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  1. #1
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    Questions Setting Up My First Leather Saddle

    Well, I finally bit the bullet and ordered a Gilles Berthoud Aravis touring saddle. It's my first tensioned leather saddle, so I have some questions that I thought I might ask, mostly related to how the leather contours itself over time.

    My current saddle is a Fizik Arione, which is in just about the perfect position. It's not quite flat, having a slight dip in it. I'm not sure if the new saddle is flat or has a dip in it, but how high should I set it? Should it be so its top surface is at the same height as the dip in the Arione? Or, should I set it to where the wide sit bone area is? I do tend to move forward/backwards on the saddle, but sitting on the wide part is really the best place for me. Should I mount it just a hair higher to account for the contouring the saddle will do over time?

    I've always put a slight nose-up tilt to my saddles, mainly to keep me from sliding forward. Would I set the leather saddle to the same angle, or less (to account for contouring)?

    I don't know what a new leather saddle is supposed to feel like, but I know they're really hard initially. If it's too hard after a ride or two, should I loosen the tension a bit, then tighten it back once it contours itself (say, after a couple of hundred miles)? Is there any rule of thumb for what the correct tension should be? Over the years, will I need to increase the tension a bit, or does the leather tend to keep its tension?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Commodus's Avatar
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    I had to experiment with my Berthoud quite a bit, also coming from an Arione. The measurements from your current saddle will be 'ballpark' at best. The leather will sag a bit over time, meaning you may well have to raise it at some point.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    I don't know specifically how GB instructs their leather saddles to be adjusted. I would be surprised if you're required to play around with the tensioning initially. Brooks B17, for example, are very hard when new. Interestingly enough, I didn't experience any discomfort when I first got mine. On the contrary, it was super comfy! Some people report a break-in period of several hundred miles until their saddle feels nice. If I were you, I would not play around trying to tighten or loosen the leather. It should be already set to optimum level at the factory.

    As far as the tilt, I also like to point the saddle's nose up a bit. This is as to not to slide forward and put pressure on my shoulders, necks, biceps, etc. It's a fine point which usually entails riding the bike and letting my hands off off the handlebar to see if I slip forward any. I find that about 3-4 degrees is personally what I need on my Brooks. I use an inclinometer app for the iPad to do this. Works great!
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    Mess with the tension ONLY as needed. The life of your saddle is greatly determined by how much of the tensioning screw you have left. Do not de-tension, or you will have an unsupportive leather hammock. Also, invest in a rain cover. My lbs sells them for $10, and after having several plastic bags disappear and leave my brooks soaking, $10 seems like pennies.

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    GB, like Brooks, don't offer a lot of setback in the rails, so assume that having the saddle slammed all the way back on your seat post is a good ballpark beginning point.

  6. #6
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    Thanks everyone for the advice. I figured that I shouldn't mess with the tension, at least not unless it starts to sag (I assume not for a few years). Also, my Arione is set pretty far forward right now, so I'm hoping I won't have to max out moving the Aravis all the way back.

    Quote Originally Posted by Commodus View Post
    I had to experiment with my Berthoud quite a bit, also coming from an Arione. The measurements from your current saddle will be 'ballpark' at best. The leather will sag a bit over time, meaning you may well have to raise it at some point.
    Why would the Arione position only be a ballpark? I'd think that if the new saddle is in the same position, it should be pretty much where it should be. I was thinking to set it up so that the top is at the same height, and the setback so the maximum width is the same (assuming I have enough seat rail).

    So, for tilt, should I just start off with the same amount I have now and add nose-up tilt if necessary? Or, do I set up more/less tilt now so that it contours itself correctly? (I'm thinking to set it up however is best now, and adjust it as it starts to contour)

  7. #7
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Many saddles recommend starting with the saddle level, setback for KOPS, and the nosebolt untouched, and height set for the flat heel. Why not give those neutral settings a try first, and refine from there?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Road Fan View Post
    Many saddles recommend starting with the saddle level, setback for KOPS, and the nosebolt untouched, and height set for the flat heel. Why not give those neutral settings a try first, and refine from there?
    Yeah, I'm thinking of something like that. I know my Arione is pretty much where it should be, so I'll set the new saddle to as close to that position as possible. I'll keep the nose level. If I find myself sliding forward too much, it's a quick roadside adjustment with an allen wrench to tilt it up slightly. Tension I'll leave alone (at least for the next few years, until/if it starts to sag).

    Roughly, how many miles does a GB or Brooks saddle take to start to contour and soften (for comfort, but also so I can tell if I should tweak its position)? I'm only 150 lbs, so I figure it'd take a bit longer for me.

