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.

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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.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.