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I understand that Brooks saddles (and similar leather hammock/sling style saddles) break in as they are used so that they conform to the particular shape of a riders sit bones, crotch, etc., and that, famously, these saddles can become more comfortable over time. This answer was particularly helpful in explaining this process and explaining that it's important to understand that the size and design of the saddle must fit right in the first place.

Given this process of break-in, is it wise to buy a used leather hammock/sling style saddle? Is it:

  • A bad idea because it is already broken-in in a way that means it is irreparably shapes for the previous owners body?
  • A good idea because the leather is more supple and more easily bent and shaped to the new riders body?
  • An equally good idea because the leather will simply reshape over time?
  • You need to know if it will fit you in the first place. – Batman Dec 6 '14 at 18:33
  • @Batman: I understand that much (this was most of the substance of the answer I linked to in the post) and I've edited the question to make this clear. – Benjamin Mako Hill Dec 6 '14 at 19:37
  • How broke in? How much money? You don't give nearly enough information. Yes leather will reshape. Will it reshape to the same extent as if you bought it new? - no. – paparazzo Dec 6 '14 at 21:44
  • @Blam: This is a general question and I'm not necessarily looking for a yes or no answer. If it matters how broken in it is and if there are heuristics I can use to decide whether it's too broken in before buying, those sure sound like they would be useful pieces of an answer. – Benjamin Mako Hill Dec 7 '14 at 0:09
  • @Blam: I have no idea and I have never zero experience with leather saddles. I'm thinking of buying one and wanted some guidance. It's a honest question asked in good faith. I assume, based on the downvote, that you (or someone else) would rather me not even ask in the future. This is only my second question on this site. – Benjamin Mako Hill Dec 7 '14 at 3:43
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Q1: A bad idea because it is already broken-in in a way that means it is irreparably shapes for the previous owners body?

It is possible to reshape a leather saddle by first soaking it in water, resetting the shape then breaking the saddle in. I have seen it referred to as the "Blocking Technique" and have also seen warnings that it is possible to overstretch and even break the leather (although I am personally doubtful) so caution is needed.

You could use water to reset the shape, treat the saddle with proofide or minks oil. Let it dry then break it in the old fashion way (lots of miles)

Or you could use water to reset the shape, treat the saddle with proofide or minks oil, then break it in with a short ride (10 min) while wet to create a new shape. Then use successively longer rides to fully break in. See the tutorials below for more detail.

Disclaimer - you could also wreck the saddle if you do things like crank up the tension it while wet, or ride or a long time while soaking wet. If you have never worked with leather before, be prepared for the possibility of failure.

General Article:

  1. Re-shaping Deformed Leather Saddles

Water Break-in Tutorials

  1. Breaking in a Leather Saddle - Rando Richard
  2. Breaking In a Leather Saddle - LON'S PACTOUR

Q2: A good idea because the leather is more supple and more easily bent and shaped to the new riders body?

The leather actually gets stretched to match the rider that breaks it in, so it is not more supple to newer riders. Ideally, for the most capacity to adapt to your body, you would want to start from an un-stretched (beyond factory stretching) saddle. That doesn't mean a used one can not adapt your body, but that your best shot is with a new saddle. Assuming your physical structure is not radically different, this point is likely more academic than real world.


Q3: An equally good idea because the leather will simply reshape over time?

Neither - as stated in my answer to Q2, the capacity for the leather to adapt to your individual shape will likely be less. Whether or not this will matter with the saddle you purchase will depend on a number of factors from your personal physical bone structure, and preferred riding position, to the condition of the used saddle.

  • @BenjaminMakoHill - I have updated the answer. I probably should have edited the question when I saw the mistake, thanks for contributing! – Rider_X Dec 22 '14 at 0:17
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I've purchased a couple of used leather saddles. The ones that were barely used or just broken in were fine, but there was one well-used one that was the exception. Its sit bone area was visibly lower on one side than the other, enough that it was the likely cause of an SI joint dysfunction for me.

I'd say if it looks relatively new and close to the original shape, you're probably fine. If it looks worn or stretched and especially if it looks uneven, it might be best to pass.

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There was one time my Brooks with no waterproofing whatsoever got thoroughly soaked and it stretched and sagged like an arm chair with broken springs.

I've also encountered similar used Brooks saddles that are so stretched that all you feel is the front and rear of the saddle and nothing in-between

The only I've been able to make them work again is to lace up like this photo i'm linking to online http://i13.photobucket.com/albums/a261/catskillscooby/BikeForums/IMG_5670.jpg

If your saddle has no holes for the lace, you'll likely need to punch them with a belt hole punch

I found this worked significantly better than using the screw adjuster at the nose...

So long story short, old leather saddles may not be a good idea

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