Brooks Saddle Experiment

22 04 2011

Untreated B-17 Narrow Imperial...

In the past I’ve gone with the factory approved breaking in plan for my Brooks saddles – a generous application of Proofide leather treatment followed by a lot of riding. That worked fine as I was in no rush and the saddles were pretty comfortable right out of the box. However, the last 3 Brooks saddles I’ve received were much harder than the previous ones. I started to investigate some faster break in techniques. Some of the stuff I came across online was pretty radical – including soaking in motor oil or neatsfoot oil. Both oils promised very fast break in at the cost of a big mess and the leather dye coming off on my clothing. I decided I would try a hybrid methodology to see if I could get the best of both without having to wait as long for the leather to soften.

Very stiff even with cut out...

I started by totally loosening off the tension bolt.

Rails and skirt lacing...

I left the skirt lacing alone.

A generous application of Proofide...

I then applied a generous amount of Proofide to the top of the saddle and rubbed it in by hand. I used a hairdryer to warm the leather and aid in the leather treatment soaking in.

Profide has soaked in and dried...

I let the saddle sit in the sun and allowed the Proofide to “dry”.

Neatsfoot oil applied to underside only...

Then I applied neatsfoot oil to the entire underside of the saddle being careful not to let it run out the cut out and onto the top surface.

Proofide buffed and 1st application of neatsfoot oil done...

I let the neatsfoot oil soak in and buffed the Proofide on the top of the saddle.

Note dark areas of saddle where neatsfoot oil has soaked in...

I wasn’t satisfied with the effect of the first neatsfoot oil treatment so I applied two more with a focus on the rear part of the saddle. Again I was careful to keep the neatsfoot oil on the bottom of the saddle only.

Brooks lacing porn...

I allowed the neatsfoot oil to soak in overnight.

Final product after 3rd application of neatsfoot oil to underside...

After the 3rd application the leather was noticeably softer, but still not as soft as a fully broken in Brooks saddle. I decided that was enough acceleration for now and will ride the saddle for a while and see what happens. So far the dye on the saddle seems to be staying put. I’m hoping the Proofide on the top surface sealed things in to keep the oil from coming all the way through the saddle. We’ll see!

I was happy enough with the initial results to treat one of my rock hard standard B17s as well. I’m putting that saddle on our Bike Friday tandem.

I can’t promise anything so please don’t follow this plan if you can’t afford to ruin your Brooks. If you do follow this plan remember you can always apply more neatsfoot oil later if you want to get the saddle softer faster so be conservative at first. Once the neatsfoot oil is on the leather you can’t take it back if you go too far.


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18 responses

22 04 2011
richdirector

Another good way is to buy them SH off eBay and lets someone else do the breaking in for you

22 04 2011
Vik

My life is 99.9% Ebay free so that’s not something I’d do – plus the state of a Brooks is something you can only evaluate with some hands on experience so I’d be hesitant to buy one used online.

22 04 2011
Chris Cullum

I would be very reluctant to overly soften a Brooks. IME the biggest problem is pre-mature leather sag not overly hard leather. I would just accept that it takes a while to conform. My brooks saddles have been still pretty comfortable when new, the Berthoud however took a very long break in time before I was comfortable on it. After Hell Week it’s feeling great!

23 04 2011
Relayer

My first Brooks saddle which I got on the mid 90s was a B17 Narrow which took months to break in. In more recent years I have had 3 standard width B17s which required virtually no breaking in whatsoever. However just recently I got a Brooks Team Pro which is as solid as a rock, but it is now starting to break in after just over a hundred miles and much proofiding – the stiffness of this saddle isn’t a major issue for me because I think I am so used to Brooks now.
According to the Brooks website their road/mtb saddles are narrower and thay state: “The Team Pro and the B17 Narrow are our stiffest saddle offerings.” .

23 04 2011
Steve A

Mix anhydrous lanolin with the neatsfoot oil.

23 04 2011
Snoogly

Steve, could you give more info about lanolin? why? How much? Etc.

23 04 2011
Brian

I apply Proofide once a year. I wary of overdoing it because I would hate to have an overly saggy Brooks, and I don’t want to put myself in the position of having to tweak that bolt too much to re-tension it. I don’t touch that either.

