Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I mentioned a few months ago that somehow the frame of my Brooks Team Pro bike saddle had broken.

It was mysterious but I knew that I could not ride that saddle much if at all without fixing it lest I destroy the leather cover. I purchased this saddle just after the turn of the century, so in Brooks years (like dog years but without the doggy breath) it is still a youngster: perfectly broken in but with many years of good service yet to render.

These things have never been cheap, except the venerable B-17 which has always been reasonable and if you are comfortable on that saddle you’ll be riding comfy for a very long time making it a bargain in the ROI sense. Of course my Champaign tastes had me up and down the range of Brooks models until a friend sold me a used Brooks Pro. I tell you, once on that saddle I knew that I need look no farther. So I got my first Brooks Team Pro, the very basic model for a very bargain price. I bought another some years later (the saddle with the broken frame) because I wanted a model with bag loops.

Once you get used to something you begin to expect it and this is true with bike saddles more than most other things. So, with one saddle and one bike life aligns. Unfortunately with one saddle and several bikes life aligns like the planets, … only every so often. You have to switch out saddles whenever you ride the ‘other’ bikes. This is really not practical as switching saddles takes more time that I want to spend on the process. If it was as simple as switching helmets then life would be … simple.

There is a range of solutions to this problem:

• You actually can switch the saddle whenever you change bikes, but as mentioned above, this is time consuming and a bit tedious. (Think one set of tires for two different cars.)

• You can just ride one bike; at least I’ve heard that’s possible. Or,

• You can get multiple copies of the saddle of choice, one for each bike.

Being a bike geek in the land of capitalism, of course the ‘more gizmos’ option has the most appeal. There is nothing quite like opening up that green cardboard box and revealing a handmade Books saddle.

There is one glitch: These things (Brooks saddles) are not cheap, and in recent years they have become positively expensive. The low-rent Brooks Team Pro Classic retails for $95.00. This is a real bargain (if it works for your nether regions). It is a fine saddle; it does not have bag loops. You can find aftermarket work-arounds for the bag loops, or you can hack your own, or in a pinch you can mount a bag to the saddle rails:

As you can see this is the less than elegant solution.

 OR … you can opt for a model with bag loops.

This is where the price tag hitches a ride on the space shuttle. The Brooks Team Pro I bought years ago had bag loops but at the time, this option only came as part of the “Titanium Rails” upgrade. Oh yes, titanium rails, I’m sure this shaved 4 grams off the total weight of the slightly more than 400 grams for the saddle. Ah well, for me, it was not about weight, it was about comfort on the saddle and a good way to attach a saddle bag. I can’t remember what I paid but I know I had to swallow hard before giving up my credit card number.

Thus, when I broke the frame on this saddle these many years later I was mired in a quandary. For weeks. The price of these saddles has outpaced the rate for mortgage backed securities during the housing boom, and have not taken the dive that those scam packed financial instruments have. Indeed the wise trader would have done well to front load his portfolio with Brooks saddle futures, no need for credit default swaps here, nosiree! Brooks sales or gold ingots, both solid … and both weighty.

I considered switching to something cheaper, but as every avid cyclist knows, the contact points make or break bicycling and once you have found something that works it is awfully hard to walk away. I considered just buying a new one, perhaps we could just skip a mortgage payment, I hear lots of people are doing that. But again the price, and currently there is not a Pro Team model sporting bag loops (they switch things up from time to time). I also considered repairing it myself. I have set copper rivets before and I knew that Wallingford Bike Parts (the best supplier of bike stuff on the planet) carried parts for Brooks Saddle repair but alas, the frame I needed was not available to mere mortals.

But in my search I came upon a fellow who had learned the craft of saddle construction and repair right in the Brooks factory and was willing to make repairs. This was intriguing so I made contact and after some time got a good estimate on the cost to replace the broken frame. Sad to say, it appears that most of the cost of this saddle is in the Ti frame, that part was more expensive than many expensive saddles.

The whole process took a long time starting with my indecision and then the search for the repair option. Then there was finding the right frame, getting it shipped from England to Philly, and then finding some time later that no, the frame had NOT been shipped, but that it would be post haste (GRRR).

Of course just as he was ready to go to work on my saddle, the craftsman broke a bone in his hand! I suspect this is work that actually requires two functional hands; stretching the saddle cover onto the frame, then hand setting and hammering all those big copper rivets, not a one hand operation.

The labor and shipping were cheap; the frame however was almost as expensive as a new saddle. Start to finish, the cost of the repair was about 30% less than the cost of a replacement saddle. If I had elected to replace it with a basic Team Pro model I would have definitely saved a bucket O’ bucks. I paid a lot for those two little bag loops.

Eventually it arrived back on the front porch out here in the sticks. It looks like new, or should I say it looks like old, or, … it looks a lot like it did before the frame broke, which is reassuring. This is one of the few instances where repaired may actually be better than new. For me there is not much of a break-in period on a new Brooks, but for many that process can be long and painful.

As you can see from these pics, the bag loops make a difference if you are inclined to carry more than a credit card and a cell phone.

I’ve been on the saddle a few times for relatively short rides and it is amazing how comfortable, how reassuring it is to get back on my good old saddle. It feels right, it feels the same, but these have been pretty short rides. I am anxious to put some time into this thing to see if there are any noticeable differences that show up after a few hours.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

PS:  That seatpost is fabricated by Kent Eriksen

The bike is badged as a Tournesol from Hampsten, but the frame was created by Kent Eriksen.  I bought the seat post as an aftermarket item (he didn't offer them when he built the bike).  I like it because it has enough setback to allow me to be more comfortable on the Brooks saddle (they are known for having slightly too short rails) but does not put way back over the rear wheel.  Also because it was created by the bike builder. Like the frame, the seatpost is titanium.


  1. Interesting ordeal you've been through. What kind of seatpost is that?

    I have the lesser version of the team pro. I figured since I already had a handlebar bag I could manage without the saddle loops as you've stated, they are quite pricey!

  2. Jansen:


    I amended the blog post to add a little information abou the seat post. If you enlarge the pic you may be able to see the kind of work Eriksen does.

    Yr Pal Dr C

  3. Paul - I can hook you up from the Bob Stash with another Pro - the Green with Copper rails on the tandem could go your way for a few loafs of bread ;-) and a tour of the Koi Pond.

  4. Oh Amy, if you are serious, pick your day! We'll load you up with enough bread to keep you in toast and jam for weeks. And it is a particularly auspicious time for Koi viewing - I went a little Koi crazy last weekend and bought 7 new fish. They are all in the Quaranten tank now. All are small and generally no great shakes, classic looking fish, except one which is stunning.

    That Green Pro Would look Fabu on the Quickbeam which is ... GREEN!

    Dr C