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How to break in rock hard Berthoud saddle?

Old 04-13-21, 07:25 AM
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FastJake
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How to break in rock hard Berthoud saddle?

Sorry, I know, another leather saddle break-in question.

I bought my first leather saddle last year, a Berthoud Aravis, because they're supposed to be "the best." I put on over 1000 miles and it still looks exactly as-new and is just as miserable to sit on. None of the expected dimples have developed. I'm ready to either make it work or get rid of it. So if your advice is to just keep riding it, my answer is "NO!"

Based on all the reading I've done, I want to try the hot water submersion. But here's my question: I slathered at least a dozen coats of Obenauf's on it last year in the hope that it would do something (it didn't). If that's supposed to repel water, will something bad happen if I dunk the whole saddle? Will it soften enough to break in? There are a lot of things that people use to break in saddles, but now that mine is coated in one thing I'm worried about the effects of combining other things.
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Old 04-13-21, 07:58 AM
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The saddle could just not be working for you and no amount of anything will help..

Rub boiling/near boiling water on it getting it nice and saturated then pretty much immediately jump on and ride for 30-40 minutes, let it dry overnight the put you choice of leather conditioner on it both top and bottom to stop the dry out.
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Old 04-13-21, 08:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Germany_chris View Post
The saddle could just not be working for you and no amount of anything will help..
I want to give it a fair shot by changing its shape (break in). The pictures I've seen of broken-in saddles look very different compared to a new one, and mine still looks 100% brand new...

Those leather saddle fans can't all be wrong, right? I want to know what I'm missing.
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Old 04-13-21, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
I want to give it a fair shot by changing its shape (break in). The pictures I've seen of broken-in saddles look very different compared to a new one, and mine still looks 100% brand new...

Those leather saddle fans can't all be wrong, right? I want to know what I'm missing.
I’d say you gave it a fair shot
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Old 04-13-21, 12:31 PM
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After 1,000 miles, I'd say Germany_chris is right. Send it to me.
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Old 04-13-21, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
After 1,000 miles, I'd say Germany_chris is right. Send it to me.
The OP can send it to me too, I have Berthoud saddles on both of my bikes but it’d give me an excuse to grab a frame out of the garage and build it.
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Old 04-13-21, 12:42 PM
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
Sorry, I know, another leather saddle break-in question.

I bought my first leather saddle last year, a Berthoud Aravis, because they're supposed to be "the best." I put on over 1000 miles and it still looks exactly as-new and is just as miserable to sit on. None of the expected dimples have developed. I'm ready to either make it work or get rid of it. So if your advice is to just keep riding it, my answer is "NO!"

Based on all the reading I've done, I want to try the hot water submersion. But here's my question: I slathered at least a dozen coats of Obenauf's on it last year in the hope that it would do something (it didn't). If that's supposed to repel water, will something bad happen if I dunk the whole saddle? Will it soften enough to break in? There are a lot of things that people use to break in saddles, but now that mine is coated in one thing I'm worried about the effects of combining other things.
I ride a Brooks B17, not a Berthoud, but I think in principle it is built the same way. My Brooks is still pretty hard after 9 years, and many thousands of miles of riding. The shape change is subtle, which I think is the point. If the leather is so soft it becomes like a hammock, that is a sign that maybe the fibers in the leather have broken down and you need to replace it soon.
If memory serves, my Brooks felt a little hard and uncomfortable for maybe the first few weeks of riding it. Certainly not 1,000 miles. Maybe a couple of hundred miles. After that, either I got used to it, or the saddle broke in just enough that I didn't notice it anymore.

Since the saddle doesn't work for you and it is in like new condition, you should be able to get some of your money back when you sell it. If you ruin it by dunking it in hot water, you are basically killing the resale value.
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Old 04-13-21, 12:47 PM
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You might need to loosen the tension bolt slightly. The leather is rather different than that of a Brooks, and in general thicker and less stretchy. Soaking it will ruin the saddle.

