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At what point is a vintage leather saddle unusable?

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At what point is a vintage leather saddle unusable?

Old 01-02-18, 02:14 PM
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At what point is a vintage leather saddle unusable?

Looking at some used leather saddles and having a hard time distinguishing "well used" and "too damaged to use or revive."

Any tips, tricks or photographs to help me out here?
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Old 01-02-18, 02:16 PM
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When it is too painful to ride, or ripped.
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Old 01-02-18, 02:24 PM
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My answer is -
How long will the rides be on this bike? If the answer is Centuries, the answer is different from 25 mile training rides.


There are lots of ways old saddles deteriorate based on geographic and storage locations.
Is it close to being adjusted (stretched or loosened) correctly?
Thin leather with exposed rivets?
Dry or cracked beyond any chance of reconditioning/rehab?


edit: request for pics.
top pic shows saddle that is rolled under rails and tied - stiffens the 'worn-out & soft leather syndrome'.
bottom pic of saddle that is on a 'rain bike' for 30 milers and less. Not uncomfortable, but thinner leather that likely would not tension well when stretched; a candidate for rolled&tied. And it matches so well allowance is granted, I make sure to ride in padded shorts.
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Last edited by Wildwood; 01-02-18 at 03:34 PM.
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Old 01-02-18, 02:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Wildwood View Post
My answer is -
How long will the rides be on this bike? If the answer is Centuries, the answer is different from 25 mile training rides.


There are lots of ways old saddles deteriorate based on geographic and storage locations.
Is it close to being adjusted (stretched or loosened) correctly?
Honestly this bike would just be for riding around the neighborhood/downtown area for errands etc.

Not sure about adjustment (new to this).
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Old 01-02-18, 02:29 PM
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Originally Posted by ironwood View Post
When it is too painful to ride, or ripped.
Why rips? Just because they'll get worse?
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Old 01-02-18, 02:42 PM
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Originally Posted by polymorphself View Post
Looking at some used leather saddles and having a hard time distinguishing "well used" and "too damaged to use or revive."

Any tips, tricks or photographs to help me out here?
So, you're looking at photos and trying to determine what to buy? It can be very hard to tell. If you're not familiar with leather saddles, and want to try one, bear in mind that a used saddle may give a very different experience from a new one. Serious damage to the leather may be invisible; it's not uncommon for an older saddle to tear in half without warning. It may have become too hard as a result of water damage or or from being dried out. It may have become too soft from use and abuse.

It can be difficult to tell the age of a saddle from photos. An 80 year old Brooks saddle may look very much like a new one, especially if it was never ridden; but that doesn't mean the leather is in good shape. The leather may look perfect but be so dried out that it has become brittle.


Going from very bad to not quite so bad, then:

Cracks or tears going from a rivet to the edge are irreparable. If the leather looks dry and crumbly, it probably is too far gone to support any weight.

If the leather is significantly shrunken, it's probably had repeated water damage and cannot be repaired.

If the tension nut at the nose has been tightened down, leaving visible threads between the nut and the actual nose, the leather has been stretched out; that's okay to some extent, but if the nut is near the end of adjustment, the leather is probably at or near the end of its useful life.

If the leather is visibly asymmetrical, it has probably shrunk unevenly; this cannot be corrected.

If the skirt has flared up, that is often a sign of water damage, but it is often possible to soak and reshape the leather there.

Missing rivets are not a good sign; but it is possible to replace them if the leather is still strong.

On most saddles, all the rivets are the same. If the rivets on the nose are different from those on the cantle plate, then some of them have probably been replaced. That may be good, or not so good; it depends why it was done, and how well it was done.

In general a shiny surface is a good sign, if the shine comes from the actual finish of the leather; but it may come from an excess of Proofide, or other leather dressing, applied by someone who was trying to turn back the clock. It won't work.

Visible dents in the back part of the saddle, where the rider's sit bones rest, are normal.

We don't talk appraisals here, but bear in mind a Brooks saddle frame and associated hardware, new, will cost $30-40 for a basic steel model, a lot more for titanium. If you can get a Brooks saddle with intact hardware for less than that, it may be worth it for the hardware. Spending much more than that is gambling.
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Last edited by rhm; 01-02-18 at 02:50 PM.
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Old 01-02-18, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post

Snip
Hey, that's some great advice to get me started. Thank you!
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Old 01-02-18, 02:55 PM
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excellent response from Rudi.

