DSCF2110

Why Leather Lasts

In both a sense that a properly broken-in and treated leather saddle can outlast many plastic saddles, and that the style has continued with a few manufacturers still producing, tensioned-leather saddles have continued to outlast the boom of synthetic saddles. One reason is due to the fact that a properly fitted saddle will break in with time to parallel your sit bones, reducing pressure, friction, and with that: heat. In addition, with tensioned-leather saddle not requiring closed-cell foam or similar material for cushioning, it allows heat to dissipate instead of acting as a mitten, capturing the heat with insulation. Leather can also be repaired in the field with an awl/needle and thread/fishing line (I usually carry a basic gear repair set for emergencies). In high heat, technically demanding, drier climates, leather is the ideal.

DSCF2106

still can hold a small gear bag on the steel frame, while steel bag tabs allow it to use larger classically design gear bags that use straps instead of hook-and-loop systems

Personal Choices

#Display I am currently living in such a climate and “The Wolfwood”, designed in collaboration with and being built by Growler Performance Bikes, is using a Brooks England B17 Imperial for all of those reasons. After working with Wheels, owner/builder at Growler Performance Bikes, trying to figure out the best options for my region, The Wolfwood was born with durability, capability, and comfort. With the intent for full-disclosure, I was chosen to be one of several Brand Ambassadors for Growler. With the Wolfwood still being built (and paid off, because not everything is free) as of this post, I will go over a full review after adequate testing #Display. In other situations where the climate is colder, there is more moisture, or if the owner can’t/doesn’t want to care for the saddle, then leather can react poorly and so synthetics are far more practical. Imagine though, you have just been spinning your way up 12km (~7mi) and 1300m (~4000ft); it is also a bluebird day at 10am and temps are rising with the forecast hitting upper 20’s C (~80’s F) on the ridgeline fire road. Now imagine the heat rash and saddle sores you have while setting up camp because you were sitting on a mitten for 6-8 hours of spinning.

How it works?

DSCF2109

a view of the nose mounted tension bolt as well as some of the cords tightening the base

When the leather is new it has been treated to become very stiff through a series of processes to remove water from the hide and prevent it from breaking down (the whole process takes over a week at least) prior to being used to make any product. Once formed into a saddle the leather isn’t being tensioned by the frame, but as the leather begins to break in and become more supple it will require additional tension and support. The saddle is designed to assist in this through a nose positioned tensioning bolt and string tensioning points on the sides of the saddle. As the leather gains slack the frame of the seat can tension it more, allowing the support to remain constant. Additionally, there are creams and treatments that can be used to expedite this process but first-timers are warned to avoid over-conditioning leather which would make the leather supple sooner, would also shorten the lifetime of the part as once the bolt is fully-engaged the saddle can not be tensioned any further.

Learning from ways of the past

The saddle of a bike is one of the areas that truly is underestimated in how it can change a ride. With saddles only being mass produced using synthetic materials since the early 1970s, all earlier quality-made bikes used tensioned-leather (leather tensioned to create a hammock-like support) as the medium to make bicycle saddles (other materials were used as well but were more often found stuffed or just leather-on-wood found in early model “dandy horse” and “penny farthing” bicycles . When plastics became more cost effective to produce, getting exposure to a larger percentage of the population became the priority and so the bicycle industry focused on producing a large range of saddle shapes at a fraction of the cost. The tensioned-leather saddle remained the favorite of some though, such as cycling guru Sheldon “Hidebound” Brown and others in select biking tribes (I’ll go over the tribes and how Fat/Plus Biking is one of the oldest but smallest in a future article).

Is there a perfect seat?

DSCF2107

Newer versions and styles designed for female frames feature perineal cutouts

To stop the search, no, there is no perfect solution. I’m not the first to have that sentiment and I know I won’t be the last, but the question will still present itself in a search for the saddle that cradles you the best. The huge network of nerves and capillaries in your nethers give each rider and each riding style a new combination of factors to consider. Even in tensioned-leather saddles, there is a spectrum of styles and cuts, from wide, coil-sprung cruising saddles to narrow racing saddles, some with perineal cutouts and others without. Like any other piece of clothing or equipment, some fits will work for some people and not for others; it’s all about finding the brand and style that works for you and your situation. If I am ever riding in winter climates with a lot of snow I can assure you I will be using synthetic, but for now classical, tensioned-leather is the form that I choose to use in these harsh deserts.

DSCF2114

Well treated and maintained this saddle should out last many of the other parts on this bike.

codex-siegel-weiss

Advertisements