I bought the one with the cutout (even though I don't "need" the cutout) with the hope that it will give a bit more. I'm over a year into this, and it still feels quite stiff. My Brooks is definitely more compliant, but I like the shape of this saddle better.
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Old 04-13-21, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
You might need to loosen the tension bolt slightly. The leather is rather different than that of a Brooks, and in general thicker and less stretchy. Soaking it will ruin the saddle.

I bought the one with the cutout (even though I don't "need" the cutout) with the hope that it will give a bit more. I'm over a year into this, and it still feels quite stiff. My Brooks is definitely more compliant, but I like the shape of this saddle better.
Interesting. So the Berthoud is even harder than a Brooks. If that is the case, I imagine that bad boy will remain hard as a rock for the life of the saddle or at least for a good 10 to 15 years.
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Old 04-13-21, 01:14 PM
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Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
You might need to loosen the tension bolt slightly. The leather is rather different than that of a Brooks, and in general thicker and less stretchy. Soaking it will ruin the saddle.
If I push on the saddle top with the palm of my hand, it flexes. So the tension seems right. Or at least in the ballpark. What I need to do is re-shape the leather itself to "fit" me. Right now it's like sitting on a coffee table... Look how different Jan's saddle looks compared to a new one: https://www.renehersecycles.com/cont...atter-saddles/ There must be some secret he's not telling us.

As for ruining it, I've seen someone say "that will ruin it" for every type of break-in/oil/treatment there is. In any case, it's useless to me now unless I can sell it for almost what I paid. And if I do that, I'll never try another leather saddle again.
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Old 04-13-21, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by MRT2 View Post
Interesting. So the Berthoud is even harder than a Brooks. If that is the case, I imagine that bad boy will remain hard as a rock for the life of the saddle or at least for a good 10 to 15 years.
The leather on the Berthoud is thicker than Brooks and it’s more shaped which makes it stiffer





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Old 04-13-21, 01:55 PM
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I have speeded up the break in process on Brooks saddles that did not yet have any leather treatment by submerging in room temperature water for up to about 15 SECONDS, not minutes, not hours. Just enough to add moisture to the leather. And then I rode the bike while staying close enough to home that once it was somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of where i wanted it, I could get off the bike quickly. Then let it dry completely. Then added the leather treatment.

If you use hot water, do not make it too hot. A steak (beef) is considered cooked rare at 120 to 130 degrees F (~~ 48.9 to 54.4 C). You do not want to use enough heat to damage the leather fibers. I am not sure what temperature animal fibers start to cook at, but I would not want to find out with an expensive saddle. I have warmed up a saddle in the sun on a hot day to make the leather treatment (Brook Proofide) less viscous to soak in faster, but in that case my assumption was that leather saddles (and other leather items) often sit out in the hot sun without noticeable damage. For those reasons, I would suggest room temperature water, or maybe slightly warmer but not hot. Maybe tanned leather can withstand the heat but if it was me I would see no reason to risk it.

Because of the leather treatment you applied, you may need a longer soak of several minutes, but you risk damage if you get the leather too wet, maybe it is best to add some moisture, do a ride of a few km, add more moisture, repeat a short ride, etc. May be easiest to soak the saddle in a pan with the bike upside down and attached if you repeatedly soak it.

Someone on this forum a few years ago, I do not recall whom, commented that you can add moisture more targeted to parts of the saddle by putting the saddle upside down and then put something wet (cloth, paper towel, etc.) on only the spots on the saddle where you want it to give more. If you can pinpoint exactly where your sitz bones are on the saddle, that could be another option and it would run less risk of ruining the saddle.

If you have a rain cover for it, that may keep your clothing dry for your short rides.

It is very easy to ruin a saddle by riding on it when it is too wet or for too long when moist.

