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Brooks Saddle dressing - latest opinions?

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Brooks Saddle dressing - latest opinions?

Old 05-10-19, 01:30 PM
  #1  
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Brooks Saddle dressing - latest opinions?

What should I use to protect the leather on a Brooks? Many answers have been given: Proofide, Obenauf's, saddle soap, on and on.

I have an NOS Brooks Select that is finally coming out of the closet (Lol!) and I want to abate the rock hardness. Plus Brooks used to say to Proofide it top and bottom before first use.

My only Proofide smells rancid, and I have a jar of Obenauf's and another of Snowseal; the Obenauf's is only a year old while the Snowseal goes back to early college days - 45 years?

What are the negative consequences of Obenauf versus some new Proofide versus ... well, nothing? What's the latest wisdom of the brain trust and lol, smart asses gathered here?
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Old 05-10-19, 01:36 PM
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Obenauf’s FTW! Great stuff, softer than Proofide so more easily absorbed. It’s what is recommended for the very similar Gilles Berthoud saddles. I also have the GB stuff, and would say they are identical. Snowseal is a no-no.
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Old 05-10-19, 01:52 PM
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I put a dimes worth of the Proofhide every couple of years or so. I've also used Obenaufs. I don't notice any difference.
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Old 05-10-19, 01:54 PM
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My usual technique is to read old posts where @rhm details the proper way to care for a leather saddle and then not bother to do anything but ride it and try to keep it out of the rain.
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Old 05-10-19, 02:05 PM
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This was my first thought, too! WWRD (What Would Rudi Do?)
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Old 05-10-19, 02:49 PM
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I always order my saddle dressing "on the side."
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Old 05-10-19, 02:53 PM
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Generally I use Proofhide but I used Nikwax on one saddle when I didn't have anything else, and the saddle is fine. Obernauf's isn't that available around here, and Rivendell is at present out of it.
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Old 05-10-19, 03:11 PM
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I guarantee Obenauf's will make your saddle hard and keep it hard. I use it because I like the saddles hard. If for some reason you do decide to use the O product (and don't want a hard saddle) follow Jan Heine's prescription and use sparingly on top, never on bottom.
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Old 05-10-19, 03:20 PM
  #9  
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I regard the Brooks saddle as a base to be custom fitted to your anatomy.
The leather used is vegetable tanned leather. The process makes it stiff by design. Think the old style shoe or boot soles
Chrome tanned leather is supple and it is used in upholstery, clothing and shoe uppers.
So two quite different leathers.

The vegetable tanned leather can be formed and then retain its shape. This is done by immersing in water, forming it and then letting it dry slowly.

Breaking in a Brooks-style saddle also uses your sit bone pressure to fine tune to your shape. The pressure comes from your weight bearing down on the leather top.

So if you start with the right shaped saddle for your sit bones and the bike riding style, you fine tune it with riding it. This will give you the custom fit that a plastic base saddle can't replicate.

Using too much 'conditioner' or the wrong 'conditioner' will weaken the leather fibres and the saddle life will be dramatically shortened.
Using a conditioner manufactured for upholstery or general sports equipment is not going to give you the optimal life for a tensioned vegetable tanned leather saddle. It would be fine for a Turbo saddle which has a very thin chrome tanned leather covering a plastic shell.

Brooks sell the Proofide in small volume packs as they stress that you only use a small amount, and it will go off over time. But if you apply the correct small-sized amount in line with their usage rate then it won't go rancid before it is used up.

If you want to speed up the custom forming I have read of a suggestion to lay a damp cloth over the saddle for about 30 min. Then take it for a ride using your normal riding position. After about 30 min, the combination of the dampened leather and the pressure of your sit bones will have (according to the suggestion) accelerated the breaking in period. Then let the saddle dry fully over some days. Treat it with Proofide.

I will be trying that on some saddles I have. But then I can. I also make new covers. The one I am working with is 6.4mm thick vegetable tanned and is cut to a Swallow design.