I'd only add that with a good looking, second hand tensioned leather saddle it may have been treated with a range of products (other than Brooks Proofide) which may or may not affect the longevity of the leather; or if it was excessively treated with Proofide, that too may have damaged the fibre strength.
I had a Brooks saddle given to me that was 12 months old. Too many treatments of Proofide and it was unusable.
Easy for me to put a new cover on.
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Old 01-02-18, 02:55 PM
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When it tears like thick cardboard ?
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Old 01-02-18, 03:16 PM
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When one's daughter swipes it. ;-)
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Old 01-02-18, 03:19 PM
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It is surprising how long leather saddles will last. The leather saddle on my 1924 Mead Ranger is in incredibly good condition. It was an actual barn find in Minnesota but was obvious well covered. Outside of some stitching repair on the nose, nothing needed to be done. I ride it with no problem.
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Old 01-02-18, 03:30 PM
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Get a charge ladle for your fuji. Relatively cheap, and they look not bad, and I've heard a lot of good things about their saddles.
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Old 01-02-18, 03:35 PM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
... Serious damage to the leather may be invisible; it's not uncommon for an older saddle to tear in half without warning...
^this, and ouch.

Which is why I'm the proud owner of RHM-135 (recovered by Rudi).
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Old 01-02-18, 03:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Piff View Post
Get a charge ladle for your fuji. Relatively cheap, and they look not bad, and I've heard a lot of good things about their saddles.
Yep I've definitely looked at these and am considering one. That being said, still trying to learn what I can about saddles in general for future reference
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Old 01-02-18, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by polymorphself View Post
Hey, that's some great advice to get me started. Thank you!
Started and ended, I would think. Please note that @rhm has a little side business of recovering old saddles with new leather - I think he's done over 200 of them at this point. I have three of them.
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Old 01-02-18, 07:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rhm
... Serious damage to the leather may be invisible; it's not uncommon for an older saddle to tear in half without warning...


Y'all mean like this?
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Old 01-02-18, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by polymorphself View Post
Why rips? Just because they'll get worse?
Eventually, yes. Pulling away from a rivet is disturbing because you know where it's headed. Might be weeks, months or years later but eventually the tearing begins. And then the tears begin. Trust me.
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Old 01-03-18, 06:57 AM
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As purchased and after 100 miles, getting stuck in the rain. Obviously too dried out.

AB84F3B7-EFDC-4CE8-A513-A10C082E3F0E.jpeg

833AB7B1-7462-4132-A7BC-6379C929588A.jpeg
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Old 01-03-18, 07:27 AM
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Depending on where a tear from rivet to edge is, you may be able to extend the life of an otherwise good leather saddle with an auxiliary rivet, especially if the tear is at the nose. This is the crude but effective auxiliary rivet I added to my favorite B17 when it developed a nose tear during several years of all-weather commuting with little time for maintenance.

[IMG]Auxiliary Rivet, version 2, in the light by Russ Fitzgerald, on Flickr[/IMG]
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Old 01-04-18, 01:05 AM
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50+year old saddle, after 15 mile rain ride. It was a narrow rail Campy branded Brooks. Not any more.
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Old 01-04-18, 01:21 AM
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Originally Posted by rustystrings61 View Post
Depending on where a tear from rivet to edge is, you may be able to extend the life of an otherwise good leather saddle with an auxiliary rivet, especially if the tear is at the nose. This is the crude but effective auxiliary rivet I added to my favorite B17 when it developed a nose tear during several years of all-weather commuting with little time for maintenance.

[IMG]Auxiliary Rivet, version 2, in the light by Russ Fitzgerald, on Flickr[/IMG]
THat's pretty hardcore. I like it.

But to the OP, some pretty ugly saddles can last a long, long time. I'm surprised by some of mine. So, shelf life is indeterminate. But out on a ride, if you're still thinking about the saddle more than 5 or ten minutes after you start riding, then it's the wrong saddle for you. Your saddle should 'disappear' almost immediately.
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