The care and feeding of leather saddles

by Raymond Parker on April 9, 2012

in Cycling, Technical

(Click to enlarge)

Oogle the bikes at any long-distance cycling event and you’ll notice how many sport leather saddles. Brooks England will probably be the most common, followed by Selle Anatomica and other hide hammocks.

Saddle choice is a personal matter, so it’s a good thing there are plenty of choices available. I’m not going to point anyone in any specific direction with this article; only by testing will you find what saddle suits your particular anatomy.

The great thing about slung-leather saddles is that they will conform over time to your shape “like a glove.” But in order to maintain comfort and extend their life–which can be measured in decades–regular care and maintenance is required.

The time, tools and supplies required to take care of a leather saddle are not many, but they are critical. Think of these investments as you would if caring for a fine pair of Italian leather shoes. You wouldn’t neglect a $500 pair of Damiani’s would you?

Img description

Saddle Care Kit


  • I usually start by treating a new saddle—top and bottom—with Brooks Proofide. Apply in a warm room and buff topside with a soft, clean rag. Finish with brush.
  • Go for a ride.
  • I do not recommend neatsfoot oil or other leather softeners. These will shorten the life of a saddle

During Rides

  • Protect from heavy rain with a saddle “cap.” You can make one from coated nylon, use a shower cap or plastic bag, or buy a proprietary unit from Brooks.
  • Avoid leaning your bike/saddle against abrasive surfaces


  • Occasionally re-treat with Proofide.
  • You may want to clean the saddle. In this case, I recommend “saddle soap” formulated for the job (see illustration above).
  • If the leather begins to sag, use appropriate spanner to prudently tighten the leather on the frame. Do not over-tighten.
  • Rarely, you may want to put some colour back into your saddle. In this case “Kiwi” shoe polish, available in many shades, works well. (White shorts are not a good choice after this procedure).
Img description

Brooks Saddle Spanner

That’s really all there is to it; take care of these basics and your saddles may last longer than you. With that in mind, I’m going to smear my old hide in Proofide.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Vik April 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Just a note that the Selle Anatomica waterproof leather saddles don’t need any treatment nor do any SA saddles require any break in.

Nice features if you need to install a new one before an event!


safe riding,



Raymond Parker April 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I know that Selle Anatomica claim their saddles are water resistant, but they usually require re-treating with waterproofing after time.

I haven’t ridden the product myself, but have sold enough and ridden with people who have given me feedback–the worst of which was a fellow rando who had his disintegrate in the rain half way through PBP. Amazingly, he finished, riding with the seatpost in places it was never designed to contact.

Evidently, the Titanico X goes some way to remedy this issue.

I’d say you’re OK to install an untested saddle on a short event (a populaire, say), but not on a longer one. That could get nasty 🙂


Vik April 14, 2012 at 8:10 am

My oldest SA [I’ve got 3] is going on 4yrs with no treatment and it’s on my MTB so it gets abused more than a road saddle.

My point about riding an event with a new saddle was referring to the situation where you have an equipment failure close to a big event. There would be no time to break in a Brooks, but you could put a new SA on your bike and be just fine.

safe riding,



Raymond Parker April 14, 2012 at 9:32 am

I see your point, but as I said above, saddles, more than gearing, are a personal thing. I might try a SA saddle one of these days, but I’ve never been uncomfortable on my Brooks, even right out of the box.

Mind you, I’ve ridden my longest brevets on a firm, narrow Selle Italia Gel Flow (with perineum cutout).

In my experience, people either love or hate both Brooks and Selle Anatomica. The virtues of SA you praise–it’s softness and flexibility–are mentioned negatively by riders who prefer a firm fulcrum. Some people, women in particular, experience pinching from the cut-out which opens and closes with pedalling motion. Sagging is reported more often than with Brooks.

No saddle is perfect on long brevets … or the saddle might be tested, but your chamois misbehaved. I nearly ruined years of preparation for Paris-Brest-Paris, by trying out a Terry saddle on an 80 km ride, weeks before. It pinched a nerve. Hence my warning about trying untested gear on, or close to the date of, big events.


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