brooks saddles. Brooks considered the ones I didn't like (rails not parallel, measured more than 2mm deviation of the width of the carriage from front to rear) as normal but I disagree. The problem was that I couldn't then clamp down the saddle well enough. I will add some pictures and precise measurements. Brooks told me the saddles were OK after they checked them, even though given their specifications (which I thought were unacceptably tolerant of deviations in the frame), they were not within those specifications...

So I think I should start reviewing and using Gyes saddles... They might be the best competition to Brooks though not well known.

3.3 Rationale for deciding how much to spend

In general I want good, durable equipment. I prefer to spend a little more if it lasts longer. This is also the reason I only sell good bike parts that I like (since mid 2009, see Saddles and related goods). Some further thoughts: You don't buy saddles often for a single bike (or rather: It shouldn't be necessary), so just as with good quality leather shoes, the price shouldn't be the most important factor as it will be used a over a long period. So why economise? It should more importantly be comfortable and of good quality exactly because it will be used a lot. Of course, for occasional cyclists or those who just don't care about it (who only use bicycles for short trips within city/town) this is not an issue; they can select any rubbish saddle or other bike component and it will get the job done. But those sort of people won't read this page! So if you are reading this page, you will want a good saddle, QED :)

3.4 Which saddle is suited for which bicycle/riding position?

In general a saddle must be narrower the more you have an agressive riding position (the flatter your back), so for a road bike you need a narrower saddle than on a touring bike, and this can be expressed as follows:

Suitable saddles for:

3.5 Which saddle is suited for which sit bones width? And how to measure sit bone width?

The saddle should be wide enough that the sit bones sit on the leather that's not directly on top of the frame or even just beside it (so it can deform). This is also why a leather saddle should be a bit wider than a plastic saddle for the same person riding those saddles.

You can feel the width of your sit bones with your fingers. Note: this changes depending on position (the more in a race position you are sitting, the narrower the sit bones) so you must sit on a chair in a position similar to the one on your bike, then feel for the sit bones, and then keep your fingers at that distance and measure with a ruler the centre to centre distance of your fingers (which should be the same as the centre to centre distance of the sit bones). Another method suggested in various places, is to use a piece of cardboard (thick ribbed that can deform, such as used in most packaging boxes) that you sit on (dents in the cardboard = sit bones) but I don't think that works very well.

Another method is measuring a leather saddle that you already broke in. Look for the spots where there are ripples in the leather. There should be 2, 1 one each side of the saddle. Measure the distance of the centre of one of those spots, to the centre of the other spot. This is your sit bone width.

Example: Suppose the sit bone width is 13 cm, then a B17 is just about ok, and a Team pro, Swift/Swallow are too narrow. With people who have wide sit bones (say 11 cm and more) the saddles will deform such that the sides go down a bit at the position of the sit bones, which gives a ridge in the middle which can irritate. In this case I would strongly suggest the B17 Imperial instead of a regular B17, with which this 'problem' can never occur (I will add example images of such 'ridges' in broken in saddles). If you have a narrow sit bone width of say 8-9 cm then any Brooks saddle is wide enough and the choice depends purely on riding position.

SQ lab dealers should have a device to measure sit bone width, so if you have a shop nearby with such a device, it might be a good idea to ask them to measure your sit bone width.

2011-10-17: Today I measured the width of the frame underneath the leather of most saddles which I had planned to do for a long time but didn't get around to earlier. For this I measured the middle of the part of the frame on the left to the middle of the part on the right.

There needs to be some room to deform so I think you need to deduct at least 2cm from that, 1 cm from the left and 1 cm from the right where your sit bones can come so that deformation and a comfortable riding position is possible. This gives the following table:

Saddle Width of the frameMaximum width of the sit bones for which the saddle is suitable
B17 14.5 cm 12.5 cm
B17 narrow 12.5 & 11.5 cm a bit more forward, but that part doesn't hinder due to leather curvature 10.5 cm
Team professional 13.0 cm 11.0 cm
B68 (& B67, B66) 18.0 cm 16.0 cm
Swallow 12.0 cm & 11.5 cm a bit more forward 9.5 cm
Swift 12.0 cm & 11.5 cm a bit more forward 9.5 cm
Lepper Voyager 12.2 cm Here you might say: 10.2 cm, but on the other hand, the Voyager is rock hard and it may not matter much :)

3.6 Seatpost types

This is a patent or micro-adjust seatpost (in this case with polymer based suspension built in):

Most saddles these days are made for use on a patent seatpost.

Here's an old type straight seatpost and a B66 Champion that has a built in seatclamp for such a seatpost:

Not many saddles are made for this type of seatpost, the Brooks B66 and B66 Champion are well known ones that are, but there are saddle clamps with which you can use a saddle for a patent seatpost on a straight seatpost.

It seems to me that it's a better idea to buy a saddle for a patent seatpost even if you have an old type straight seatpost, so that you can use the saddle on a new seatpost if you decide to change it, or for on a new bike. There are so called 'seat sandwiches' which allow you to use a Brooks double railed (on each side of the saddle) saddle on some patent seatposts, but are meant for some seatpost with a single 6mm bolt. You may have to hunt for longer bolts in other types of patent seatpost, and it will not work at all with some types of seatpost (e.g. Kent Eriksen).


4 Saddle tests and comparisons

Note regarding prices: These are approximate recommended retail prices, and can vary quite a bit due to exchange rate fluctuations or other reasons. Prices for Brooks saddles have almost doubled since 2007 for various reasons... (among them the price of titanium for the ti-railed saddles, but also apparently Brooks needed higher prices to get themselves in better financial condition, and for the US, the importer there has jacked up prices a lot on top of that). Note further that for the full leather saddles, masses can differ from my measurements as the thickness of the leather varies per saddle...

Selle San Marco saddles

Selle San Marco: Rolls / Rolls Ergo

Note: The Rolls ergo is no longer made. The standard Rolls seems to have been unavailable (in NL at least) for a long time but now both the standard and titanium railed version are available again.

Experiences: The Rolls Ergo is the same as a standard Rolls but with a thin gel layer between the plastic shell and the leather. I used a Rolls Ergo (labelled 'Koga' as it was on a Koga-Miyata bike) for ca. 15 years (and more than 50,000 km) on a road/cross bike. Towards the end it got uncomfortable, because of the gel layer that deformed (not sure if the gel ages, it could have been because the saddle got damaged a bit after a few falls and the gel shifted, or something). The gel layer in the ergo version is fairly thin, probably the reason this is the only gel saddle I ever liked.

Conclusion: Very good saddle. Introduced in 1983, and a generation of cyclists grew old on it (well, nearly), before the light weight craze that started (again, and this time it was serious spreading to all of cycling, not just road bikes) ca. 1993 and saw people choosing saddles such as the Flite. After trying the leather saddles with cutout, I'm not too keen on using a Rolls again though. With the Flyer-aged I used after the B17-Imperial, I got the same feeling (pressure) that the Rolls used to give me. I didn't have physical problems with this in the past, but I really prefer the leather saddles with cutout now.


Brooks saddles

Brooks: B66 / B67 / B68

Note: These 3 saddle types have the same leather top. The B66 is the original version, with springs, dual rails and an old style saddle clamp for old straight seatposts. The B67 is the version with springs and single rails meant for newer 'patent' (micro adjust) seatposts. The B68 is the version without springs, also for patent seatposts.

Example of a B68 mounted on a touring bike:
B68 B68

Experiences: The B66, B67 and B68 are wide saddles, only suitable for upright cycling (relatively slow cycling on a city bike). [ well, not quite, after using a B68 for a while on the touring bike I know it can be used for sporty riding positions too; I'll go into this a bit more at a later date. ].

With the B66S I used I encountered a phenomenon that riding this saddle one day, a narrow saddle on another bike the following day, I got a lot of pain in my pelvis. So, for me the B66S was definitely a bad saddle. Perhaps not surprising as it's a women's saddle (I didn't realize that it was a women's saddle until later. This saddle was mounted on my dad's bike and strangely, I've noticed that many men's bicycles in the Netherlands that have a Brooks saddle, actually have a B66S. Why is that? Bike shops just selling them women's saddles as they want to get rid of them? Or just not knowing that the B66S is meant for women?), but women's saddles are simply shorter and wider than men's saddles. Perhaps being shorter + wide and thus the angle at which the sides go out is an issue. But I suspect it simply means riding a wide saddle if your sit bones are not far apart, is bad and that that caused the pain. Update: The angle with which the saddle gets wider probably does matter, as I don't have this problem with a B68 (men's saddle).

I used B68 for a while and I didn't have the above described problem with the B66S. The saddle was comfortable from the start which is why I don't see the point of an aged version. There's also an Imperial version of it now, but I'm not sure if that's really useful for this saddle type.

