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Archive | Saddles

How durable are leather saddles?

How durable are leather saddles? It’s a question we often get with respect to the Berthoud saddles we distribute in North America. Especially now that it’s winter here, and often raining. Will a leather saddle be ruined if it’s ridden in the rain?

The answer is a reassuring ‘No.’ There is only one thing to consider: The underside of the saddle should be protected. If the leather gets completely soaked, the saddle top will lose its shape. Continue Reading →

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Contact Points Matter: Saddles

When I built my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris, I was reminded of professional racers in the old days, who brought their favorite saddle and handlebars to the builder of their new bike. I’ve talked about handlebars here; today, I’ll cover saddles as the second contact point between us and our bikes.

For my new bike, I did what the pros used to do: I installed my favorite saddle, which has moved from one Bicycle Quarterly test bike to the next. It’s well-worn, which is why it is so comfortable: I had no saddle issues during the 56:35 hours of Paris-Brest-Paris.

Leather saddles change their shape over time: They conform to your anatomy as you ride. In my case, two dimples form where my sitbones go (above). Plastic saddles don’t have these indentations (or whatever your anatomy requires), so they use foam that temporarily conforms to your body’s shape. But the foam always pushes back, which creates pressure points that can cause pain, abrasions and saddle sores.

If you ride super-fast and only for relatively short periods, you barely touch your saddle, and most saddles will work fine. Once distances get longer, even the fastest racers care about their saddles. Ted King has been riding a Berthoud saddle in events like the 200-mile Dirty Kanza (above). He called it the “most comfortable saddle I’ve ever ridden.”

We started importing Berthoud saddles because we agree with Ted: Even among leather saddles, the Berthouds stand out for their comfort and quality. Not only is the leather absolutely top-notch, but the composite frame flexes a little, which improves the comfort further. (The metal frames of traditional leather saddles are unyielding and stiff.)

Berthoud saddles are available with a choice of stainless steel or titanium rails. The ti rails don’t just save weight: They are more flexible, making the saddles even more comfortable. Choosing your saddle is only partially about your body shape. More important is your riding style: When you pedal hard and your back is inclined at a low angle, you hardly touch the saddle, and you need a narrow saddle that fits between your legs. If you are riding longer distances and sit more upright, you put more weight on your sitbones, and you need a (slightly) wider saddle.

New in the Rene Herse program is the Soulor (above), which combines the minimalist, narrow shape of the superlight Galibier with more affordable stainless steel rails. Both the Soulor and the Galibier are a great choice for spirited riding. I’ve used the Galibier on a number of BQ test bikes, as well as the Concours de Machines J. P. Weigle.

For long rides, I prefer the Aravis (titanium rails) and Aspin (stainless), which have a slightly wider back and taller flanks that hold their shape a little better. That is the saddle I use on my new bike: Being comfortable is key for putting out power and riding fast.

The Agnel (titanium) and Marie-Blanque (stainless) are women’s saddles with shorter noses. However, some women prefer the standard Aravis/Aspin, since their longer rails offer better shock absorption. (The shorter nose of women’s saddles apparently was introduced to allow riding in skirts…)

Berthoud’s ‘Open’ models have a cutout that relieves pressure. For riders who suffer from saddle problems in this area, the ‘Open’ saddles are a great choice. (For me, both styles work equally well.)

Many customers ask how long it takes to break in a Berthoud saddle. This depends mostly on how old the leather is. If the saddle was made years ago and has been lying in a warehouse ever since, the leather will have dried out, and the break-in period will be much longer. When you hear stories of leather saddles taking forever to break in, they usually came from such old stocks.

We order our Berthoud saddles in small batches, so you are certain to get a fresh saddle. In my experience, it takes 150-200 miles (240-320 km) for a standard Berthoud saddle to become comfortable. The saddle will continue to improve over the following 500 or so miles (800 km). At that point, its condition will stabilize, and it will last many years. The ‘Open’ saddles are more flexible and break in more quickly.

Don’t try to speed the break-in period by applying neatsfoot oil or other products that soften the leather by breaking down its fibers.

If you want to soften the leather a bit, you can apply Obenauf’s leather preservative (above), which uses beeswax and natural propolis to soften the leather without damaging its fibers. Obenauf’s also great for keeping your leather saddle in perfect shape for many years.

