Friday, January 21, 2011

Breaking In a Leather Saddle

Breaking in a Brooks Leather Saddle
by Lon Haldeman

Most Brooks leather saddles are very firm when they are new (similar to knocking on wood). The leather will eventually get softer to the touch but this could take several thousands of miles of riding in dry conditions. The following break in procedure is a way to speed up the process and still have 40,000 miles life expectancy from the saddle. During the past 30 years I have broken in at least 10 saddles every year. During a cross country PAC Tour event I recently broke in 20 saddles in 20 days for riders who wanted to ride a leather saddle the next day. I can break in my own saddles in less than one hour and 10 miles of riding. The following steps will take slightly longer, but they will break in the saddle in less than one week or 100 miles. The key is not to overly break in the saddle. You want to make the saddle comfortable enough to disappear beneath you.

Different models of Brooks Saddles are cut from different locations of the animal’s hide. The best and thickest parts of the hide are saved for only a few of the Professional model saddles. Personally I like the leather that is used on the B-17 model saddles. The leather is slightly thinner and it breaks in faster. All saddles of the same model are not the same and you can feel the difference with your fingers. The point is, thinner leather breaks in faster, and you need to be careful when using the following steps to break in your saddle. This break in procedures needs to be a balance of making the saddle comfortable but not ruining the saddle and making it too limp to offer good support.

What you need to get started.

2 gallon bucket, extra seat post that fits your bike, tin container of Mink Oil (it is a paste wax type of water proofing sold in the shoe department at Walmart)

1. Fill a sink or bucket with 2 gallons of hot tap water. The water should be quite warm but not too hot to soak your hands in the water.

2. Put the saddle in the water and make sure the saddle is totally under water.

3. Let the saddle soak for 5 minutes. Take the saddle out and flex the sides of the saddle with your fingers. The saddle should feel pliable but not limp.

4. If the saddle still feels stiff then soak it another 5 minutes. Do not over soak it because you only want to break in the saddle about 50% during this first process.

5. When the saddle feels pliable, remove it from the bucket then dry the saddle with an old towel. Rub the top and bottom for several minutes to remove as much moisture as possible. The saddle should still feel warm from the water at this time.

6. Before the saddle cools... immediately start rubbing Mink Oil on the top and bottom of the saddle. The warm leather will help melt the Mink Oil. The evaporating water will help draw the Mink Oil into the leather.

7. Rub and massage the Mink Oil with your thumbs into the “sit bone” areas of the saddle. Use lots of Mink Oil. Massage the saddle for at least 10 minutes. It is okay to leave some extra Mink Oil on the surface of the saddle and on the underside of the saddle.

8. Mount the saddle on a seat post and test the saddle for tilt and height on your bike. Put on some old bike shorts and go for a short 10 minute ride (shorter is better at this time). You should not ride very far on a damp saddle because you can distort the leather.

9. Your old bike shorts will have rubbed off the extra Mink Oil from the top of the saddles. When you know the tilt is correct, then park your bike and wait until tomorrow. Apply one more thin coat of Mink Oil and allow it to sink in overnight.

10. The Next Day test the saddle to see how pliable it is. If the saddle is quite stiff you can remove the seat post from your bike and soak the saddle in hot water again for 5 minutes then repeat the first process from yesterday.

11. If the saddle is feeling better then only apply more Mink Oil today. Put on your old shorts again and go for a longer one hour ride.

12. It is important to keep the saddle well oiled the first month. DO NOT let the saddle dry out. Apply at least 5 coats of Mink Oil during the first week of riding or before and after each ride.

13. After one week or 100 miles the saddle should feel quiet a bit softer and starting to fit you better.

Brooks Saddles have a tensioning bolt at the nose of the saddle. During the break in process you might need to tighten the bolt and stretch the saddle 1/2 turn for every 500 miles of riding. Usually after 3 turns (3 threads showing) and 3,000 miles the saddle tension is pretty stable for a while. For our old RAAM bikes we used to like using saddles that had been stretched about 10 turns (10 threads) after 20,000 miles. Those saddles were long enough to allow the rider to side fore and aft and have several different saddle pressure positions.

I hope this helps you enjoy your new leather saddle sooner.



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