Good luck.
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Old 04-13-21, 07:41 PM
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
If I push on the saddle top with the palm of my hand, it flexes. So the tension seems right. Or at least in the ballpark. What I need to do is re-shape the leather itself to "fit" me. Right now it's like sitting on a coffee table... Look how different Jan's saddle looks compared to a new one: https://www.renehersecycles.com/cont...atter-saddles/ There must be some secret he's not telling us.

As for ruining it, I've seen someone say "that will ruin it" for every type of break-in/oil/treatment there is. In any case, it's useless to me now unless I can sell it for almost what I paid. And if I do that, I'll never try another leather saddle again.

Yeah, the fully broken-in ones have these divots and a ridge that reminds me of this:



So be careful what you ask for.

Here is how mine looks as of today:




Last edited by wgscott; 04-13-21 at 07:49 PM.
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Old 04-13-21, 08:08 PM
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I sure wouldnt do the total immersion thing, but re the "selective" moistening thing, I too have read about that, putting some damp pieces of cloth ONLY on the sit bone area (why moisten the whole thing, the main idea is NOT to soften and stretch the rest of it) so the selective area idea seems to have merit.
It seems to me that I read of people using this technique on Pro versions from the past, when they more than likely had thicker leather than a regular new B17 today.

Ill try to take some photos of the divets on some of mine, to show you what x 1000's of kms look like. I am pretty particular not to get mine wet from rain, riding, or left out overnight, or dew or whatever, so I think my touring bikes B17 is a good example of how it will look after numerous years of being used, but taken care of.
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Old 04-13-21, 08:23 PM
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oh, by the way, I found that riding a new one in hot weather has helped things along faster. One of mine Brooks was used mostly in winter at first, and it never seemed to change, but finally after being on a bike for a summer, it started to take my shape faster.

Here is a photo of one of mine, I put a white cloth behind to accentuate the lighting, and angled the camera to show the sit bone shapes that have happened. This particular seat has been ridden on trips through some very, very hot regions, so I sweat a crapload on this seat for many many weeks. Rode this through parts of Central America and Mexico, across France and here and there around here, so its been ridden a fair amount---but I'm still happy with how it looks, and feels riding.

I use mine as an example of it not being all hammocky shaped, which I personally dont want and am happy that it doesnt look that way---all this to say, I really wouldnt recommend soaking the whole thing, you'll defeat the purpose of keeping the main part of it structurally good, ie not saggy.
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Old 04-13-21, 10:00 PM
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Thanks everyone. I'll still probably use warm water, but try to limit it to the area where I sit.

It doesn't typically get hot where I live and I don't sweat much, so last summer's riding didn't break it in.

I'm getting the impression a leather saddle getting wet can be thought of like a piece of plastic that melts when it gets hot. Get it too hot or for too long and you end up with a ball of goo. But get it right, and you can re-shape it and then let it cool down (dry) to keep that shape. I remember a friend saying he wrecked a Brooks saddle in one summer because he sweat so much and constantly soaked it.
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Old 04-13-21, 11:14 PM
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I love me a new, rock hard Brooks Professional. Might need to try out a Berthoud!
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Old 04-14-21, 03:57 AM
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Proofhide applied to the UNDERSIDE of a leather saddle can soften/oversoften the saddle in a hurry. Put some under the sitbones area and go for some rides.

Legend of yore has it Lon Haldeman would throw a batch of new Brooks in a vat of motor oil for some time before attempting to break them in.
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Old 04-14-21, 06:23 AM
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
...
I'm getting the impression a leather saddle getting wet can be thought of like a piece of plastic that melts when it gets hot. Get it too hot or for too long and you end up with a ball of goo. But get it right, and you can re-shape it and then let it cool down (dry) to keep that shape. I remember a friend saying he wrecked a Brooks saddle in one summer because he sweat so much and constantly soaked it.
That is a very good way to put it.

I bought a B17 over a decade and a half ago, based on lots of recommendations I added the Proofide right away. And it never changed shape, but it did get a bit softer.

