Berthoud Saddles and Bags

Berthoud Saddles and Bags

theo_bikeWe’ve been fans of Gilles Berthoud saddles and bags for many years. Above is Theo’s bike with Berthoud GB28 bag and Aspin saddle. These parts have been incredibly durable: I still use the very first Berthoud handlebar bag that he bought 17 years ago, and the prototype Berthoud saddle on my Urban Bike is still going strong after a decade of hard use. There simply aren’t better-quality or higher-performance bags and saddles anywhere.
We’ve recently added Berthoud saddles to the Compass-exclusive bags we’ve been selling for years. Leather saddles have long offered the ultimate in comfort for long-distance cycling, because they shape themselves to your unique anatomy. Gilles Berthoud wasn’t satisfied with other leather saddles, because quality had declined over time. Most companies now try to get as many saddles as possible from each hide, without regard for irregularities and direction of grain. So, he decided to make his own saddles.
Berthoud saddles start with the best vegetable-tanned cow hides, which are dyed in-house. Each saddle top is then cut in the direction of the leather grain. While this results in fewer saddles from each hide, it ensures that the saddle doesn’t sag. The remnant leather is used to make fender washers and other small parts, so there isn’t any wasted material.
The leather is thick and initially firm, but Berthoud saddles are comfortable out of the box due to their excellent shape. Pre-softened to shorten the break-in, they will last many years with occasional treatment. (We recommend Obenauf’s leather treatment, which we now also carry.) Berthoud saddles rarely need tensioning, but when they do, all you need is a 5 mm allen key.
Gilles Berthoud’s saddles use thoroughly modern materials and construction methods, while maintaining the advantages of a tensioned leather saddle. The composite frame is stronger than steel and absorbs shocks better. Berthoud placed the bolts outside the sitting area, sparing your cycling clothes from snags and abrasion. We’ve been riding these saddles for years and appreciate their quality and re-buildable design – every part can be replaced.
Compass offers three models of Berthoud saddles: the Aspin, Aravis and Galibier. Each is available in tan, (dark) brown, black or Berthoud’s distinctive cork finish (below).
The Aspin (shown above) is a high-performance leather saddle with a medium width – designed for an intermediate riding position that most cyclists find comfortable over long distances. Named for the 1,489 m (4,885 ft) Col d’Aspin in the Pyrénées, the Aspin uses Stainless Steel rails for strength and affordability. The Aravis saddle, named for the 1,487 m (4,878 ft) Col des Aravis in the Alps, combines the same shape with ultralight titanium rails for lighter weight.
Berthoud’s lightest high-performance saddle combines a narrow shape with titanium rails for a weight of only 346 g. Named for the 2,645 m (8,677 ft) Col du Galibier in the Alps, this saddle is designed for spirited riding in a stretched-out position, yet features the same thick, luxurious leather upper as Berthoud’s other top-quality saddles.
Berthoud is best-known for their beautiful and functional bags. Handlebar bags place supplies within easy reach while riding, and keep your map, or cue sheet, in view. On a bike with suitable front-end geometry, they affect the handling less than a rear load.
In the early days of randonneuring, Sologne pioneered what we now consider the classic handlebar bag. When Sologne went out of business, Gilles Berthoud bought the patterns and know-how, so that these classic handlebar bags remain available today. With more than 50 years of experience, their bags are sewn in France from cotton and leather. While we love their classic appearance, we use Berthoud bags mostly for their superior performance: They are lighter and more waterproof than most “modern” bags.
Based on our decades of riding with Berthoud bags, Compass asked Berthoud to make small improvements to the “Compass-exclusive” bags: All our bags have shoulder straps, and we offer them also without side pockets for better aerodynamics and even-lower weight.
We also offer Berthoud’s panniers with classic leather straps and springs for an ultra-secure mounting that doesn’t rattle against your rack (above).
We sell these Berthoud products directly to our customers, and we now also wholesale them to bike shops who carry the Compass product line. If your local shop doesn’t have an account with us yet, please put them in touch.
For our complete line of Berthoud saddles and bags click here.

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Comments (29)

  • Keith Walker

    My Berthoud saddle is going on 7+ years in the wet Portland climate and holding up very well. Occasionally some of the allen bolts will back off, still looking for a thread locking solution since they thread into the composite frame. I might just purchase longer bolts and retain with nyloc nuts, but this won’t work in every location.
    I would encourage you to carry more French manufactured products like this and possibly some bespoke collaborations with TA Specialites. Their chain guards (F15 Flasque) in particular are so finely polished, the light is refracted off the surface when new. Too bad they are hard to get.

