Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brooks Cambium C17 Saddle: The Other New Baby from England

When Brooks announced that 100 lucky cyclist would get to be "beta testers" for their Cambium C17 saddle, I was one of the thousands who clambered to the Brooks website and promptly crashed their server. Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for the test program, but since I signed up for the test program, I was able to get a Cambium at a discount when it finally became available for purchase about a month ago. And after weeks of waiting, I came home this evening to find a promisingly sized box with a familiar logo on my front porch.

I have to say, the packaging was pretty fancy for a stodgy old company like Brooks. The box unfolded like a marketing brochure with every panel assuring me that this saddle was not my father's Brooks.

They even provided a definition of "Cambium" to clear up any possible confusion about the name.


(kăm'bē-əm), NOUN, Botany

1. layer of actively dividing cells between xylem (wood) and phloem (bast) tissues that is responsible for the secondary growth of plants.

2. layer of meristematic plant tissue that produces new bark and wood cells, causing the stem or trunk to grow in diameter and forming the annual ring in trees.

That clears up a lot. I always wondered what that was between xylem and phloem.

After unfolding a dizzying number of flaps, eventually I found a very tweedy looking Brooks saddle.

Indeed, the Cambium doesn't look much like traditional Brooks saddles. The top is made of vulcanized rubber bonded to organic cotton.

Since I ordered my Cambium as soon as they came available, mine is part of a limited edition of 1,200 saddles. The limited edition saddles include a series number etched in the front rivet. That's kinda cool, isn't is?

Mine is number 048. Could come in handy if it ever gets stolen and then later turns up on Craigslist, I suppose.

One of the back rivets is etched with the model number. I'm not sure if that's just the limited edition or if they all have that.

The shape is quite different than other Brooks saddles, with a flatter profile from end to end and a fairly rounded profile from side to side. At first glance it looks a lot more like a Selle San Marco Regal than a Brooks B17.

I should appologize for this next photo as it looks a little like something Anthony "Carlos Danger" Weiner would tweet to his friends.

Here it is next to my old beat up B17.

As you can see the size is pretty similar. The B17 is longer, but most of that is because I've stretched it out about an inch from its original length by turning the tensioning screw.

The underside of the C17 is really quite elegant compared to the old B17.

As you can see, the usable part of the rails is much longer than on the B17, so it should be easier to get the saddle into the right fore/aft position without having to resort to seatposts with lots of setback.

Here it is next to my Selle San Marco Regal.

The C17 is a bit wider, but about the same length, and the shape is similar. The Regal is probably my all time favorite non-Brooks saddle, so if the C17 feels a bit like a cross between a Regal and a traditional Brooks saddle, that just might be the saddle of my dreams.

I mounted the Cambium on a bike and went out for a quick spin around the neighborhood this evening. I really don't think any meaningful opinions can be formed about a saddle after sitting on it for a few minutes, so I'll just say that there were no unpleasant surprises.

In my few short years of being a semi-serious cyclist, one of the issues I've struggled with on and off is finding a saddle that's comfortable beyond 300 km. The Brooks Cambium looks promising, but it will probably be a while before I'll know how it works for me in the long run.

Update 29 September 2013: After putting some miles on the C17 I wrote a more complete review here.


  1. Have you formed an opinion on the C17 saddle?

    1. So far my longest ride on it has been about 50 miles. It was comfortable and felt a lot like a B17. I've also used it on quite a few short rides of 25 miles or less. All signs point to the C17 being a comfortable saddle for long distance riding. However for me, just about any saddle is comfortable for rides of up to 50 - 60 miles, so I'll have to use it on a 200km ride before I post a more complete review.

  2. do you know when they will be available to buy? Im planning on going to NY this october on bike (1k miles) hoping i can get this before i go.

    1. They're currently available online but it may be some time before it arrives - maybe even a few months?

  3. I received this saddle from my bike shop to test drive it for a week. Here's a couple of thoughts that I have formed after some short commutes to work:

    1) the saddle is not that comfortable. It's ok if you take care not to sit too far back. If you do though, you sit on the much too big "rivets". That quickly starts to hurt.

    2) Rain is a problem for this Brooks saddle, too! I left my bike outside today and it was raining a bit. The saddle was completely soaked, you cannot even wipe it dry. The video on the Brooks website that shows how waterproof it is, must be a fake. In the real world the saddle is more like a sponge. Rain might not damage this saddle as it does with leather saddles, but this is not an alternative.

    The Cambium looks good but with those flaws and at such a high price - I doubt that Brooks will sell many Cambiums.

    1. Interesting. Since I posted this I've ridden my C17 a few hundred miles and I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that it's the most comfortable Brooks saddle I've ever owned. I still haven't done a long ride on it, but on rides of up to 80 miles or so, the saddle has disappeared beneath me (a good thing).

      Obviously saddle preference is a very personal thing. As I've said before, butts are like snowflakes. Each one is unique.

      I've ridden my Cambium in rain, but I rarely leave my bike parked in the rain. I can imagine that the C17 would absorb water and wouldn't be easy to dry off. It has that layer of cotton on top after all. That hasn't been an issue for me, but that might be a problem if you frequently leave your bike parked outside.

      The good news is that getting the saddle wet seems to have no impact on its shape or structural integrity like it sometimes does with a leather saddle.