I just got a new (made in 2010) B67 and I was very disappointed that the springs are of the hard type (coil wire diameter is about 4.95 mm, i.e. the same as the coil wire in the Flyer aged I tested and which gave no comfort improvement over a B17 at all).

Conclusion: The B66/B67/B68 have a leather top that should be almost immediately comfortable for upright cycling. I don't think the springs of the B67 nor the current B66 are useful, they are too hard. If you have an old straight seatpost, just use a seatclamp with a B68 instead of getting a B66. If you want one with springs anyway, I would also suggest not getting a B66 if you have an old straight seatpost, but getting a B67 and a seatpost clamp. That way you can use the saddle with newer seatposts too. All in all from the B66/B67/B68 I only recommend the B68. The B17 (or perhaps a Flyer, if you really want those hard springs) is an alternative to the wider B66/B67/B68 if you are accustomed to narrow saddles on road/mountain bikes and if you usually ride in a more aerodynamic position than fully upright even on a city bike. In that case I would suggest trying a B17 first.


Brooks: B66 Champion (=B17 with soft springs and clamp for a straight seatpost)

Note: The B66 Champion is no longer made, and is replaced with the Flyer which is meant for newer ('patent') seatposts. This is available in various versions: the standard Flyer, the Flyer Special and the Flyer-aged. There is an important difference between these saddles and the B66 Champion: The springs in the Flyers (from ca. 1999 on, see Brooks' response to my question) are much stiffer, and don't give much comfort...

Experiences: The B66 Champion is for old style seatposts, has springs and a B17 shape/size leather top. My saddle (it was my dad's saddle, and is by now ca. 40+ year old, I estimate it's from the mid 1960s), is ca. 16.8 cm wide, later ones are ca. 17.2 cm wide; I think 4 mm is in the realm of normal deviations for handmade saddles, and not that my saddle is a different version) I've used it for years on a city bike. Worked fine, also for quicker riding when putting one's forearms on the handlebar for example.

I recently bought a second hand B66 Champion which is 17.2 cm wide, mass is 1060 g. This saddle is chocolate brown. This saddle is from ca. 1991 according to the seller, and that fits with the colour as that was used around that time. Upon checking the frame I noticed the leather on the older B66 Champion is cut closer to the metal frame. The frame itself is exactly as wide as that of the newer model. This explains the width difference of 16.8 to 17.2 cm between the older and more recent model.

Especially for the 2nd saddle, the leather is very soft, comparable to current pre-aged models. Together with the soft springs this may account for the comfort of both these B66-Champion saddles.

Conclusion: The B17 is one of Brooks best saddles and this too is therefore still an excellent saddle. However, the B66 Champion is meant for old style (straight) seatposts. It's also no longer made... For standard 'patent' seatposts you can get the newer versions, the Flyer, Flyer-aged with laces which has a rough top which you won't slide of off, and the Flyer special with large copper rivets. However, as I noticed in 2009, the springs for the B66 Champion and old versions of the city bike saddles B66/B66S are a lot softer than those of the Flyer which resemble more the hard springs of the Conquest/Conqueror. The old B66 Champion's springs do actually feel quite nice after trying my really old saddle again. My conclusion not long ago (this was mid 2009) was actually that springs were useless. Hmm.... (coil wire thickness in both B66 Champions is 4.55 mm, compared to 4.95 mm of a Flyer from 2009 and a B67 from 2010)


Brooks: Flyer (=B17 with springs)

Experiences with a Flyer aged: Comfortable from the start (softer leather than the regular Brooks leather), but, after having used in particular the Selle Anatomica and B17-Imperial for most of the past 9 months, the middle section irritates a bit when riding in a aerodynamic position. For upright cycling, e.g. if you only use it for fairly slow cycling in the city, this saddle is quite good. I can get used to it, as I have in the past, but I prefer a B17-Imperial myself...

A note here on the soft leather: This means the leather doesn't need a break-in period, but it also means a lot of strength is lost. The leather stretches a lot as I discovered when trying to do an Imperial modification to the Flyer-aged. For a short while (a single 10 km ride) it was fantastic but then it was already stretching. This shows how much the leather stretches compared to normal stiff leather. I will write more about this soon. The thing about the leather is, it really only needs to be soft in 2 places: Those 2 where the 2 sit bones sit on the leather. That's why I think regular stiff leather is best. Also note that some types are immediately comfortable. The B68 I tried for example was great from the start so I don't see a need for a B67 aged, B68 aged, nor a B68 Imperial.

Note on the springs: The current Flyers have quite stiff springs, comparable to the Conqueror/Conquest. I would prefer the old soft springs... (coil wire thickness in this Flyer aged from 2009 is 4.95 mm; compare that to the 4.55 mm for the B66 Champion!)

Conclusion: The Flyer is a useless version of the B17 because the hard springs that are used since 1999 don't add any comfort to the ride. To whomever wants suspension in the saddle: Get a B17 + suspension seatpost instead of a Flyer.

Small addition: Some people think the Flyer helps take the edges off of bumps in the road even if they are less heavy than me. I want to test this with my full weight on the saddle as I usually sit in a sporty position with some of the weight via my hands on the handlebar. A Flyer could also last longer for people who weigh more than 100 kg because with unsprung Brooks saddles there are quite a few reports (on German forums at least) of carriages that broke fairly soon. Multiple times... Perhaps the B67 select and Flyer select are the best Brooks saddles for a weight of >100kg? I will ask Brooks what their thoughts are on these matters.


Brooks: B17, B17 Special & B17 Titanium

Experiences: Comfortable from the start (I don't think it's softer leather than the Team pro and Conqueror, but that this apparent softness is caused by the different shape of the saddle which allows deformation/flexing), showing break-in signs (ripples in the leather top where the sit bones sit on the saddle) after ca. 1000 km. Same shape leather top as the B66 Champion. Comfortable, but only with the handlebar height at saddle height or higher.

For the titanium carriage version:
1. The rails are often not quite standard width, being a bit narrower or wider (a few millimetre) than standard. The rails can be bent outward automatically in most seat clamps, but this depends on the clamp design. There's even a special version of some seatposts for a Brooks which I think was related to this 'problem'. With standard steel railed versions, this problem seems to occur far less often.
2. The rails are a bit more fragile than steel rails. For heavy duty touring or very long tours where you want to be sure (well, fairly sure, everything can break!) that the saddle doesn't break during your trip in the middle of nowhere, I would suggest a steel railed version. Those extra 120 gram don't really matter on a bike+rider+equipment mass of say 100 kg...


Brooks: B17 select

My experiences: I only tried it in modified form with the Swallow-imperial modification. There were some interesting differences: The saddle didn't sag as much a lot of use, and perhaps what happened after that is related: I let the bike outside my tent (of course) in Germany, and didn't put on a raincover. It was raining and the saddle was soaked next morning. I had to return to NL so I had to ride on it, and it quickly sagged a lot! I thought the saddle was ruined, it was deformed too much and uncomfortable. When I got home, after 2 days riding on it, I let it get soaked again and formed it back into shape and let it dry out, to see what would happen. After drying out, the saddle was perfect again, no need even to tension the saddle! This was great. I had tried to soak-reshape-dry-out the Selle Anatomica after it got too stretched, and it just doesn't work there which is almost certainly because the leather on that saddle is too soft (just like the Flyer-aged that I modified). The specially selected leather of the B17-select could be a reason why this works so well. I'd have to do more tests with regular leather saddles from Brooks to compare more. The leather of the B17 select that I used certainly didn't seem tougher/harder than normal leather saddles (note that the leather hardness varies a lot, I notice this especially when doing modifications where I need to cut the leather), but it did not sag as quickly (in normal use) which does show there is something different.

The leather colour: This will quickly turn to honey and then antique brown. The more you use it, and especially if it gets wet a few times, the more quickly it gets darker.

Here are pictures of the B17 select that I modified as a B17 swallow imperial, next to a B17 special in antique brown that I also modified in the same way. Which is the select?



Answer: Picture 1: The saddle on the right. Picture 2: The select is the saddle on the top.

Natural colour: Note that while doing the Imperial-swallow modification I soaked the saddle to bend over the flaps underneath the saddle and almost nothing of colour came off into the water so the B17 select looks to be uncoloured or almost so. This makes it the best saddle if you want to ride with beige/white trousers on the saddle in the Summer.

Preliminary view: The frame is good, not so slippery on the rails which means I don't have the problem that I often have of saddles after a while being in a different position that I had fastened them. The leather does look to work very well, and for a proper long term view of how long the leather lasts I would need to ride with a saddle much longer, there are indications that the saddle's leather is better selected than for Brooks' regular saddles.