    March 2, 2017 at 2:05 am
    • Steve Palincsar

      I’ve got half a dozen of the Berthoud saddles, including a couple of very early ones made before they introduced the circular rail reinforcement. The screws on those two loosened. I tried blue Locktite on the screws and it worked for quite a few years, but early this year I lost one of the screws. I noticed the replacements came with what looked like blue thread locker already in the threads. None of the later production saddles that came with the circular rail reinforcement have shown the screw loosening problem, so perhaps the blue thread locker was a running change that I hope permanently fixed the problem.

      March 2, 2017 at 4:27 am
    • Matthew J

      Peter White is now the US (maybe North America?) distributor for TA products.
      His website offers the full F15 line.

      March 2, 2017 at 5:32 am
    • Gary Ferguson

      Try Vibra-Stop by Tectorius if you are looking for a thread locking solution for plastic.

      March 2, 2017 at 6:47 am
    • Fred Blasdel

      The female threads are brass inserts molded into the plastic composite so you don’t have to worry about threadlocker, but it is possible to spin the insert if you overtorque.
      The current versions of the saddles that come with torx bolts are assembled with loctite from the factory

      March 3, 2017 at 5:46 pm
  • Andrew

    Jan any plans to stock the replacement tops? I have a Berthoud saddle with a badly lopsided top that matches my previously lopsided pelvis. It would be nice to start with a new top rather than wetting and blocking the old saddle.

    March 2, 2017 at 2:31 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We’ll carry the tops. Right now, just starting with saddles, but in coming months, we’ll stock spare parts, too.

      March 2, 2017 at 7:12 am
  • cbratina

    I agree that Berthoud saddles are the best leather ones, I have been an Aspin on our tandem and my dirt road bike since you first reviewed them years ago, with great comfort and success. They seem hard when I first sit on them each ride, but never get harder or uncomfortable. My only problem with them is hard riding in hot weather when my sweat soaks into the leather. Worse than rain. So I have had to switch my dirt road bike’s saddle to a Brooks Cambium. To protect them from the rain, I have used an Aardvark saddle cover. Though it does leak through when left outside in a downpour.

    March 2, 2017 at 3:23 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      When riding in the rain, I find that I don’t need to protect the saddle, because I am sitting on it. When parking the bike, even a simple plastic bag will keep it dry… Everybody sweats differently, but I’ve ridden my leather saddles in 100+ degree weather with no ill effects.

      March 2, 2017 at 7:14 am
      • Rider X

        In hard rain storms (which you should get plenty in the Pacific North West) I find the nose can get quite wet and the water starts to transgress into the rest of the leather. 3-4 hours into a torrential downpour and the whole saddle becomes soaked and you are essentially wet breaking-in your saddle. Not ideal. As such I have to put away my beloved leather saddle on many winter club rides.

        March 2, 2017 at 10:47 am
  • Bob


    March 2, 2017 at 3:45 am
  • Steve Palincsar

    There’s an interesting video on Youtube showing how these saddles are made. Have you seen the video about how they’re made?

    March 2, 2017 at 4:27 am
  • Mark Petry

    I too have been riding a Berthoud saddle for several years, I really like it. They do require a little break in. As you say it’s a top quality component. I’m planning on another one for a new bike that’s coming this year. +1 on the Specialites TA suggestion.

    March 2, 2017 at 4:36 am
  • 47hasbegun

    I have a couple of Aravis saddles and one Galibier saddle. The Aravis saddles are great for a their intended purpose of touring with them not too high, but they chafed me when I wanted more extension. That’s when I got the Galibier, which has been perfect aside from needing a long-setback seatpost even with the saddle raised quite a bit, because of my long femurs. They aren’t anywhere nearly as bad as Brooks saddle in that respect, though.
    All of them are very comfortable, though the Galibier seemed to become flexible before the sitbone areas broke in despite never been ridden uncovered in the rain. The Aravis saddles did the opposite.

    March 2, 2017 at 7:21 am
  • John

    Which of the models would be similar to a B17 ? Thanks !

    March 2, 2017 at 10:51 am
  • Heather

    I got a Berthoud Marie Blanque saddle while ago, on some ridiculous too good to pass up sale. I was having trouble with my newer brooks’ Finesse and wanted to try something different. I have more bicycles than saddles, so why not? It is brown and beautiful. It came in a very elegant french box instead of strapped to a piece of card board. I held onto the box for too long. The saddle intimidated me at first. It was hard, knock knock knock! How would it feel, how would I handle it?
    As soon as I got on the bike with the saddle all worries vanished in an instant. It is comfortable, it’s mostly just there. The leather top is very thick and I definitely can notice the difference. Pre softened I don’t know… I still have to fine tune and break it in, it has been very resistant to breaking in, although a surprise strange winter not seen in the pnw for eons cut back my riding. Hopefully I can get some longer rides in to give a better opinion. The construction is incredible. Some people complained about the plastic and the saddles being weird and ugly. Different yes, mais vive la difference. The plastic composite is very high quality and reminds me of my old bmw for some reason. The saddles are also all repairable and replaceable. I will have to wait a while to get some longer rides in and I will be able to say for sure.
    Maybe you could carry at least ones women’s saddle, either the Marie Blanque or the Angel.

