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Swapped Brooks B17 for Gilles Berthoud Galibier saddle

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Swapped Brooks B17 for Gilles Berthoud Galibier saddle

Old 06-01-20, 05:19 PM
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Swapped Brooks B17 for Gilles Berthoud Galibier saddle

Bottom line up front: I've just swapped my Brooks B17 saddle off my bike and put a Gilles Berthoud Galibier saddle in its place. The Galibier is narrower, "sportier", and has titanium rails vs. my B17's steel rails. When searching for info and past threads and whatnot on these subjects I rarely find much, so I thought I'd contribute this.

Why I did it: Based on readings like in this thread, where Tony Colegrave said he'd received reports from many of his customers that having the titanium rails on their Brooks saddles did in fact result in greater comfort due to the increased compliance of titanium rails over steel rails, seeing for myself has been an itch I've wanted to scratch for years. Combine that with this saddle being 186 grams lighter, which is not a big enough deal to me to warrant the expense, but is a nice bonus if I was going to do it anyway. I also see references to the B17 as for more of an upright position, while in the Brooks line the "sportier" saddles for a more horizontal position are all much narrower. I ride the hoods most of the time, but am starting to ride the drops more and more, so I wanted to see what the difference in saddle width at the back end and along the central ridge would be like. So, it weighs less, rails should offer a little greater comfort due to increased flex compared to steel rails, and has a shape that may be better suited to a lot of my riding. I don't know if it's better suited or not, but there's only one way to find out.

My B17 has around 3500 miles or so on it, and is the benchmark for me in terms of saddle comfort. I've found it to be supremely comfortable compared to all the saddles I've ever ridden (not a huge sample), at least once I got past the break-in period. During the break-in period I suffered, period. Given how comfortable the B17 has been, one might question the need for this "upgrade," because, you know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Still, I had some curiosity about the size and shape, weight and the compliance of titanium rails, and eventually this floated to the top of upgrades I wanted to do just to see what happened.

The two saddles are approximately the same length; officially the Galibier is 3mm longer. The Brooks side skirts are much, much deeper. It also weighs 186g more. It's not only much wider in the rear (175mm vs. 146mm) but also has a more gradual width taper. The attached photos show this clearly.

Brooks B17 on the scale, my example is 537 grams.

Gilles Berthoud Galibier saddle, my copy weighs 352 grams.

My bike with the Gilles Berthoud saddle on it, no saddlebag yet.

My bike with the Brooks B17 saddle on it (with saddlebag, sorry the photos aren't consistent about that).

The Gilles Berthoud saddle was significantly shorter from the top of the saddle to the rails as compared to the Brooks B17. You can see in the bike photos that I had to raise the seat post a good 1.5cm or so to get the saddles to the same height.

The Gilles Berthoud saddle rails aren't wide enough to fit on the rail clamps of my seatpost for as far forward on the saddle as the B17 rails are. You can see that rail clamps are all the way forward on the Gilles Berthoud rails where they transition to too narrow for the clamps. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to set the saddle back far enough even with my curved-back seat post. It was close enough this way, though, and two rides into it I'd say the front/back position I was able to get was good enough. I do wish I had more flexibility to move the saddle back a little further, but if it works in this position that's good enough. I think the Gilles Berthoud rails don't have as much "mountable length" compared to the Brooks because the saddle main ridge itself is narrower, and gets narrower sooner than the Brooks does. For some folks this could be a show-stopper, but for me it was a close call but worked out.

I rode 54 miles on the Gilles Berthoud saddle yesterday, and another 19 miles on it this morning. The first ride on it, yesterday, started off with it feeling hard but definitely more comfortable than the B17 felt when I first rode that saddle. About 30 miles in my butt was finally getting sore enough from this new, unbroken-in saddle that it was getting annoying. The Brooks had been that literally just leaving my driveway when it was new. So far so good.

My 19-mile ride today was more painful right from the get-go. I think I was suffering from "DOSS," delayed-onset saddle soreness. Having witnessed the transition of my Brooks B17 from an instrument of medieval torture to the most comfortable saddle I've ever ridden over a few hundred miles of break-in period, however, I'm holding firm in my faith that this will improve drastically.

As far as the feel goes, I don't think this 146mm wide saddle is too narrow for me. There's definitely much less there, not just at the rear end but all through the saddle, so at the very start it felt wierd to me, as if I were perched on top of something narrow rather than firmly seated into something that supported more of my butt and upper leg area, but over 74 miles this has felt far more natural to me, and I'm growing used to that narrower saddle feel again.