Brooks: Swallow/ (titanium)

Experiences: Fairly comfortable from the start (using cycling clothes), esp. for racing. A lot of spring, too much even (for me). When pedalling at high frequency (road bike, ca. 100 rpm and higher) it almost gave me the feeling of bouncing off the saddle. But I'm not comfortable with more than 100 rpm in general (it's hard to keep on the saddle whichever type). With an upright position I still find it ok with bike clothing. Using normal clothes it's a bit less comfortable in that position. No real break-in signs yet after ca. 500 km. You need to take care it doesn't get wet or this saddle will stretch (and sag) a lot.

Broken in sample with sagging leather: This happens in case of soft leather, and the leather varies in each saddle. It's impossible to predict but this one was extreme in how quickly it got broken in. A Swallow-ti that I had used for about 1500km showed no signs of sag/breaking in whatsoever to give an extreme other example. This Swallow chrome showed signs of breaking in (ripples in the leather around the area of the sit bones) after a few km already (I have never experienced that with any other sample of any saddle I used). This shows the difference in different samples of the same type of saddled, because of the leather.
These pictures were made after about ca. 300km use:

Conclusion: Looks great on a road bike and it's comfortable, but I would use the newer version with steel rails to remove the bounce that I think is a bit too much. However, the spring from the titanium rails is also part of why the Swallow-titanium is so comfortable. The Swallow-chrome on the other hand is a lot cheaper [ The steel railed version was reintroduced in 2008, it was the standard model available up to, I believe, the early 1990s. ]

Update: The bouncing issue with the Swallow-ti could be due to me not being used much to pedalling at 100rpm and more. At the time I started using the Swallow I cycled with about 90 rpm and I wanted to ride with a higher cadence. I will investigate whether the feeling of bouncing was caused by that.


Brooks: Team professional (titanium)

Experiences: Still not broken in after 1500 km, but from the start it was comfortable for me as the saddle's shape is such that it's wider for a longer section of the saddle than with the Conqueror. It has a fairly good shape, which stays so after a very long time, contrary to e.g. the Conquest/Conqueror. Fairly comfortable with handlebar height lower than the saddle height. For a little more upright riding position this saddle is suited too, comparable to the B17, perhaps even better because the top is flatter, but only if you don't mind the fact that the saddle feels harder than the B17.

Conclusion: This is a more classic style saddle (unlike the Swift). It's quite comfortable for a road bike or touring bike on which you ride with a more agressive riding position. Undervalued compared to other saddle types, in particular the Swift. Those who can't get along with the Swift should try the Team professional, B17 or B17 narrow (standard or Imperial versions).


Brooks: B17 narrow

Experiences: First impression: Rock hard! After about 120 km it feels a bit softer, or perhaps I got used to the hardness? After about 240 km it feels a bit better again. After 400 km still better and there are signs of breaking in (ripples in the leather). This might be caused by structure in the leather as it's predominant on one side (pictures to follow). After 600 km it feels quite good. It seems to be actually better than the B17 narrow Imperial, but I'll have to check that with side by side tests. After 700 km it feels great in cycling clothes, a bit too narrow (or hard) with normal clothes sitting a bit more upright. Sometimes in a position as on a road bike, it feels just a little uncomfortable due to not having a cutout (I'm comparing it here to the B17 Imperial, not the B17 narrow Imperial). After 700 km it remains approximately the same. I see no other changes in the saddle (used ca. 1400 km). Having switched briefly to a B17 Imperial again to compare the difference the cutout makes, I have to say the difference is very large. I don't have problems with saddles that have no cutouts, but the pressure on the soft tissue is gone and going back the B17 narrow after that makes me wish for the Imperial... After more than 1600 km, the saddle stays in the same shape as when it was at ca. 400 km. One 'problem' with the saddle was uneven discolouration of the saddle. It looked as if the colour, after the saddle having got wet a few times, leaked away from one area to another (pictures to be added). I did an experiment by letting the saddle soak in a tub of water to get rid of excessive colour from the saddle (this could help prevent the saddle giving off colour on a summer's day due to perspiration). The result is a beautiful dark brown colour but some spots of different colour (a bit lighter) remain. There's a bit of structure in the leather (again pictures to be added) which first made me think the ripples in the leather on one side were caused by a weaker section of leather at that point, but the saddle is rock solid so it doesn't affect structural strength. All in all I think the discolouration issue is caused by local variation of the leather in various places in this particular saddle.

Conclusion: This saddle is probably only suited to people with narrow sit bones. It gets quite comfortable with (padded) cycling shorts after a relatively short 400km and gets a bit better still after that. With regular clothes and slightly more upright posture it's slightly less comfortable. A good saddle for a (vintage) road bike or fixed gear bike. If you don't have problems with saddles without cutout, it's a nice narrow saddle, if you do have problems, try a B17 narrow imperial first...

Note: The B17 narrow is very much underrated. People who don't like the Swift should try the B17 narrow as it usually works well...


Brooks: Swift & Swift Titanium

I remember the introduction of the Swift in the early 90s (first Dutch ad in the magazine 'Fiets' was in the April/May 1993 issue). I think it was the first Brooks saddle with a titanium undercarriage. Dutch ads had a slogan "Gewogen en niet te licht bevonden" that translated means: Weighed and not found to be too light. Here, the 'weighing' as used in this way is usually meant as checking whether something does what it should do, and if it's not found to be too light, then it's good enough! So, that was a play on words in Dutch, meaning other saddles may be lighter, but may also not be any good...

One thing I do notice from pictures on the web, is that after breaking in, the middle section protrudes quite a bit. Many people swear by this saddle, but I'm not sure I will like it seeing the comfort improvement of a B17 Imperial over a standard B17. A standard B17 doesn't have this protrusion problem (I think just as with the Team professional, that this not happening with the B17 is because of the shape of the leather top), but still the Imperial is much better, so perhaps for me the Swift perhaps won't be very good after breaking in (then again, I've seen distorted saddle-tops of saddle types that stayed flat when I used them long term, so it might be a non-issue).

Experiences:

At first: Hard, not very comfortable (as with most Brooks saddles). I tilted the nose up a little bit as otherwise I would slide forward to the narrow section. Very soon after using the Swift, it was exposed to heavy rain and the raincover I put over it wasn't put wholly over the rear apparently, as the back of the saddle got quite wet. I didn't realize this until I noticed I could already see signs of break-in (the saddle had been used less than 100 km). It was quite comfortable at that point. I don't know how long breaking in would otherwise take, perhaps I will test with another Swift at a later date. At that point the saddle felt good when I set it up horizontally again. I do get what I saw on pictures on the web, i.e. the middle section protruding... I don't have a problem with it (yet?). What I notice is that it's very fiddly to get the saddle properly set up so I don't slide forward, not get trouble with my 'soft tissue' getting too much pressure. As this point of the endurance test of the Swift, I don't like the Swift as much as for example the B17 narrow which is just as narrow, which is much easier going and where I have none of the issues I have with the Swift.

All right, further experiences: The saddle got fairly wet again a few times due to a leaky saddle cover, and I tensioned the saddle twice. There's some sag which tensioning won't really improve. I think if the saddle hadn't got wet so much this would not have happened, or perhaps it has just speeded up the process. The saddle has been used for about 1000 km and I'm still not sure if I like it or not. Well, the dislike I had on a few occasions, caused by how fiddly it was to adjust the saddle position to my liking, has now gone as it doesn't appear that fiddly to setup any more. This is possibly caused by the tensioning (saddle becomes slightly longer) and slight sagging. In any event, the saddle seems to suit me better now...

After much more testing I find that I can never get it dialled in as I want it, so this saddle type just doesn't suit me.

I will perhaps modify a Swift in Imperial style at a later date to see how much that improves things.

Brooks Swift laced

Update 2012-7-14: Finally started tests of a laced Swift to improve on the sagging. Results so far: Shape is much better, the drooping is less and so the saddle aim isn't as critical, but the ride is very hard, harsh I'd say! After a few more rides and more riding in position nearly as on a road bike, the saddle is quite good for such a riding style, for which the sag in the front helps prevent too much pressure in the middle, and the shape in the rear is ok. But of course, the ride is not soft! I've ridden it for ca. 100km, more experiences to follow.

After much more use: the saddle's shape is clearly kept by the lacing, the drop of the leather near the nose helps prevent pressure where you don't want it, so all in all I think the Swift, when laced is a good saddle, better than the unlaced.

Now make the holes, and lace it:

On a bike, after having been used this way for a bit:

And on these pictures it has been used a lot. The shape is kept well with the lacing:


For those who can't do this themselves, I offer a modification service (can be applied to a used or a new Swift, so it's possible to buy a new saddle with this modification).

Conclusion: I understand why some people can't get used to it, and why some people love it. It's a saddle that needs care for precise adjustment in saddle height, saddle position (nose slightly tilted up) and also a saddle that will deform clearly to ones sit bones. This saddle is a 'love it or hate it' type of saddle as I heard a few times, and my experiences and the experience of others I asked confirm this. It's not a saddle for me...
You may want to have a look at the B17 narrow first...
Or modify with lacing!


