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I have two bikes with Brooks B-17 saddles on them:

  • My full-frame touring bike: The saddle has a nice patina of age, having been used for several tours and some commuting.

  • My Bike Friday Tikit folding bike: This one doesn't get used for rides of nearly the same length, mostly because I can use the bike with the nicely broken-in saddle. Also, this bike has a more agressive posture than the touring bike, and I keep more weight on my legs than on the saddle; could this be part of the reason the saddle isn't breaking in?

I've been using proofride about every six months on both saddles. I've had the Tikit for over a year.

The question: Is it possible to break in or age a B-17 more quickly? Right now, it feels more like plastic than leather, and isn't comfortable for rides of more than ten or fifteen miles.

Alternately, would attempting to age it and soften the leather damage the leather? Maybe a B-17 is the wrong saddle for this bike?

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An update: It seems that all that is needed is time. It's been a year and a half since I asked this, and the saddle is noticeably more comfortable. However, a slightly narrower saddle might have been more appropriate for this bike. Thanks to everyone here for all the great answers. –  Neil Fein Nov 29 '12 at 4:16
    
Try that Selle An-Atomica, you might like it. I just bought another one last night for use on my MTB. –  Zippy The Pinhead Dec 1 '12 at 3:30
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8 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Breaking in a leather saddle is a long and painful process sometimes. There are techniques such as soaking it in oil for 30 min to an hour and then re-applying every few months, but nothing is going to work if you don't get your butt on your seat and ride. It can take as much as 1000 miles to break in a saddle. The best advice I can give is get a nice pair of bike shorts and ride a lot.

Also remember to put a coating of proofide on the underside of the saddle to prevent cracking.

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Yeah, I went for a 15-mile ride today on the folding bike. I'm wondering if my posture is causing part of this problem; my wife says I tend to angle my ankles in and knees out a bit while riding. –  Neil Fein May 24 '11 at 20:19
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I purchased a Brooks B-17 this year. I used their Proofide on the saddle as suggested. A light coating on the top, work it in, and buff it into the leather, and a coating on the under side of the saddle to protect from possible water flying up underneath from water off of the rear tire. This "under-coating" is only applied one time, and has little to do with the actual break-in of the saddle, just protection of the leather. Of course, saddle time is the only thing that will get your leather saddle broken in and more comfortable on the "sit-bones." It took me about two months and 300 miles or so before I noticed the saddle becoming more comfortable at the end of a ride. This is my first leather saddle, and it seems to be getting better as it is used. I believe with care of the saddle and proper use of the Proofide, this Brooks leather saddle will be comfortable and last a long time!

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Thanks for the answer. In the time passed since I asked this question, the saddle in question has gotten a lot more comfortable to ride. It's still not as comfortable as my other Brooks, but the more aero-like posture of this bike is probably a significant part of that problem. (As Angelo pointed out, this may not be the best saddle for my bike, but I can't afford another one just now.) –  Neil Fein Nov 29 '12 at 4:12
    
Prolly not the answer you want, but I have a Selle An-Atomica, and it never required any break-in. 3000 miles later, and it's still the perfect saddle... for me. Saddle choice is highly personal, and folks I know don't like Selle An-Atomicas (they tried them). But if your Brooks is causing you to suffer, consider trying Selle An-Atomica. They're having a sale right now: selleanatomica.com –  Zippy The Pinhead Nov 29 '12 at 23:08
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I have had success with this method and no problems with cracking or saddle damage. I soak a new Brooks saddle in neatsfoot oil for a day and in a bucket of water for a day then ride it wet. After a 20 mile or so ride you will be amazed how comfortable the saddle will feel. I then use Proofide and tension the saddle as Brooks recommends. I have two B-17 saddles with 1,000's of miles on them including a 4000 mile ride across the US. One of these saddles is 8 years old, the other is 3 years and shows no signs of damage or deterioration.

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I use the Brooks Proofride and apparently, you can use it on the underside of the saddle to help break it in.

I found that mine was really comfortable after about 7 months of daily use. That or my bum got broken in!

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It may take some mileage to truly "break-in" a Brooks saddle, at which point it will be "perfect" for many folks. However, when it is new it should not be horrifically uncomfortable or even significantly more uncomfortable than a decent quality saddle from other vendors.

You know when the Brooks is broken-in when you can see the indentations of your sit bones on the saddle. It took my Brooks Pro about 200 miles to get the indentations and has been a perfect fit ever since.

The B17 is a fairly wide saddle that is best for upright bikes. IMHO, if you're in the drops or even somewhat aero, a more narrow saddle like the Brooks Pro is much better.

Finally, it could be that the saddle just isn't a match for your butt. Brooks makes great stuff, but they're not for everybody-- no saddle is.

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Use Proofide!

Ride in light rain! (the saddles molds to you much better when lightly wet - but not soaked)

Use padded bike lycras (so you can have less pain in the beginning)!

All these methods worked for me very fine.

Even so, it took me about four months to really get it on its final shape.

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Check out Sheldon Brown's commentary on Leather saddles. There is a section on breaking in leather saddles about 2/3 down the page. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/leather.html

In addition to the traditional conditioning methods, he also suggests a rather radical 2-step process that involves totally soaking the saddle in oil for an hour and then going for ride. Not sure I'd go to that extreme because my Brooks B-17 was comfortable right out of the box.

Regardless of how long it takes to break in, stick with it. You'll be rewarded with the most comfortable saddle you've ever ridden.

Update: Today I parked my bike out in the sun and applied a liberal amount of proofide to the top of the saddle. The warmth of the sun caused the leather to drink it up very quickly. I applied five coats is less than an hour. When it stops soaking it up, buff off the excess and go for a ride.

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Wouldn't the simplest answer be to switch the saddles between the bikes? You'd probably end up using the less used bike more and the less broken in saddle more too.

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If the two bikes were similar bikes with similar postures, perhaps. But one is a folding bike with a fairly agressive posture, the other is a touring bike with a more upright posture dialed in. It'd work, I'm just not sure if it'd be the best way to do it. (And if it didn't work, it'd point to something wrong with the saddle.) –  Neil Fein Nov 29 '12 at 4:08
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