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Review – Brooks Cambium C17 Saddle

What would you call someone who put a brand new Brooks saddle on their bike and then went for a 100 km ride? If you’re familiar with Brooks saddles you’d probably call that person mad, or you’d at least assume they got off on a bit of pain. But that’s exactly what I did with a new Brooks Cambium C17 saddle, and I’m neither mad (as far as I know), nor enjoy pain. Not only was I able to walk comfortably afterwards, I did it again less than a week later, and then doubled the distance and did it again. I’m still walking tall, and the Cambium is as comfortable as it was on the first ride.

My radar locked on the Brooks Cambium when it was first released by Brooks; it was the biggest deviation from the tried and trusted Brooks recipe in the almost 150 year history of the company. Brooks began making leather goods in 1866, but the Cambium is not leather, and that’s what got my attention. I’m a vegan, and I’ve been looking for a good non-leather saddle since I started riding. There are a few around, but closing in on the right saddle can be an expensive business; purchase, try, re-sell, buy another one. When you find one that suits your sit bones, you stick with it, and I know the Brooks saddles suit my bones.

I have a classic leather Brooks B17 saddle on my touring bike (even though I’m vegan) because it came with my retro Reynolds steel British touring bike. It matches and supports a Carradice saddle bag and the whole setup is so British I can’t drink stop for coffee on a ride, I have to have tea instead. That aside, the Brooks B17 on that bike was wonderfully comfortable and, since it had been previously broken in, it only took a few shortish rides to get it right for me. In fact, I liked the saddle so much for long rides that I transferred it to my retro steel commuter as well. I knew I’d gone too far, however, when I put it on a carbon fiber road bike I have for review; chunky leather saddles and sleek carbon fiber simply don’t look good together.

Brooks Cambium Saddle Packaging

Enter the Brooks Cambium. I could have replaced the B17 with one of the sleeker Brooks leather models, like the Swift or the Swallow, but the Cambium has the sleekest look of all of the Brooks saddles. The Cambium is made from a thick rubber, vulcanised in Italy, and laid onto a pretty standard Brooks style frame. The top surface, the part you sit on, of the Cambium saddle has a layer of fabric embedded in it which gives the Cambium its colour. There is absolutely no leather in the saddle at all, so the vegan police won’t be after me, and it still looks and feels like a Brooks.

Brooks Cambium Saddle Wear In Tools

I think the best way to describe the Cambium is to point out how it differs from the regular leather Brooks saddles:

It’s waterproof – I’ve always been paranoid riding my leather saddle in the rain and I have to keep proofiding the top and bottom to protect it from rain coming down, and splash back coming up (yes, my touring bike has mud-guards, but some of the other bikes I used the B17 on don’t). The Cambium never needs maintenance (beyond a wipe down).

It doesn’t need tensioning – I have never tensioned my leather B17, but I have the little spanner for it and I know where the adjusting nut is. The Cambium doesn’t have the tensioning nut and screw mechanism. As mentioned above, the Cambium never needs maintenance.

It doesn’t need breaking in – This will be big news for Brooks devotees. You can put this on your bike and it feels like you’re riding a broken in Brooks. You don’t need to beat it, massage oil into it, or soak it in anything. Straight out of the box, on to the bike, no dramas.

The Cambium C17 has the same general shape as the Brooks classic B17, but where it very obviously differs is that the Cambium lacks the “skirting” that the B17 has, the flaps of leather on either side of the saddle that provides the saddle’s structure. These side flaps are often laced and tied by Brooks saddle obsessives which keeps the flaps from rubbing the rider’s legs and provides more support across the saddle. The Cambium has that support naturally in it and it is much sleeker, and lighter (by about 20%) as a result.Classic Brooks Saddle
Brooks Cambium Leather Vegan Saddle
Brooks Cambium Vulcanised Rubber

The two big questions that need to be asked about any saddle are: Is it comfortable? and Does it look good? I’m not a big believer in the second question, but after running the B17 on the carbon fiber road bike, well….it’s just plain ugly on that bike, but let’s deal with the first question first. If you read the introduction to this article you’ll see that I have done some solid long distance riding on this saddle. Yes, it’s comfortable. It’s stiff enough to enable you to lay the power down when you need it, but it has enough flex that it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting on a brick. The closest saddle I’ve felt to the Cambium is actually a carbon saddle I tried out because I had never ridden a carbon one before. It’s not as racy as the carbon one, but the stiffness and flex feel similar, as far as my butt could tell.

As for the looks, it looks like a normal modern bike saddle from the side. The C17 is a little bit wider in the rear, and it has the classic Brooks styling when looking from above with respect to the shape and the rivets. The fabric top is a very novel concept and not something I can compare to other saddle, since I’m not aware of any other saddles with this type of top. This gives Brooks some interesting avenues to explore, which I’ll go into later.

The saddle I had for this review had the “natural” fabric. The natural fabric saddle shown here has a killer look when combined with my forest green steel Paconi and would be nicely rounded off with some colour matched bar tape. As soon as I had this thought, lo and behold, my email inbox received a Brooks newsletter announcing Cambium bar tape! It only makes sense, doesn’t it? The combination would make any bike look good, even a carbon fiber one.

What Brooks have done with the fabric top since the Cambium was first released is wonderful. The first run of the Cambium was, I think, a bit of an experiment to see if the biggest ever deviation in the company’s product line would actually work. The first run, with only a few muted fabrics, was snapped up. Now you can get Cambium saddles in a range of colours, and they are even doing limited edition ones made from Levi’s 501 denim and other fabrics. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually launch a choose-your-own fabric saddle and you can match your saddle to your favourite lounge chair or bed spread…or maybe not.

The move from leather to rubber works. The Cambium is still a Brooks in terms of comfort and quality, but it doesn’t have the “faults” that a leather saddle does. It suits modern and retro bikes, and modern and retro backsides. The Cambium range is growing and, while the leather models will never disappear, the rubber ones are here to stay. The Cambium range includes the C15 (based on the B15), as well as women’s models and cut out models. They are available in a range of standard coloured tops and some limited edition ones as well.

If you’re a Brooks convert, you should check the Cambium out before you buy another leather one. If you’ve been avoiding Brooks because of the hassle, there’s no excuse now. All of the benefits, none of the problems. The Cambium is a winner.

Cambium C17 saddles are distributed by Monza Imports and available from bike shops across in Australia with a RRP of $189.95. The the new C17 carved, with cut-out in the middle for perennial relief, retails for $199.95

David Halfpenny
David Halfpenny
rides whenever and wherever he can; in good weather and bad, in sickness and in health...and mostly off the back of the peloton.
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