In-depth test by John Stevenson, international editor
A modern reincarnation of a classic saddle, the Brooks Swallow Classic eventually becomes comfortable, but the necessary perseverance may not be for everyone.
This is the way all bike saddles were once made, with a piece of thick genuine leather stretched over a frame. Eventually the leather wears and softens so it conforms to your bum, just as a pair of leather shoes wears to fit your feet. Or at least that’s the theory and the folk wisdom.
After a few hundred kilometers of riding, it seems to be working. The Swallow is getting more comfortable, though it’s definitely on the firm side.
It’s not hard to get the Brooks Swallow Classic reasonably comfortable to start with. As it ships, the Swallow has its leather top stretched tight over its weight-saving titanium frame. Back off the adjuster nut under the frame and riding the Swallow instantly goes from being like sitting on a lump of wood to sitting on a springy but firm seat.
It feels initially harsh, but it gets better in the short run, and should get very much better in the long run, after lots of use and a few more applications of the supplied Proofide polish and conditioner. (Incidentally, Chris Juden of the CTC has some good advice on caring for Brooks saddles.)
The Swallow Classic is a reincarnation of a highly sought-after saddle of the 1930s. Original Swallows had the same cut-away underside as the Classic, but were sewn together underneath. A couple of years ago Brooks – now part of Italian saddle maker Selle Royal – made a limited run of 999 old-style Swallow saddles. They sold out to aficionados quickly despite a hefty price tag. The Classic is a more affordable version, with the time-consuming and expensive hand-stitching replaced by rivets to join the underside.
There’s something marvelously eccentric about this saddle. Stretching a lump of thick leather across a metal frame is about the heaviest way to make a saddle. Making the frame out of titanium produces a lightweight version – for values of ‘lightweight’ that include ‘heavier than any other racing saddle on the market’. Cutting down the sides of the saddles and joining them underneath also helps. A bit.
At 360g it’s still hardly featherweight, but a lot lighter than the 500+g of steel-railed Brooks saddles like the Professional. You don’t make a saddle like this because anyone really cares about those 150 grams – they’d buy a genuinely light saddle if they did – you do it because you can.
It has saddlebag loops, a feature last seen on saddles not marked ‘Brooks’ some time in the 1980s.
You have to look after it, feeding it Proofide and popping its little raincoat on if you’re going to leave it out in the wet. Like Flann O’Brien’s bikes in the Third Policeman, it clearly would prefer to be inside by the fire – you can bet those bikes had leather saddles.
What we have here, then, is a gently mad combination of old techniques and new materials that forces you to pay it attention, beyond just tweaking its position so it sits right under your bum. And all of this is rather wonderful.
It reminds me of the heating system in a house I rented years ago. You had to keep feeding it just the right sort of pebble-sized lumps of coal or it went out, but if you paid it enough love you were rewarded with a constantly warm and dry house. Oh, and a big fuel bill compared to gas or electric heating, though it was still worth every penny.
I love this saddle for the same reasons I loved that heating system. It’s alive. You have to get involved with it to get the best out of it. Terrific stuff.