You’re running late for that first meeting of the day and you are in an Uber stuck in traffic on the North side of Chelsea Bridge. The one thing that seems to be moving, apart from your blood pressure, is the myriad of cyclists, fearless when they hurtle through the hatched section without a clear view of their exit.
You notice that it does’t matter if they are a plump matronly blue-stocking with a paisley skirt, a City-type in lycra on a fixed gear with coloured tyre walls or a sensible blond PA in a Levi’s jacket on powder-blue Brompton, they all have their backsides lodged into the comfort of an iconic Brooks bicycle saddle.
J.B. Brooks & Co has been saddles in the Birmingham area since 1866 with their first cycle saddle patent being filed in 1882. Legend has it that following the death of his horse, founder, John Boultbee Brooks, an experienced saddler – who arrived in Birmingham in 1866 with £20.00 in his pocket! – attempted to get to grips with the newly popular bicycle but found the wooden seat too uncomfortable. The result was that he set about developing his own.
Two massive leaps in the history of cycling took place in 1888 when Brooks first launched an early version of the iconic Brooks B17 saddle (as in our featured image) and, in Dublin, Dr John Boyd Dunlop developed the pneumatic tyre. In 1903 Le Tour de France was launched by the French sports newspaper L’Auto and Brooks saddles were seen on the bicycles of many competitors.
A Brooks leather saddles comprise a 4 mm thick leather top stretched between a metal “cantle plate” at the rear and a nose piece, to which it is attached by, as in our featured image’s case, copper rivets. Using a threaded bolt, the nose piece can be moved forward independently of the rails, giving the leather added tension in order to suit the rider’s comfort. Over several miles/months of wear the rider tends to find that the leather moulds itself to the rider with “dimples” appearing where the “sit bones” tend to rest.
As Brooks leather saddles are porous they make a special dressing called “Proofide” which may be applied occasionally to give the saddle some protection against water. It may also be used to make the leather more supple and more easily adopt the rider’s shape.
In 1952, Boultbee Brooks, J.B. Brook’s eldest child, who’d been Chairman for over thirty years since his father’s death in 1921, also died. In the late 1950’s the family sold J.B Brooks & Co to the Raleigh Bicycle Company; but it collapsed.
In 1999 Brooks was purchased by investors, John Godfrey McNaughton – a former director of Raleigh International – and Adrien Williams – a passionate advocate for British-made bicycles, who was later to acquire a majority stake in Pashley Cycles who supply their bespoke cycles with Brooks saddles. Messrs. McNaughton and Williams, in 2002, sold Brooks to Italian saddle maker Selle Royal.