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  1. #1
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    Brooks Select, Champion Special; and Berthoud Aspin leather saddles compared

    Iím a member of the Brooks cult, and wanted to try a Brooks B-17 Select to see how it compared to a ďregularĒ Brooks. Iíd heard that the organic leather used to make this saddle is thicker and tougher---more like the leather on a Brooks Team Pro---and that these qualities produce a longer lasting saddle. ĎCourse, I heard that from Brooks, which is not exactly an unbiased source for this information.

    When the saddle arrived, other than the lighter color the leather didnít strike me as noticeably thicker or different than that on the Brooks B-17s Iíve been using, which is typically the Champion Special model with large copper rivets and the chamfered sides. I decided to measure and compare the 2 saddles, and during the process I tossed in a couple other saddles as well:

    1. The Brooks B-17 Select. This is touted as Brooksí finest B-17, with tough organic leather. At least one other member of this forum once wrote that Brooksí quality has declined over the years, and that the premium-priced B-17 Select is the model thatís now as good as the standard B-17 was 30 years ago.




    2. An unused Brooks B-17 Champion Special. This is a step up from the standard B-17, with larger rivets and chamfered sides (BTW, hereís a neat 32-second Youtube video on how thatís done, which I stumbled across while making sure Iíd spelled ďchamferedĒ correctly).




    3. An older Brooks B-17 that I bought on ebay a few months ago. I think this is circa 1980ís, but could be a little earlier than that. It has a textured surface and was supposedly OEM on a Raleigh, and may be a lower grade of leather than that sold on other B-17s at the time. Sorry for the blur; I didn't notice till after I'd taken all the pictures.




    4. A Berthoud Aspin touring saddle, which I bought about the same time as the B-17 Select. Iíve heard good things about this saddle and wanted to try one.




    Using calipers accurate to 0.1mm, I measured the leather thickness at 4 points around the perimeter of each saddle, and weighed the saddle using a kitchen scale that unfortunately reports weights in pounds and ounces rather than grams. Here are the results of the 4 thickness readings and the weights, from thickest to thinnest:

    Berthoud Aspin: 5.5mm, 6.1mm, 6.0mm, and 5.7mm. Average = 5.82mm. Weight is 18+2/8 oz.

    Brooks B-17 Select: 5.0mm, 4.8mm, 5.3mm, and 4.7mm. Average = 4.95mm. Weight is 19+3/8 oz.

    Brooks B-17 Champion Special: 4.9mm, 4.2mm, 4.8mm, and 4.7mm. Average = 4.65mm. Weight is 19+2/8 oz.

    Brooks B-17 c. 1980ís or 70ís: 4.7mm, 3.5mm, 4.9mm, and 4.5mm. Average = 4.40mm. Weight is 18+6/8 oz.

    The average thickness of the B-17 Select was only about 6% more than that of the B-17 Champion Special, which is small and could just represent saddle-to-saddle variation. The Berthoud Aspin leather is 18% thicker than that of the B-17 Select and 25% thicker than that of the B-17 Champion Special.

    I donít want to overanalyze these numbers since I had only one example of each saddle, but based solely on the thickness measurements Iím hard-pressed to justify the cost of the Select (in my case, $168 delivered) against the price of a B-17 Champion Special. I may keep it and see if it really does wear better, but I wonít buy another one until and unless I see a tangible benefit of the more expensive model. I donít expect that to happen.

    The Berthoud was a late addition to the comparison, but itís impressive, with very nice, thick leather and excellent construction as far as I can tell. Part of the underlying structure is made of plastic, which until recently bothered me enough to keep me from buying one, until I realized that millions of bike riders swear by their plastic frames so maybe plastic does have its place after all. The saddle seems structurally very sound.

    Iíve not mounted the B-17 Select or the Berthoud yet. I went through this exercise partly to decide whether to keep or return them. Iíll keep the Berthoud and give it a shot, but Iím not yet sure about the B-17 Select.

    Does anyone interpret these results differently than I do? Does the B-17 Select leather have qualities beyond just thickness that make it a better saddle?

    Below are some pictures that compare the leather thicknesses side-by-side. To my eye, in these pictures the Select leather looks noticeably thicker than the Champion Special leather, but I donít see that much difference live, and the numbers donít bear out the visual difference in the picture.