    Thanks again, everyone.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Commodus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by budopo View Post
    Thanks everyone for the advice. I figured that I shouldn't mess with the tension, at least not unless it starts to sag (I assume not for a few years). Also, my Arione is set pretty far forward right now, so I'm hoping I won't have to max out moving the Aravis all the way back.



    Why would the Arione position only be a ballpark? I'd think that if the new saddle is in the same position, it should be pretty much where it should be. I was thinking to set it up so that the top is at the same height, and the setback so the maximum width is the same (assuming I have enough seat rail).

    So, for tilt, should I just start off with the same amount I have now and add nose-up tilt if necessary? Or, do I set up more/less tilt now so that it contours itself correctly? (I'm thinking to set it up however is best now, and adjust it as it starts to contour)
    Well, the Arione is a bit different in shape and length (though actually surprisingly similar, given the two radically different construction techniques), so the measurements will be effectively measuring different points. For example, if you measure the saddle setback position from crank spindle to the nose of the saddle, the actual sitting area of the Berthoud will be in a different position than the Arione.

    This is important, because although the Arione is fairly forgiving in positioning due to its long, broad seating area, the Berthoud is much less so - the 'sweet spot' is much smaller. This is largely due, in my opinion, to the supporting frame; you don't want to be sitting on the frame itself, which of course has no 'give' at all. So you need to be forward of the frame but not so far that your sit bones are no longer supported on the widest seating area.

    I mean I'm making this sound way more complicated than it actually is, and your method of measuring to the widest spot is great - in fact this is what I do too...I'm just saying to expect some adjustment.

    I adjust mine so that the seating area is level, which on the Berthoud means only a small nose-up tilt, a few degrees.

  10. #10
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    It looks like the saddle should arrive today or tomorrow, so I can get it set up for this weekend!

    I've still two questions:
    1. How much should I take into account the contouring the saddle will do when it breaks-in? In other words, if I set the tilt level now, after it breaks in, will it be (in effect) slightly nose-up? Or, should I just set it for what feels good now, and then readjust after it breaks in?

    2. Roughly, how many miles does it normally take to break-in and mold itself? (I know there are a lot of variables for that, but I'd just like some idea)

  11. #11
    Senior Member EdgewaterDude's Avatar
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    Depending on how pronounced the 'breaking in' of the saddle is over time, you may want to tilt it up slightly more. This, of course, is personal preference.

    As far as the breaking in process, it would probably depend on rider weight and whether or not the saddle gets wet, too.

    My last Brooks B-17 broke in and started to sag in very little time.

    I've been riding a Berthoud Mente saddle 5-6 days a week since February, and I *still* don't see any sign of break-in. The saddle doesn't have ANY indents from my sit bone. I suspected this would happen, as Berthoud saddles are supposed to have thicker leather than the standard B-17.

    At any rate, the lack of sit bone indentation does not translate to reduced comfort. I still have no pain or discomfort at all. It's a very firm, compliant ride.

  12. #12
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    Well, I just had my first ride with the new saddle. It's certainly a lot more comfortable than you'd think, judging from its firmness. I started out with just a slight nose-up tilt, but there was a bit too much weight on my arms and I tended to slide forward. After stopping every few minutes to putz around tilting the up and down, I think I got it right. The "sitting area" is pretty much level, so the overall tilt is fairly pronounced nose-up. Less tilt, and I tend to slide forward. I do get some perineum pressure, but really just when I turn to look behind me. I think it's pretty much where it should be (or a bit too nose-high).

    My sit bones seem to be about even (fore-aft) with the bolts on the sides of the saddle. I can move the saddle back another 0.5cm, but I think the position is good. I tried to match it as best I could to the Arione I had, since I know that was in the correct position.

    Tomorrow should be a longer ride, and I'll try not to stop too often to adjust the seat.

    Oh, I also learned that a steel multi-tool can put a nice scratch in your nice new aluminum seatpost if you're not careful adjusting you saddle tilt on the road.

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    Sounds like you already have it just about right. Enjoy!

  14. #14
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by budopo View Post
    Well, I just had my first ride with the new saddle. It's certainly a lot more comfortable than you'd think, judging from its firmness. I started out with just a slight nose-up tilt, but there was a bit too much weight on my arms and I tended to slide forward. After stopping every few minutes to putz around tilting the up and down, I think I got it right. The "sitting area" is pretty much level, so the overall tilt is fairly pronounced nose-up. Less tilt, and I tend to slide forward. I do get some perineum pressure, but really just when I turn to look behind me. I think it's pretty much where it should be (or a bit too nose-high).

