Why Your Cycling Butt Will Love A Brooks Saddle

A gorgeous slab of leather that molds itself to your rear end

Clive Thompson
6 min readMay 29

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When I decided to cycle 3,600 miles across the country, I had to get very serious about my butt.

I’d done long-ish tours before — cycling up to 450 miles in a few days. And I learned the agonizing lesson that all nascent long-distance cyclists learn: Any part of your body that touches the bike is a potential vector for pain. That includes your hands (mine get numb without precautions), and your feet.

But most particularly, your butt.

When my son and I rode up to Montreal last summer, I used my inexpensive Cannondale hybrid bike, which has a basic padded synthetic saddle. (BTW, bike experts usually call the seat a “saddle”, harkening back to the period in the 19th century when a bicycle was a high-tech replacement for a horse. Trivia!)

Anyway, the thing about synthetic padded saddles is that they’re very comfy for a short ride around town. The cushioning feels great when you first sit down.

But if you pedal for a long time — and when I’m touring, I might be cycling for seven or eight solid hours every day — cushioned seats transform in a dreadful, eldritch fashion. Cushioning is pliable, so it grabs at your skin (or the fabric of your pants or shorts). A few hours of that and the chafing becomes excrutiating. When you attempt to mount your bike the next day, your butt utterly revolts.

So when I decided to cross the country, I asked bike pros: What saddle I should get?

They all said the same thing:

Get a Brooks.

Brooks is a British company that’s been making bike saddles since the 19th century. Legend has it that an early Brooks founder disliked the wooden seats available back then, so he stretched leather over a metal frame and voila — he created the design that is, more or less, what Brooks makes today. It’s just a big ol’ piece of handcrafted leather.

At first, I was dubious. When I first sat on a Brooks saddle, it was a) as a stiff as a board, and b) weirdly slippery. It felt like I was always sliding forwards, a terrible feeling when you’re trying to pedal.

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net