Decoding Brooks’ Saddle Model Designations

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The Brooks B17 Special in honey (aka B17 Champion Special); like all models in the Special line, it has large, hand hammered copper rivets and a chamfered detail along the lower edge

I think it’s fairly widely accepted that Brooks makes some very fine bicycle saddles, and that their cult-like popularity among so many cyclists has some legitimacy in quality fabrication and performance. There – I got the niceties out of the way. What has always driven me a bit crazy about Brooks is their somewhat chaotic model naming and designation system. You have the Standard, the Select and the Special, none of which are the S model, which in turn is somehow related to the Finesse, but not the Lady. Then you have Team Pro, Classic, Sprinter and Imperial versions. And just for kicks, they gave Aged finish saddles their own separate “line” – why not a Honey line? Not to mention the different “Editions” – Limited and Seasonal. As if this were not enough, there are also three model “ranges” – Road & MTB, Touring and City. Oh, and I forgot the Narrow, Titanium, Copper and Chrome variants of certain models. Oh yeah, the models! There’s the venerable B17, the B66, B67 and B68, the B15 (which is always called the Swallow), the Swift, the Colt, the Flyer, the B72 and B73, the B18, a B33, the B120 and the B135. There is also a “Unique” family, just for kicks. Clear as mud? If you’ve ever tried to read up on the British peerage system or the names of British military units (see the Princess of Wale’s Royal Regiment 3rd Battalion Territorial Army Infantry 2nd South East Brigade), you might be having déjà vu right now.
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The Brooks Team Pro S Copper in black; as a Special line saddle it has copper rivets and a chamfered edge detail, the Copper designation refers to the copper “undercarriage”, the S denotes a women’s version, and it lacks seat bag loops like all Team Professional models

But nothing changes the fact that we love our former oppressors and our sister country over the pond. And nothing changes the fact that Brooks saddles are still handmade with pride by true craftsmen on the green island of Great Britain (not to be confused with England or the United Kingdom).

I will therefore endeavor, gentle reader, to try to aid you in your Brooks shopping and research by providing my Unified Brooks Categorisation System.

I’ve deconvoluted the various Brooks designations into their functional groupings, based on the commonalities within each group. I tried to make a three dimensional representation, but quit after I starting employing String Theory to make it all work out:

  • Shape – B designations, Team Pro, Narrow, S, Finesse, Lady, Sprinter
  • Usage – Road & MTB, Touring, City
  • Finish – Standard, Special, Aged, Chrome, Copper, Limited & Special Editions
  • Features – Select, Imperial, Titanium
  • Non-Specific – Classic, Unique

The Road & MTB family is essentially the Brooks performance group, while the Touring family is the sport group, and the City family is the casual group with lots of big, goofy springs. So, the only place you’ll find any titanium or copper rails, or saddles without seat bag loops, is among the Road & MTB family (although most do have loops and chrome rails). This is also where the more expensive saddles are found, aside from the Limited Editions.

The main saddle “lines”, which are already laid out on the Brooks website (so not much new here):

Classic Saddles
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The Brooks B17 Standard in royal blue (aka the B17 Champion Standard Classic); the Classics all have the smaller chrome rivets

The Classic line is pretty much a meaningless grouping, except for the fact that it represents some of the original, longest-running Brooks models, including 3 of the 12 different B17 models!. That’s right, not all B17’s are Classics, in fact most of them are not! Now that’s classic! One near-commonality in the Classic line is that all the Classic saddles have smaller (machine-pressed) chrome rivets and black rails (for the most part). Most also have seat bag loops. None of them have the chamfered edge detail seen in some other lines. Let’s carry on, shall we…

Special Saddles

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The Brooks Colt in mustard (aka the Colt Special); being Special, it has larger copper rivets and a chamfered skirt detail

The Special line is an even more ambiguous grouping, but it includes some of Brooks’ nicest saddles. There does seem to be a single defining characteristic, though: larger, hand-struck copper rivets. For this reason, the Limited Edition and Seasonal Edition models with copper rivets are included in this line. The Specials all also feature a chamfered detail along the lower ‘skirt’ edge. Rail material runs the gamut from steel and chrome to copper and titanium, some with seat bag loops, some without.

Select Saddles
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The Brooks Flyer Select; the Selects have copper rivets and some have the lower chamfered edge detail extending around the rear of the saddle

The Select line includes many types of saddles, but all are made for heavy-duty use using tougher hide leather from cows raised on certified organic farms. Only one color is offered, a nice very light tan. The Select line also features the hand hammered copper rivets seen in the Special line, and most (but not all) have the chamfered edge detail. I wonder if that means all Selects are Special, but not all Specials are Select? Hmmm. All Selects have seat bag loops.

