Author Topic: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle  (Read 880 times)

StuntPilot

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 385
    • Tour on a Bike
Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« on: April 18, 2017, 11:27:00 AM »
I recently received a comment on my web site which I have yet to reply to pending some thoughts from forum members. This is the post on my site with the last picture being referred to ...

http://www.touronabike.com/patina-on-the-brooks-b17-select/

Here is the comment received ...

"You need to tension it more immediately! The most common reason the saddle frame snaps/breaks on the rear, right behind the stem clamp is because of to little tension. It makes the frame to flexible, or the front leather rips or stretches off the rivets. You do have it moved fully forward so i would be more vary about the front. You would be surprised how it would regain the original shape if you twist that bolt 1cm at least by the looks of it! ;) Your last picture proves why that bolt is 6cm in length.
(was told by a brooks employee)

And thank you for the documentation!! My b17 select looked almost just like yours in the middle of  india when the frame broke. Sent it to brooks an got installed the titanium frame, and works like sharm again!
Duct tape litteraly saved my ass on that trip lol."


I have searched the internet and found a variety of opinions about re-tensioning a Brooks leather saddle. There seems to be a bit of disagreement between the 'don't touch it' and the 'every now and then' crowd.

Sheldon Brown (always a good source of information) states ...

"Most leather saddles have a tension-adjusting nut located under the nose of the saddle. Fortunately, this nut usually requires a special wrench, so most people leave it alone. In almost every case that I know of where someone has tried to adjust the tension with this nut, the saddle has been ruined. My advice is to leave it alone."

As an related aside here is a thread if you want to replace the tension pin ...

http://thorncyclesforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=11950.msg86897#msg86897
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 11:29:49 AM by StuntPilot »

Bill C

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2017, 01:01:16 PM »
i'd listen to the Brooks employee, rather than sheldon on that advice
if i saw your saddle on ebay i'd think it was knackered as i'ts stretched/deformed so much
i have a flyer on my marin that has been retensioned several times, it's now used up half of the adjustment available on the tensioning bolt, but the leather is still in it's original shape apart from the wear points
i'd do up the tension bolt a few turns until when you tap the top it starts to sound like it has some tension, i was lucky i had a fairly new brooks and used the sound that made as a refference, i didn't go as far as to match the sound but used it as a guide

btw i don't use proofide very often, it darkens the leather too much and i think it softens it too much , i use good quality neutral shoe polish on my brooks saddles they shine like my grandads shoes did when i was a kid  8) (he always wore  tan shoes or brogues polished with meltonian london tan) proofide just leaves the saddle mottled and dull looking imo, my saddles don't get wet as i use a carradice cape when it's raining and carry a carrier bag to cover them on the bikes i don't remove the saddle/saddlebag and seatpost when parked

a lot of it is down to luck on the leather your saddle is made of, the flyer on the sherpa is 7/8 years old only been proffiided a couple of times never needed tensioning, the flyer on my xtc 3years old snaped a tension bolt and has needed tightening a turn or so, summit to do with mad cow/bse, i think, as the cows are slaughtered younger the leather aint what it used to be

geocycle

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1050
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2017, 02:34:11 PM »
I agree wth Bill that a lot comes down to the leather. I've put less than one turn on my saddle in 12 years of constant use including commuting in the damp uk. I've also never used a cover except for the odd plans if bag when it was really throwing it down. However, I could see the logic that a slack saddle puts more vertical leverage on the frame. Would that be enough to increase the risk of breakage I'd not like to say.
 

StuntPilot

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 385
    • Tour on a Bike
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2017, 04:14:07 PM »
Thought I should add that it is a Brooks B17 Select which is apparently a thicker leather from older hides. There seems to be quite a bit of tension in the saddle already so I am reluctant to tighten it any more (other than the half turn already done). I apply Proofhide twice a year. The cover stays on all the time. The saddle was purchased in November 2011.

The saddle does not seem to sag when sat upon. Perhaps the shadow in the middle of the saddle makes it seem more 'saggy' than it is.

I agree that the quality of leather is important - the B17 Select (unfortunately discontinued) is very thick compared to the standard B17.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 04:35:24 PM by StuntPilot »

mickeg

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1205
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2017, 05:16:58 PM »
I think that if you get your Brooks too wet and then use it so that it starts to sag, that is a good time to tension it.  But I have always taken great effort to minimize letting the leather get too wet so I have minimized saddle adjustment.

