Road Testing the Brooks Cambium

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Brooks England Ltd. to let me know that I’d been selected to be one of the 100 testers of a new concept saddle they were releasing this year. Other than a few teaser photographs, they were pretty tight lipped about the product. For the most part all I knew was a name: Brooks Cambium C17. After waiting a couple of weeks for the Cambium to leave the British Isles, cross an ocean, and eventually disembark from a USPS jeep, the box above is what arrived in my mail today.

In the early correspondence, Brooks seemed to be concerned about my initial reactions upon opening the box so I diligently made note of all my reactions – the first being that this was a whole lot like Christmas morning! However, after carefully lifting the lid on the package, I have to admit that the experience was just a little underwhelming.

I know it’s the test marketing, but I’m used to the pomp and circumstance that surrounds Brooks saddles. Tearing open the box to find the saddle simply jostling around inside, with a bit of corrugated cardboard as a wrapper seemed anticlimactic and just not as sexy as I’d hoped. The saddle does come wrapped in a cool bag though, so if you think bags are sexy, well… then I guess this is your bag. There was also some well designed marketing literature that accompanied the Cambium, but other than quickly thumbing through it I haven’t dedicated much thought to those items.

OK, so here’s the Brooks Cambium C17 (You know: sort of like a B17, only instead of a “B” it’s a “C” for Cambium, I guess.) Quite honestly, it reminds me of the shape of a Selle Regal rather than a Brooks. And as much as I happen to like Brooks saddles, the fact that it is reminiscent of the Regal is fine by me as that happens to be one of my saddles of personal choice.

Something a little unexpected was the discovery that the sides of the saddle are flexible – interesting!

The fabric upper seems to be embedded into the Vulcanized Rubber platform. I’m thinking these two are probably inseparable. I rather like the fabric surface by the way. Some saddles are entirely too slick for my taste and I have always wondered what it would be like to have a bit of friction to keep my butt from sliding all over the place when I wear Lycra shorts. (Hopefully it doesn’t wind up feeling like sandpaper!) There are also times when I prefer to wear big boy clothes when I ride – mountain bike shorts or even just pants. I’m curious to see how the fabric surface changes the ride experience.

Not hefty by any definition, still the Cambium turned out to be a bit heavier than I expected. On the other hand it is much lighter than a Brooks Professional!

My first reaction was that this saddle is, on the whole, pretty well crafted… that is, until I noticed this worrisome spot on the underside, where the saddle upper is fastened to the cantle. At first I thought it was a crack, and naturally enough I thought to myself, “Self, there’s no frickin’ way you’re riding this thing.” Upon closer inspection, it appears that the person manning a power screwdriver got a little overzealous and marred the surface as the driver was being removed. It still makes me wonder if that scarring has created a stress point that will eventually fail. I have to admit that my excitement about the saddle diminished slightly at this apparent lack of quality control: If you are going to drop a hundred or two clams on a saddle, it should arrive flawless. (Disclaimer: Brooks has not yet announced a unit price for the Cambium. There are plans for multiple models and I’m confident pricing will be different for each version.)

OK, so how does it feel? Well let’s begin with my totally unfair first impression, which comes from having ridden up and down the street so that I could fine tune the height and set back. My original plan was to install the Cambium on my three-speed Raleigh International, but in order to give it a really fair shake I thought it better to mount the saddle on a bike that I ride a lot. And that’s a no-brainer: I ride my Boulder Brevet more frequently and for far more miles than any of my other bikes. Plus, I have been riding a Selle Regal on the Boulder – meaning I could use my bike as a control to compare the two saddles. I doubt this sort of research would pass muster in the academic community, but my butt is pretty sensitive to saddle differences and, ultimately, it knows what does and does not work for my riding style.

These are my initial reactions following fifteen minutes or so of riding on the Cambium.

1. The Cambium fits pretty much like a Selle Regal. And there you have it in a nutshell! Perhaps it is very slightly wider at the sit bones, but if it is wider then it’s not by much. My first thought  is that if you like the Regal, you’ll probably like this saddle too.

2. I had to adjust the height to be about 1/2 centimeter higher than my Regal for some reason. That could simply be because I’m not used to this saddle; neither was I warmed up for a ride, which also makes a big difference of course. One nice thing is that I can adjust the set back a tiny bit further than I can on my newer model Regal – I did not compare to my vintage Regals, by the way, but I will eventually do so just in case there’s a difference that I don’t immediately recall. I want to say right now that I find it ironic that none of my initial reactions were a comparison to the Brooks saddles I have mounted on some of my bikes – only the Regal. At any rate, I do like the ability to adjust this saddle with a slightly longer reach. I prefer a longer top tube anyway, and the potential to extend my reach a bit  appeals to my own riding fit.

3. Just pedaling up and down the street I did not notice anything – pro or con – relating to the flexibility of the saddle. Perhaps my opinion will change with a longer ride.

4. I have to admit that it’s going to take me a while to get used to looking at this pale, beige color rather than the honey brown I normally have mounted! This is purely an aesthetic response and it will no doubt grow on me with time and acceptance, but it is weird at the moment. I also wonder how many options exist for matching bar wrap. With the fabric coating on the Cambium, one might want to pair it with a “natural” colored cotton tape (if that, in fact, exists…I haven’t done any digging to see yet.) Brooks also has a black version of the Cambium that I have not seen and is exploring the possibility of other colors.