Imperial Saddles
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The Brooks B17 Imperial in brown, honey and black (aka the B17 Champion Standard Imperial) with the supplied laces; note the chrome rivets and undercarriage on all models

The Imperials are an interesting line. They actually share many characteristics that are not immediately apparent. Obviously, these saddles add the cut-out to help relieve “perenial pressure”. But they also are all only offered with chrome rivets and rails, which gives them a very clean look. These saddles do have another distinguishing feature – holes along the lower edges of the side leather, threaded together to allow for tightening-up of the lower saddle (skirt) width with break-in. They all have bag loops. Here’s a kicker: you can’t get one in brown! Most are offered only in black, and a couple in black or honey. If you’re looking specifically for chrome hardware, these are often your lowest-priced option.
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A B17 Imperial shown with the laces threaded through the skirt holes

Aged Saddles
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The Brooks B17 S Aged; the S denotes a shorter women’s model; note the nice monotone Brooks badge, which is singular to the Aged line

Like the Select line, the Aged line shares one type of leather amongst its members – a light brown, textured leather that has been softened to feel broken-in. All have bag loops. Some have the chamfered edge detail. They also come with the Imperial line laces to thread through the lower skirt. The line also shares the smaller chrome rivets and a unique monotone Brooks badge that matches the aged leather very nicely. I say, well played!

Unique Line
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The Brooks B73; Unique indeed – lots of shiney chrome and a textured finish

The Unique line is a hodge-podge of saddles that allegedly have some unique feature that sets them apart. So there are lots of saddles in this line with chrome or titanium hardware, big springs, and limited editions that are not considered Special because they lack the larger copper rivets (all Uniques have the chrome rivets). All have bag loops except for some of the limited editions. Saddles that only come in a single (unique) variant, like the B17 Lady, fall into this category, too.

OK, now let’s get into some of the smaller groups that are not readily identified by Brooks.

Brooks Professional, Swallow and Swift
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The Swift Titanium in green – oh, daddy

These are “race” style low-profile saddles, with a smooth upper surface (nearly all other Brooks saddles have three holes in the top). All are available with titanium rails. The lightest is the B15 Swallow Titanium, weighing in at 370g. And, yes, it has seat bag loops.

The S Models, Finesse and Lady
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The Brooks Finesse Titanium in honey (aka the Finesse Titanium Special); the Finesse is the women’s version of the Team Professional Titanium

S does not represent Standard or Special, much to the dismay of many people who have mail-ordered these saddles by accident! Some suggest S stands for Short, because the overall length of these saddle is less than standar…umm…regular models. Brooks readily identifies the S models as being women’s saddles, along with the Finesse and B18 Lady. Nearly all Brooks saddles are offered in an S version, especially in the Touring and City families. There are fewer S versions in the Road/MTB category, but Brooks hasn’t left the lady racer out in the cold. The Team Pro(fessional) chrome and copper saddles are offered in S versions, with the titanium version getting it’s own name, the Finesse Titanium (yes, Finesse Titanium = Team Pro S Titanium). Who knows why. The B18 Lady is a women’s-only model, offered only in brown or raspberry (a seasonal edition sold with matching grips!) with a nice embossed floral pattern, wide seat and springs.
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The B18 Lady Raspberry; if I were a chick, I’d be all over this

B17 Narrow Saddles
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The Brooks B17 Narrow in brown (aka the B17 Champion Narrow Classic)

The B17 (Standard) and B17 Imperial saddles are available in Narrow variants, for “sportier” use, as some people feel the standard B17 width is too wide for some riders. These narrow models have identical hardware as the standard versions, including chrome rivets and the presence of bag loops. The Narrow models are, however, offered with fewer color options – black only for the Imperial and black or brown for the (Standard) B17. Sorry, ‘honey’!

Classic & Standard Models
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The Team Pro Classic in black; note the lack of seat bag loops in the Professional series

Three of the Classic line of saddles are identified as Classic or Standard models – the Team Pro Classic and the B17 Standard and Standard S. All this really means is that these are the base models for each model type. The B17’s therefore have the smaller chrome rivets and black rails with loops, while the Team Pro has chrome rivets and rails, but no loops and is only offered in black or honey. These are the lowest cost versions of these models.

Chrome, Copper and Titanium Models
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The B17 Titanium in brown (aka the B17 Champion Special Titanium); a somewhat singular combination of features, Special line copper rivets and chamfered detail, but non-matching titanium hardware

No big surprise what these labels mean, but it might be surprising that (aside from one exception) only the Road & MTB saddle family offers these model variants – so we’re talking race saddles: Team Pro, Swift and B15 Swallow, including the Team Pro S versions. The one exception is the B17 Titanium, which is a member of the touring family. Note that the Swift does not come in a copper version, and the B15 Swallow only comes in the chrome version!

