Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Lovely Saddle

On a recent transportation ride on a cold December morning, I was attempting to remove my bicycle from its locked position. I tend to forget that cable locks aren't the greatest invention when temperatures drop well below the freezing point (though I am grateful to live in a fairly safe-for-locking-up-bikes community that allows me to often use a cable rather than a heftier option).

As I was fiddling and fussing, I was interrupted by a woman passing by.

"You're a brave soul to be out on a bicycle in this weather," she began.

I couldn't help but look up to the sky with the bright shining sun and cloud-free skies. Yes, it was cold (very cold, actually), but it was a beautifully bright day. I resisted the urge to inform her that there was little I would count as brave about my transportation choice, and instead replied with a smile, "Well, it's much warmer now than when I left home!" Which was the truth as it had warmed more than 15 degrees since my departure.

The woman continued, "That's such a lovely saddle you have," as she bent toward the bicycle and gently caressed the leather as if it was made of delicate porcelain. "Really, it's quite beautiful," she stated again, slowly, as she walked to the front door of the building, still staring, as if in a trance, at my bike.

It sounds creepier in the re-telling than it was in the moment. It was one of those quick instances in life that I would normally pass over without giving it much thought, but on my ride home all I could think about was the woman's comment regarding the looks of the bicycle saddle.

In truth, I don't think about the looks of my saddles much these days, but rather just have a go-to option in mind. That wasn't always the case and initially when I first started using Brooks saddles, there was definitely a part of the decision that was based on looks. Today, when first building a bicycle, I may think about color choice (if I have to purchase a new saddle, rather than using one already owned), but that is about the extent of my thought on such matters. I have found a model that seems to work well for me on just about any bike, so I don't have to put thought into what will be appropriate when another build arises.
This particular saddle photographed right after mounting for the first time. I was enraptured by the light color of this Brooks early on.
Perhaps there was a time when I obsessed over the looks of a saddle, or, for instance, when I first came across etched or carved leather saddles that I may have thought briefly about spending more on such an item simply because it was pretty, but over the years, I have learned that looks are not everything and if a saddle is uncomfortable, it can and most likely will make my riding experience - short or long - absolutely miserable!

Additionally, it took some time to figure out what type of saddle worked for me. I tried many synthetic options initially, but could never quite find comfort. Even different models of leather weren't to my liking. It wasn't so much that I chose a leather saddle because of its good-looks-factor (though, I do agree that I prefer the leather look over a plastic or rubberized choice), but rather that it just worked for my comfort.

When I arrived home from my ride on this day, I dismounted and studied the saddle, tilting and twisting my head from side to side like a puppy just hearing a new, high-pitched sound for the first time. The saddle had definitely aged since purchasing it more than five years prior. It has seen time on too many bikes as well, and I could easily see that it had changed quite a bit over the years. Though no one else would likely make this sort of assessment. There are some splotches from darker colored clothing, blemishes that have become more pronounced, and goodness knows I'm not great about re-applying proofide to the poor thing. I simply use - and unfortunately, sometimes abuse - this component.

As is true of many things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder though. Time has caused me to take for granted the saddle that allows me to ride in comfort and I no longer look at it seeing it as something pretty to look at, but rather as a functional piece that permits me longer stints on my bike in greater comfort. After all, it does have a purpose. But, somewhere along the line, I lost the desire to look at this item as pretty, and instead view it as practical.
The same saddle today has achieved a used-patina, but I can see (when I pay attention) that it is still lovely.
Still, having someone admire the saddle purely based on its looks caused me to take notice of it as I had once upon a time, through the eyes of someone judging purely on aesthetics and not at all on its functionality. There could be no denying that the leather has aged, but even that has brought about its own beauty. It's always a fantastic moment when the two worlds can collide though, and form and function are both well suited to the rider.

I took these words, this moment in time to appreciate not only the saddle, but the entire bicycle and the others in the fold as well. It's far too easy to take a bicycle for granted and I can often forget that the bicycle is not only functional, but something delightful to behold as well.


  1. The Brooks saddles are very good looking. I have one on my Omafiets. It took forever to break in, but now that it has, it is very comfortable. But I have to say, that I do not find it more comfortable than the vinyl saddles I usually ride. And for longer rides, I definitely like the cutouts on those saddles. Right now I use a Terry Liberator X Gel saddle on my Bianchi Volpe. It's not a gorgeous item, but it works beautifully. On the other hand, there's no way Sassy would look right with a vinyl saddle. I'm confident she'd throw me off in protest!

    1. I would agree with you that there are some bicycles that simply look "right" with a leather saddle and even those bicycles that seem more appropriate with a vinyl or other saddle.

      I think that is what is nice about having variety though - we can all find the type and/or material that works best for us. When I tried a few different Terry saddles, I just couldn't seem to find one that worked for me, but I know several people who just love them. For practical purposes, I think non-leather saddles are really more functional when riding in weather (specifically rain or snow). Oh, I can put a cover on a leather saddle, but it's nice when we can just set it and forget it.


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