Brooks: Conqueror / Conquest

Note: These saddle types are no longer made.

The Conquest is the same as the Conqueror, but with large copper rivets. The Conqueror was probably discontinued in the early 1990s (mine is from 1992). The Conquest was introduced probably in 1988 (In 'Fiets' Sept./Oct. 1988 p. 79 the Conquest is shown but not mentioned by name; the first Dutch ad I know of is from June 1989 which says the Conquest is a new saddle) and was discontinued after 2007.

Experiences: It took about 800 km to break in. Until then it was uncomfortable due to the very narrow profile despite its 16.0 cm width. The reason is that it only gets wider very close to the widest part of the saddle. It's fairly comfortable after breaking in, but after about 2000 to 3000 km, the saddle starts to sag (which means the left/right sides sag a bit, and the middle thus protrudes...) and the middle bit tends to irritate more than in the beginning when you're cycling in a road bike position (e.g. when resting one's forearms on the handlebar with a headwind) despite the width being the same as the Team professional.

Conclusion: I've seen others mention the same problem of early sagging with their saddle on various webpages... If you can find this saddle, give it a miss and try a Team professional, B17 or even a B17 narrow (preferably the Imperial with cutout).

2012-12-6: You could use this saddle and lace it as I did with the Swift, that could at least counter the sagging.


Brooks: B17 Imperial

Experiences: The saddle is, as usual with Brooks, from very hard leather. So from the start it's quite a lot stiffer than the Selle Anatomica, but the cutout in the middle does give a fairly comfortable ride from the start, and one doesn't get the feeling of sliding off to one side as one can get with other smooth-top Brooks saddles. Sitting forward (e.g. elbows on the handlebars in a headwind or using the drops on a road bike's handlebar) the saddle is much more comfortable than other Brooks saddles due to the cutout. I.e. no pressure on the genitals... I presume the saddle's comfort will increase once it's broken in (that's usually after ca. 1000 km cycling, the leather then gets softer around the area of the sit bones). At this moment the Selle Anatomica is better comfort wise. But the Selle Anatomica is more of a 'hammock' style saddle, so that the Brooks is better for quicker riding and when you want more control of your bike (e.g. in city traffic). And comfort of the Brooks will almost certainly improve...

A new B17 Imperial just installed on the bike:
Brooks B17 Imperial side view, 0km Brooks B17 Imperial top view, 0km

First update: After about 400 km the comfort increases quite a bit. There really aren't visual signs (=ripples in the top layer of the leather at certain points) of break-in yet but the top has softened none the less. The stiffness I previously felt near the sit bones was gone. So perhaps it's already nearly broken in despite no visual signs. After about 500 km it's getting near the comfort of the Selle Anatomica, but without any deformation of the leather top...

2nd update: after ca. 800 km there are slight signs of breaking in. After ca. 1200 km the saddle is probably fully broken in, with clear signs of breaking in (ripples in the leather on both sides where the sit bones are placed on the saddle) and very comfortable.

3rd update: After 2000 km and 2 months very intensive use, the saddle appears fully broken in. There is hardly any deformation of the top, and the laces really keep the saddle's shape (you can feel the tension in the laces when you sit on the saddle). It's not as comfortable as the Selle Anatomica, and probably never will be, but it's very good.

After more than 4000 km and having been soaked several times because of the defective saddle cover (see at the bottom of this page) after which I had to use the bike, the saddle is still fine, doesn't sag and there's almost no deformation. The slot in the middle is a little less wide as the sides are a little curved now (because of the lacing and the weight on top), but the comfort is still fine.

After 4800 km (summer, fall, winter, heat, downpours, snow, this saddle has seen it all):
Brooks B17 Imperial side view after 4800km Brooks B17 Imperial top view after 4800km
Note that in the first 2 pictures of the Imperial mounted on the bike, the side view was photographed with the saddle rails tilted up a bit, so that bear that in mind when comparing them.

2011-10-29: Btw., I was asked a few times whether I noticed the lacing, in use or from wear to clothes. The answer is: no. I don't have more wear of my normal clothes nor of cycling clothes from the lacing and I don't feel the laces at all while riding. This is perhaps also due to the fact that the sides of the saddle are slightly bulging after a lot of use, i.e. you will have more contact with the smooth leather on the sides of the saddle, rather than the laces.

Conclusion: I rate the Selle Anatomica's comfort higher, but durability (and sustained high comfort) of that saddle may be an issue as you can read in my review of that saddle, so my preference is for the Brooks Imperial.

Note: The B17 Imperial, B17 Narrow Imperial and B17S Imperial all came with 3 extra coloured laces (red, white, cyan) until mid 2009. After that, all the Imperials I've seen only came with black laces and the stock photo on the Brooks website was changed to one without the extra laces. I read somewhere that someone from Brooks noticed almost no one actually used those laces so I suppose that's why they were not included any more. However, from 2011 then all Imperials I had seen came with 3 extra laces again. Anyway, if you want you can use any 75 cm long laces from a shoe store. Smooth ones with hard exterior are probably best w.r.t. wear of the lace from your thighs or clothing rubbing against them.


Brooks: B17 narrow Imperial

Experiences: B17-Imperial-narrow: This saddle is pretty good from the start, but there's noticeably more pressure in both the upright and road bike position. I suggest using the B17 narrow Imperial only for use on a road bike. In general the Imperial standard is almost always better (even if your sit bones are very close together, because mine are very narrow too). The cutout in the middle makes that one can put the handlebar lower without bother, an effect I previously noticed with the Selle Anatomica (usually, a saddle must be narrower the lower the handlebar is placed, to remain comfortable).

After a lot of use, depending on how hard/thick the leather is, the slot can become quite narrow. This also happens with the normal B17 Imperial but there the effect is far smaller after the same amount of use, presumably because of the shape of the leather. Here the cutout in the leather can be made the same shape as originally, unlike with the Selle Anatomica where you can't cut away enough:
Saddle was used ca. 1500 km or so, the saddle has also seen a lot of rain:

Comparison with original cutout:

After tracing that shape on the saddle and recutting the cutout (with sharp hobby knife, X-acto or similar):

Even with the narrow cutout it was quite good, but now it's better.


Brooks: Colt

My view before using it: The Colt was introduced ca. 1983/1984. From pictures it just looks ugly to me. I don't know how well the shape of the saddle works but I had mainly seen negative comments on the net, so all in all I was not really interested in testing it also because it wasn't available any more. Typical, just when I wrote that down it was reintroduced in 2010.

Tested since: 2011-10-2. Used: I'd estimate ca. 1000km.

At first: Rock hard and very narrow, reminds me of the Conqueror which was very uncomfortable until I had used it for 800km. Well, the Colt also feels very narrow, as if it gets between my sit bones. As my sit bone width is about the narrowest there is, this means everyone will probably feel this, i.e. more pressure on the middle/soft tissues. I let it get wet a few times in rain but it stays rock hard!

How it looks: At first I thought it was ugly, but I kind of got used to it after a while :)

Letting it get wet in the rain resulted quite quickly in not just ripples in the leather but indents where the sit bones. The leather on the sides where my sit bones are has sunk down quite a bit as the indents are big. I have seen this with for example the Swallow, but in that case it was a Swallow with particularly soft leather which already showed signs of breaking in after 10km... In any event, with these indents, the leather in the middle forms a ridge which protrudes and annoys me while riding. The saddle's shape hasn't changed since that soaking by the rain, and it's now been used ca. 1000km. I think as with the Swift, the Colt is a saddle that simply doesn't suit me (except with lacing, see further on). The saddle's shape as with the Swift seems to be such that a large indent and thus protrusion of the middle section which can irritate, is more likely to occur than with other saddles. For the Colt and the Swift I recommend making a long test ride of at least 10 km, with a broken-in saddle. If you have that option from a shop...


Selle Anatomica saddles

Selle Anatomica: Titanico LD

I've expanded this section from a page with pictures that I made for the manufacturer, to ask about the Selle Anatomica Titanico LD: "Is this saddle stretching normal?".

Contrary to what the name suggests, this saddle doesn't have a titanium, but steel carriage. The rails are very long and flexible: You can move the nose of the saddle up or down with reasonable force. Perhaps this helps in making the saddle as comfortable as it is.

Initial observations and experiences: Comfortable both in upright and road bike position. This is remarkable as usually, a saddle needs to be less wide the lower the handle bar is placed. This is probably because of the deformation in the saddle's top while cycling, that the cutout allows.

After more than 2 months and more than 1300 km: The saddle I've been using from early December 2008 to end of February 2009, deforms too much. In particular I had to use the tension screw of the saddle a lot which also means the cutout at the front is almost gone, it's just a slit... The rear part I actually had to cut 3 times because the leather was touching and even overlapping. Comfort is now a lot worse in the road bike position (forearms on the handlebar in case of a headwind or just to cycle quickly).

