I've been biking most of my life. I use the bike practically for commuting, for enjoyment (joyriding!) and for exercise. I currently own two bikes. My 17-year old Bianchi San Jose is a cyclocross/hybrid singlespeed/fixed bike that I bought new in 2007 and have ridden perhaps 20-30k miles on. I also have a Rivendell Clem Smith Jr. L, which is as close to a do-everything bike I can imagine. I can haul groceries, go on urban group rides, go bikepacking, and hit singletrack trails. In fact, I do all these things fairly regularly on this bike. I purchased the bike 2 years ago, as a gently or barely used frame, and built up for me from a person I found on the Rivendell Owners Bunch email list serve.
The Bianchi is my comparatively svelte (not talking about the app framework) race horse. The Riv is my offroad urban warrior packhorse.
About 15 years ago I lived in a rural part of southern california and had more space. I owned about 7 bikes plus or minus a few half-built frames. I'm explaining all this because I want to assert I've spent a lot of time in the saddle, on many bikes, and have tried many bikes and saddles out.
Brooks, officially name Brooks England, is a British leather saddle making company, now purchased and owned by an Italian company, their former (crappier) competitor as I learned via Wikipedia. I say leather, but they also make vegan saddles, which I'll mention later.
Brooks has been around since 1866 and they've made bike saddles since 1882. The lore from Brooks is that the Brooks founder was a horse saddle manufacturer and transitioned to bikes after his horse passed away, but found his seat on the bike unpleasant.
Brooks are beloved by cyclists worldwide. But they are also maligned, treated as an extravagance, diletantism, or eccentric fashion statement. Since I ride bikes with and without Brooks, and have done so for a long time, I think I'll throw my hat into the ring with some opinions.
First: they are expensive. They are "handmade" but what does that mean for a big-ish company? They largely made in an oldschool factory. They are also somewhat big and "heavy" in comparison to plastic or carbon-fiber racing-oriented biking gear.
Why do people ride them? Comfort! Style!
I've had a few "basic" Brooks B17 saddles, an "imperial" pre-worn saddle, and my current B67 sprung saddle. I've loved all of them. Like a pair of finely made work boots, they are at first a little hard, then take some time to soften up and take the shape of your butt, at least that's what it says online, but in practice, none of mine look like my butt. They still look like a regular saddle.
Brooks makes a whole mess of styles. These can primarily be broken down into sprung saddles and non-sprung. Sprung means they have springs, for absorbing bumps. Non-sprung is a 'regular' saddle. Their most popular, the plain cheese pizza of saddles is their B17. This is a standard saddle, can be leather tan color, or black, although I think they may have other colors now. This saddle has been sold since the late 1800s. It is aimed at long distance cyclists, so the website says.
For most Brooks saddles there is also a complementary "S" version, which stands for "short" I believe and is considered their "ladies models" or for people with shorter "sit bones."
I've never owned their vegan Cambium models, but have tried them for a mile or so, and they felt nice, but I don't know about longterm ride quality. My B17 fit like a glove. When I sold a bike this summer I included the B17 with it just because I'd had it on that bike for so long, but I partly regret it. I should have bought a regular saddle and sold that instead.
On my Bianchi, I have some more generic Specialized saddle. I don't know which one it is. I've had it 9 years, given to me from a past roommate, and honestly it feels fine too. On my new-ish Riv bike, I have the very sprung Brooks B67. It feels like a throne, sort of. Very dignified. Designed to absorb lots of bumps. I do ride this bike on trails and such. The whole bike is pretty heavy, so I don't care that the saddle is also weightier. It's comfortable.
While some people say it takes a while for the seat to conform to your body, I think because I ride a ton I didn't really notice a breaking-in period, or maybe I'm just less bothered by that.
Here's a small paragraph to mention something that can plague some cyclists and that occasionally I too have experienced. It's called a saddle sore, and it's basically like a pimple on your butt, resulting from chafing, like sweat or bacteria causing a pimple from riding a lot on your bike. I almost never get these since mostly switching to my Brooks saddle, but I also don't get them from my plastic Specialized saddle, so maybe that shouldn't be a factor.
Because Brooks saddles have increased in price over the past 20 years that I've been riding on them, it would be really hard for me to want to pay $150 for a saddle for a bike. But as they say, the three most important parts of the bike experience are where your body comes into contact with the bike: seat, grips, pedals. I like old school cork grips and cushy Oury hand grips. So I'd probably complain and buy another if I had to.
If you think you might like a Brooks saddle and are willing to pay the price, then you probably will like a Brooks saddle! If you're not sure which one to get: just get the B17! Or the B68 (slightly wider).
If you're mostly doing lean-over ("aggressive") riding, get a saddle more oriented to that, like the pro or swallow models. If you're scared the saddle will be too hard (which some people fear but I never experienced) you can get a softened model. The hand-riveted models look nice but I can't justify an extra $40-50 for it.
If you're sitting up, or hitting bumps, or both, get a wider model like the B68 or a sprung model like the Flyer, which they call their "touring model." I ride the B67, which is like that but slightly wider for more "upright" riding. If you want a cushy every day ride, get the revived Brooks B68 model. People swear by them, but I don't think I tried that one. There are also some very sprung saddles, like the B33.
If you think Brooks is overpriced, then buy one that looks slightly used, though I wouldn't. There's no telling how someone else treated their saddle, unless you're buying from a friend. Or don't buy one. Other saddles are fine, though it can take a while to find one you like.
I have no opinions on the Cambium ones since I haven't really ridden them. But they look nice. By the way, my Specialized non-leather saddle has a "carved" slit in the center. I don't know if that does anything, but I find it comfortable. However, on the Brooks saddles front, where they saddle many notched versions of saddles too, I've actually not tried them and not had any issues missing them. In fact, I don't personally know any rider that have a notched Brooks.
Brooks Factory (YouTube)
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