Saturday, June 23, 2012

Little Nellie Gets New Leather

There are few things that can make you more miserable on a long bike ride than a sore butt. Many a bucket list cross country bike tour has been abandoned because of saddle sores.  I hate them myself but I rarely get them.

My pre-emptive cure for saddle sores is a Brooks leather saddle.  About the time of the 1970s cycling boom, leather saddles fell out of favor with bicycle manufacturers. They are heavy, expensive and feel about the same as any other saddle during short rides. When you are on a bike for several hours, however, the foam in these saddles loses its cushiness and your butt pays dearly,  Ideally, what you want is a saddle that disappears under your behind in the sense that you don't notice that its there.  

After using a couple of plastic and foam saddles for several thousand miserable miles, I finally broke down and spent the bucks for a Brooks B17 saddle for The Mule, my 1993 Specialized Sequoia.  Some people find these leather saddles really uncomfortable, but I've liked all of mine right out of the box.  I rode the B17 for 7,000 miles. I was coming down a long hill in the Catskill mountains one day and I heard a snap under my butt.  One of the rails of the saddle (there are two that connect the saddle to the bike) broke.  Generally speaking, you don't want parts of the bike snapping off when you're going 30 miles per hour. It's just not a good thing.  In this case, the other rail was sufficiently strong that I had for the rest of the ride a pretty darn nice suspension thing going. 

I replaced the B17 with a Brooks Champion Flyer, which is a B17 with springs.  This one lasted another 7,000 miles or so before one of its rails broke. (I am told this breaking rail thing happens because the clamp on my seat post is a little too narrow for the rails of the saddles. I have tried to replace the seat post to no avail - this is one of the short comings of riding a 19 year old bike.)

I put another Flyer (they dropped the Champion from the model name) on The Mule and it has lasted probably 9,000 miles.  Somehow I managed to break the tensioning bolt - which adjusts the leather so that it doesn't sag - within the last couple of years, but the saddle still feels fine.  That is to say, I don't even notice it when I am riding,

When I bought Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, a few years back, I was concerned that using a Flyer would not provide enough cushion. Little Nellie has smaller wheels and a stiffer frame than The Mule.  This time I bought a Brooks B67.  This saddle has a textured surface and a wider seat area.  For a long time I was distracted by the noises this one made. It squeaked whenever it flexed. (It has since stopped doing so.) It was otherwise comfortable but its width has been a problem. It's too wide in the back for my legs to move freely or for me to slide my butt back to get more oomph into things when the going gets hilly,  (It's actually designed for a more upright seating position so these short comings are a consequence of using the wrong saddle for the job at hand.)

I've put up with this saddle for over 7,000 miles and, finally, decided to spring for another Flyer.  I figure if I don't like it better I can just switch it to The Mule. So I rode Little Nellie into DC to pick a saddle up at BicycleSpace, a new shop that caters to people who use their bikes for practical pursuits.

After a 15 minute saddle-ectomy and resection call me Dr. Moreau), I was good to go. The difference was amazing.  I had been fighting that B67 saddle for years and now my legs were free to pedal efficiently. I was suddenly 10 percent faster that before. Sweet!  All of a sudden, I have a new bike.

I rode to Eastern Market for a lemonade and pretzel to celebrate.  Then I explored the Anacostia River Trail.  After heading north a couple of miles along the acres of parking lots at RFK Stadium, I turned around and rode over the super nice bridge that was recently constructed to take the trail over the railroad tracks that run up and down the eastern seaboard. 

The ride home along the Mount Vernon Trail was noticeably easier with the Flyer.  I did notice some soreness in my arms and shoulders but this just means I need to tilt the saddle up a little to put more weight on my fanny.

B67 on left,Flyer on right
Here's a picture of both saddles.  Notice how the old saddle has pronounced dents in it where my sit bones used to go.  It will take a few hundred miles to get those on the new saddle.  Think of them like the pocket on a baseball glove; the glove still works without a pocket but once the pocket is formed it becomes and extension of your body. That's how dents in a leather saddle work.

One of the ironies of this whole leather saddle thing is that I, and pretty much everyone in my family tree, have a bony butt. I am forever having slacks taken in in the seat. Comfort on a saddle is not about how much padding you have on your anatomy, it's about supporting your sit bones. Leather saddles are superb at this.  

I am eager to see how this new saddle works when I switch to Little Nellie for commuting next week. (Big Nellie is about to celebrate a big milestone. She'll get a new seat, too, but it will cost over $350.  Such is the price of recumbency,)

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