This is why I put the following question to the manufacturer:

Selle Anatomica observations

Some questions/comments about the Selle Anatomica that I've been riding for about 3 months now (more than 1000 km):

  • I've cut the touching edges near the rear twice to the 5mm width when not seated. (update: It's now 3 times :) )
  • I had to use the saddle tensioner a lot because the leather stretches so much that the underside of the leather touches the seatpost...
  • The front slot has almost disappeared... This means the comfort in 'bent forward' position (i.e. when I rest my forearms on the grips, giving a position similar to on a road bike; this is in cases of headwind or just to ride quickly) is far less than it used to be. I don't suppose I can cut this forward section as it would mean structural strength would be lost and the leather stretching more etc....

Is this typical or not?

This is how the saddle looks after 2 months use (Click on the thumbnail images to enlarge:)

selle anatomica top view selle anatomica side view selle anatomica bottom view

Reply from the manufacturer (note that I also asked about other laminate posibilities):

Because we work with leather, natural not manmade material, we see the saddles may change little bit different from one to next. It is possible your slot shape has become slightly too narrow to give particular pressure relief your pelvic basin anatomic most likes. You could trim the slot shape wider with razor knife.

You should only use the tension adjustment to provide riding comfort. Some people think the saddle needs to look a certain way when they are not sitting on it and use the tension to make the appearance that seems correct. This is not the way to adjust tension.

Once again, due to leather material, a small number of saddles will use up all tension travel prematurely. We simply warrantee those saddles.

We investigated various laminate techniques and are using best possible at this time...

So, Apparently my saddle is one of few that stretch too much. The manufacturer says this can happen due to variations in the leather, but is rare. Also, (in another email) he said that some saddles use up most of the travel in the tension screw in the first 3000 km, then it stops.

That may be so, but what remains is that my saddle has a slot that's just about disappeared and I won't cut the slot wider because that would mean loss of structural strength. So it's impossible to get back the original slot and that is what gave me the comfort...

The saddle is still comfortable, but nowhere near as good as in the beginning. I will perhaps try a second saddle (but my interest has mostly gone for various reasons, including the realisation below about the saddle's leather width near the nose). Until I have done so and that is positive, I can't recommend the Selle Anatomica without reservations.

Technical matter: The leather is only 2 x 2.5 cm wide strips just after the nose, so even if stretching elsewhere in the saddle isn't a problem, won't this always give stretching issues? (and hence deformation and the cutout getting smaller because of it). By comparison, a Brooks Imperial has leather ca. 7 cm wide on each side of the cutout (and much harder leather), so shouldn't have stretching issues.

I've seen other reports from people whose Anatomica stretched too much, and there aren't many returns apparently, but will people who have such a stretched saddle just not report it or do many riders use them (and their bike) very little? One comment about stretching by someone who had no problems, was that only people riding the bikes a lot (long tours) have this problem. Well, that's not a valid argument. What does it matter how much someone rides? In fact, these saddles only make sense if you ride a lot... Perhaps there are more issues with stretching than you can find on the web and than the manufacturer knows, as people may not actually make a claim... Unfortunately, there are not that many experiences of this saddle on the web, and all the long term experiences I have seen were about complaints of stretching. Of course one has to keep in mind, that negative experiences will usually outnumber positive ones because of a psychological effect: If something works, there's little reason to write about it. If it doesn't work as they want it to, people will complain about it. So all in all it's very hard to give a proper assessment of the problem. That's why I base my conclusion on 2 points: The way my saddle deformed and the technical aspect of the width of leather on the sides of the cutout.

Conclusion: Very comfortable, but may not remain that good for long. The saddle is also very long, giving a lot of flex in the steel carriage. I'm not sure if making it shorter would remove a lot of the comfort, but one disadvantage of this long saddle is that on stepping off the bike, I regularly got my coat entangled with the saddle's nose. Almost never happened to me with any other saddle. Finally, the saddle is very low, and my saddle's leather which sagged a bit, kept hitting the seatpost. This Sakae FX post has fairly high clamp assembly, but still, this is the only saddle with which I ever experienced this as a problem. (Update: I also have it with the Lepper Voyager...)

Selle Anatomica: Other saddles

I got an email from Selle Anatomica late 2011 about testing a new saddle that should be better for heavier riders, ca. 90kg or more. I'm not that heavy but as there are plenty of people who have problems with the Selle Anatomica stretching way too much even below that weight (note that I used the 'Clydesdale' version of the original Anatomica, also for heavier riders) and perhaps that's why they didn't think I should take part in their test. Well, why even send me an email then, even if automated they must surely be interested in feedback from someone like me who tests a huge amount of saddles in all circumstances? I will let others be the guinea pigs now and perhaps if the newer saddles hold up, I will buy and test such a newer type saddle.


Gilles Berthoud saddles

Gilles Berthoud: Leather saddle (introduced late 2008)

This looks to be the best quality leather saddle currently made, and possibly the best one that was ever made. Can be completely disassembled (and assembled again) with standard inner-hex keys, stainless steel rails (titanium doesn't rust either, but is more fragile; a Ti-carriage on a Brooks will sometimes fail under heavy use where steel ones would have no trouble), and the leather which is waterproof and pre-softened. If water really has no influence remains to be seen of course. With the Selle Anatomica for example (also claimed to be waterproof) after a wet 10 km ride, the saddle I used stretched quite a bit. Will that happen here too? Unfortunately this saddle doesn't have a cutout in the middle. Perhaps do-it-yourself can give good results... (however, from my experiences with an aged Flyer, cut-outs are problematic on softened leather which I think explains the problems with the Selle Anatomica as I had exactly the same problems with my modified Flyer-aged as the Selle Anatomica, so possibly, saddles with soft leather tops are unsuited to modifying with cut-outs).

Experiences: To follow...
Due to circumstances I haven't had enough time to test this saddle long term, but one thing is clear from the experiences with the Voyager: Very thick leather gives a long lasting saddle, but it doesn't get broken in the same way as with a Brooks saddle. I will get into more detail how this affects the Berthoud saddle with it's pre-softened leather hopefully soon.


Lepper saddles

Lepper: Voyager

The original Lepper Voyager was introduced ca. 1998 I believe. See below for more information on the original version.

Lepper Voyager 2009: A new version of the Lepper Voyager has been released in September 2009 after several years of absence. It has a much better undercarriage design...

Experiences (with a Nubuck version made in spring 2010): I've used this saddle for about 500km (update: More than 1800 km now). I will expand this as I use the saddle more.

N.B. 7 September 2010: There are now 3 versions of the Voyager:

  • Voyager: The standard version with ca. 5 mm thick leather (*) with smooth top + 1 mm layer on the bottom.

    (*) According to Lepper, leather is in the range 4.5 mm to 5.2 mm, which is the thickness the leather naturally comes in. This is the same range of thickness I see with Brooks, even though Brooks say they specify 5 mm or thicker leather. Thicker leather than about 5.5 mm always means at least one other layer glued on. There is a large difference between leather of 4.5 mm and 5.2 mm even visually, so perhaps selecting thicker leather for single layer saddles would be a good idea but I'm not sure if that would give problems in availability or price.
  • Voyager soft touch: The Nubuck version has an extra 2mm layer of leather of Nubuck leather on top which gives a suede like surface that you won't slide on (but it will get smoother with use) and the same 1 mm layer on the bottom.
  • Voyager lounger: The new version somewhat similar to the Lounger saddle in construction, which has the standard 5 mm leather, a layer of latex foam, a 2mm layer of Nubuck leather on top, and on the bottom the standard 1 mm extra layer.

More information on these version differences to follow. Addition: 20 june 2011: Or not, because I still haven't got the saddles I ordered after 8 months, I give up on waiting for them.

Experiences with the Nubuck version:

The leather is very thick, around 7.0 mm (varying from about 6.8 to a bit more than 7.0 mm). The leather is a bit softer than a Brooks, so it's not rock hard! Then in the middle there's an extra layer glued on, on the bottom side... This is obviously much thicker than any Brooks saddle (see the pictures). This should remove any questions one might have about the durability of the leather top. As I mentioned elsewhere on this page, Brooks saddles do not appear to have worse quality leather or thinner leather than 'in the old days', but there are some concerns about durability (i.e. you could have a saddle that deteriorates rapidly, just because of natural variations in the leather, but with a top as thick as with the Voyager, that's very unlikely, it will probably last a lifetime). Leather tensioning is done with a standard screwdriver. The carriage of the Voyager looks to be solid, in any event much better than the old (late 1990s, early 2000s) versions. The top of the saddle has a shape (curvature) very similar to a Brooks Team professional and that's how it feels like on the bike. This means for me it's instantly good but not as comfortable as my broken in B17-Imperial. The top has a suede feel to it, not like a Brooks at all which is usually very smooth and you're likely to slide left/right on them for a while. The top does get smoother and after 500 km it's a bit closer to a worn Brooks, but still on the rough side so you won't slide on it. The saddle is a little bit heavier than a Team professional, but considering the leather thickness it's not that much. After 500km There are signs that the saddle has been used (slight sag) and it feels a bit more comfortable. I like it more the more I use it...

