The B17 Brooks touring saddle is the first choice of bicycle touring saddle for many long distance cyclists. After using a Brooks saddle for touring over thousands of miles myself, here’s why I think it’s the best bike saddle for long rides.
Choosing a bicycle touring saddle
I didn’t always use a Brooks B17 saddle. Back when I first started bike touring, I pretty much just went on tour with whatever bike seat came with the bike. As a lot of the bikes I used in the beginning were super-cheap, you can imagine how (not!) comfortable those saddles were!
In fact, it took me a while to develop a mindset where I was willing to invest in good quality bike touring gear. As such, I didn’t get my first Brooks touring saddle until after I’d already completed two epic long distance bike tours. Those were cycling from England to South Africa (12 months), and Cycling from Alaska to Argentina (18 months).
I should have used a Brooks B17!
Man, if only I’d used a Brooks touring saddle on those trips! I still remember the pain of spending more than four hours in the saddle when cycling through Africa. I even took to buying a new saddle every few thousand kilometres.
Strangely though, the 10 dollar bike saddles I picked up in countries like Tanzania and Malawi just never seemed to get any more comfortable!
So, why didn’t I just get a Brooks saddle in the first place?
Well, I made these classic mistakes.
Bicycle Touring Saddle mistake number 1
The bike I have just bought came with a saddle, why should I buy another one? – Stupid, stupid, stupid. It's a rare day that any bicycle will come with a saddle suitable for bicycle touring. Sure, it might be fine for commuting to work and back, or weekend rides of a few hours. Day after day of 8 hour cycling though? Nah.
Touring Bike Saddle mistake number 2
I need a gel seat because they are more comfortable. – Again, this is a big nahh. They might be nice and soft for an hour or so, but that's about it. Add into that chafing issues, and they soon lose their appeal as a bicycle touring saddle.
Bicycle Saddle mistake number 3
My bike came with a saddle, and I put a gel seat on it. It's not comfortable, but I am sure I will get used to it. – Even now, I look back on myself and shake my head! Don't get me wrong, I put up with it for month after month. There is a big difference from enduring something and being comfortable though!
So, enough of the mistakes with my old touring bike saddles. It was time to invest some money in a Brooks B17 saddle, and see if it really was the best touring saddle on the market.
Which Brooks saddle for touring?
Hold on though, Brooks seem to do all sorts of bike touring saddles! Not only does the B17 range have different variations, but there’s also the Cambium C17 seat as well. Which is the best Brooks saddle for touring?
The Brooks B17 Family
As far as I can work out, these are the following leather saddles in the Brooks B17 range:
- Brooks B17 Standard
- Brooks B17 S Standard
- Brooks B17 Special
- Brooks B17 Special Titanium
- Brooks B17 S Imperial
- Brooks B17 Imperial
They don’t make it easy, do they!!
Brooks B17 Standard Leather Bicycle Saddle
I took the basic option, which is the Brooks B17 standard leather bicycle saddle. I daresay there are subtle differences, and that the best Brooks saddle for touring differs between people. For example, the Imperial range features a cut-out which some guys find more comfortable.
The standard B17 leather saddle seemed good enough for me, and comes in 6 different colours. I actually now own two Brooks saddles, and have one honey coloured, and one plain black. The honey coloured leather bike touring saddle is probably my favourite.
Hold on, a leather bicycle saddle?
I know. In an age where modern materials are being developed on a regular basis to increase efficiency, cut down weight, and improve comfort, a leather saddle for bicycle touring seems a bit of an anachronism. Take my word for it though, they are super-comfortable once you have broken them in! Quite simply, they are the best touring bike saddle around.
Breaking in a leather bike touring saddle
Firstly, the so called “breaking in period” sounds worse than it is! During that time, the saddle isn't painful to sit on or anything. It's just not as comfortable as it will be later on. What happens during this period, is the seat starts to mould itself to the shape of your butt. As it does so, it becomes more and more comfortable.
Funny story here – My two Brooks B17 saddles look totally different where they have shaped themselves to my backside, but they are equally comfortable!
How long does breaking in a saddle take?
It seems to vary from person to person. I didn’t have difficulties with either of my Brooks saddles, and was able to get bike touring pretty quickly, Other people have mentioned it might take several hundred miles for the B17 saddle to get truly comfortable.
Leather does need taking care of, and the Brooks saddle is no different. Applying some Brooks Proofide from time to time is hardly a problem. Neither is tightening the saddle if needed. One thing that I would suggest, is that when bicycle touring, cover the saddle with a bag at night. There is no need to expose it to the rain more than necessary. The same can also be said of keeping it out of direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Using the Brooks saddle
I’ve been using Brooks saddles for about 5 years now. During this time, I’ve taken them on thousands of miles of bike touring, including cycling from Greece to England.
Even during the longest days of 8 or 9 hours cycling, I’ve never had a problem. They remain the most comfortable saddle throughout. Even better, they are still in great condition.There is no material wear or tear on either leather bicycle saddle, and they look and feel like they will last for years more!
Should you buy a Brooks saddle?
Of course, it’s totally up to you. I know for some people (and I was one of those), the idea of spending a hundred pounds / hundred and fifty dollars on a saddle seems a bit steep! Especially when you can get other seats at a fraction of the price.
After owning and using them myself though, I would say that it’s better to think of buying a Brooks saddle as an investment rather than an expense. Not only are you saving yourself some butt ache, but you’ll also only ever need to buy one to literally last you a lifetime.
I honestly believe a Brooks is the best bicycle saddle for touring, but you need to try it and see for yourself. The choice, as they say, is yours!
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You might also want to read: The best bicycle saddles for long distance cycling