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Gilles Berthoud Saddle

October 8, 2009

BERMSB1I will most likely not buy one of these saddles but they look great so I just wanted to get the word out about them. This is what Peter White has to say about them.

“Gilles makes these beautiful saddles with top quality leather. Instead of riveting the leather saddle to the frame, these are bolted on, making it easy to repair if necessary. And the bolt assemblies at the rear of the saddle aren’t on the top surface, where you might sit on them if you slide back on your saddle. But instead the bolts are off the back edge, out of the way.

underside of berthoud saddle

underside of berthoud saddle

The width across the back is 160mm. The men’s version is just under 11″ long. The women’s is just inder 10″ long. The bolts use a 2.5mm allen wrench. The saddles ship with no thread compound, and I have no idea if there’s any tendency for the bolts to loosen while riding. My guess is they will. So if you notice the bolts loosening, a small drop of blue Loctite would be a good idea. Be sure not to use too much.

Berthoud Women's saddle

Berthoud Women's saddle

And here’s the women’s version, shorter by about 1″ than the men’s. Otherwise identical. We stock the women’s in Black, Natural and Cork, (shown here in Cork).

It’s important to understand, that for women, a full leather saddle is either very comfortable, or a medieval torture device. Most saddles designed by and for women have a cutout in the center for a lady’s tender bits. So, depending on exactly how the lady in question is constructed, she may love or hate this saddle. There’s only one way to tell, and that’s to try it. But there is no return possible on a used saddle, so it could be an expensive trial. You are of course welcome to try one here at the shop. It takes only a few seconds to know if it’s suitable for you.

A good rule of thumb is, the more miles you ride, the firmer the saddle you’ll prefer. This applies equally to men and women. Sixty miles on one of these thick soft gushy saddles can be brutal. When your gluteus muscles are in good shape, you’ll want the firm but flexible surface to sit on. And a leather saddle provides just that. The issue for women is not the firm rear section of a leather saddle, it’s the lack of a cutout in the center. Cutting a hole in the center of a leather saddle isn’t necessarily the solution, since the edges of the leather can then irritate you.

Bottom line is this: If you try one of these and your middle “tender bits” area is fine, but you feel like your sit bones are on something too hard, most likely you’ll end up very happy with it, since the leather will soften up a bit, and you’ll cause the leather to conform to your shape fairly quickly. But if your tender bits scream in agony, forget about using one of these. If my history selling saddles to women is a reliable guide, the majority of women will not like this saaddle, just as they don’t like Brooks saddles. But, some women will love them, and never want anything else.”

My two cents:

It seems to me that this is a much improved brooks saddle with a few more features. I love that you can replace the leather if necessary. I’m not so sure about the plastic part on the back of the saddle underside. I imagine they’ve thought of this but in cold weather I’ve had issues with plastic becoming brittle. It’s also great that they make a women’s version but possibly a bad business plan since not a lot of women ride saddles such as this. I think the women’s saddle could end up one of those sought after bicycle dinosaurs when they stop production after a few seasons due to lack of interest. I’m glad someone had decided to take on Brooks, who keep increasing the price of their saddles and, i my humble opinion, have begun sacrificing the quality. The only other product I’ve had from Gilles Berthoud is fenders which I love. Their bikes are of course incredible and panniers and handlebar bags top notch, so I doubt they’d make a saddle that didn’t also hold up to these high standards.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2009 7:02 PM

    > I’m glad someone had decided to take on Brooks, who keep increasing the price of their saddles

    True, but I believe the main reason for this was that this was necessary to keep the company financially healthy, not to make as much money as possible as some people seem to think.

    > and, i my humble opinion, have begun sacrificing the quality

    I haven’t seen that. Why do you think quality is less these days? I’ve used Brooks saddles for decades. Particularly in the last few years I’ve examined/tested/used loads of different Brooks saddles. Some people complain for example that the leather in current Brooks saddles is less thick than in the old days. But I have measured some old Brooks saddles from the 60s/70s/80s and their leather is not thicker than now. It’s usually around 4.8 mm, varying in places for each saddle.

    The leather thickness measurements are listed on my saddle experiences page btw…

    • throughtheringer permalink*
      October 9, 2009 6:51 PM

      That’s a good point about the raising of prices. I wasn’t trying to accuse them of jacking up the prices for no reason. I checked out your blog and it looks great, you’ve obviously taken a lot of care and time to check out the products you discuss. As for the quality of Brooks saddles declining I can only speak from my own personal experiences. I had a swallow that lasted for about 5 years when I rode it as a bike messenger. The tension bolt was backed the whole way out and leather too stretched to ride. The Brooks professional saddle I’ve been touring on for the past 6 years is about to do the same and has some cracks in the leather around the rivets. This could be a result of my treatment but on a saddle marketed towards bike tourists I’d think it could handle a little rain. I’ve had two 70’s Brooks saddles that were used when I got them and all though one has had it the other is still working well for me. Thanks for checking out our blog, I hope you find some stuff that interests you in the future as well.

      • October 9, 2009 9:38 PM

        Regarding durability: I think the swallow is indeed problematical. But mainly because the leather is quite narrow and when it gets wet (and presumably moist from long rides too), it will stretch a lot. So you need to be very careful with this saddle.

        As for durability of other saddles. Well, leaving a leather saddle in the rain is usually no problem if you keep it covered most of the time. One of the saddles I have which is a B66 Champion from I believe the 1960s or at the latest the early 1970s, I used it a lot, for decades actually, then left it for a few months in the winter mostly uncovered. This was a few years ago. I already decided to replace it so that’s why I didn’t bother to put a cover on it. The saddle already had cracked leather (since the 80s actually ;-)) but this really made it a lot worse. So I think using a saddle cover and applying proofide to keep the leather supple is really essential to keep the saddle in good shape. I.e., those older saddles get in a bad shape very quickly too, if you don’t treat them correctly.

        Oh yes, one other thing about the prices: Brooks itself increased prices, but for USA buyers, even more annoying is that the importer for the US increased prices on top of that… All in all a massive price increase compared to even 2007.

        The Berthoud does look nice. I like the stainless steel rails in particular. I asked Brooks long ago if there was a possibility of stainless steel rails btw… It’s interesting to see leather saddles getting more popular, the dutch manufacturer Lepper reintroduced the voyager for example.

        I’ll be checking out your other entries…

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