    ________________________________________________________________________

    Brooks B-17 Champion Special (left) versus Brooks B-17 Select (right):




    Brooks B-17 Champion Special (left) versus the 1980s Brooks B-17 (right):




    Brooks B-17 Champion Special (left) versus the Berthoud Aspin (right):


  2. #2
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Are the Berthoud's rails longer than the Brooks, for more adjustability?

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by jyl View Post
    Are the Berthoud's rails longer than the Brooks, for more adjustability?
    Yes, a little. The straight part of the rail on the Brooks is about 56mm, on the Berthoud it's about 63mm. That difference in rail length isn't centered front to back, it extends back further on the Berthoud than on the Brooks. The forward bend starts about the same place on each saddle, relative to the nose. This means that if both saddles are pushed back as far as they'll go, they'll be positioned about the same relative to the seatpost, seat tube, and handlebars. If you push them both as far forward as they'll go, then the Berthoud will be closer to the handlebars.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Wogster's Avatar
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    The tool the guy uses for the chamfered sides looks like the kind of tool, that if you ever slipped could make for a really nasty injury.

    One thing you might find, over time they may have discovered that the leather did not need to be as thick as they once thought, so they could make it a little thinner without affecting the lifespan or use, especially if the machines that cut the leather for thickness are more precise then they once were

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wogster View Post
    The tool the guy uses for the chamfered sides looks like the kind of tool, that if you ever slipped could make for a really nasty injury.
    That was my first thought when I saw it. He's probably done a few dozen thousand by now. I was surprised at how good, and consistent, he is at it.

  6. #6
    Senior Member auchencrow's Avatar
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    JMHO, but I believe the difference in thickness is well within the range of expected variation from one hide to the next.
    Leather, after all, is not a machine-molded product, but a natural one, and so we can expect variation in thickness, creases & etc.
    - Auchen

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by auchencrow View Post
    JMHO, but I believe the difference in thickness is well within the range of expected variation from one hide to the next.
    Leather, after all, is not a machine-molded product, but a natural one, and so we can expect variation in thickness, creases & etc.
    You're probably right about the difference between the Brooks saddles, but I'm not so sure about the Berthoud. The difference between the Berthoud and the Brooks saddles is large enough that it might very well reflect a design difference and be deliberate. I assume there's some measure of quality control regarding the leather they use.

  8. #8
    old and fixed... clubman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ClydesterD View Post
    You're probably right about the difference between the Brooks saddles, but I'm not so sure about the Berthoud. The difference between the Berthoud and the Brooks saddles is large enough that it might very well reflect a design difference and be deliberate. I assume there's some measure of quality control regarding the leather they use.
    Don't assume thickness equals quality. There's many crappy leather saddles out there with thick leather. Breed, QC (select vs other), environment, tanning, treatment and craftsmanship would all factor into the process and final product.
    Last edited by clubman; 12-30-11 at 09:08 PM. Reason: select

  9. #9
    Senior Member DMNHCAGrandPrix's Avatar
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    Thanks for this comparison. In addition to difference in thickness, I'm also curious about difference in the "suspended leather" width of the Brooks and Berthoud saddles.

    Brooks lists the B17 as 170 mm wide, measured from outer edge of frame to outer edge of frame across broad part of rear. However, a lot of that width is right above the frame, and so can't possibly break in as you sit on the saddle. If you want your sit bones to rest comfortably on "suspended leather", instead of right above the the rivets and metal frame, then the actual width of a B17 is more like 140-145 mm (measured from inner edge to inner edge of frame, across broad part of saddle).

    Berthoud lists Aspin as 160 mm wide, but it looks like their rear screws are set more around perimeter edge of saddle, below the seating area. On the other the rear frame of the Berthoud also looks wider on the underside in your pictures, so I can't tell if the net result gives more or less effective "suspended leather" width for the Berthoud saddle.

    Thanks for the extra information. I know a Brooks B17 (170 mm listed width) is just wide enough for me, but a Brooks Pro (160 mm listed width) puts my sit bones above the frame instead on the suspended leather. If the Berthoud gives a suspended leather area as wide as the B17, I may give one a try sometime.

