Bicycle Saddle Review: Brooks B17 Narrow

Brooks B17 Imperial Bike Saddle

Brooks B17 Narrow Imperial Bike Saddle

Bicycle saddle reviews can be difficult to discern. Finding the right bicycle saddle has many personal variables — from riding style to, yes, bum shape. Most bikes today come with saddles made of molded plastic or nylon, though some higher end saddles are made of carbon fiber. If you are a product of the 70s, your first bike may have come with a tensioned leather saddle, though not all leather saddles are created equal. Brooks is a name synonymous with quality and they’ve been in the business of making handmade leather saddles for over 100 years. Brooks also has somewhat of a cult following and after reading rave reviews from Brooks owners I replaced my own uncomfortable gel padded saddle with a Brooks B17 Narrow Imperial.

Comfort

The first thing you notice about a Brooks saddle is it’s hard, rock hard and the B17 Narrow is one of the stiffest offerings from Brooks. I knew going in that this would be the case, but that once the saddle was broken in, it would conform to my backside. While some report a slightly painful break-in period, I didn’t find this at all. My first ride in the Brooks saddle was serendipity. Now that I have around 500 miles in the saddle, it’s even better. Despite the rigid texture, the saddle flexes and absorbs road bumps.  I’ve also been riding in the heat and humidity of the summer months and have found that the leather stays much cooler than my previous saddle. Leather breathes while padded seats insulate causing more chafing and saddle sores. This is why Brooks are a favorite of long distance touring cyclists.

Looks

Brooks saddles have a definitive ‘old world’ look to them and my B17 has added a touch of class to my otherwise agile road bike.

The Cutaway

Brooks Imperial models feature a hole in the middle of the saddle that’s designed to relieve perineal pressure for both men and women. Though some may think this is a new trend in bike saddles, Brooks was actually the first to use this design way back in the 1890s. Yes, they knew what they were doing even back then. The cutaway works for me, though I’ve learned that I can’t wear padded bike shorts with the Imperial because the pads tend to bunch up where the cutaway is. I’ve now had to rip out all the pads in my bike shorts, which is fine because I’m not a fan of wearing those around anyway and it will save me money in the future. I actually find that one layer of clothing between my posterior and the Brooks is the most comfortable. Because it’s just that good.

Brooks B17 Narrow Imperial

Brooks B17 Narrow Imperial

Brooks Saddle Lines

Brooks carries a wide range of saddles from road saddles to touring and commuting to mountain biking. Within those types, they have various lines such as the Classic, Imperial, Aged, Special, and Unique. Their latest line of bike saddles is the Brooks Select which uses leather sourced from certified organic farms where cattle are raised at a natural pace. This is the toughest leather available made for cyclists who log a lot of miles.

A Brooks saddle may not be for you if:

-You’re an occasional rider. Much of the discomfort from a bike seat disappears after a few rides. Those who don’t ride often tend to sit harder in the seat as do those with an upright bike. Though on the flip side, a heavily padded seat compresses under the sits bones which in turn puts pressure on other sensitive areas. Brooks makes spring seats that are popular for cruiser bikes.

-If you like commuting and getting caught in the rain. Brooks saddles cannot get wet. Period. Though you can purchase a Brooks saddle cover. Also, Brooks saddles are highly sought after so they may not be the best choice if you lock up your bike on the street.

-You’re a weight weenie. My B17 Narrow Imperial weighs a little over a pound. This doesn’t bother me, but it may not be the best choice for road racing. Brooks does make some higher end saddles with titanium rails such as the Swift and the Swallow that are much lighter.Though a rider in the Paris Roubaix rode the race on a Brooks B17 Narrow.

-Some maintenance required. Brooks saddles require routine applications of Brooks Proofide leather conditioner to protect and preserve the leather and aid in the break-in period. Brooks recommends applying the Proofide several times in the beginning, then every 3-6 months thereafter. Also, Brooks saddles can take some tweaking to get in just the right position. There is a tension adjustment nut at the front of the saddle, though most owners just leave this alone, as you can actually do more harm than good by messing with it. The Imperial line features laces underneath the saddle that can be loosened or tightened for width and firmness.

Green Brooks B17

Green Brooks B17

Brooks saddles vary in price. The B17 Narrow Imperial sells for $126.00 on Amazon. The standard B17 that’s popular with touring cyclists is available for around $97 and comes in some cool new colors. For more on finding a comfortable bike saddle, see Sheldon Brown. To see the complete line of Brooks saddle visit the Brooks website.

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