It wasn't that long ago that leather saddles were a hard-to-find item, limited to the bikes of a relatively few cognoscenti and to the ever-shrinking number of English bikes imported into the US. Plastic saddles--easier and cheaper to make and lacking the need to be "broken in" by the user--began overtaking leather saddles in the 1970s; eventually, a "quality" saddle had come to mean an a saddle that combined a plastic shell with a layer of foam and a thin leather or vinyl skin.
|Our test saddle|
Fast forward to the past ten years or so, and the growth in the custom bike industry, "country bikes," and randonneuring--all pursuits which place a premium not on weight or ease of care but on classic looks and comfort. Brooks of England, which had continued to carry the leather saddle flame almost singlehandedly during the lean years, was ready and willing to jump on these markets, and began ramping up production to meet the demands of the owners of these neo-classic bikes.
Brooks still has the lion's share of the leather saddle market, but a few competitors have stepped up in the past few years, offering saddles slightly different--softer, or cheaper, for instance--than those from the venerable English maker. A variety of brands, including Sella Anatomica, Griffin, and Velo Orange, are now available. Each has pluses and minuses, and each has its fans.
The newest entry in the leather saddle market is Rivet Saddles, which began shipping saddles earlier this year. We recently put a Rivet saddle on one of our bikes, and it's the subject of this road test.
Rivet saddles have the same basic design developed more than a century ago during the first golden age of cycling--a leather shell riveted to a steel (or titanium) frame. The comfort of the saddle comes more from padding, but from the ability of the leather shell and the frame to flex under the rider. Rivet saddles also share a design feature popularized in recent years by Sella Anatomica (used in various forms early in the 20th Century): a shaped slot in the middle of the saddle that adds slightly more flex.
Rivet saddles are made of a leather laminate that the manufacturer promises provides longer life and added resistance to stretching. The saddles come in two models--the Pearl (shaped generally like a Brooks B-17) and the Diablo (a little narrower, more like a Brooks Swallow). Both are available in Black, White, and Burgundy. Weights (for those who care ... you don't buy a leather saddle because it's light, after all) range from 600 grams for a steel-framed Pearl to 420 grams for a titanium-framed Diablo.
Cost is somewhat higher than a similar Brooks. The Pearl starts at about $150, with uncharges for titanium rails.
For this road test, we'll separate our impressions into Looks and Ride.
|Special rivets top off the saddle's looks|
Among the details: specially stamped rivets, and an engraved plate (also held in place with special rivets) that ties the two sides of the leather shell together under the frame. Both features speak to attention to detail lavished on these saddles.
On to the Ride ...
We've been using the Rivet saddle for several months, logging about 1000 miles on our fixed-gear Rivendell Quickbeam. We've ridden on cold days and hot, short rides and long (up to a 200K brevet).
Some reviewers have placed Rivet saddles squarely between Brooks (too hard) and Sella Anatomica (too soft). In my tests, I didn't find that to be entirely true.
My first ride on the Rivet saddle was 125 miles of fixed-gear riding that was more than 95% in the saddle. Based on that ride, I was not liking the Rivet saddle very much.
Compared to the Brooks B-17s that I use on most of my bikes, the Rivet felt much stiffer. I joked with Rivet founder/designer Deb Banks later that it felt like my butt spent the day trying to beat the saddle into submission (my butt lost). Maybe it's just familiarity with the saddle, but the B-17s I've mounted on other bikes in recent years have all felt more or less comfortable from Day One, and have grown in comfort as I've used them more. The Rivet saddle started uncomfortable, and pretty much stayed that way ... until I made a few changes.
Change #1 was to lower the saddle. I took a very well-used Brooks off the Quickbeam and put the Rivet saddle on. I should have checked the overall height of the seat--it turns out that the Rivet is about 1 cm taller. When I lowered the seatpost by that amount, many of my comfort issues went away. Problem #1 solved.
Change #2 was to reduce the tension of the leather top (Rivet includes the tools with the saddle). Even with the slot in the middle of the saddle, I found the Rivet uncomfortably stiff. Backing off a turn on so on the tension helped a lot.
With the saddle lowered and with less tension in the leather shell, our Rivet was much more comfortable ... although still not as immediately comfortable as a Brooks. Undaunted, we kept riding, and the saddle began to (slowly) break in. The thick, laminated leather has thus far only grudgingly started to conform to the shape of our sit-bones. This is clearly a saddle built for the long haul.
We've been impressed with the Rivet saddle in the several months we have been riding with it. It's a nice-looking saddle, well-made, and worthy of being used on any bike. It's also somewhat stiffer than the Brooks model it resembles (despite the slotted design), and some Brooks fans might find (as I did) that it takes some getting used to.