    My sit bones seem to be about even (fore-aft) with the bolts on the sides of the saddle. I can move the saddle back another 0.5cm, but I think the position is good. I tried to match it as best I could to the Arione I had, since I know that was in the correct position.

    Tomorrow should be a longer ride, and I'll try not to stop too often to adjust the seat.

    Oh, I also learned that a steel multi-tool can put a nice scratch in your nice new aluminum seatpost if you're not careful adjusting you saddle tilt on the road.
    As you put several hundred miles on that saddle, the leather will eventually become less slippery. You'll be able to tilt down the saddle resulting in less pressure on the perineum.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Pringle View Post
    As you put several hundred miles on that saddle, the leather will eventually become less slippery. You'll be able to tilt down the saddle resulting in less pressure on the perineum.
    That's good to know, since I did notice that it is quite slippery. With the tilt as it is now, my butt just kind of falls into the right spot, which also helps keep the weight off my arms. The perineum pressure is very slight, but I think it's right at the line where I don't think I should increase the tilt any more.

    Tomorrow's ride should be longer and more revealing (hopefully with few, if any, stops to adjust the tilt).
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by budopo; 04-07-13 at 06:04 AM.

  16. #16
    Senior Member EdgewaterDude's Avatar
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    Lookin' good. I'd say your tilt is about where mine is on my Berthoud.

  17. #17
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    Well, I had a decent ride yesterday, without stopping to adjust the saddle. It still might need some minor adjusting, but I'll wait until I ride some more. It was windy, so I was on the drops for a while (I'm on the hoods 99% of the time, almost never on the drops), and there was still just very slight preineum pressure. I think I was going a bit numb there after a while, but I'm not sure, since it is pretty slight, so more riding is needed. Once it start breaking in and/or I tweak the adjustment, it should be pretty good. Also, my shorts didn't have great padding (purposely wore those, so I could get a better feel for the saddle position). Better shorts (chamois) would probably give better comfort, so that'll be the next ride.

    After the ride, I noticed discoloration of the leather where my butt is and where my thighs rub on the nose (attached photos). The rubbing is really not bad at all, about the same as with my Arione. There's also some barely perceptable discoloration by the perineum. The saddle color is "natural", which I thought was not dyed. I haven't used any treatment on the saddle (mink oil, hot bath, etc). Is this normal? I was hoping things would darken with use, and I didn't expect to see this after fewer than 50 miles of riding. It actually doesn't really bother me, since it kind of gives it some character, but I am surprised to see it, and I was wondering if the color wearing off is to be expected (especially so soon).
    Saddle 2.jpgSaddle 1.jpg

  18. #18
    Senior Member EdgewaterDude's Avatar
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    That is completely normal. Mine has some patches from contact as well.

  19. #19
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    Ok. I was just surprised that it rubbed off so quickly, especially on the nose. I wonder if it's just not a great dye job, or maybe the dye just doesn't penetrate too deeply into the leather. It does give it some character and a nice aged look, but I might try some brown shoe polish and then some of Berthoud's wax and see if that does anything.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    ^^^
    Just be careful with the shoe polish. Once you sweat, it will make the rear of your shorts look brown, too. Embarassing if you need to walk into a convenience store or something.

  21. #21
    Senior Member EdgewaterDude's Avatar
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    Since it's the 'natural' color, it's not meant to be very heavily dyed, if at all. Have a look at the brooks select line and you'll see what I mean. Depending on where there is friction on the saddle and how much sweat or other moisture contacts the saddle, you'll also see color change in that way, too. I personally don't mind it at all.



    Quote Originally Posted by budopo View Post
    Ok. I was just surprised that it rubbed off so quickly, especially on the nose. I wonder if it's just not a great dye job, or maybe the dye just doesn't penetrate too deeply into the leather. It does give it some character and a nice aged look, but I might try some brown shoe polish and then some of Berthoud's wax and see if that does anything.

  22. #22
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    Ok, no shoe polish.

    I emailed Gilles Berthoud and got this response:

    "do not worry it is normal , there is no dye on this natural saddle just wax , with the time the color will comes darker near to brown"

    So, it sounds like it'll lighten where it rubs, but wind up getting darker. It doesn't really bother me too much, since it kind of gives the saddle some character.

    I also just lowered the tilt very slightly, so the sitting area is dead level. We'll see if that helps the perineum pressure or increases the weight on my arms. The set up is really good and it just needs really minor tweaks now.

    Thanks again everyone for your help.
    Last edited by budopo; 04-09-13 at 06:24 AM.

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