Brooks saddle preparation, breaking in, and maintenance

These sections are not really specific to Brooks, though I've used Brooks saddles most of all, most manufacturers have their own leather maintenance products (Brooks: Proofide, Gilles Berthoud: Saddle wax, Selle Anatomica: Saddle sauce), so for Proofide read the product for the respective manufacturer. Are they compatible? I may dive into this topic in 2019...

My method of preparing a saddle

My method of preparing the saddle before using it, is to apply a layer of Proofide on the top of the saddle. Not thick, but just enough to cover it all. Also a bit on the edges and a little bit just around the edges on the bottom side. I do this just with my fingers so nothing gets absorbed by a cloth. I then wait for the shine to go (put the saddle in your living room to make this go faster). This means the oil part has soaked into the saddle and you can then polish the saddle with a cloth. It can take about a week (in winter, in summer it's much faster) for the oils to be soaked up, i.e. when the shine is gone on the entire saddle...

If you don't want to wait that long you can polish it out earlier and use the saddle, but then you should apply another thin layer once again not too long after that. Alternatively heat up your living room to more than 20 °C ;-)

Here's an example of Proofide having been applied to a saddle (B17 Narrow) and some parts are drying up, this is where it becomes matte, the shiny bits are where the oils from the Proofide haven't soaked into the saddle yet:
proofide drying on a saddle

Applying Proofide on top, bottom or both sides?

The instructions from Brooks from the 1980s and current ones too, tell you to apply Proofide to the shiny side/top surface. There are others who suggest not putting Proofide on the top, but on the bottom. However then you get no rain protection (although Proofide gives only a little protection from rain, you always need a rain cover if you intend to leave your bike outside in the rain). For a mountain bike the bottom might be better (because of mud/water getting thrown up onto the underside of the saddle). It is said by various people that one shouldn't put Proofide on both sides as the leather needs to be able to breathe, but I have done so without problems, and the leather does breathe (you can see this by how quickly the dark spots (caused by perspiration) after a long ride, go away). I think with the older Proofide from the 1990s and earlier which had a little bit of a reddish colour, and was more grease-like (this was packaged in the older brown cans), this could have been a problem. As an example I will show a picture of 2 older cans of Proofide, the left one is from the late 1980s or early 1990s, the right one is from the early 2000s. That last can is still brown, but the contents resemble more the current Proofide:
proofide from the early 1990s and early 2000s

How often should you apply Proofide and how long does a can last?

Proofide is mainly meant to keep the leather in shape, i.e. to keep it supple so you can apply apply Proofide say once a year which is more than enough. If the leather on a saddle has dried out too much you will see cracking of the surface and damage will have been done to the outside layer.

A small can of 25g is enough for several years when used with a single saddle. A large can of 40 g. is mainly of interest to those who have multiple Brooks saddles. For example, with a 40 g. can I treated at least 7 saddles, a few times each, in the past 3 years.

Breaking in a new saddle

I just ride the saddles until they get comfortable, but if you're less 'hardcore' you could try this alternative which is possibly useful for the very hard saddles such as the Team pro, or even B17. I don't think it's very useful for the B17 Imperial, nor the Swallow. I don't recommend it at all for the wider city bike saddles (B66,B67,B68):

Put a very wet (drenched) piece of cloth on the saddle in the spot where you sit, i.e. make it such that the smallest area is wet but large enough that the area where your sit bones are located, is wet from the cloth. After letting that part of the saddle soak up water (say a few hours), take it off and make a long ride...

How long does it take for a saddle to be broken in?

It depends on the type. Here are a few examples, assuming no tricks such as making your saddle wet before riding:

When do you need to tension the leather?

2019-4-26: I finally wrote this section! :) The following I did myself and recommended to anyone interested in leather saddles:

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