I eventually decided that the B17 was not the right shape for me, decades ago I had use Brooks Pro on a bike and liked that. The Conquest is like the Pro, but with springs, I have several Conquests and two Pros on my bikes. The B17 is on an indoor trainer bike where I can sit upright and watch tv while getting some exercise.

Not sure if you are familiar with the concept of tooled leather or not, I do not know if that is common in Europe. But in western part of USA it is common for things like leather belts, wallets, etc. A few examples:
https://www.google.com/search?source...s&client=opera

People that do leather working like that soak the leather and use shaped stamps with a mallet to compress parts of the leather to give it a three dimensional surface. Then they let it dry. I did some of that as a kid in scouts, so I used that as guidance to myself when trying to break in a leather saddle, and from that I know that if you soak it too much and shape it too much, it will never come back to where you wanted it. People doing leather work like that apply an oil when they are done, not before.

And occasionally I have seen photos of people doing leather work on a Brooks, but never saw one in person.
https://www.google.com/search?source...s&client=opera
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Old 04-14-21, 06:44 AM
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Put some leather balsam or proofide on the UNDERSIDE of the saddle in the problematic area and see how it works then. Idea of soaking leather product under water is good for reshaping (with the right tools), but will make the leather harder (even brittle) when it dries, so be careful with that. also you should never put tension on a wet saddle. (or any leather product as it will stretch and while drying out, pull itself apart) I'd say your water treatment is very risky and if you don't treat the leather afterwards it could lead to a ruined saddle. also you would have to press it in a mould to shape it correcly with support from both sides. so what you can do is do an ass-print in clay, make mould so that the saddle is reshaped to fit your butt and not stretched any further. If that sounds too complicated i'd just give up on the idea of having a leather saddle - if you are too light to even dent it in 1000 miles you can probably sit on whatever saddle and feel comfortable. but it's your money, your saddle, do as you wish.
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Old 04-14-21, 07:08 AM
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Just so it's clear, Brooks specifically says NOT to use oils, look up their care and maintenance page. You will prematurely soften and stretch the leather, resulting in sagging.

Bike seats are suspended leather over a frame, they aren't a horse saddle supported by a horse, so don't use oils, neetsfoot oil etc
and sparingly use proofide if you get some.

Oh, and you'll notice on my photo that the tensioning bolt has pretty much never been tightened.
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Old 04-14-21, 10:05 AM
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I used Neets foot oil on my wife's Brooks, and narrowly escaped ruining it.

It is now very soft (too much for me), but she likes it. I rather suspect I shortened its life by a factor of two.

As an additional bonus, mould now grows on the underside of it.
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Old 04-14-21, 10:29 AM
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You don't break in a leather saddle. You break in your butt. Yes, hurts like the devil. The trick is to ride almost every day but not too long to start with. That works best. If riding every day hurts, you're riding too long. Eventually you find your sit bone area goes numb and then you're good for all day. My issue with that type of saddle is that I ride a normal road position and my privates go numb. I could probably do OK on a Selle Anatomica but I do fine on my Selle Italia on 15 hour rides, so why would I change.
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Old 04-14-21, 11:30 AM
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Many decades ago I had a Brooks that was a bit harder than a ShelBroCo Real Man®. I tried all sorts of treatments...on my derrière and the chamois in my wool shorts...to no avail. I eventually threw in the towel and sent the saddle to NASA when they were searching for Space Shuttle re-entry tile material.

Dunno. I've never again had the same issue with other Brooks, Persons, Gyes or Selle Anatomica tensioned leather saddles, all of which have seemed amenable to imprinting my sitz bones.

I hate to encourage you to throw good money after bad, but the tops of Berthouds are replaceable...




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Old 04-14-21, 12:08 PM
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I stopped using berthoud saddles because the cover only lasted two seasons before I didn't like it anymore. Any interest in trading a broken in Aravis cover for your new one?
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