[CR] In Praise of Saddle-Soaking


Example: Humor

Date: Wed, 27 May 2009 18:57:28 -0700
From: Jerome & Elizabeth Moos <jerrymoos@sbcglobal.net>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
Subject: [CR] In Praise of Saddle-Soaking


We had a brief discussion recently on the subject or soaking leather saddles overnight or even a couple of days in a bucket of water to rejuvenate them. The idea of soaking a saddle in a bucket of water had always horrified me, as I suspect it does many on this side of the Atlantic, although Tony Colegrave, perhaps the most prominant CR expert on leather saddles, and Mike Barry, who grew up in UK and also knows a thing or two about the subject, both testified to doing this rather routinely.

Reassured by exchanges on and off list with Tony, I gave it a try. Initially I soaked the original B17 from my 1962 Schwinn Superior, with the cool older brass badge and the '62 stamp on the cantle plate. It was badly cracked and sagged, and I made matters worse with massive Proofhide application top and bottom before reading Tony's advice advising against using Proofhide on the underside. This made it impossibly soft and I feared it was ruined, so with nothing to lose I soaked it for a couple of days.

At the same time I soaked my very first Brooks saddle, a Professional, an original purchase upgrade on my circa 1973 LeJeune. It got an intense breakin on the 1974 Northeast Ohio Century, of which the first 50 miles were in heavy rain. It had been on several other bikes over the last 35 years, most recently my 1986 Peugeot PZ-10. It had become dry, somewhat cracked and sagged on one side, and I thought it had simply worn out. So again nothing to loose.

After a couple of days of soaking, I was astounded with the results. The Pro regained its shape and most small surface cracks were healed. It is now on the Romic tourer I'm commuting on this week, and it looks and feels fine. May not be good for another 35 years, but it will now probably far outlive me. With the B17, the cracked top layer mostly flaked off in soaking. I applied black shoe dye to the topside to restore the color and treated with Proofhide. Not exactly NOS, but the cool old badge and '62 stamp are desirable and it is back on the 1962 Superior and feels pretty good on test rides.

This emboldened me to soak several other saddle, all with great results:

A French "Club" brand saddle with badly spread side now has excellent shape again.

A Titanum frame Ideale 90 with a pronounced raised ridge down the center has had the ridge eliminated.

An Ideale model 59 with alloy frame, but with a lot of surface cracking and discoloration had the cracks mostly healed and discloration addressed with shoe dye. List member Dave Abraham very recently fetched $455 on eBay for a used and somewhat scuffed mod 59, which probably exceeded Dave's expectations, so rejuvenating my mod 59 was well worth the effort.

With these spectacular results, I even soaked two nearly new saddles, a Swift maybe 6 or 7 years old but with only perhaps 500 km of use and a Swallow that was NOS 400 km and a few months ago. Both had developed some lines and a slight sag to one side. Soaking corrected the shape of each, which they hopefully will now hold longer. I even soaked an NOS Ideale 87, which I will use to replace my 1973 Brooks Pro on the PZ-10, but which had been sitting in the parts bin and drying out for years and probably decades.

Currently soaking an old Brooks Pro, probably 60's or early 70's, that I long ago had given up for dead. But after two days in the bucket it looks pretty darned good. BTW I note that the older Brooks saddles and Ideale saddles, especially older models, seem to use thicker leather that takes longer to thoroughly wet.

I think all of this points out to me what Tony Colegrave and many other leather saddle experts in UK and elsewhere have long understood. Namely, that leather, unlike the modern plastic stuff, is an organic material, and that maintaining proper moisture is the key to performance. In a wet climate like England, this may occasionally require soaking used saddles, but in a desert climate like here in West Texas, one may have to soak saddles more often or even soak an NOS saddle that has sat for years in the parts bin.

Regards,

Jerry Moos
Big Spring, Texas, USA