As for the feel of the titanium rails, my first impression when riding out onto some absolutely horrible asphalt roads near my house was how much of the vibration and shock I was feeling through the handlebar and pedals. I realized that the impact shock and vibration through the handlebars and pedals was more noticeable because I was feeling less of it through the saddle. This could just be confirmation bias or something, I don't know. I'm certainly not an unbiased observer, but I wasn't actually thinking about the vibration when I turned onto that particular street, and my attention was drawn to it specifically for how much more I was noticing the vibration in my hands and feet than usual. So I started paying attention to that, and then realized that in fact I was feeling less of it through the saddle.

Since the B17 and the Galibier saddles are different in shape and design this is in no way an experiment per se. If I only wanted to test the difference due to titanium rails I'd have to have bought a B17 with titanium rails, so that would be the only variable that changed. In the case of this saddle upgrade I'm changing too many variables at once to be able to say anything conclusively about just the difference ti rails make. I do believe they are effective, though.

The only question that remains, to me, is whether this saddle will ever break in and end up being as comfortable as the B17 was. I doubt it will be more comfortable, because the B17 was already really really comfortable, so it's hard to imagine this being an improvement there. My hope is that this new saddle will end up being as comfortable in general riding, better suited to more horizontal riding, and for the ti rails to offer greater comfort when riding over crap road surfaces, which unfortunately in my area is like half the roads I ride on. Cutting 186g from my bike's weight is nice, but it's doubtful it will be obvious to me given my own Superclyde weight and the overall weight of the bike once its got the saddlebag with tools, an extra tube, the CO2 cartridges, etc., plus two full water bottles, my Garmin head unit, taillight, and Cycliq 12 CE front headlight/dashcam combo unit. My priorities are durability, comfort, and having with me whatever I need to ride safely on my self-supported rides, but weight and performance are desirable too if they can be achieved along with fulfilling the higher priorities.

Anyhow, I hope these photos that allow one to directly compare the style and design of these two tensioned leather saddles are helpful to someone, along with info on the mounting of the Gilles Berthoud saddle, which is definitely a little more limiting than the Brooks saddle was. I'll return for an update once I've gotten at least 300-400 miles on it and can report on whether it's broken in and become more comfortable to ride or not. I'm afraid that, like today's ride, my next several rides on this saddle are going to be tainted by that delayed-onset saddle soreness. I think a good week of riding will see that fade away and I'll be in a better position to notice the leather softening up and conforming better to my particular anatomy.
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Old 07-02-20, 04:35 PM
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SethAZ : Thanks for the initial thoughts and early review of the GB Galibier as well as the anecdotal comparison to the Brooks B17. I'm building a new touring bike (Surly Ogre) and have everyhting except the saddle, so your info is timely.

I started out looking at Brooks saddles and thought I would likely purchase a B17. However, concern about the short rails, the huge wings, and having to run the saddle slightly nose-up to avoid sliding forward kept me from buying one. As my search deepened I discovered the Selle Anatomica leather saddles, Rivet Cycle Works, and most recently Gilles Berthoud. Based on feedback/info in the original post, as well as many other threads on the furm and lots of reviews and videos on the internet, I'm thinking one of the SA, Rvet or Berthoud saddles will be a better match (for me) than the Brooks.

Of the three non-Brooks brands the Berthoud saddles seem to have the thickest leather, so I'm very curious to see your follow-up review regarding break-in time for the Galibier. I really like the idea of a thick piece of leather because I assume the added thickness contributes to better structural integrity over time and a longer overall life of the saddle. Of course the thicker leather could also mean that it takes a long time to break-in, and for lighter riders like me (I weigh 125 lbs.) the thicker leather may never feel totally comfortable. The relatively short rails on the Berthoud saddles are also a concern.

The Rivet Cycle Works saddles (the Independence and the Pearl) look like potential candidates, but Rivet is evidently a very small business, the owner/operator is out on her bike a lot, and (so far) I've not been able to get a response. I really like supporting small bicycle companies in the USA so I hope I hear back from Rivet soon.