How long does a Berthoud saddle last? I am still riding one of the prototype saddles that Berthoud made in 2007. It’s on my Urban Bike (above) that sees year-round use in rainy Seattle. The saddle on my new Herse has been through many adventures, too, yet it was supremely comfortable during the 1200 km (765 miles) of last month’s Paris-Brest-Paris.

And if your saddle does wear out eventually, it’s easy to replace the leather top. We have all replacement tops in stock, and you just need a Torx wrench to take off the old top and install a new one. All other spare parts are available as well, so your Berthoud saddle is fully rebuildable.

But really, you have to ride a Berthoud saddle to understand why we like them so much!

Click here for more information about Berthoud saddles.

Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photo 2), Nicholas Joly (Photos 8, 13).

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Which Gilles Berthoud Saddle is Best for Me?

Rene Herse Cycles is the exclusive North American distributor for Gilles Berthoud. We are especially excited about their saddles, which combine amazing comfort with modern design and superior durability.


All Berthoud saddle tops are cut in the grain direction of the leather, which means that they won’t sag or become lopsided. Unfortunately, most other saddle makers try instead to get as may saddles as possible out of each cowhide. That often turns into a false economy when the saddles wear out prematurely.


Berthoud forms their saddle tops in CNC-machined molds to create a very consistent quality. With consistent leather grain and shape, it’s not the luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a bad one – they all are excellent.


The undercarriages are made from composite, which is more durable than steel and better at absorbing shocks. It’s one of the key reasons why these saddles are so comfortable.


The saddles are assembled with custom bolts rather than rivets, so they are easy to rebuild. Each saddle’s serial number is engraved on the nose bolt. Berthoud saddles come in three shapes for different riding styles:

The Galibier is Berthoud’s lightest saddle, weighing just 346 g thanks to its minimalist shape and titanium rails. It’s a great saddle for riders with a low, performance-oriented position, who prefer a relatively narrow saddle. That said, the Galibier is still a bit wider than modern ‘racing’ saddles for long-distance comfort. The same shape is available with more economical steel rails as the Soulor model.

The Aspin and Aravis have slightly wider rears, making them perfect for a more relaxed riding position. The Aspin has steel rails, while the Aravis’s titanium rails save 50 grams. The ti rails also add comfort, because titanium is more flexible than steel.

The Marie-Blanque (steel) and Agnel (ti) are women’s saddles with shorter noses than the other models. The names of Berthoud saddles are taken from mountain passes: Saddles with steel rails are named after cols in the Pyrenees, while titanium-railed saddles carry the names of passes in the Alps.

All Berthoud saddles – except the superlight Galibier – are also available in ‘Open’ versions with a cutout to relieve pressure. I usually don’t like saddles with cutouts, because the edges tend to chafe. I was surprised when I tried the Berthoud Open saddle: The shape of this cutout disappeared completely, and the saddle was comfortable from the first ride. If you are concerned about pressure, this is probably the most comfortable saddle you’ll ever find.

Why isn’t the Galibier available with a cutout? Its minimalist shape simply doesn’t have enough leather to remove material from the center without losing its strength.

All Berthoud saddles – except, once again, the Galibier – can be equipped with a KlickFix attachment to easily mount saddlebags, whether Berthoud’s or those from other manufacturers. Two screws attach the KlickFix attaches to the saddle frame, and the bag just klicks into it. This provides a stable connection – the bag won’t sway or come off, even on the roughest terrain. Alternatively, for riders who prefer to carry a traditional British saddlebag, two saddlebag loops are integrated into the frame.

Berthoud saddles are totally serviceable. This means that you can change a worn-out top, or even change your saddle top from a ‘Standard’ to an ‘Open’ (or vice versa). If you want to save weight, you can replace steel rails with titanium. We keep all spare parts in stock.


With all these choices, plus four different colors (tan, brown, black and the cool ‘cork’), most riders will find their perfect saddle in the Berthoud program. Having ridden them all, it’s hard to pick a favorite, because they all work so well. Berthoud saddles really are a cut above the rest.

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Berthoud Open Saddles in Stock


We just received our first shipment of Gilles Berthoud “Open” saddles. In the past, I’ve tried many saddles with cutouts, but none were comfortable. While they relieved pressure in the center, the sharp edges of the opening were uncomfortable. So I was skeptical when I received a sample of the Gilles Berthoud Aspin Open.

I was surprised to find that I could not feel the edges of the cutout at all. As expected, there was less pressure in the center, but there also wasn’t a noticeable transition from the cutout to the leather. The curved shape of the hole and its beveled edges really worked to make a gradual transition.