After more than 1800 km, the saddle looks a bit darker (see Colour changes of leather saddles through wear), the top is a bit smoother, esp. the nose, and the leather is darker. I think it looks really nice. I have no doubts as to durability of this saddle.

Addition: Another Voyager from July 2010 that I got has ca. 5.5 mm thick leather (plus the 1 mm extra layer as with the version described above) which also weighs a bit less, ca. 535 g. The top is also a bit smoother, not as smooth as a Brooks. I think the smoothness is good since the roughness wears of a bit anyway. I'll have to ask Lepper about the thickness variations. Addition to the addition: Aha, this was actually a different version of the Voyager. Lepper should do something about giving proper information about their saddles.

Addition 2: Someone who made a test ride on my B17 and Lepper Voyager made the comment that the Voyager feels like a plank. So, some people may not like it as it can feel pretty hard. Yes it's a hard saddle, but it gives support where needed and I just don't feel it...

Addition 3: A downside to the Voyager Soft-touch is that because of the thick leather the saddle never gets broken in in the same way a Brooks saddle gets broken in, so you won't see ripples or even dents in the leather as with a Brooks saddle in the region where your sit bones are. I'm not sure whether this is true for the standard version with just 5mm leather as well. This is perhaps a downside to leather saddles with leather thickness more than 5mm...

Addition 4: The leather is a bit too low over the rails. Some seatposts with high assembly hit the bottom of the leather with the seatpost clamp. For some other saddle clamps there isn't even enough room! For example: I can't mount the saddle on my Airwings sprung seatpost.

Conclusion: The Lepper Voyager is great if you like the Team professional, and will likely last much longer with its leather thickness of up to about 8 mm (where the extra layer is glued on). Comfort for me is good from the start, after 500km it's even better, and how it will change/improve I will find out in the coming months. The price is pretty good for such a thick leather top; about €90,- which is comparable to a Team professional with steel carriage. As to possible improvements: I would like to see a version with titanium or stainless steel carriage.

Pictures:
Lepper Voyager Lepper Voyager Lepper Voyager

The texture of the suede/nubuck top:
Lepper Voyager
Leather thickness comparison with a Brooks saddle (an enormous difference!):
Lepper Voyager

Carriage comparison with a Brooks B17: the rails have a longer clamp area, from slightly more towards the front, to a few centimetre more towards the rear (I like the latter as I like to sit forward):
Lepper Voyager

Example on a bicycle:
Lepper Voyager


The original version (introduced around 1998?):

The original version of the Voyager (made in the late 1990s to about 2005?) with titanium and later hollow Reynolds 531 steel rails: I've not tried the original version of this saddle, but I will discuss it to compare with other saddles. There are problems with this saddle, many returned as defective and Lepper hasn't produced this saddle for years.

I happened to come across these pictures that someone selling one made, and immediately saw what a poor design the undercarriage is:
Lepper Voyager, old version Lepper Voyager, old version
The problems here are obvious if you have some feeling for or knowledge of mechanics. The front provides no resistance to torsion (as the rails meet very close together) which could lead to torsion problems (i.e. torn welds) in the front although the forces there are fairly small, but worse, at the rear the rails don't move outward to the wide section, which means the torsion problems there are big and these saddles do indeed break at the welds there. It should have been obvious that this would cause problems and from what I read the carriage was changed between prototypes (which didn't have this problem) and the final design, without testing. The steel version might be more reliable than the titanium one btw., but I wouldn't trust either of them.

According to specifications this saddle was very light, ca. 340 g for the Ti version, and even ca. 265 g. for the version with hollow steel rails.

The design, at least of the version with hollow steel rails is apparently by Alex Moulton.

"Designed by Dr. Alex Moulton, the Voyager is an ultra light 265g
saddle,Reynolds 531 tubing frame. Retensionable, black or natural, 155 x 275
mm."

if you see one of these original versions for sale: Don't buy it. If you can get one for free, it might be usable but only for short trips because of the reliability issues. Btw., I think Lepper should have renamed the new saddle (even a simple Voyager2 would be enough) as there is now a connotation of unreliability which the new version doesn't deserve. The only thing the old and new Voyager have in common is the shape of the leather top. Everything else is quite different (leather thickness, different carriage).


Lepper: Voyager lounger

Tested since: 20 August 2011.

Voyager lounger: The newest version of the Voyager looks a bit like the Lounger saddle with regard to its construction: 5 mm hard leather, then a layer of latex foam, then a 2 mm layer of Nubuck leather on top and an extra layer of 1 mm thick leather on the bottom.

It took a long time but 11 months after ordering I finally got it...

I think the latex layer is too thick, I now have the feeling as if I'm not sitting stably on the saddle, but also that there is too much pressure on the soft tissues in the middle because you will sink down into the saddle. Something else I noticed quickly is that I think the saddle is warmer than a regular leather saddle. When I called Lepper in September 2010 after Eurobike, they told of the enthusiasm about this saddle on Eurobike, and the term 'Atmungsaktiv' was mentioned. So, does it really work well, that latex foam? After a ride of about 25-30 minutes I simply have the feeling of the saddle being too warm. Putting my hands on the saddle even after a 5 minute ride the saddle already feels quite warm. After more rides, with regular clothes too, almost every time I felt that the saddle was too warm. And too soft, you will sink down into it too much. Whether that 'Atmungsaktiv' layer really works is hard to say. The summer of 2011 in NL was the worst one I have ever experienced with just about zero days on which it was really hot and where I was riding on my bike. So I can't judge weather a large amount of perspiration is removed better than with a full leather saddle. Whether the warmth of the saddle is a positive thing in winter I don't know, but I never felt leather saddles to be really cold in winter.

Ok, update in winter and in the wet: When it was really cold I didn't have the problem that the saddle was too hot. Unsurprisingly but as I said, with other saddles I don't feel they are too cold even when it's freezing say -18 °C. I didn't put a raincover over the saddle a few times (note that I actually don't treat saddles which I test with a lot of care in this respect, on purpose, so they usually get to experience rain and I just ride on it afterwards etc. to see what happens), and then a disadvantage of the latex layer became clear: Once the saddle has become wet it stays wet for a long time and at low temperatures the saddle thus feels very cold because of that.

Conclusion:

I already had a preliminary conclusion after about 50 km and that hasn't changed after a few hundred kilometre more: This saddle does not suit me, I think it's too soft and it gets too hot. Those who want a leather saddle, but one that's softer comparable to a gel saddle, might want to try this one. Regarding that softness: You notice it most of all when sitting more upright. I think this saddle is only suitable to ride on in a road bike position, not when sitting a bit more straight up as on a touring/travel bike. Perhaps the latex foam layer works in hot weather, but with a full leather saddle I never had any problems on even the hottest days.

I suspected that after 300km my conclusion would not change and after hundreds more km, my opinion indeed hasn't changed. I don't see advantages to the latex layer unless perhaps to give a slightly softer ride, but this comes with the problem that the saddle gets too warm with temperatures outside of ca. 18°C and more, and it gives too much pressure in the middle.


Various

Recommended (leather) saddles by bicycle category

As there are so many types of Brooks saddles, here's an overview of recommended saddles per bicycle type. Not all saddles are listed here yet, I want to test those others for longer before doing so (esp. Berthoud):

Note: The Swift and B17 Narrow haven't been properly included in this overview yet as at the time of writing the table above I hadn't tested those saddles over a longer period yet. The B17 narrow will be added to the table, the Swift I don't really like. The recommendations in the table even without the B17-narrow stand as excellent saddles for the given bicycle type.

Note 1: Brooks saddles with springs can creak quite a bit. That's annoying! If that happens with your saddle, spray a tiny bit of oil or use some grease or better yet some Proofide, on the top/bottom of the springs where they are connected to the saddle's frame. Creaking has also been reported as a problem with the Selle Anatomica, but I haven't experienced it.

Saddles with springs: On the whole, after having tried most Brooks saddles, I've thought a lot about those springs and I don't see much point in them (at least, those stiff springs). There isn't really an improvement in comfort, except perhaps on really bad roads. But if you ride on a lot of bad roads, it's probably a better idea to install wider tyres (or buy a bike that will allow wider tyres); this gives significantly more increase in comfort than springs on a saddle. Another option is to use a suspension seatpost. Even the cheapest ones give more comfort than the stiff Brooks springs. One advantage of springs over a suspension seatpost is that the saddle height doesn't change as much when changing how you sit on it (e.g. going into an aero position the saddle will jump up with a sprung seatpost)...