I’d be curious to see how the Brooks with the cut-outs hold up over the long run. Every person I knew who went out an purchased on of those Selle Anatomica saddles when they came out, ended up hating them and retired them soon after because they turned into floppy hammocks instead of providing support.

23 04 2011
thelazyrando

I’ve used Proofide pretty liberally on my “softer” Brooks saddles and never touched the tension bolt in their many years of service. If you are just applying it once a year I doubt you’ll ever have an issue.

With my rock hard Brooks saddles I’m not worried at all about them becoming saggy with Proofide or even a moderate application of Neatsfoot oil.

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/leather.html

I’m not brave enough to soak my Brooks saddles in oil though!

24 04 2011
Brian

Vik, is there a reason for you avoiding eBay? Does it have to do with being in Canada and int’l shipping?

Over the years, I’ve bought an enormous amount of bike gear from eBay. I still frequent my local shops for large purchases or smaller day-to-day bike stuff, but for certain higher-ticket items, or niche components like Nitto, Thomson, Brooks, etc… stuff you would normally pay a premium for brand new, I prefer actually scouring eBay for that stuff, and I save quite a bit on it.

24 04 2011
Vik

@Brian – part of it is my experience dealing with sellers who won’t ship to Canada or want to charge a crazy huge amount for shipping to Canada and $5 shipping anywhere in the US.

I don’t enjoy the auction format very much. I have purchased a couple things using the buy it now function.

I don’t enjoy the site much – in terms of interacting with it.

Finally most of the stuff I need that is specialized I want a very specific thing and I want it when I want it. I have a few small niche bike shops [online and brick and mortar] I deal with. They are pleasant to work with and I want to support them so they stay in business.

For generic bike parts I have some LBS that I’ve had a relationship with for 15yrs+ so I get pretty awesome prices and great service.

In total every time I visit Ebay I am happy to leave and have no urge to rush back.

26 04 2011
Mike

Careful Vik, before you know it you’ll be pulling out the knife. I recently operated on my trusty B17:

http://littlecirclesvt.com/2011/04/chopped/

2 05 2011
Philboyd

I used the Sheldon Brown method with a cheap bottle of baseball glove oil on a new B67 several years and maybe 10,000 miles ago and once or twice since. Maybe twice a year I rub a little more in. I’ve never touched the tension bolt. The saddle was comfy right away but it still seems pretty stiff; Not at all like a baseball glove. Yeah it turned that beautiful honey color to dark brown and stained my pants the first week, but that doesn’t bother me at all.

3 05 2011
Jonathan

Did this process work?

Why the narrow rather than the standard width?

3 05 2011
thelazyrando

@ Jonathan – I haven’t used the treated Brooks much yet so I can’t give you feedback on the results. I am pretty confident that there was no damage or problem as a result of the neatsfoot oil so the only question is the saddle softer and does it need more treatment?

I went with the narrow B17 because the bike I planned to use it on had the bars lower than the saddle.

25 05 2011
Surly LHT Update « The Lazy Randonneur

[…] I put the uber hard Brook B17 that I softened a bit using neatsfoot oil on my LHT. Since I ride this bike a lot I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to break it in the rest of the way so it’s as comfy as my older/softer Brooks saddles. Since all my taillights [Planet Bike and Radbot] use the same mount I just check my light before a ride. If I find a weak one I put it in a pile for recharging and grab another light. I have enough on the go I can always put my hand on a charged one in 5 seconds. Front lighting detail… […]

29 06 2011
Snoogly

How did the neatsfoot treatment work out, after a couple of months of riding?

30 06 2011
thelazyrando

@Snoogly – great. I was actually riding one of those super hard B17s last night for a few hours in my street clothes and realized it was now a soft as my previous comfy B17s. That is to say it’s not supple or a hammock, but it flexes just enough to not cause any negative feedback to my body so I can ride and not think about my saddle.

I think the key is to use the neatsfoot oil a bit and see what you think then repeat as needed. I can see that excessive application of the neatsfoot oil my be a problem, but unless you soak the saddle in it you should be okay.

3 11 2012
muddy

Soak it for a couple of days in neats foot oil and then a bucket of water overnight and ride it wet, works great. Oil it after your ride and follow Brooks care instructions. I have 1000’s of miles with no damage, sagging or deterioration..

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