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.