Selle Anatomica (in my opinion) takes a very interesting approach to their saddles and leather tops. They only have one size saddle (155mm x 290mm), but they make different tops based on a rider's weight. Their "T" saddles are for riders up to 120 lbs., the "X" saddles are for riders up to 190 lbs, and the "H" saddles are for riders up to 250 lbs. Designing the top for a certain load makes a lot of sense if you want the saddle to flex and perform similarly for all riders. SA's design approach also confirms that my concern about thick leather for light riders (i.e. Berthoud) may be valid.

Anyway, thanks SethAZ for the original post. I'm looking forward to your next update rgarding the Berthoud Galibier.
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Old 07-03-20, 08:02 AM
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I haven’t ridden any Berthoud saddles, but I do own two Brooks Professionals and a Selle Anatomica. Based onOPs description, the Galibier would be too narrow for me. I rode a Brooks Swift for a while, which has similar dimensions to the Galibier and could never get comfortable. I eventually determined that I was sitting on the frame rather than the leather. The pro, somewhat narrower than B17, was the right fit for me.

I like my Selle Anatomica as well. It is an X model, although I bought it before SA introduced its current differentiation between X and H so its not the same as current X models — more similar to H than current X. It doesn’t have a cut out and has thicker leather and is heavier than current X. It has been quite comfortable. SA saddles have very long rails to allow for a lot of fore/aft adjustment, which is nice but SA has had problems with the design. Newer models have heat treated steel rails, but when I bought mine this as not the case and I snapped the rails after two years. This was a common problem for SA; they replaced my rails with the heat treated versionbut charged me $50 for the new frame.

Edited to add: Just refreshed my memory on my SA.I bought it in 2014 and it is an NSX model. At the time there was no differentiation between NSX and NSH and NSX was rated for up to 250lbs. The NS variants still exist as the models without cutouts (NS=No slot?) but now they have NSX for up to 190 and NSH for above. I think the difference is just thinner leather on the X to save a bit of weight.

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Old 07-04-20, 05:22 AM
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The shape of the Gilles Berthaud saddle Galibier saddle is very similar to the Selle Italia Turbomatic Team saddle that I ride on both my road bikes. To my eye it looks very classy. I believe your idea that it should work better for “horizontal” riding as opposed to to being more upright on the B17 makes sense. Keep us posted about your adaptation to the leather and to the saddle shape.

In your discussion of the shock absorption qualities of the GB’s titanium rails I am drawn to your photos of your Lynskey and have a few observations: a) The R260 titanium frame with sloping top tube and curved rear stays, b) the Lynskey titanium setback seatpost c) the wide gumwall tires you have on there (looks like Vittoria in 32mm width?).

In my estimation you have already built up what should be a tremendously shock absorbing ride. The lowered top tube allows your seat post to be longer and this permits that lovely curved titanium post to deaden the bumps just a bit more. I’m surprised that you said you could feel more bumps now through the bars and pedals. It is good that you are fine tuning the feel of your 3 “contact points. That R260 ti frame I would think is so far ahead of most other non titanium road frame in this attribute (shock absorption) that if all your contact points were rigid it would still be much more shock deadening than, say - my old aluminum Cannondale CAAD3. Since you already have a titanium theme going, you could always run a ti stem on there to deaden the bars a bit. What handlebars do you have on there?

You say say you are a Clyde so I suppose you might need more tire pressure than a lighter rider but I was just curious what pressures you are running front and rear with those comfy looking tires of yours? Since they appear to be wider (28’s or 32’s) then lower pressures could be explored to deaden the ride further on bad pavement. I love how on my sloping titanium bike I have lots of room to set my cranks in the 3 o’clock/9 o’clock position and stand locking my knees for a minute to rest my butt. It is just a momentary positional change but he way it rests the perineal area lessens saddle discomfort for me. A skinnier saddle with that long nose on it like your Galibier permits this in-ride positional change much like my Turbomatic Team I would think.

Anyway, nice comparison of the 2 saddles and keep us posted on your adaptation to the Galibier.

Last edited by masi61; 07-04-20 at 05:26 AM.
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Old 07-06-20, 10:32 AM
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Timely post. I've been riding on a B17 for the last 2000+ miles and I'm ready to call it a day with that saddle. I believe that I may be one of the seemingly small percentage of people that never really get comfortable on this saddle. I've tried it in pretty much every position I could put it in and still remain ridable for a decent distance. I'm currently back on the saddle that came with my old Specialized Sequoia that was relatively comfortable for me. I'm kind of undecided how I'm going to move forward here. I really would like a nice really comfortable saddle to ride but I'm a little gun shy on pulling the trigger on another $100+ saddle.
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