Decades ago I bought a used bike that was badly abused, the Brooks Pro on it was so saggy that I gave it a lot of adjustment.

And one of my saddles that I used for most of my bike tours absorbed too much moisture and started to sag a bit on a tour four years ago.  I gave that one an adjustment of about half of a revolution of the adjustment nut when I got home and then let it dry out.

Other than that, I have not adjusted any of my Brooks saddles.  And I keep them very dry, carry a water proof saddle cover at all times.  On cycle trips I put the waterproof cover over it every evening to keep the dew off of it.  Before a trip I usually apply another layer of Proofide to provide more water repellence. 

That said, I do use a small amount of moisture on a new saddle to soften the leather just a tiny bit to aid in break-in.  I have about 30 miles (~~50 km) on a new Brooks Pro right now, have not applied any water yet but probably will today.  I learned of a trick from someone on a different forum, put the saddle upside down, put some wet material (wet fabric, sponge, paper toweling) in the exact spots on the underside of the saddle where the sit bones sit to let the leather get moist there, but not elsewhere.  Then go for a ride, the length of the ride should be curtailed if the Brooks starts to noticeably take shape.  Repeat as needed.  Then and only after you have gotten it started in on the break in process, apply Proofide, as the Proofide limits how much water can be absorbed into the leather.

As a kid I did some leather working (or some say leather tooling) where you get your leather very wet, then you use stamps to put permanent designs into the leather. After you are done tooling it, you stain it and apply a leather preservative like neatsfoot oil.  It is that experience from using water to moisten leather for tooling that I have transferred to how I break in a new saddle.  But, I am always careful to err on the side of caution, not too much moisture because you can always add more later but you can't reverse it if you do too much.

In the attached first photo, that is the wrong way to use a Brooks.  The upside down bike, the owner the previous evening turned his bike upside down to inspect the tires and look for debris that could cause a puncture.  He left the bike upside down all night.  There was a significant rainfall.  The next morning, I had to wait to take a photo for more light and by the time it got light enough, the puddle that his Brooks sat in for hours had finally drained.  Yup, his saddle soaked in water for a couple hours.  The group then rode about 50 or 60 miles, he on his soaked saddle.

Second photo is my Conquest that I usually use for bike tours.  It started out the Honey color, but you can see that it is now a dark brown.

I have two Brooks Pros and four Conquests on bikes at this time.  I also have a B17 on a bike that I keep indoors on a trainer.  And one Flyer that I occasionally have used for mountain biking, currently not on a bike.  My errand bike has a plastic saddle, but that bike is stored outdoors so a plastic saddle is more appropriate.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 06:16:26 PM by mickeg »

Danneaux

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7163
  • reisen statt rasen
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2017, 09:14:53 PM »
Hi Richard!

Some data points from this end...

• I think rider posture has a lot to do with how the saddle shapes over time. I prefer a 45° back angle (with hands atop the brake hoods with drop handlebars), so I place about as much weight on my hands as I do my bottom, putting less load on the saddle than if I rode more upright. I place so little weight on the saddle, I've had to go with lighter elastomers on my Thudbusters and found I could not actuate the springs on my past Brooks Flyer and Conquest saddles, so I sold them on. For this reason, my saddles take a long time to break in. I much prefer them to have their original dome shape, so when the sit-bone depressions get too deep (and the center ridge too pronounced) for me, I sell them on. At worst, my sold-on saddles look like your Third photo.

• I never or almost never adjust the tension bolt on my saddles. On the rare times I have, I have done so very conservatively -- no more than 1/4 turn at a time. The problem, I've found, is the tension bolt tends to exacerbate the formation of a central ridge the length of the center-top, making the saddle into what Jobst Brandt described as an "A** Hatchet", one that causes perineal abrasions and discomfort in my use.

• I'm a bit leery of using too much Proofide and do so only sparingly. I do lightly coat the rough-cut underside of the saddle only once when it is new, then apply the lightest of coatings thereafter to only the top hide once every couple of years or so. The saddles and bikes are stored under cover, so are not exposed to hot sun. I've had no problem with the leather drying or cracking over time. On my desert tours, I do cover the saddle to protect it from the direct rays of the hot sun when the bike is parked.

