Brooks England has been building stalwart leather bicycle seats for over 100 years.

A traditional Brooks seat is rock hard to begin. Over time--and many miles--the seat will mold to the rider's tush. When they launched in the 1800s, it was a wildly innovative product.

Turns out, that kind of aching work doesn't appeal to many modern riders. So Brooks tapped Ideo's design know-how for help in building an updated, friendlier generation of bike seats to add to their heritage brand.

“The core insight was that some people loved the idea of a Brooks saddle rather than the reality of having to earn the comfort. Not everybody wants to put the work in,” says Thomas Overthun, design director at Ideo.

Ideo presented the Brooks team with a mix-and-match assortment of newer, all-natural materials: cork, gel, fabrics layered with felt. Brooks went with vulcanized rubber and an organic cotton canvas.

Get a Cadmium C17 seat for $195, through Brooks England.

From Ideo, A Bike Seat That Won't Make Your Butt Hurt

How Ideo helped a 126-year-old bike company build something cushy for your tushy.

Happy Black Friday! We're taking the day to republish some of our most popular Wanted posts of the year. For a complete roundup, go here.--Eds.

A Brooks England bicycle saddle, like a baseball glove, or a pair of Frye boots, needs to be broken in. It's part of the charm of a heritage brand: rich, stalwart materials mold to you over time, and last for years.

One problem: The 127-year-old company's bike saddles, when new, were making riders' butts hurt. And not every one wants to wait for the comfort that other products might afford instantly. So Brooks approached Ideo for help on a new (and, yes, bottom-friendly) line of saddles.

“In its day, it was like the Aeron chair of the bike saddles. A truly innovative product based on the materials available at the time,” Thomas Overthun, designer director at Ideo, says of Brooks's line of bike saddles. But the times have changed. Materials have improved. We no longer have to choose between luxurious leather or cheap plastic, thanks to advances in softer, plant-based fabrics. Overthun was thusly tasked with updating this classic hammock (wherein material is slung over a frame, rather than on a cushion) bicycle saddle.

To do so, Overthun put Ideo's expertise to work. The design team is no stranger to bicycle design, but this project had a unique challenge: Ideo had to both preserve the brand's heritage, while delivering a product that might contradict that heritage.

“The core insight was that some people loved the idea of a Brooks saddle rather than the reality of having to earn the comfort. Not everybody wants to put the work in,” Overthun tells Co.Design. The Ideo team quickly realized it would have to step away from the 4.5 millimeters of leather that characterizes a traditional Brooks saddle (and makes it such a rock hard thing to hang your rear on). But the designers wanted to keep using natural materials. So they proposed a mix-and-match assortment of materials that could be layered around a metal frame.

Overthun and his team proposed a medley of things--cork, gel, fabrics layered with felt--to the Brooks team, which then took over. Brooks landed on a vulcanized rubber base, with organic cotton lining (that’s wicked for waterproofing--something the old seats didn't have), “because both these materials feel very real and not plastic,” Overthun says. The result is a bike seat that has all the aesthetic pedigree of the original leather models, minus the aching derriere. “The lighter version is a littler easier to love right away,” Overthun says.

Get a Cambium C17 seat for $195, through Brooks England.

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29 Comments

  • Imran

    A Brooks England bicycle saddle, like a baseball glove, or a pair of Frye boots, needs to be broken in.

  • Lancej

    Another elegant solution to a product hurdle by IDEO. Thankfully fueledbycoffee was not on design team or they would still be arguing semantics on the creative brief.

  • Johnnyzmusic

    How about genital numbness? Every traditional bike seat I've used had the same effect. I don't think this would help at all. That all switched when I went to a recumbent trike.

  • Imran

    Thankfully fueledbycoffee was not on design team or they would still be arguing semantics on the creative brief.

  • Becca Waterloo

    I rode across Iowa with my Brooks saddle and my butt did not hurt once. Dad has had his since the 70s and does not wear padded bike shorts. The trick is, you have to get the seat wet for about an hour, then go on a longer ride so it can mold to your butt. Then it's good to go and the indents where your sit bones are will be there and you won't be sore! Hurray Brooks!

  • Bob Brent

    I bought my first new bike at 18, to ride at UBC. It was a hand made (Nottingham, England) Raleigh Carlton Cresta 10-speed touring bike with…a hard, stiff, unyielding Brooks leather saddle. I hated it, wondered why I sold my motorcycle.
    No arguments from me about stiff new Brooks leather saddles. However, once they're broken in the leather saddle is incredibly pliable & comfortable on short & long rides.
    A happy Brooks leather saddle rider for almost 50 years!

  • Chris Young

    Great idea for trendy commuters, but the truth is that regardless of the saddle, if you put in long rides your butt's still going to hurt...

  • dexel

    That is just not true! in fact, it is completely the opposite! particularly with a brooks!! The best touring saddles are brooks (check ANY touring blog) however they are not that great for a commuter as you need to put the miles in for it to be comfortable. The beauty of this is that you don't need to do that. It is genius

  • fueledbycoffee

    “The core insight was that some people loved the idea of a Brooks saddle rather than the reality of having to earn the comfort. Not everybody wants to put the work in."

    Seems like the same "insight" that produced pre-distressed jeans.

  • Dave Benach

    Funny, but not quite true... There's a physical discomfort aspect involved in breaking in a brooks leather seat which isn't analogous. Wearing non-distressed jeans may hurt your ego (if you're that kinda person), but it won't make your ass sore.