Champion Series Saddles
As a post script, I wanted to comment on the “Champion” descriptor that is sometimes arbitrarily added to the names of various saddles, particularly on websites. Brooks doesn’t make much mention of the different Champion types, but since it’s embossed on the side of most of their saddles, I thought I try to list them and search for some commonalities.

  • Champion Standard – used on the B17 Standard, Select, Imperial and Aged, including the S versions; prior B15’s were also Champion Standards before they were given the Swallow name (and imprint)
  • Champion Special – B17 Special and Titanium
  • Champion Narrow – B17 Narrow and Narrow Imperial
  • Champion Sprinter – reserved for the B17 Sprinter
  • “Champion Flyer” – this title appears to have been used in the past, but the current Flyers are not marked as such; Flyers are essential sprung B17’s, so the connection is clear

Brooks saddles aren’t cheap…but they’re not that expensive, either!

OK, so lot’s of folks gripe about the cost of Brooks saddles and, yeah, $350 for a saddle is pretty nuts for most people, but $90 for a B17 is not. $100 saddles are commonplace, but few are as comfortable and none are as well made and long lasting as a Brooks. Here are some MSRP (Brooks website) prices of a few saddles to put things in perspective, using $1.35/€ as a somewhat historical average exchange rate. I’ve also listed weights, but if you’re taking weight into strong consideration – Brooks is a hard sell. I will note, though, that saddle makers are notorious for understating their product weights (see Weight Weenies) – but my two Brooks saddles are very close to their stated weights. From lightest to heaviest:

  • B15 Swallow Titanium (370g): 290€ ~$390
  • Swift Titanium (390g): 290€ ~$390
  • B17 Titanium (410g): 225€ ~$300
  • B17 Champion Sprinter (425g): 250€ ~$335
  • Team Pro Titanium (430g): 230€ ~$310
  • B17 Standard (520g): 90€ ~$120
  • B17 Imperial & Narrow Imperial (530g): 110€ ~$150
  • Team Pro Classic (530g): 90€ ~$120
  • B17 Narrow (530g): 90€ ~$120
  • B68 (530g): 90€ ~$120
  • Team Pro Chrome (540g): 130€ ~$175
  • Flyer (860g): 95€ ~ $130
  • B73 (1120g): 130€ ~$175
  • B190 (1850g): 139€ ~$185

One thing this listing reveals is the large weight and price gap between the $300+ saddles (<;;;;430g) and the ~$120 B17'ss (~530g). That's almost $200 for that 100g savings. For high-end bikes, that's actually a fairly inexpensive weight savings, but for typical bikes it's a hefty price tag. For example, the $1600 Pashley Guv'nor roadster ships with the $300 B17 Titanium – kind of an unusual parts spec, of you ask me.

5 thoughts on “Decoding Brooks’ Saddle Model Designations

  1. […] their somewhat chaotic model naming and designation system.
     
    Brooks´s designations reminds me of the imperial Weight & Measures system. Your classification is simpler than the one used by Brooks but I think I’ll try to apply the “distinctive units” method used in phonology to the different saddle models and see if that leads us somewhere.

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  3. Pingback: Brooks Saddles - Page 5 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

  4. thanks for the article! I like your research on it, but being a bike newbie, i’m still very confused. one question though.. I like the Brooks designs but they seem very hard. is that not uncomfortable for the butt bone?

    • Great question – worthy of a long response. You’ll find similar comments elsewhere. Out of the box, Brooks saddles are stretched very tightly across their support frames. This is by design. Since most Brooks saddles do not use padding, support is provided entirely by the leather, which is “slung” between the front and back of the saddle. The design is intended to allow the leather to stretch slowly over time to conform to the rider. Indeed, many people joke about the first painful year of riding on a Brooks saddle! (1 yr equal to 1500+ miles for many Brooks riders) You can, however, immediately loosen the leather stretch tension (using the tool that comes with every Brooks saddle) very slightly to soften the ride – but not too much, otherwise the saddle won’t break-in properly. There are also several leather treatments (Brooks brand and others) that will accelerate the break-in process. Keep in mind that Brooks saddles are not intended to be used for occasionally-ridden bikes or casual, low mileage riders. In this case, the saddles will never break-in enough. Most Brooks saddles are intended to be used throughout a lifetime, staying with the rider as he/she moves from bike to bike. I have a dear friend who has ridden his Brooks saddle for over 25 years. Like all “performance” saddles, the competition versions (Swallow, Team, Champion, etc.) should be worn with padded riding gear. In your case, as an admitted bike newbie, you may want to wait on a Brooks until you’re certain that cycling will be a lifetime activity for you (I sincerely hope it is!), until your butt becomes conditioned to long hours in the saddle and until you decide to invest in a bike worthy of an expensive saddle like a Brooks!
      Cheers – and welcome to the “tribe”!
      Dave

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