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Old 05-10-19, 04:06 PM
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I use Obenauf'sand it seems to do a fine job but I do store my bike inside YMMV
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Old 05-10-19, 06:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Dfrost View Post
Obenauf’s FTW! Great stuff, softer than Proofide so more easily absorbed. It’s what is recommended for the very similar Gilles Berthoud saddles. I also have the GB stuff, and would say they are identical. Snowseal is a no-no.
Can you elaborate on Sno-seal? I have seen it recommended and have used it occasionally with no discernible ill effects.
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Old 05-10-19, 09:03 PM
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Yes, I think I've read the same postings.
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Old 05-10-19, 09:07 PM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
I guarantee Obenauf's will make your saddle hard and keep it hard. I use it because I like the saddles hard. If for some reason you do decide to use the O product (and don't want a hard saddle) follow Jan Heine's prescription and use sparingly on top, never on bottom.
Are you saying the O will make the saddle hard and after that it cannot be softened, or that subsequent treatments are needed to maintain the hardness you like?
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Old 05-10-19, 09:21 PM
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I used Lexol to good effect for softening and protection. I have Christophe toes straps that are almost 40 years old and look new. I put the lexol on the "Sit bone" areas of the B17 saddle back in '76 and just rode it. Never regretted how it softened. I would absolutely defer to RHM on any leather related question, though. He would know and explain exactly how I probably messed it up......
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Old 05-10-19, 09:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Big Block View Post
I regard the Brooks saddle as a base to be custom fitted to your anatomy.
The leather used is vegetable tanned leather. The process makes it stiff by design. Think the old style shoe or boot soles
Chrome tanned leather is supple and it is used in upholstery, clothing and shoe uppers.
So two quite different leathers.

The vegetable tanned leather can be formed and then retain its shape. This is done by immersing in water, forming it and then letting it dry slowly.

Breaking in a Brooks-style saddle also uses your sit bone pressure to fine tune to your shape. The pressure comes from your weight bearing down on the leather top.

So if you start with the right shaped saddle for your sit bones and the bike riding style, you fine tune it with riding it. This will give you the custom fit that a plastic base saddle can't replicate.

Using too much 'conditioner' or the wrong 'conditioner' will weaken the leather fibres and the saddle life will be dramatically shortened.
Using a conditioner manufactured for upholstery or general sports equipment is not going to give you the optimal life for a tensioned vegetable tanned leather saddle. It would be fine for a Turbo saddle which has a very thin chrome tanned leather covering a plastic shell.

Brooks sell the Proofide in small volume packs as they stress that you only use a small amount, and it will go off over time. But if you apply the correct small-sized amount in line with their usage rate then it won't go rancid before it is used up.

If you want to speed up the custom forming I have read of a suggestion to lay a damp cloth over the saddle for about 30 min. Then take it for a ride using your normal riding position. After about 30 min, the combination of the dampened leather and the pressure of your sit bones will have (according to the suggestion) accelerated the breaking in period. Then let the saddle dry fully over some days. Treat it with Proofide.

I will be trying that on some saddles I have. But then I can. I also make new covers. The one I am working with is 6.4mm thick vegetable tanned and is cut to a Swallow design.
One of my reasons for asking this is that over the past few months I've found a few NOS and VGC Brooks Select saddles. The first B17 was commandeered by Mrs. Road Fan and she guards it zealously. The "quiver" includes a B15 Swallow, another B17, a B17 World Traveller, and a very good used Professional Select. I've briefly ridden the Swallow and the Pro, and am strongly reminded of why I've liked Brookses since about 1970 - first Brooks Pro.

A few questions/responses:
  1. What is Brooks' recommended usage rate? I've only seen something like "twice a year."
  2. At that rate and with sparing application, I've never seen the tin get used up. I tend to lose them way before then.
  3. When using Proofide, I sense added suppleness in the leather, and it remains that way for quite a while.
  4. I'm not really interested in softening the saddle, so the soaking treatments are not for me.
  5. When I see sit bone dimples in a Brooks saddle, I think it has been over-softened. One such that I bought did not have good support and had the "hatchet" shape - felt like a central ridge was transferring all my weight away from my sit bones!
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Old 05-10-19, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by elcraft View Post
I used Lexol to good effect for softening and protection. I have Christophe toes straps that are almost 40 years old and look new. I put the lexol on the "Sit bone" areas of the B17 saddle back in '76 and just rode it. Never regretted how it softened. I would absolutely defer to RHM on any leather related question, though. He would know and explain exactly how I probably messed it up......
I like the softening effect of Obenauf on similarly old Christophe straps, but I don't know how a saddle would be affected. I also used it on leather coasters and they hardened up. Maybe it hardens vegetable tanned leather and softens the other type?