  10. #10
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    DMNHCAGrandPrix, it took me a couple of readings to understand your question, until I pulled the saddles out and started measuring---then it was obvious. The answer is that the Berthoud has less suspended leather than the B-17.

    The Brooks B-17 is 170mm from the outside of the leather to the outside of the leather at the widest part of the saddle. The frame support at that point is about 155mm outside-to-outside, and it looks like there's about 140mm of "suspended leather" within that 155mm width. The other 15mm or so of leather is in direct contact with the metal support.

    The Berthoud that I have is 155mm from the outside of the leather to the outside of the leather at the widest part of the saddle. The underlying plastic frame on the Berthoud is a little wider than the metal frame on the Brooks, and it hugs the leather further in toward the middle than the frame does on the Brooks. It's hard to tell just how much would be suspended and how much would contact the underlying support once you sit on a broken-in saddle, but my best guess is that no more than about 115mm would be suspended. That's about what it is now with the saddle new, so that's the most it will ever be. Based on this it's pretty clear that the Berthoud will give you less than the Brooks.

    Thanks for asking. Maybe the Berthoud Aspin would be better compared to a Brooks Team Pro, not a B-17.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ClydesterD View Post
    Yes, a little. The straight part of the rail on the Brooks is about 56mm, on the Berthoud it's about 63mm. That difference in rail length isn't centered front to back, it extends back further on the Berthoud than on the Brooks. The forward bend starts about the same place on each saddle, relative to the nose. This means that if both saddles are pushed back as far as they'll go, they'll be positioned about the same relative to the seatpost, seat tube, and handlebars. If you push them both as far forward as they'll go, then the Berthoud will be closer to the handlebars.
    For perspective, let me contribute a little more information.

    For a Specialized Toupe, the straight rail length is 75 mm. For the Selle AnAtomica saddle, the straight rail length is 100 mm. I can get an awful lot of setback with either one, far more than with any Brooks or my old Ideale 92.

    The overall width of the S-A, which is also a stretched leather saddle, is 168 mm. Probably sample variation is significant on this product.

    I think that when in a riding position, most of our sit bones are a lot closer together that we might think. I find with a 143 Toupe, a Selle AnAtomica, a B17, and an Ideale 92 (same width as a B17) that my sit bones fit between the curved ends of the cantle plate. In the case of the modern plastic Toupe, I sit on the flatter area of the saddle top at the widest point. My pressure points are nearly a centimeter inboard of the saddle edges. I tried a Toupe 130 and a B 17N, and for both I'm too wide. On the narrow Toupe I can't avoid the feeling of falling off one side or the other, and on the 17N I'm on steel one side or the other. With a Brooks Pro I'm not on the steel when I'm in the drops, but not quite as comfy on the hoods.

  12. #12
    Senior Member DMNHCAGrandPrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ClydesterD View Post
    ... no more than about 115mm would be suspended. Based on this it's pretty clear that the Berthoud will give you less than the Brooks.
    Thanks! That's exactly the measurement I needed to know, and is almost impossible to get from any published review or description of the saddle. I pay particular attention to suspended leather width after realizing it was the reason why I could sit comfortably on a Brooks B17, but could never break in or get comfortable on a Brooks Pro. Sadly, I will have to put the Berthouds together with a long list of other saddles that are not wide enough to put my own sit bones above suspended leather (B17 yes; Brooks Pro, B17narrow, Swift, Swallow, and Berthoud all no).

    I found this picture last night that doesn't include any measurements, but did make me think the Berthoud's frame would probably greatly reduce the effective width of the saddle. (see http://oceanaircycles.com/2011/06/23...thoud-touring/ From left to right: Berthoud touring, Brooks B17, and Brooks Swift. (The Berthoud touring saddle is worn enough to clearly see how the outline of the frame cuts into the "suspended" width of the saddle).




  13. #13
    Senior Member john hawrylak's Avatar
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    Wallingford Bikes in New Orleans had a blog a few years ago stating Berthoud made a saddle flexing device to test the leather to failure. The blog stated the Berthoud leather exceeded a well known brand (most likely Brooks) by something like a factor of 2 to 3. The Berthoud leather is visually thicker from the photos and the photos agree with the thickness measurements.

    Very good job.

    John Hawrylak
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    John Hawrylak
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