The biggest challenge I face on my bicycle touring adventures is trying to keep my butt pain-free, especially those last few hours of a long day of cycling. It is not my legs that give out, or my neck/arms/wrists getting too tired. It is my butt telling me in no uncertain terms that it is going to call the Butt Protection Agency if I do not stop immediately. Something had to change, and it was not going to be my butt!
I have tried many different saddles. To date, the most comfortable saddle for me is the ISM Adamo Prologue. I have it on both my road bike and touring bike. It is great for rides up to 3 hours, but can be uncomfortable for longer rides. I have read many stories about the legendary Brooks line of leather saddles. They have been making bicycle saddles for 150 years, so there are a LOT of stories. It appears you either love their products, or you hate them with a passion. I was desperate, so I decided to try their classic touring model, the B17 Standard.
Out of the box, the saddle leather is hard as a rock. The challenge is to break the saddle in, meaning the leather is supposed to become pliable, and start to conform to the shape of your butt. More specifically, it will mold to your sit (or sitz) bones. If this takes too long, the rider quickly becomes one of the “haters”. I had measured the distance between my sit bones using a cardboard technique I found on the web, so I knew the B17 Standard has the correct width for my anatomy. Now the critical question: How long will it take to break this puppy in?
There are some very aggressive approaches to softening the leather of a bicycle seat. These include soaking the seat in water, followed by smearing large amounts of mink oil or neatsfoot oil on the top and underside of the leather saddle. The risk with this approach is that the leather can become too pliable, and it will quickly stretch beyond the capacity of the nose bolt tensioning system to keep the leather taught. If this happens, the saddle is worthless. At the other extreme, applying small amounts of Proofide (Brooks recommended leather dressing) to the saddle leather every six months may require 1000 or more miles before the leather is softened enough to become comfortable. I chose a middle ground approach.
I decided to only use Proofide as a leather dressing, so that I would not over-soften the leather. I pre- heated my oven on the LOW setting for 15 minutes (I am guessing the temperature to be about 120- 130F), then placed the saddle on a cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. When I removed the saddle, the leather was warm to the touch, but not hot. I then coated the top and underside of the saddle with almost all of the Proofide that came in a small foil package along with the saddle. I let the saddle sit for 24 hours, buffed the top surface, installed the saddle on my Surly Long Haul Trucker, and went for a 20 minute ride. The leather was still hard as a rock, but the overall comfort of the saddle was not too bad. I decided to repeat the above heat/apply/age process, but this time I put more Proofide (from a 25g tin I ordered separately) on the underside of the saddle in the areas where my sit bones would contact the top saddle surface. After 24 hours, I placed the saddle on a smooth, hard surface, and started kneading the wide part of the saddle with the heel of my right hand. The sides of the saddle would flair out as I did this. I also kneaded the narrower part of the saddle where the three vent holes are located. I did this once a day for three days. The leather was definitely starting to soften up.
I have since ridden on the saddle for two 25 mile rides and one 42 mile jaunt, and I think I am going to love this saddle. The leather is soft enough to conform somewhat to my butt, and also absorb some of the bumps in the road. In a week I will go on a three week, 1000 mile tour. I will let you know how the saddle and I are getting along.
A few words on attaching the saddle to the bike. I ended up moving the B17 saddle much farther forward compared to the position of the ISM Adamo Prologue (at least 1-2 inches). I also used a level to be sure that the B17 was dead on level from front to back. These adjustments seemed to improve the comfort of the saddle. I can now ride in the drop position (hands on lower part of drop handlebars) and on top of the bars for many miles in total comfort.