    March 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm
  • Shu-Sin

    Little off topic, but your large Berthoud panniers have been out of stock for a long while. Will you restock them soon?

    March 2, 2017 at 2:27 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      As soon as Berthoud can make them for us! All the bags are hand-sewn by one employee, Véronique, so production is a bit limited at times, and large orders take a little longer.

      March 2, 2017 at 3:10 pm
  • Luis Bernhardt

    I am wondering how durable the titanium rails are. Every saddle I have ever owned that has had Ti rails has broken at the rail, usually just behind the saddle rail clamp. Every saddle. I weigh around 170 lbs, and I don’t normally have the saddle slammed all the way back in the seatpost clamp. The most expensive saddle I’ve had break in this manner was a San Marco Regal with close to 20,000 km on it. By way of comparison, I’ve got two highly-used Regal saddles, each with around 50,000 km and both have steel rails. The white one has already worn down to the plastic at the sides; the brown one (initially suede but now a nice, smooth, aged leather covering the plastic) is still going strong. Admittedly, most of the mileage has been on 23mm tires (all of it on the Ti rails); this was before I switched to 25- and 28mm tires, so the rails would have been subject to those suspension losses!

    March 2, 2017 at 6:31 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I have little experience with ti-railed Berthoud saddles, but generally, titanium can be very durable if it’s of high quality and designed well. I’ve had titanium-railed saddles that have lasted a very long time, and still are going strong.

      March 3, 2017 at 4:13 am
    • Steve Palincsar

      Are you sure it’s not the seat post clamp that’s responsible for the breakage? I’ve broken seat rails in the past and that’s usually the cause.

      March 3, 2017 at 4:03 pm
  • Jacob Musha

    As someone that has never tried a leather saddle and doesn’t have a problem with plastic saddles, what am I missing? I have ridden plenty of centuries, or further, and never suffered any discomfort on my favorite classic Avocet Touring saddle from the early 1980s.
    Leather saddles seem to have significant disadvantages compared to plastic saddles: they are heavier, they are much more expensive, they may require break-in and maintenance, they must be protected from excessive water… So what makes them worth all this hassle?

    March 3, 2017 at 10:04 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      If your current saddle works well, don’t change it! On the other hand, “discomfort” also can be relative – sometimes, you only know how good cycling can be when you try something different. For example, I wasn’t unhappy with my handlebars until I rode some classic bikes with bars that were much more comfortable than what I was riding.
      Many riders also appreciate the beauty of a handcrafted leather saddle.

      March 4, 2017 at 7:13 am
  • Willem

    I have recently had to retire the 40 year old Brooks professional on my touring bike. The leather was finally beginning to crack, and I was worried for some mishap on our upcoming camping tour in France. I have become apprehensive about the leather on more recent Brooks saddles that I have on a few other bikes, so I fitted a Berthoud Aspin. It is indeed a gem. The leather is as thick and tough as it was on my old saddle, fourty years go, but construction is obviously very superior. I noticed a few other differences. The new saddle is lower, so I needed to raise the saddle a bit. I also need to move the saddle a bit more forward, as the middle part is narrower than on the old saddle. Finally, it is indeed hard. 30 km was the maximum that my behind could take on the first ride. So I am glad I fitted it now, to give me time to break it in.

    March 4, 2017 at 3:46 am
  • Anon

    Does Brooks offer replacement tops? I love leather for its flexibility which is why the older broken in on ones are so comfortable! Many new ones have been dried to preserve them and are thus inflexible until they’ve been sufficiently softened and flexed imo.

    March 4, 2017 at 6:22 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t think Brooks offers replacement tops. They do offer rivets, so you could reuse a top that was on a broken frame, but drilling out the old ones and setting the new rivets isn’t trivial…

      March 5, 2017 at 1:31 am
    • velovoiceblogspot

      Brooks will replace your top if you report something wrong and they say “send it back to us”. I did this twice with a Swallow before concluding the leather is just way too soft (against the grain?) and giving up on Brooks altogether.

      March 5, 2017 at 2:46 am
      • marmotte27

        Sad really that Brooks seem to abandon their most loyal customer group, long distance cyclists.

        March 7, 2017 at 7:03 am

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