Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: Brooks B17 S Imperial

I swung by the Two Wheel Transit anniversary sale last month and totally caved when I saw the Brooks saddles on sale for 50% off. I had been wanting one for months and I figured I would be hard pressed to find them on such an amazing sale ever again.

My current saddle was a Forte Contour saddle with cutout that I'd picked up for $10 off of Craigslist. I loved that saddle; it was comfortable, but best of all, it had a huge cutout that took the pressure off of my tender soft tissues and allowed me to ride in jeans without having that huge crotch-seam getting shoved into the sensitive bits. So, when I saw the B17 Imperial sitting there, on sale, in a woman's size, my eyes grew wider and took on a heart shape, just like in a cartoon.


I was so excited to take this saddle home and put it on my bike. After loading up with proofide and a rain cover, I tucked this beauty into my panniers and took it home to mount.

The next day, on my ride in to work, I gave the saddle its first test ride. Despite the fact that it was brand new and therefore needed to be broken in, it was quite comfortable. I was glad I had picked up the "S" version, which is wider in the sit-bone area, because I could tell I needed that extra width. The fit was just perfect in that respect.

Unfortunately, the cutout was not so fantastic. I had ridden on a regular B17 and just hated the way the neck of the saddle mashed up my soft tissues. I hopped off the saddle and gave it a bit of examination. Before purchasing it, I had noticed how far back the front of the cutout was and it was almost enough to make me put the saddle back on the shelf. However, my desire for a Brooks with a cutout was so great, I purchased it despite this fact. Unfortunately, my hesitation had been well placed, as I easily saw the reason for my discomfort was because the cutout was nowhere near where it needed to be.


Above you'll see the men's B17 Imperial on the left, and the women's "S" version on the right. As you may have already observed, the cutout has been moved toward the rear of the saddle on the "S" version -- not to mention it's a whole lot more narrow.

All I have to say is: WHY?

Why would someone think a woman's cutout needs to not only be made narrower, but be moved further back? I know Brooks had people test-ride their Imperial saddles, but did they not actually have any women test the "S" model? If anything, shouldn't the cutout be moved further forward?

Ok, ok, so I know everyone is shaped differently, but it still boggles my mind. I have more cushioning down there than a man, so the reason I would want a cutout is not for my perineum, but for the tender bits that reside much further forward than that. So, why on earth would Brooks decide to keep the cutout in the same position relative to the beginning of the neck of the saddle, rather than the part that really matters: the rear? We may never know.

In fact, I was so boggled that they had completely screwed up the positioning of the women's cutout that I contacted Brooks. A woman named Andrea promptly replied and asked if where I thought the cutout should be positioned and if I'd like them to custom cut one for me to test.

Well sure, I would love that! So I sat on my saddle and figured out that the entire cutout should be moved forward only half an inch, and then it should be fine. I sent this information back to Andrea three or four weeks ago, but never heard back and never received a custom saddle.

Oh well.

Instead, I took matters into my own hands. Twenty minutes and an xacto knife later, I found myself looking at a saddle with a much more comfortable cutout:


This modification caused me to realize the cutout should not simply be moved forward half an inch, but should be widened at the front. A woman really needs a bit more space up there than I'd imagine a man would. Now I have a saddle of greatness: the comfort of leather with the relief of a cutout -- a properly positioned cutout.

25 comments:

John Speare said...

Rachel - Great post. I'm so happy to have some bonified women-specific content up here.

Don't be surprised if the custom saddle shows up in still another few weeks. My guess is that it would come from UK.

Traditional Bike Club Curmudgeon said...

Taking a knife to a new Brooks takes... oh ... nevermind.

Hank said...

Reading this on Google Reader, I easily missed the author's name and assumed that since it was a gear review that John was writing it. Hence the double take when I got to the wide eyes over a woman's size saddle.

Great post, Rachel. And nice job solving the problem.

John Speare said...

Hank -- I've been wanting to add a author photo to the post title for some time now. Your comment pushed me to action.

Good god I can't believe how bad it looked. And that took me almost 2 hours to do! Awful! I'll keep working on it...

Rachel said...

Wow John, I see what you mean, it's all squashed horizontally. That's pretty special/awful.

Hank, Google reader does show the author of each post, right under the title.

Hank said...

Rachel,

I'm just saying it was easy to miss because the title began with "Review" and John has done almost all of the gear review posts.

John,

I thought my confused read was funny but didn't intend it to make a change. But an author photo is a good idea regardless.

Kim said...

I would have sent you an email about this, but I couldn't find an email address on the blog site...

This was very interesting to me as I'm currently trying to decide between a regular, sprung women's brooks saddle and one with the cutout.

your x-acto work looks impeccable. how did you get such clean cuts??

If I do decide to go with the saddle with the cutout, I would be interested in hearing more about how and where you made the cuts (e.g. did you just add more space at the front, or also in the back? hard to tell from the photos), but this might be better discussed over email... let me know if there's somewhere i can reach you.

Rachel said...

Hi Kim,

It was surprisingly easy to make the cuts. I wouldn't quite say it was like cutting butter, but it certainly wasn't difficult. It was probably similar to cutting through that thick poster board, with an x-acto knife.

I outlined one side where I wanted to cut with a crayon, and made the cut. Then I flipped the piece over onto the other side, outlined it, and then cut the other side. I cut conservatively and then sliced off thin, additional bits to get everything perfect. The curved end of the cut definitely took patience, and that's the smallest I could make the curve with the knife I had.

Having the saddle off and on the table helped. I just worked slowly and carefully. I did make one more modification later, to take off the little "wing" pieces in the middle of the cutout, as they were a bit pinchy. When I did that, I left the saddle on my bike, but it wasn't quite as easy to work with that way. If I had been doing anything more difficult, like the initial cuts, I would have had to take it off of the bike for certain.

