Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

22 September 2015

The Forgotten Brooks Saddle.

Mention "Brooks saddles" to most cyclists, and the first model that comes to their minds is likely to be either the B17 or the Professional.  The former, as Brooks proudly states in its catalogues, has been in continuous production--almost unchanged--since 1898.  Very few bicycle products--indeed, very few products other than, say, foods made by secret family recipes-- have been made for longer.  A narrower version appeared after World War I and has been in production ever since. The Professional evolved from the B17 during the 1960s.

Other familiar models from the venerable saddle-maker include the B66, a sprung, double-railed model made since 1927, and the B67, which is a B66 made to fit modern seatposts with integrated clamps.  (The B66 comes with its own clamp, which fits only on plain-tube seat posts.) Similar in size and shape to the B66 and B67, the B72 replaces the straight rails and coiled springs of the "sister" models with rails that loop at the rear.  The B72--the saddle that came with many English three-speeds--offers a somewhat cushier ride than a B17 but not quite as boingy as the B66 or B67.


Other Brooks saddles have remained in production for decades and have loyal followings.  They include the Swallow and Swift.  The latter looks like a refinement of the narrow version of the B17, while the Swallow, with its cut-away sides, can be seen as a minimalist version of the Professional.  It was popular with track riders until lighter saddles with plastic bases were developed during the 1960's.

Then there are the super-heavy duty saddles one still sees on utility bikes all over the world.  An example is the B33, with its triple rails, rear coiled springs and front coils.  If you are installing one on your bike, just be careful not to drop it on your foot or your cycling season might be cut short!

Anyway, other Brooks models have been produced for a long time--or have been reintroduced-- and have their loyal riders.  Examples include the Flyer, introduced in 1927, and the stylish Colt--which, as the Brooks website slyly notes, was " first produced in 1979" but "discontinued amidst mysterious circumstances a few years ago".  Mysterious circumstances?  Hmm...was it "disappeared" by the MI6 during a covert operation in the Middle East?

Today, as I was browsing eBay, I came across a "forgotten" Brooks saddle:  the B68.


Image result for Brooks B68
Brooks B68

I couldn't find information about its production history.  But I know that it had a leather top of the same dimensions as the B66, B67 and B72.  However, it did not have the coiled springs of the B66 or B67, or the looped rail of the B72.  Instead, it had the straight rails found on the B17, Professional and other road saddles.


Image result for Brooks B68
Brooks 68, side view

That last attribute might be the reason why it was discontinued.  From what I've noticed,  most cyclists who want wide saddles like the B66, 67 or 72 want springs or some other kind of shock absorption.  And those who want cushy saddles aren't likely to look at any stretched-leather saddle.  On the other hand, if you ride a B17 or Professional (I ride bikes with both)--let alone a Swift or Swallow--you would probably find the B68 too wide.
  
That left the B68 with a market that's, at most, a niche:  People who ride in an upright position but don't want or need anything to soften the blows meted out by broken pavement and rocky trails.  Interestingly enough, it might have been a good saddle for fat-tire bikes.  With so much rubber between the bike and the road or trail, it's hard to imagine that a rider would need any additional cushioning from a saddle or any other part of the bike.  I could also imagine a B68 on a bike like the Surly Long Haul Trucker, particularly if it is set up with handlebars like the Nitto Bosco or the Velo Orange Left Bank.

I can recall having seen only a couple of B68 saddles.  But, from what I've read, the relative few who rode them loved them.  Perhaps Brooks will hear from those riders and the B68 will no longer be the "forgotten" Brooks saddle.

7 comments:

  1. My daughter has the B68 on her bike. I originally bought it for me to put on a bike I will eventually build. I paid about half what you'd expect as the shop was selling parts that customers did not want on their new bikes. (No I don't understand either!).

    Miss then 12 needed a rack + basket on her bike, but her usual saddle did not allow clearance so I put the Brooks on. She hated it at first - heathen! Then rode all day with some friends and decided it was OK. A few weeks later and NO ONE is allowed near the saddle, her friends are jealous. Their Dad's are also jealous.

    Three years later and I haven't yet built the other bike and will have to buy another saddle for it. Miss almost 16 is hanging onto her B68, my husband has a Flyer, my son is eyeing off a B17 and I have the B66s on my commuter. Miss almost 16 is petite and rides in the city. She doesn't need springs but does like the width, exactly what I need for my cargo bike. I wish I'd bought two. Sigh.

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  2. I recently bought a B68 short nose for my daughter off of eBay for about half the price of a B17.
    I too had trouble finding information on the B68, and was surprised that Brooks does not offer it anymore. The one I bought has the softened pebble surface, and is laced. I don't particularly care for this leather texture, but it does make for a comfortable saddle for someone that doesn't ride much. It's a lovely, fairly lightweight saddle, and seems to be working out for my daughter.

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  3. Accordion--When a teenager won't part with something her parents gave her, you know it's good!

    Chris--I'm happy for you that you found such a good buy. If the demand for them remains as low as it seemed to have been, there will probably be some really good buys available on B68s. But if people "discover" them and Brooks doesn't start making them again, the price will skyrocket.

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  4. Of course, less lamented even if also forgotten, are the Brooks plastic saddles!

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  5. Steve--You're right. I don't think very many people miss the Brooks plastic saddles. Somehow I don't think Brooks will bring them back--especially since Selle Italia, the company that owns Brooks, makes its own plastic saddles.

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  6. Happily (at least for the UK), the B68 is still readily available in the UK, see e.g. http://www.westbrookcycles.co.uk/brooks-england-b68-saddle-brown-p214960. Also on Ebay. This is I believe a 2008/2009 relaunch, not the original B68. No idea if/how it differs.

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  7. Rebecca--That's good to know. Somehow it makes sense that the saddle would have been revived in England, however briefly.

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