Brooks saddles are loved around the world, and especially in the U.S, their biggest market. When I lived in Seattle, they were ubiquitous, a necessary topping on carefully trimmed vintage builds and on modern bikes alike. So what’s the best: a vintage or a new Brooks saddle? Is it worth forking out for a brand new one when you can find older Brooks in good condition?
Pedigree and Tradition
The Brooks brand sells itself to bike lovers; saddles “of a timeless design” hand-made in England and with the reputation of being the best of all brands, the choice of many professionals in the steel bike era, an old company with pedigree and tradition. What’s not to like? Rival companies like Ideale and Middlemore have long gone, but Brooks must be deemed a real success story, adapting to the demands of the modern cyclist while retaining its distinctive style and qualities. These days Brooks’s leather tanneries are not based in England but in Belgium, the saddles are still made in Smethwick in the West Midlands.
I’ve owned both a vintage Brooks Professional, quite worn and a bit tired looking, on a 1978 Raleigh Competition, and the new version with Titanium rails, which came on a 2006 Raleigh Super Course. I bought the Super Course used but the saddle was just six months old, the original owner having splashed out on the Brooks holy trinity – the saddle, the leather bar tape and the saddle bag. I think that must have worked out to around $350, if I’m not mistaken. The titanium rails save around 100 grams in weight, which is a negligible amount, to be honest. I have to admit, however, to being quite in awe as to how good the leather trim looked and felt on the bike.
I eventually sold the Super Course after about a year, and kept the saddle bag and bar tape. The saddle with its titanium rails, on the other hand, went on Ebay. After riding on it for over a year it still felt hard and unforgiving. They say it takes 2000 miles to break one in, this one must have done a bit more, but I couldn’t put up with its hardness any longer. My old, well beaten 1978 version on my Raleigh Competition felt much better, it may have been dried out and itself was a firm saddle, but it was comfortable on long rides and felt contoured and supportive. The bike, as you can see in the top picture, inherited the tape and saddle bag, but I’ve kept the old, worn and scuffed 1978 Brooks Professional, it reminds me that something doesn’t have to replaced just because it doesn’t look shiny and new.