5. I don’t mind the rough texture of the fabric – in fact, I rather like it. Sometimes I’m not a big fan of the really slick saddle surfaces to begin with. I think if you ride in shorts – essentially in non-Lycra clothing – there may be those who like the grippiness of the Cambium surface. I wonder if the sides will chafe or chew up riding shorts though… on my short ride tonight I didn’t notice any friction though – maybe that’s a product of the flex, but again, a longer ride will begin to sort things out and, in fact, will be a much more fair and accurate test.

I’ll be doing that tomorrow.

More reporting soon, but my gut reaction is quite favorable at the moment.


16 thoughts on “Road Testing the Brooks Cambium

  1. Rod Bruckdorfer says:

    I registered for the C17 beta test but was not selected. I suspect the Cambium is an effort on Brooks part to break into the carbon fiber bike market. I just weighed a Specialized Riva saddle – 394 g. At 415 g. the C17 is in the same weight range. The current trend is white handlebar tap hence the saddles color will fit in with this “racing” trend.

    Looking forward to following you test reports.



    • That very well might be the Brooks business plan. If so, they might need to keep shaving grams to attract the attention of that particular crowd. The Selle Flite that I have on my Gazelle weighs around 220 g – roughly half the weight of the Cambium! (I’ve always strongly suspected, though, that a majority of carbon fiber riders are very interested in how they look astride their bike; I’m betting that a good looking saddle that is comfortable will be a very welcome thing to some of them!)

      • Rod Bruckdorfer says:

        Selling the C series saddles to the carbon fiber crowd may be a hard sell. One big advantage with the new line of saddles is they are not susceptible to water damage. On the negative side, the saddle does not look sexy to me.

  2. I really don’t know what market they are going for. Long distance comfort for cyclotouring and randonneuring? Seems like a relatively small market for mass production. The “tweed” market? Ditto. Vegan does make sense, but I hope Brooks isn’t confusing conscientious philosophies about animals with folks who are concerned about ecologically sound practices, because I’m pretty sure the rubber comes out of the petroleum industry! To me, this is the biggest puzzle of all: Who is it that Brooks is trying to attract? As it turns out, this saddle is really starting to grow on me – but I am pretty far off the mainstream market.

    • Not to get too much into a debate about veganism, but yeah, the main problem with vegan alternative saddles is the petroleum content. Some vegans will actually use Brooks saddles due to their comfort and durability (some sidestep the ethical dilemma by only using second-hand Brooks saddles). But some vegans will never use a leather saddle, yet still like the “look” and bag loops of Brooks-esque saddles, so this may appeal to them.

      • Oh, and I certainly don’t want to get into that debate either – too many polarizing opinions on every end of that issue! I do think see a certain irony in the way that marketers seem to have stumbled across the various ethos of vegan, health-conscious, environmentally ethical, etc. and found them to be good. And while I’m personally quite glad to see them addressing issues that many people feel are important, such newfound corporate policies are just a little too convenient for my taste in a lot of ways (is that cynical of me to say so?) But I digress! My real point is that this might indeed be the Brooks target market; if so, I’m still fuzzy about it.

      • Yeah, it’s always interesting how a subculture, group, etc. becomes “legitimate” when the marketers realize they can make money off them and then target market them. It does bring out the cynical in all of us, don’t it?

    • Rod Bruckdorfer says:

      The LBS we frequent weighed a Bontrager saddle. At 288 gr, the plastic saddle is 127 g lighter than the C17 but I suspect not as comfortable as the C17. It will be interesting to see what group Brooks will market the saddle. The other variable is the aging carbon fiber cyclist. They are starting to look for comfort.

  3. Big B says:

    I received this saddle from my bike shop to test drive it for a week. Here’s a couple of thoughts that I have formed after some short commutes to work:

    1) the saddle is not that comfortable. It’s ok if you take care not to sit too far back. If you do though, you sit on the much too big “rivets”. That quickly starts to hurt.

    2) Rain is a problem for this Brooks saddle, too! I left my bike outside today and it was raining a bit. The saddle was completely soaked, you cannot even wipe it dry. The video on the Brooks website that shows how waterproof it is, must be a fake. In the real world the saddle is more like a sponge. Rain might not damage this saddle as it does with leather saddles, but this is not an alternative.

    The Cambium looks good but with those flaws and at such a high price – I doubt that Brooks will sell many Cambiums.

    • I have to say that having now put a few thousand miles in on the Cambium, I’m coming to feel that it’s actually my preferred saddle choice. I’m uncertain how many miles you regularly put in, but I log a pretty fair number over the course of a year’s time. I’ve been riding the Cambium since June – so four months now – and it fits me quite nicely. I’ve always preferred the shape of the Selle Regal, and the Cambium has a very similar fit. Thus, if you like the Regal I suspect you’ll also like the Cambium. Brooks Professionals that are broken in can be a pretty comfy rider as well, but it sure takes a whole lot of butt sweat to get ’em to that point.
      My ride position tends to be pretty far back on the saddle, so I’m normally right on top of the rivets. I’ll have to pay closer attention tomorrow, but I haven’t noticed any discomfort from them so far. Certainly no difference than the rivets on other Brooks and Regal saddles I have mounted on my various other bikes.
      Your comment about the rain really puzzles me. While I don’t leave my bike out in the rain, I’ve been caught in a drenching downpour a couple of times these past few months. Other than the fabric exterior, which is embedded into the rubber body, my experience has been quite different: rain seems to roll off the model I am using. I haven’t seen the video you mention, but I sincerely doubt that Brooks would fake anything: their reputation is something they stand behind. Fabricating a video seems like it would be a curious way to do that.
      I certainly agree about price, by the way. My feedback to Brooks was that the price point seemed grossly disproportionate to the perceived value for most customers. I am hoping this will eventually change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s