Even after a long day in the saddle, the Aspin Open remained comfortable. In fact, I noticed that the cutout made the saddle a bit more flexible, and thus even more comfortable straight out of the box. As an added plus, the Open version is about 15 grams lighter…
On the downside, the more flexible leather top probably won’t have quite the amazing durability of the standard saddles. (My very first Berthoud saddle is still going strong after a decade of daily use.)

Underneath the leather top is Berthoud’s high-tech frame, made from a composite material that is stronger, lighter and more flexible than the steel traditionally used in this place. The saddles are available with stainless steel and titanium rails, in men’s and women’s models.

With all spare parts available from Compass, you can even convert a standard saddle to the Open version or vice versa, or replace stainless steel rails with titanium to lighten your saddle. These saddles rarely need service, but it’s good to know that all the parts are available.

With the Open version, one of the best saddles has become even more comfortable for riders who need to relieve pressure in the saddle area. And of course, the standard saddles remain an excellent choice for most riders.
Some may wonder why the superlight Galibier model isn’t available with the cutout. The reason is simple: With the cutaway sides, there simply isn’t enough leather to support the rider if the middle of the saddle is removed as well.
Click here for more information about Gilles Berthoud saddles in standard and Open versions. The Men’s versions are in stock now, the women’s saddles will follow this autumn.
 

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Berthoud Saddles and Spare Parts


Berthoud saddles are among the most comfortable in the world. What’s even better, they are fully and easily rebuildable. Every part for the saddles is available from Compass Cycles, and you can replace all parts using standard tools. Berthoud saddles are designed to be easy to work on, even though it is rarely necessary:  The 10-year-old prototype saddle I am using on my Urban Bike shows no sign of wearing out.
The most important spare parts are probably the leather tops (above). After a few decades of hard riding, you may need a new one. Or if you want to change the color of your saddle, it’s easy enough to do. Simply unbolt the top and install a new one.

All the other parts are available as well. If you want a lighter saddle, you can replace your stainless steel rails for titanium ones. A friend once lost one of the bolts on his Berthoud saddle – easy to fix. The front and rear frames have never broken before, but just in case your saddle is involved in an accident, we have the parts in stock. It’s all part of Compass’ commitment to customer service. And if you prefer to have your bike shop service your Berthoud saddle, we wholesale all these parts, too.

In addition to the spare parts, we now have Berthoud’s women’s models, the Marie-Blanque (stainless rails) and Agnel (titanium) in stock. The names are inspired by the high mountain passes where these saddles were developed: The stainless steel models take their names from the Pyrenees, while the titanium-railed saddles are named after passes in the Alps. The women’s models have shorter noses than the men’s saddles. On all Berthoud saddles, the extra “give” of the flexible underframes makes them more comfortable than leather saddles with metal frames.

Berthoud also makes leather handlebar tape, in colors matching those of the saddles (except the “cork” finish). It’s one of the best handlebar tapes you’ll find anywhere.

We enjoy working with Berthoud, because everybody there has many years of experience. Above you see company owner Philippe Marguet (left) and Vincent Crétin (right) examine the hides that will be turned into saddles. Before starting production a decade ago, Gilles Berthoud tracked down employees from the long-defunct French saddle maker Idéale to learn about the craft of making leather saddles.

The same applies to the bags and panniers. For the last 20 years, they all have been made by one woman: Véronique Durand. And she in turn was trained for three years by a seamstress from Sologne, the bag maker that pioneered these bags in the 1950s. All this experience shows in products that are among the best in the world.

Last summer, we cycled across beautiful backroads to Pont-de-Vaux in France, where Berthoud’s workshop is located. We spent a day learning how saddles, bags and other parts are made. We met the dedicated employees, and even had Véronique sign the panniers she made for me 17 years ago (below). We ate a great lunch at a traditional French brasserie and enjoyed a day filled with fun and laughter.

We reminisced about the story behind the bags on my bike: I had to wait six months for these panniers while Véronique was on maternity leave. Gilles Berthoud apologized at the time, but I was glad that she could spend time with her daughter. I think of that every time I use the panniers – and now they even have Véronique’s signature on them. I plan to use them at least for another 17 years!
It’s one of the many fascinating parts of the Gilles Berthoud story. For a detailed feature on the company, with many photos, check out the Summer 2017 Bicycle Quarterly.
To find out more about Gilles Berthoud products, click on the links below:

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