The Brooks B17 leather saddle is about as traditional as cycling components get. The Brooks company, now based in Smethwick in the West Midlands, was founded in neighbouring Hockley in 1866 by John Boultbee Brooks. Initially making leather harnesses and tackle for horses, Brooks filed its first bicycle saddle patent in 1882.
The B17 is the archetypal leather saddle, appearing in the Brooks catalogue for the first time in 1898. The profile was wider than today’s but essential features remain unchanged.
A B17 saddle comprises a leather top that’s attached to a nose piece by rivets (hence the phrase “on the rivet” to describe riding at maximum intensity), and to a metal cantle plate at the rear. The steel rails (on most models) are attached directly to the cantle plate but they’re connected to the nose piece via a threaded bolt.
This design allows the nose piece to be moved independently of the rails in order to tension the leather. If the leather starts to sag, you adjust the bolt. Clever, huh?
The thing about leather is that it gradually conforms to the size and and shape of your sit bones (or ischial tuberosity, if you want to get technical about it). Some people find a B17 comfortable immediately but others need to go through the breaking in period first (and some people, it must be said, never get on with a leather saddle).
You might have heard that braking in a Brooks saddle takes months. Depending on how often you ride, it’ll probably be quicker than that. Some riders have their own methods for speeding up the process but Brooks suggests that you stick to just riding on it.
“This model is undoubtedly the most popular speedman’s saddle that has ever been made,” said the 1920 Brooks catalogue of the B17C Champion model.
“Although lightness has been one of the principal aims, this has not been attained at the sacrifice of strength.”
A Brooks B17 can’t rival today’s synthetic saddles in terms of weight – you’re looking at 520g for the £90 B17 Standard – but fans talk of an unrivalled level of comfort and outstanding durability thanks to leather that’s 5mm thick. Treated well, it’s a saddle that could easily outlive you!
Seen on the bikes of serious racers for decades, the B17 is these days most frequently used by touring, Audax and other long-distance cyclists, but there’s no reason why you can’t fit it to the vast majority of seatposts out there for any type of riding.
When she reviewed the women's B17 S saddle for road.cc, Lara Dunn said, "The additional weight over modern style saddles is not significantly noticeable in use on tourers and what tend to be heavier bikes anyway, and the durability of the Brooks definitely compensates for this, as does the way the leather moulds to the riders shape with use, making for a uniquely comfortable custom fit.
"It’s a sleek, smart, well crafted saddle that’s a good all-rounder for touring, recreational riding and commuting and it’ll give you comfortable service for years and years."
Various B17 models have been available over the years and today there’s one with titanium metalwork (£185), another with a cutaway centre (£90) to relieve perineal pressure, and a narrow version (£90). There are also models for women. Brooks sometimes releases special models in small numbers, such as the Black Copper Ltd Ed (£105) which, as the name suggests, comes with black leather, copper rivets and copper-plated rails.
Brooks is today owned by Selle Royal, the Italian company that’s also home to Fizik and Crankbrothers, but its saddles are still made in England. With well over a century of history behind it, the B17 is still Brooks’ best selling model and it looks set to be around for a whole lot longer.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.