My favourite saddles

Whether this is of use to anyone else I don't know, but in any event here's my list of favourite saddles, starting with the best one:

  1. B17 Imperial: Best general purpose saddle, even works well in a near-road-bike position. Some people complain of pinching, that may be because they have wide sit-bones and thus lots of flesh in between them. I've never noticed this.
  2. Team professional or Lepper Voyager: For a touring bike
  3. Swallow: For a road bike
  4. B17 narrow: Despite the narrow width, pretty comfortable for all positions. After riding with the imperial version, I notice the mid-section can annoy a bit, but I can get used to it pretty quickly. Alternatively just use the B17 narrow Imperial of course...
  5. B17: Works almost as wel as the B17 Imperial, but not as good for a more sporty position (e.g. putting your arms on the handlebar in case of a strong headwind). Looks nicer than the Imperial, but how it feels is in the end more important.

Modified saddles

Apart from the obvious modifications of using a B17 special or B17 titanium with Imperial cutout (see here), there are a few other options that give interesting variations on what Brooks offers:

B17 Swallow Imperial

This may be the optimal saddle for the wider butts :) 17.2 cm instead of 15.0 cm for the normal Swallow. For lightweight riders it's also suitable of course. Some people prefer the B17 Imperial over this, perhaps due to the more hammock style feel, and the flatter top of this modification. This is one of my favourite saddles... So it doesn't seem to be the case that the saddle is too flat for people with narrow sitbones like me, at least not when tightening the rearmost tie wrap which makes the rear a bit stiffer and a bit less flat. It seems those who prefer the B17 Imperial may just not like the feel of it. I was told the front can feel narrower than with the B17 imperial. This may be related to the flatter leather at the back which can give the feel of a wider saddle.

Some more on experiences by buyers of this modified saddle:

One buyer couldn't get on with it as he didn't like the feeling of the saddle which is a bit more hammock-like (like the selle Anatomica), but everyone else likes it. And note that you can adjust the feeling by tensioning the rearmost tie-wrap more...


See more of my experiences here

Team professional Swallow

This is a nice version that keeps the characteristic of the Team professional while making it look more like a Swallow. I made the cutout not very high to keep as much structural strength, as Brooks' Swallow stretches too much in case it gets wet.

See more on this saddle here

Team professional Swallow Imperial

This improves on the Team pro Swallow with a bit more comfortable ride, and it looks cool too. As with the Team pro Swallow, I made the cutout not very high to keep as much structural strength as possible. Long term experiences to come the coming months.

See more on this saddle here

Team professional Imperial (at the moment only the cutout, no lacing)

This improves on the Team pro Swallow with a bit more comfortable ride, and it looks cool too, and keeps the look of the original almost with no lacing or cutout at the sides. I've been riding this for a long time, and the lacing is not needed, so far (if needed at some point then a single lace will probably do, this is because of the shape of the leather/frame on the Team pro which makes hte leather top not flare out as the B17 does when you sit on it... Pictures + further description of my experiences to come.

See more on this saddle here

B68S laced

The B68s can sag a lot, more so than the men's version B68, and to counter this I laced a saddle which improved the ride a lot, getting the saddle's shape almost back as it was originally.


Seat covers

I tried the following types/makes:

Leather thickness, leather saddle durability

1. In various places there seems to be a misconception about the durability of Brooks saddles being much better in the past, and that older saddles had thicker leather. I don't believe this is true as I don't see any indication of this and definitely no objective data from people who claim this, such as measurements of leather thickness. There is a variation on how long a Brooks saddle lasts, but this is probably mostly due to natural variations in the leather.

I asked Brooks specifically about this and they said the leather is specified to be between 5 and 6 mm at the tanneries. This doesn't explain why I hardly see any saddles with a thickness of more than 5 mm, but perhaps this thickness measurement is before drying out and perhaps it will get a bit thinner after that (I shall ask to be sure ;-)). In any event, Brooks themselves say the leather in the past was no thicker than it is today.

1.1. Leather thickness: I measured old Brooks saddles from the 1960s, 1980s and today, and the leather varies a bit, usually from ca. 4.6 to 4.8 mm. There are some variations in leather thickness in a single saddle, depending on where on the saddle you measure (and is probably the reason the Swallow's leather appears so thick, through a slight curvature) so these numbers are averages from a few measurement positions on each saddle.

1.2. Durability: A B66 Champion from ca. the mid 1960s deteriorated rapidly when untreated by Proofide and leaving it unprotected outside for a few months. This is exactly what happens with newer saddles and really shows that the leather was not better then than now and that proper maintenance is essential.

It would actually be weird if the quality got worse, as that would mean some essential part has changed in the leather itself as leather selection seems to be exactly done as it always was. This may be possible but would mean e.g. the cows eat differently or get certain chemicals into their system which are bad for their skin. However, I do not see a change in leather quality in 60s, 80s, or 2005-2009 saddles.

2. There is also the conception that the B17 Champion special has thicker leather than the B17 Champion standard. This is not the case from my measurements and Brooks do not mention this 'fact' either, so this again appears to be a myth that people for some reason like to believe in. The B17 titanium (which is also stamped B17 Champion special on the leather) again has the same leather thickness as the B17 standard. Sometimes you do get a batch of saddles with slightly thicker leather. For example I bought a batch of B17 standards which all had 4.9 to 5.0 mm leather thickness. A few B17 Imperial saddles (based on the Champion standard) and one B17 narrow Imperial also had leather ca. 4.9 to 5.0 mm thick. None were from the Champion special series...

3. A persistent tale going round in the Netherlands, is that the Brooks Flyer special is the new version of the Conquest. The width and shape of Flyer special (i.e. the leather top) are those of the B17 (17.2 cm wide) which is quite different from the Conquest (and Conqueror) that has a different shape (much narrower at the front) and is narrower at 16.0 cm wide. The springs on the Flyer special are quite stiff, comparable to the Conquest/Conqueror, but that's something all Flyers have these days apparently. My old 60's B66 Champion is a lot more comfortable in that respect.

It's a comparable situation in Germany, where the Flyer special is called the successor to the Conquest by some people/companies. But the Flyer special is just a more expensive version of the Flyer, and was introduced before the Conquest was removed from the Brooks lists...

About the breaking of (chromium plated) rails of Brooks saddles

On forums I read that chrome plated carriages of Brooks saddles appear to break more often than the other versions. In particular, on German forums can be found that several people had saddles break after around 1 to 2 years, especially if they weigh in the neighbourhood of 100 kg or more, and some of them had had this problem with multiple saddles. I therefore asked Brooks, if the chromium plating process had an effect on the steel (to make it more brittle perhaps, at least a thin layer of it), such that this can happen.

My verbatim question to Brooks was:

I've read in various forums that the Brooks saddles with chrome rails tend to break after 1 to 2 years, for riders of around 100 kg or more. I don't weigh that much but with a [ full ] backback I do. I haven't ridden a [ single railed ] saddle with chrome rails long enough to know if it would affect me though. It seems from those accounts that Brooks saddles with black (enamel?) coated rails do not suffer from this problem. What I'd like to know is if Brooks have investigated this issue? Is there perhaps a weakening in the steel caused by the chrome plating process? Or just bad luck with those riders (some have indicated this happened with several saddles though).

Note: what's in bold was not in my question but added to make it more clear in the context of this page

[ Brooks' response to my question, 5 January 2010 ]:

"There is a known risk with chrome rails but it is much too severe to state that every rail will break after 1 or 2 years; this is simply not true.

There are two issues to consider with chrome:

1/ Chrome itself is a quite a brittle substance and, if bent or folded too much, its surface will crack. Brooks do specify a very particular type of chrome plating, called Duplex plating, which uses also layers of nickel to increase the flexibility of the final result.

Once the chrome surface has cracked, this creates a weakness at that point and the crack in the chrome will tend to migrate into the steel itself - resulting eventually in a broken rail

2/ The process of chrome plating - electrolysis - has to be very carefully controlled; both in the amount of chrome that is allowed to flow between the Anode and the Cathode plates, and also (crucially) in the time duration that the components that are being plated are allowed to remain in the Ionic fluid within the plating vat.

If the amount of chrome plate applied to a component is too much (i.e. too thick), the probability of the chrome surface cracking is increased.

If the time duration for the components to be in the ionic fluid is too long, there is a risk that minute air bubbles will become trapped between bare steel and the inside of the chrome plate. This is invariably lead to cracking and rail breakage at some future time. It is also virtually impossible to detect whether, or not, any air bubble have become trapped. This problem is a well know and documented concern with chrome plating and is know as "chrome embrittlement"

In conclusion, my advice to consumers with chrome rails is as follows:

It is more important with a chrome frame that the rider maintains the correct tension in the leather of the saddle; This will prevent excessive movement in the rails and reduce the risk of the chrome surface cracking.