• I always use a rain cover if there is any hint of rain, fog, or dew. Sometimes I use a couple covers after one bad experience with an incompletely sealed seam. I now prefer waterproof saddle covers with no top seams for this reason. While I prefer a "real" dedicated saddle cover for parking, I will often top it with a disposable shower cap or heavy duty double-wall plastic shopping bag in an effort to disguise not only the saddle brand but my underseat tool bag (to better discourage theft).

• My string of rail breakage seems to have ended with the switch to powdercoated rails. Brooks went through a period where their subcontractor's chroming process was faulty and the rails became hydrogen embrittled. I've gone through four...no, five chromed Brooks saddle rails. I've had no breakage since switching to their powdercoated rails. Once you develop the knack, it is surprisingly easy to swap the leather cover onto new rails -- and much more economical than a whole new saddle. One of my covers is now on its third set of rails (photo below). This last powdercoated set has outlasted the previous two chromed ones by a factor of 2x. For more on saddle rail breakage and replacing rails, see: http://thorncyclesforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=6369.msg38415#msg38415

• I've found a combination of rough roads and the saddle cantilevered over the clamp can increase the risk of breakage. For this reason (as well as for fitting purposes) I early on came to prefer long-layback seatposts because they place the clamps more centrally on the rails. Otherwise, I find a conventional or zero-offset clamp is located pretty far forward on the rails and my weight is placed on the rear. Each of my broken rails occurred at the rear of the saddle clamp. Although the primary cause of my breakage was due to improper chroming, it is no stretch to imagine that a rider's weight bouncing atop the rear of a laid-back saddle on rough roads is more likely to stress the rails at just this point, so it is better the clamp is centrally located if possible via a layback clamp design (keeping in mind not everyone will fit a seatpost with a long-layback clamp).

• I've found my Thudbuster suspension seatposts are kinder not only to the saddle rails, but also the leather covers. They absorb the sharp impacts of big bumps and so shield the saddle from the full force of impact. I find my new saddles mounted to the sus-posts take longer to break in and the older saddles last longer before needing replacement.

• The kind of saddle clamp makes a big difference to saddle rail life. As Brooks urge, it is best to avoid "rail biter" saddle clamps with built-in stress risers in favor of those that fully support the rails for the entire length of the clamp.

• Brooks saddles are handmade from leather, a natural substance. I've found the individual cuts of leather can vary greatly in stiffness and I've had a couple that were fully broken in at the 200km mark and then just sort of dissolved from there. Others of mine have stayed firm until they accumulated about 10,000km (yay!), at which point I moved them on. It really does vary. My B.17 Champion Special is thicker than usual and has skived edges. It remains firmest of all, not unlike your own thicker Select, Richard.

• I've brought a number of misshapen old Brooks saddles back to life or others. Usually when the sides start to flare, early intervention with a hole punch and some lacing will keep the sides vertical and prevent the saddle from spreading. If the sides start to flare, then the back starts to "break" and develop a swale. At that point, the sides simply spread more in a sort of vicious cycle. It is well to remember that for many, this is the point where the saddle becomes most comfortable of all (just not for me; we're all individuals, after all). I would find your saddle as pictured in the last photo of your link to be well past worn out for my own needs. Vive la diffιrence  :)

• In extreme cases, I've followed the technique of my late friend Toshihiko, who perished in a train collision last Fall. He would detension the saddle -- usually popping the nosepiece free of the tension bolt first -- and soak it for several *days* in a bucket of room-temperature water. After, he would remove the saddle, allow it to drain, and then pack the now very soft and pliable leather with rags and newspaper and clamps to restore the shape, changing the rags and newspaper daily. The results were amazing and to my utter astonishment the saddle not only survived but looked remarkably new in shape and presentation afterwards needing only minimal retensioning and a light Proofiding. Even more astonishing, it held its shape while riding. He liked the old Ideal 90 saddles, and it is rare to find those anymore in anything resembling good condition, so every one he had was brought back from the dead in this way.

All the best,

Dan.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 04:54:46 AM by Danneaux »

StuntPilot

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 385
    • Tour on a Bike
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2017, 02:08:23 PM »
Mickeg - I would be horrified to find a large puddle in my upturned bike!

