SEVEN DAY CYCLIST
CYCLING, BUT NOT USUALLY RACING
LATEST UPDATE: MARCH 18th
CYCLES BERTHOUD SOULOR LEATHER SADDLE
423g £155.90 Mid Term Test 4months
The Cycles Berthoud Soulor Saddle is a beautifully made traditional leather saddle with some discrete but very contemporary touches. Features which I liked but purists may not. Like most leather saddles, it’s quite a commitment, financially and requires more rider involvement. However, given a few months and basic care you’ll have a bespoke product that should last many, many years. With that in mind, I’d probably stump up the extra £40 odd for their Galibier, which has titanium rails.
Pros: Beautifully made, potentially a saddle for life.
Cons: Breaking in period longer than many traditional leather saddles.
The Soulor is arguably closest to the Brooks Swallow and this Spa Aire Ti (which has been serving med for 7-8 years, albeit with intermittent breaks, while I’m testing others). Dimensions are a sporty, masculine 278x146mm. I really like the satin black finish but there are three alternatives and stainless rails should also last the test of time. These are secured to the saddle via T25 Torx. In theory, this permits a rebuild and/or rail upgrade, should need/urge ever arise.
The eagle-eyed of you will notice some composites (which may be the only potential weak spot) and, of course, a lack of bag loops. Neither are a deal-breaker for me but may cause some of you to click away.
The saddle itself is handmade from cowhide and tanned using vegetable dye, which continues the durable narrative. Exact density will vary very slightly from hide to hide. However, following the BSE crisis, EU cattle must be slaughtered within a stricter time frame. This may also explain why this model and Brooks are slightly thinner than my long-serving Spa Cycles Aire, or the Bobbin (made from Australian and Texan cattle) where no such requirements exist.
Both the Soulor and the Aire are treated underside, which also helps durability, especially if your intended bike(s) shun full length mudguards (fenders to those of you in the US and Canada). Stainless rails, rather like the missing bag loops may not be authentic enough for some builds but unlike electroplating, corrosion and tarnish are similarly moot points.
Ti has a bit more spring, some might say kudos but stainless is a decent default. Talking of defaults, 143mm is my default width but 146mm was as close as I was getting and besides, unlike a leather topped saddle, the hide would conform, to my shape...
Breaking in-The Official Line
Cycles Berthoud recommend applying their wax type preserve and only applying it twice yearly, then on. I’ve taken this route with one of their saddles and, indeed, a Brooks B17 many years ago.
It’s worth reinforcing the point, that manufacture guidelines should be observed to the letter and on your own butt be it, if you go your own way. The Soulor is supposedly pre-softened, giving the impression it should mould relatively quickly to your own shape. My Benchmark for a Brooks is around 330 miles - with regular feeding.
The Spa Aire required 660 miles and even then, I’d been quite liberal with a water-based leather preserve. With the pre-softened narrative, I bargained on 250miles...Following these guidelines, things started off on a painfully firm note, becoming progressively easier and sticking with it, I was under the illusion we’d bonded inseparably. Until I switched back to my fixed gear winter trainer’s Aire, which has served for many thousands of miles.
Breaking the Rules
This led to me switching tack. Aside from leather saddles, being a motorcyclist for some years means I’m no stranger to looking after leather. I reasoned that provided I stuck to water-based “foods” I wouldn’t do anything nasty to the hide.
A friendly acquaintance reckoned he broke in a Brooks from new, during a very wet 350mile endurance ride, so I decided to apply a very liberal helping of food to the top 20 minutes before a ride and then head out. Doing so certainly accelerated this process, so I repeated said routine for a week, washing shorts after every outing.
Then on, a question of drumming in the miles. Though the B17 is widely regarded an icon, (for good reason), the shape has always been a little too broad and the surface just that bit too shiny for my tastes.
My rough stuff tourer’s low-moderate gearing means I’ve no excuse for honking-even on steep climbs with trailer trundling obediently behind. Maintaining this discipline, I could literally feel tangible improvements every 150miles, but it still took 1,250 before we’d formed a symbiotic bond. Nearly twice that of the Aire. Rider weight may indeed play a part in this. Steve is around 85 kilos and tamed this Bobbin Gents Leather Saddle in 600. I’m 15 kilos lighter, which may also account for the slower transition.
Having gone through the breaking in phase, little surprise to learn I’ve only been conscious of it, in the most positive sense. Sit, cruise at 85rpm for as long as lockdown and my legs allowed. The satin finish providing excellent tenure, while still permitting minute adjustments. Though certainly not unique to the Soulor, on hotter days, the hide breathes, so you’ll also remain that little bit cooler, compared with a leather topped, foam and composite base model.
All leather saddles require a little more owner involvement. I’ve avoided leaning the Soulor against rough masonry/brickwork and some of the dye has transferred to timber and wooden posts, when it’s rested against them. Invest in a saddle cover and some decent leather food. Cycles Berthoud recommend their own waxy type formula is applied twice yearly.
While I’d never fly in the face of manufacture guidelines, I’ve always been inclined to nourish leather saddles with a water-based product every six weeks. At this stage, it’s difficult to say whether the Soulor is necessarily superior to similarly high-end models and the composites raise a few question marks in this respect.
£155 is big money, though in line with Brooks Swallow but the Spa Cycles Aire sports titanium rails and comes in £40 cheaper. There’s some very minor distress evident around the sides and tops, despite regular feeding and other, basic care. That aside, I’ve never needed to tweak the tension, although I’ve occasionally polished the rails-while testing polishes/wax products.
There’s no doubt the Soulor is extremely refined and beautifully made. Well worth considering if you’re looking to finish a classic road, or mile munching sportive/Audax bike. Depends on how committed you are to the genre and I would recommend checking things like width/length as part of a comprehensive bike-fitting.
On a very personal note, if I was considering this kind of outlay, I’d probably spend the additional £40 odd and go for the Galiber. At the other extreme, something like the Bobbin might be a better starting point, if you’re intrigued but not a devotee of traditional leather designs.
Verdict: 4/5 beautifully executed traditional leather saddle with a specification and price tag to match.
PUBLISHED JUNE 2020
BUILDER OF STEEL CYCLE FRAMES
Ryton On Dunsmore
Coventry CV8 3FH