So far, 63Richert's comment is enough to keep me from trying Obenauf's on a saddle, and Big Block's comments are leaning me away from anything but fresh Proofide.
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Old 05-11-19, 01:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Road Fan View Post
A few questions/responses:
  1. What is Brooks' recommended usage rate? I've only seen something like "twice a year."
  2. At that rate and with sparing application, I've never seen the tin get used up. I tend to lose them way before then.
  3. When using Proofide, I sense added suppleness in the leather, and it remains that way for quite a while.
  4. I'm not really interested in softening the saddle, so the soaking treatments are not for me.
  5. When I see sit bone dimples in a Brooks saddle, I think it has been over-softened. One such that I bought did not have good support and had the "hatchet" shape - felt like a central ridge was transferring all my weight away from my sit bones!
Answers
1. Brooks advise:
"I cannot find Brooks Proofide on sale near my home. Can I use another treatment (e.g. Neat’s-foot oil)?
Proofide is a tried and trusted product, the ingredients of which are known to Brooks. This is the only dressing, therefore, that we can endorse for use on a Brooks leather product. The use of any other product is frowned upon and will jeopardize your warranty rights.
Neat’s-foot oil, in particular, is known to have serious harmful effects on a Brooks saddle, weakening the inner fibres of the leather to the point where the leather is no longer strong enough to support the weight of a rider; it will also destroy the sheen finish of the leather."
and
"How often should I apply Proofide to my Brooks saddle?
The primary function of Brooks Proofide is to nourish the leather to keep it supple and to prevent it from drying out with age. With this in mind, it is generally not necessary to apply Proofide to a new saddle. Instead, it is recommended to apply it after every 6 months.
Proofide should be applied sparingly to the upper surface of the leather using just enough to cover the entire upper surface area. This should then be left on the leather for several hours (perhaps overnight) in order to allow penetration through into the inner fibres, before buffing off thoroughly with a soft cloth.
Some Brooks saddle owners use Proofide for two further purposes:
a/ If the saddle is giving excessive discomfort after some time of use, then Proofide will soften the leather and hence encourage it to break-in more readily
b/ If riding regularly over wet surfaces (especially if you bicycle does not have mudguards), then a coating of Proofide applied and left onto the underside of the leather will offer some moisture shielding to the leather
HOWEVER, in both of these two cases, it is very important to be mindful of the irreversible damage that can result from excessive application of Proofide. There is a risk that the leather will over soften and then no longer be able to support the rider’s weight.
Proofide is a tried and trusted product, the ingredients of which are all know to Brooks. This is the only dressing, therefore, that we can endorse for use on a Brooks leather product. The use of any other product is frowned upon and will also jeopardize your warranty rights."

2. You need more leather saddles!

3. Yes, there is a flexibility that comes from use and the Proofide. The main thing to consider is to not over condition the leather. The principle of using vegetable tanned leather is to have the molded saddle take the form and not just rely on the leather tensioned between the nose and the cantleplate.

4. The soaking treatments will not result in a softer saddle (unless you are really stupid and leave the leather in a bucket of water for too long and have the tannins leach out). The principle of the damp cloth is to allow the leather to become very marginally malleable and so will adopt the shape of your sit bones. To make the leather shape, Brooks immerse the leather in water, let it soak through and then use a large press to form the shape. I use a vacuum bag and a mold to achieve the same. When the leather dries out fully, it is again rock hard. This is why you don't ride a Brooks saddle when it is wet. The leather will stretch easily and becomes useless. Dampening the leather should just allow for fine-tuning of the leather to your sit bones

5 The dimples may well have been caused by over conditioning the leather and causing it to stretch. The hatchet shape is also undesirable and in my view, the leather cover is now past its useful life. The saddle frames are then what Rudi and I seek out for our endeavours.
However, the dampening of the leather and a short ride will just speed up the normal process of (squeamish look away now) perspiration associated with riding. As I wrote above, I will give it a trial on my next saddle. I have been casting the plaster mold this afternoon to suit the frame.
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Old 05-11-19, 03:24 AM
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Me, I use Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather Liquid. It's a wax emulsified in water. It doesn't soften leather at all, just waterproofs it. No animal products so can't go rancid either in the bottle or when on the leather. Paint it on, top and bottom, the initial coat will likely soak in rather well, leave it for 20 minutes then wipe off the excess and let the saddle dry. After that apply every few months, it'll only penetrate where the leather is able to absorb water, usually around the sit bone area. Do it enough times and eventually you end up with a pretty well waterproof saddle that looks like new. Also excellent for boots as it doesn't soften the leather at all, so they hold up much longer, I now have a bunch of boots that look like new, with worn out soles. You used to be able to buy a 1 litre bottle, last time I had to buy 5L, a lifetime supply. There is also a water based cream version, but I haven't used that,but I'd guess it does the same.
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Old 05-11-19, 03:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Trevtassie View Post
Me, I use Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather Liquid. It's a wax emulsified in water.
Safety Data Sheet
HAZARDOUS INGREDIENT(S)
De-aromatised petroleum distillate < 50% %(W/W)
Petroleum distillate (paraffinic < 25% %(W/W)

Solubility: Insoluble in water. Soluble in white spirit.

I recall reading that petroleum-based products are not recommended for leather.
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Old 05-11-19, 04:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Big Block View Post
Safety Data Sheet
HAZARDOUS INGREDIENT(S)
De-aromatised petroleum distillate < 50% %(W/W)
Petroleum distillate (paraffinic < 25% %(W/W)

Solubility: Insoluble in water. Soluble in white spirit.