Dan - it is may be my photograph on the web site that is misleading. I have taken some more shots at different angles and put them below. Included is a new slightly better side on photo.

I have the Suntour SP12-NCX suspension seatpost which like the Thudbuster absorbs the biggest bumps on rough roads thus takes some strain off the seat rails. It also grips the saddle rails evenly over quite a few centimetres. The saddle rails are black powder coated and seem very strong. My sit bones seem to be pretty much over the centre of the rail clamp which should minimise any pressure downwards on the rear of the saddle rails.

I have never soaked the saddle to help it break in. It has never once been rained on, and is always covered with a Range Jo totally waterproof seat cover.

https://www.randijofab.com/collections/saddle-covers/products/waxed-canvas-saddle-cover

While touring, the whole bike is covered with a Bike Parka bike cover if there is the remotest chance of rain or condensation occurring during the night. Prevents water ingress to the frame on wet nights too if no shelter is available.

https://bikeparka.co.uk

The B17 Select now has over 10,000km and I am not keen to 'move it on' as it still feels firm and is supremely comfortable. I have today added another half turn (before the photos were taken). I have seen some saddles on ultra long tourers' bikes that have really deformed badly but the owners are still happy with the comfort of their saddles.

My ridding position is slightly more upright than a 45 degree back angle but with the Thorn comfort bars and pedal arrangement weight seems pretty evenly divided with ⅓ of my weight on each contact point.

So now I have a full turn on the tension bolt after just over 10,000km and will leave it at that. If it continues to sag, then the suggestion of lacing the sides is a good one. I have seen some pictures from those who have done just that. The saddle sides do not flare much when riding and I have no discomfort or chaffing from them.

Danneaux

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7163
  • reisen statt rasen
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2017, 02:38:09 PM »
Thanks for the extra photos, Richard; very helpful.

I'd say you were doing all the right things and there doesn't appear to me to be any increased risk of rail breakage.

Retensioning in small increments as you've done sounds fine to me. As you say, there's always the lacing option if you wish someday.

If the saddle is comfortable to you, that alone is gold! Can't top that!

Oh! The Randi Jo saddle cover is a product almost local to me. For decaded, my family knew the mayor of the tiny town where she lives. Small world.  ;D

All the best,

Dan.

pavel

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 250
    • Way-Word-Way Blog
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2017, 09:47:26 PM »
I got my first brooks in 1977 with my Peugeot, the one I received for my 17th birthday.  I found it ok but loosened the sadle just a bit and poured water on it before several rides, early on.  I can't really remember why, but I would guess because that is what the other local cyclists would have told me to do, as if it were standard practice once upon a time.  I do know that the saddle lasted me until I got rid of it for a new "improved" saddle design made of plastic and foam, int the mid eighties - and the old saddle could have marched on and on, if I were not so foolish as to have gone with the marketing and style of the times. 

Before our tour in 2012 I did the same thing after resisting shortening the break in period over a much too long set of uncomfortable miles, in order to get with todays sensibilities in saddle care.  Once I soaked it twice and rode it for hours after each turn, it became home sweet home, almost instantly. I'm fairly heavy at 98 KG, but that is how I now do it, and so far no ill effects, only positive change. Perhaps Brooks suffers from the same thing as many US based companies, that affliction called Lawyers?

Andre Jute

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2891
    • Andre Jute
Re: Re-tensioning a Brooks Saddle
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2017, 06:34:15 AM »
I'm with Pavel, and Sheldon, though my fluid of comfort is neither water nor motor oil.

Horse people use neats foot oil to soften leather, and have for centuries. There's a saddlery as near to you as the Yellow Pages, and neatsfoot oil is cheap, about a fiver for a much bigger can than you need. I used a deep baking pan and poured the neatsfoot into the saddle, and over and around it. I let it rest only twenty minutes, expecting to have to repeat the process so as to break the saddle in by stages, but that 20 minutes was enough.

Note that all further annual applications of Proofide (or neatsfoot, if you prefer to continue with it) is only to the outside of the saddle. The inside is left strictly alone, and annual applications to the outside is for protection rather than further softening, so is not poured on but applied very sparingly. I rub the Proofide on with the cloth that comes with it, leave it stand 24 hours, then polish the saddle with a dry cloth.

Haven't touched the tensioning bolt in years; once your saddle is set up right, there is no needs