In terms of chrome embrittlement, we do monitor this process and so I would say the that risk is very low."

Thickness of the steel wire of the springs in Brooks saddles

When I recently got hold of a 2010 made B67 with those stiff springs I mentioned in the review section, I wondered if the softer springs were still being used in any of Brooks saddles and thus if the springs with 4.55 mm diameter steel wire as used in the older versions of the B66 and B66 Champion, were still available. Brooks' answer on 23 June 2010:

Up until 1999 we produced all our springs from 4.47 mm dia. wire, but an increase in broken springs led us to start using 4.88mm wire, which eradicated the problem, but resulted in a firmer ride. As a result, we have no cause to keep a stock of 4.47mm wire, so regrettably are unable to meet your request.

Note that the diameter Brooks gives in both types is about 0.07 mm less than what I measure. I assume that's from the chromium plating.

I further find the reason given unclear. Why were the springs up to that point fine (for at least 4 decades!), but was there fairly recently an 'increase in broken springs'? This looks more like a quality control issue... Or has the average weight of cyclists increased a lot in the 1990s?

Giving off of colour of a leather saddle onto beige or white trousers

(I will probably update this section in summer 2010: (Indeed, updates are now coming ;-) )

Selle Anatomica: A red saddle gave off its colour immediately on a very warm summer day (which means sweating) on a beige pair of trousers. And it's not coming out in the laundry...

Brooks: No bad experiences yet with coloured (=anything but natural/honey) saddles. I used to ride on a brown B66 Champion (old honey which becomes a dark brown) and occasionaly a black B66 saddle but haven't noticed discolouration of trousers. This summer I will experiment with a maroon (red-brown) and antique brown saddle using a beige pair of trousers.

Selle San Marco Rolls saddle (black top): The Rolls saddles have a thin leather top. I used to ride on it quite often with regular (non-cycling) clothes (this was ca. 1992-1995), and I noticed the saddle gave off a little bit of black onto beige trousers. I asked a bike shop about it and it was no news to the guy I asked, who recommended putting and old bit of stocking over the saddle. I didn't try that btw.

In an old 1980s manual for a Gazelle bicycle I read something interesting about leather saddles, namely that the giving off of colour happens when the saddles are new, so this shouldn't happen any more with older saddles. I will test if this is true as well...

Tests in 2010

Using a near new B17 Narrow in antique brown (used for about 200 km), I rode about 20 km in hot weather (sweat) and there was a vague impression of brown onto the beige pair of short trousers I used to test this. So a Brooks does give off colour, not really when dry, but only when it gets moist from sweat. Next test: Making the top wet as if riding in the rain. Result to folow.

B17 Imperial maroon that was also nearly new (perhaps used for 100 km): This clearly gives off, much more than brown...

To follow: Trying the B17 Imperial black that has been used for nearly 7000 km and see how much black it gives off both when dry and when wet.

Done: tests with a B17 narrow antique brown, Swift chrome black. Updates soon.

Colour changes of leather saddles through wear

Natural coloured saddles are not coloured. Honey coloured saddles are coloured... The colour natural has is very light sometimes nearly white, honey in the beginning is a light brown, but that changes after use and after a while becomes darker (by absorption of sweat, skin grease when grabbing the saddle, etc.), and after years will change into a dark brown. Here's an example of a new Lepper Voyager in natural and on that has been used intensively for about 1800 km in warm weather (lots of sweat etc.), and I suppose the more open top of the Voyager is why the colour changed quite soon. Brooks saddles have a smooth top layer that looks a bit more resistant to colour change:
Lepper Voyager naturel new and used for 1800km

Whether this colour change is positive or negative depends on your point of view. I think it's interesting to have a saddle colour that changes...

Here's a test that shows the colour coming off of a Brooks honey mudflap (made from the same leather and treated the same way as the saddles). This is why you should be careful to ride with in particular white or beige trousers on a leather saddle. In case of rain or because of sweat on a hot day, the colour can come off onto your trousers:

To get the desired colours leather is usually treated in a colour bath and the colour will have been soaked deep into the leather. I read somewhere about the colour of a black Brooks saddle that 'that will wear off', but that's not true. When you look at the cross section of the leather you see the colour has soaked deep into the leather, especially so with black saddles.
Here's a bit of black leather, and below the surface it's also black:
Brooks black leather, cross section Brooks black leather, cut open

I'm not sure how it is with the black Lepper Voyager, and I've seen pictures if an old Brooks B66 (from someone who offered one second hand) that was also black on 1 side (that means it wasn't in a colour bath). How resistant to wear that is I don't know. Some B66S saddles from the mid 1980s that my dad bought, were black on both sides and with them too, the colour is soaked deep into the leatheron both sides, so I'm not sure from when those saddles are. Possibly from before the mid 1980s. Or perhaps even Brooks dyed some natural saddles black on one side when there was a shortage of black ones? I can only guess, and I suppose I should ask Brooks about this too!

White leather saddles are not usually made, and I think the reason is not just that it is fairly hard to make the saddles in this colour, but also that when they wear the colour wears off unevenly.

The Brooks select saddles are fairly light, almost white in some cases but it depends per batch. And these will get darker with use! (just like honey becomes more like antique brown after several years of use for example). If you really want white, then a non-leather saddle is perhaps better. A white leather saddle will, when the top layer wears, get a little darker in those places where it's worn so you get dark spots.

I experienced this type of wear with white leather shoes which became very ugly where they were worn...

Suggestions (to saddle makers)

I've made various suggestions to in particular Brooks, the first is to retire the tensioner, and just use inner-hex keys (Allen keys) as they are used so much on bicycles anyway. Brooks already do this with the Swift-titanium, B17-titanium, Team pro titanium. The Swallow tensioner is even more annoying as it only fits that saddle.

The second is that saddles with stiff springs are useless, as they don't give much comfort and the springs don't need to be stiff because for mountain bike use, springs are really superflous (perhaps they were of use in the days without any suspension on bikes, but not now). So, my suggestion was to reintroduce the B66-Champion but with single rails, which could be called the B67-Champion (B17 top + single rails + soft springs). The B66 Champion as I wrote above is a very comfortable saddle, much better than a Flyer-aged...
Btw, it is possible to this this yourself: get a Flyer/Flyer special/Flyer aged, remove the nuts, then remove the stiff springs and insert the softer springs from an older B66 (B66 saddles from 1999 on have those stiff springs! And the B67 was introduced in 2001 so these all have hard springs) and fix them with those nuts again.

Preparing a Brooks saddle for use, breaking it in, and maintenance

See Brooks saddle preparation, breaking in, and maintenance.

Saddle modifications

My experiences in modifying an aged Brooks B17/Flyer saddle to have the same cutout as the B17-Imperial show it is problematic to used pre-softened leather to make saddles with a cutout (giving me exactly the same problems as with the Selle Anatomica). Further my experiences of lacing a Selle Anatomica. The experiences I had with the Flyer aged and the cutouts I made to that saddle made me realise the value of pre-softened leather: Not much and it's almost certainly detrimental to the saddle's longevity.

See Saddle modifications (Modifying a Brooks Flyer aged with an Imperial cutout & lacing a Selle Anatomica Titanico).

Test rides with used leather saddles: Is that useful?

Despite what some people say, a test ride on a leather saddle DOES make sense. That you may have a different sit bone width from the one who broke in the saddle doesn't matter all that much, because the process of breaking-in makes the saddle only a little more comfortable around the sitbone area.

For some people the support around the sitbones that a leather saddle gives is important so that on long duration rides the skin doesn't get irritated around the sitbones, but that's not an issue you can find out about on a short test ride anyway (I mean whether a leather saddle solves that problem that some people have).

If a leather saddle seems like it will not work for you on a short ride, for whatever reason, then it barely matters that the saddle was broken in by somebody else (and thus that the leather has become softer around the areas on the leather where the sitbones rest), then it will probably not work for you... You can feel the essentials of the leather saddle quickly, such as that it doesn't get hot while riding on it, you can feel the way the shape of the top is too wide or too narrow for your sit bones and riding style, the way the angle of the saddle needs to be adjusted to sit comfortably (or perhaps never :)) as with the Swift, etc.

Where to buy?

I recommend buying with shops that are worth supporting, i.e. that are knowledgeable and give service. Or you could buy from me :) I've begun selling custom bicycles and leather saddles since mid 2009; about a year after I started with these webpages with tests of pumps, lighting, saddles etc. The emphasis is on Brooks but other makers' saddles/accessories will be stocked too if there's enough interest and if I like them. At the moment that means saddles from Brooks and Lepper. See this page for more information on which saddles I have in stock.

To email me go to the email page