Brooks saddles are still handmade in Smethwick, Birmingham after more than a century – and some of the designs being used are almost as old.
So what would be the one thing you wouldn’t expect from this purveyor of all things classic and traditional? How about a new model that’s slimmer (130mm wide) and doesn’t feature handcrafted leather.
This one’s got Brooks’ cotton-infused vulcanised rubber top: flexibility is built in and it’s hardwearing and waterproof. The biggest surprise though is in the new one-piece carbon rail, riveted at the nose and around the back edge. The shape, with a oversized mid-section protected by a grippy tape wrap, and the braided carbon used within is all very Fizik – in fact the rail design is very similar to the innovative Kurve, which has also debuted a carbon rail for 2016.
When Brooks let slip to us that this was on the horizon, we wanted to get our hands on one as soon as possible. I’ve had this saddle running on my long-term Decade Tripster ATR Ti all-road machine – in fact, it replaced a standard metal-railed Cambium.
It’s narrower as well as lighter than the standard Cambium
The standard Cambium C17 impressed me hugely with its buoyant comfortable ride and sheer toughness, and we also liked the shape, which closely mimics Brooks’ classic racing B17 perch. The only downside is the 415g weight – it’s just not something you’re likely to put onto a modern lightweight bike. The C13 changes that, with the switch to carbon delivering a much more impressive 264g. The shape also changes – it’s much more rounded and slimmer with a nominal width of 130mm.
Sit on the carbon C13 and you can immediately feel the hull give. As any aficionado will tell you, with Brooks saddles it takes a while for the leather to give and shape to your form – eventually they become very comfortable but you need to put in plenty of time to get to that point. (That’s even considering apocryphal stories of relieving yourself on the leather to soften them up – not something I’d encourage.)
But the Cambium C13 feels like a saddle that’s been broken in for years. The compliant upper gives – in a much more controlled manner than you expect from something quite so elastic. It’s quite unlike any other performance saddle I’ve tried: the comfort is so complete, and even though I’d usually opt for a slightly wider form than the 13’s 130mm, it never feels as narrow as the numbers suggest.
Heritage still comes as standard
Back-to-back against the standard Cambium I’d have to say the carbon rail version wins out. It feels a little more compliant and that 150g or so weight saving means you won’t be compromising your lightweight build for the sake of a serious comfort upgrade.
With my Cambium running on a bike that often gets covered in filth when I venture off-road, I’m also impressed with just how well the highly textured surface cleans up. Its fully waterproof treatment means a quick hose down or jetwash brings the Cambium up like new, and I even like that the textured surface is starting to show a little ageing patina just as a good Brooks saddle should.
The only downside is the price – yes, you can find cheaper and lighter. That said, Brooks backs up the Cambium with a two-year guarantee.