I only added space in the front. I think the back goes back a little further than necessary. Honestly, the cut from the men's version would have been nearly perfect. Although I might still have hacked off those little wings behind the front part of the opening.
Overall, I extended the cutout about 1 inch up the neck of the saddle.

Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

thanks for all the info, rachel! i still haven't decided between a sprung saddle and a B17 S with a cutout. the springs are somehow very appealing to me, but brooks themselves does not recommend cutouts in sprung saddles. so it looks like it's one or the other. had you tried a brooks without a cutout before? my boyfriend did loan me a sprung (no cutout) brooks saddle for a half (metric) century ride we did last year, and i don't really remember any lady parts pain, but this may have been because i was so distracted by the wonderfulness of the lack of sit bone pain.

decisions, decisions...

Rachel said...

The only other Brooks saddle I had ever tried was a regular B17.

As mentioned in this post, I did have a Forte saddle with a cutout on my bike already, which was my first ever cutout saddle. I really liked it because I never had to worry about riding in jeans (with their massive seams).

I also use drop handlebars, so I am leaning forward more than on a bike with flat or moustache bars. I borrowed my husband's mountain bike yesterday, with no cutout (not a Brooks though), and had no problems except when I went over one bump that caught me by surprise. So, I think position makes quite a difference as well.


If you're riding upright, you may want to try for the springed saddle, as it sounds like you are leaning more toward that one. If it turns out you don't like it and think a cutout would serve you better, it would be easier to sell that still-intact saddle, than to start with the Imperial, modify the cutout, and then try to sell it.

Rachel said...

Kim, if you want to try a B67 honey, this guy is selling a lightly used one for $65 (if he still has it when you see this): http://groups.google.com/group/surlylht/browse_thread/thread/fcdb5077a14873d3

Kim said...

(sorry for the delay in my response...)
funnily enough, i too have been riding on a forte saddle with a cutout for a while now. it's alright, but it isn't leather! the only other saddle i have much experience with (besides that one long ride on my bf's brooks) is a horrible one i rode on a few times on a used bike i got last year--but its horribleness could not just be attributed to the lack of cutout alone, as it was also hard/unforgiving and too narrow for me.

that is a good point re: being able to sell an intact, sprung saddle rather rather than one with a (possibly modified) cutout. i actually have drop bars right now too, but my steer tube is pretty tall/i'm a little less bent over than some others with drop bars. i guess the idea of the cutout just makes me a little nervous with regards to messing with the inherent integrity of the leather, the cutout potentially making it weaker/saggier, etc. (i could just be making those issues up, though.)

Rachel said...

Yes, the cutout would make the leather weaker, which is why they lace up the wings on the Imperial saddles. With mine laced, it seems to do fine.

Effie said...

Hey Rachel, I just bought my own Imperial S, and have the exact same problem... just wondering how your modified saddle is after a bit of use? is it still holding up and are you still happy with the results? I'm debating taking the knife to it myself, but can't help wondering about the long-term impact of the extra cutting...

Thanks!

Rachel said...

I love the modified saddle! I did actually cut it a little bit more than the photos in this post show. If you look at those photos, there are a few bits of "wings" left on the cutout. All I did was cut those away so it's a nice, continuous cutout.

It holds up great. If you have the Imperial model, then it should have come with laces, which you'll definitely need. But with my laces in place, the saddle is holding up great and is comfortable for miles and miles.

My recommendation is to take the saddle off of the bike and set it on a table or workbench. Use a crayon or maybe a pencil to draw out where you want to cut on one side and carefully make the cut with something with a fine, sharp point like an xacto knife. Then take that piece and flip it over and trace along it on the other side so that you can make a nice symmetrical cutout. The xacto knife is nice because it's difficult to cut around that sharp curve at either end with a blade that's more than a few milometers wide.

Effie said...

Sweet, thanks for the reply:)

Jennifer McKay said...

So do you have an update on your use and experience with the seat? I'm in market for one myself:)

Campfire said...

That's really interesting, I have been thinking about one of these saddles but I wonder if they have made any modifications, I'm writing this in September 2012.

I hear people saying that their bottom is sore but I think they actually mean their sit bones. I have always had issues when cycling with my sensitive bits even with padded cycle shorts. I just don't understand why some women do and dont have problems. We are all made similar.

I have put a very old Wright's saddle on my very old road bike, to try a leather saddle once again (I was brought up on old Brooks saddles, non gender specific. I had a bit of soreness but I think I will try some other shorts next time.

Anonymous said...

I realize this review was done several years ago but I really appreciate a genuine review from a woman for a Brooks saddle. I've been struggling to find a saddle that will end the severe pain I'm getting in my left ischial area while riding. Last night I rented the new Brooks Cambium C17S. I thought it'd be worse than all the padded seats I've recently been using but there is miraculously no pain in the leg/lower butt area after two rides. Only problem is that it definitely crushes those crucial areas in the front and am hoping the latest cutout version of the C17S will be the answer.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Just reading the blog as I'm looking at buying the imperial s as i'm female. I was wondering why not just buy the mans imperial if the cut out is better as the width is about the same and it's just a bit longer? Tracey

Chelsea said...

It takes overies, Sir. Ovaries that push out entire babies.

Chelsea said...
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Chelsea said...

I'm also thinking that! My local bike shop has the unisex model in stock and he recommended that I try it out. He said he only recommends the women's model for shorter women (5" 4 or under) and I'm 5"7.5 so I might just buy it from them if it's comfortable.

Chelsea said...

I'm also thinking that! My local bike shop has the unisex model in stock and he recommended that I try it out. He said he only recommends the women's model for shorter women (5" 4 or under) and I'm 5"7.5 so I might just buy it from them if it's comfortable.