I recall reading that petroleum-based products are not recommended for leather.
Wrong stuff. That was their version of the traditional wax paste like Snow Seal from a few years ago. It definitely softened leather, so I guess that's why they don't sell it any more.
This is the SDS for the cream, http://www.farnell.com/datasheets/1536441.pdf I think the liquid one is the same, but more water. I have no idea what the secret sauce is, I just know it's good.
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Old 05-11-19, 04:59 AM
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Good thing you didn't buy up with the old formulation.

You are using a waterproofing liquid of unknown ingredients, for a purpose not identified as suitable by the product manufacturer, and contrary to the clear advice of the saddle manufacturer and so voiding any warranty.

That is usually what happens to threads on Brooks saddles and treatments.

Whilst I recover Brooks saddle frames with new leather, I do use Proofide to protect my work.
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Old 05-11-19, 05:20 AM
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From the Brooks website:


A new saddle should be treated with Brooks Proofide leather dressing to help assist the breaking-in process. Proofide keeps the leather supple as it is specially formulated from natural ingredients to condition, preserve and shower proof your saddle. Proofide is the only substance that should be used to care for your Brooks Leather Saddle. Apply a little Proofide to the finished side of the leather. Allow the Proofide to permeate until dry and then polish off. Proofide should be used several times during the ‘breaking-in’ period and every 3-6 months thereafter. On bicycles not fitted with mudguards, an initial application to the underside of the saddle will be beneficial, this needs not to be polished off. The leather gets its colour during the tanning process and it is possible, therefore, that some colour residues will remain. It is recommended to polish the saddle with a soft cloth before first use.
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Old 05-11-19, 05:51 AM
  #23  
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Another example of positive Obenauf's use is on the skirts of an overly stiff Selle AnAtomica. This is one where the under-leather is cut away from the skirts. I applied O on the backside but not on the under-leather, in an attempt to make that surface contour down when I pedal. I put it on a few months ago. Perhaps the top-leather on an S-A is not vegetable tanned? I haven't tried to use O across the entire bottom of an S-A.

With S-A there is another twist. There are two basic leathers used, at least historically, called Water-Shed and Tru-Leather. I'm not sure which one this saddle is made of.

Another point, @Big Block:

It's interesting that you're following the Brooks care protocols on your house-made saddles using your own selection of hides. Conjecture: the hides you select are similar to the Brooks selections, at least in their best days, and that you choose grain orientations that are similar to those of Brooks.

I wonder if any conclusions can be drawn about Ideale saddles, especially the 90 and 92?

Last edited by Road Fan; 05-11-19 at 06:38 AM.
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Old 05-11-19, 06:42 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Road Fan View Post
Are you saying the O will make the saddle hard and after that it cannot be softened, or that subsequent treatments are needed to maintain the hardness you like?
My sample size is not huge. The biggest variable seems to be how the leather takes the Obenauf's. Any saddle showing even a very small amount of cracking or crazing is going to take the wax deep and get stiff right now. Small cracks means small cracks. Not the sort of big cracks that mean the saddle is dying and nothing could hurt. Little tiny crazing on a saddle that has years to go. Same rapid hardening is going to happen if the wax is applied to underside of saddle. New saddle or old the saddle gets hard quick if wax is applied to underside.

On smooth new saddles it seems to me, best as I can tell, something similar happens. The way I use the Obenauf's is not what anyone else is likely to do because I want my saddles hard. What has been observed after two or three very heavy applications (not what you are supposed to do) newish saddles that were still smooth but breaking down get firm and stable. And harder than they were.

I break saddles really quick. Obenauf's stops that. I don't even think about using new production Brooks saddles as they are too soft when new and then fall apart. My saddles are all very vintage, including pre-war, or recovered by rhm. The very old saddles are not collected, they are used. Without the Obenauf's those old saddles would be used up and done before I even got to know them.
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Old 05-11-19, 06:57 AM
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JohnDThompson 
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Originally Posted by due ruote View Post
Can you elaborate on Sno-seal? I have seen it recommended and have used it occasionally with no discernible ill effects.
SnoSeal is just beeswax in a volatile carrier. The carrier allows the wax to penetrate deeper into the leather before evaporating. I don't agree that SnoSeal is a "no-no" for treating leather saddles. I've used it on my Brooks and Idéale saddles for years without problems. Beeswax is, after all, one of the ingredients of Brooks' own Proofide leather treatment:



The treatments I'd avoid for leather saddles are those designed to soften leather, e.g. "mink oil," "neetsfoot oil," "glove oil," etc. as these will shorten the life of the saddle by allowing it to sag.
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