When the writer complained about discomfort during longer cycle journeys she was told to get a Brooks saddle. That solved the problem.
A search revealed that Brook’s founder, John Boultbee Brooks, was the son of a Victorian leatherworker who sold horse tack.
When his horse died in 1866, it is said that Brooks started commuting to the workshop in central Birmingham on a velocipede (aka a boneshaker), which had a wrought iron frame and tyres, a carved wooden saddle, no chain and wooden wheels.
After a week or so riding it, the wooden saddle was giving him so much trouble that he made his own out of leather. 149 years later, some of the earliest saddles that JB Brooks patented — notably the leather B17 — are still being produced in Birmingham to a virtually identical specification.
The leather is sourced from English and Irish cattle because the relatively harsh island climate means these animals have developed thick skin.
The original factory, founded in 1866, was in Great Charles Street, just off New Street in the centre of Birmingham. As the company grew, Brooks commissioned the building of new purpose-built premises next to Snow Hill railway station. The business was sold to Raleigh in 1958 and moved to a redbrick Victorian factory in Smethwick.
Since 2002. Brooks has been owned by Italian saddle giant Selle Royal. Cycling Weekly reports that 34 people are currently making saddles in Brooks’ Smethwick factory, which is divided into three sections: metalworkers, leatherworkers and assemblers. It manufactures other cycle accessories such as handlebar grips, leather bar tape, rain capes, trouser straps, toe straps, mud flaps, maintenance tools and tool bags.
“We can make 1,000 saddles a day,” says Brooks’s Steven Green. “So it comes to about 5,000 a week, and we work 46 weeks of the year.”
In Italy, Selle Royal manufacture 80,000 foam padded saddles a day – technologically advanced products – but Selle maintains the traditions and history of Brooks, made only in Smethwick, Birmingham, England.
Today Brooks saddles are available in over 20 countries. Germany continues to be the largest consumer of Brooks saddles by quantity, the Netherlands per capita.
They sell well in Japan – see the interesting exchanges on Tokyo Cycling Club’s forum.
Future prospects are promising: more high-end manufacturers of bicycles are now specifying Brooks saddles as original equipment.