Are Leather Bicycle Saddles Really More Comfortable?

In a word: yes. Leather for bicycle saddles is similar to natural down for jackets and sleeping bags, in that no better performing synthetic material has ever been developed. Leather is cool and non-sticky on hot days, and provides comfort even on extended rides. Most importantly, a leather bicycle saddle will never leave you with that ominous numbness between the legs caused by pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in a delicate area of the body called the perineum.

One study on the connection between perineal compression and erectile dysfunction in male cyclists found that 19% of the participants who cycled more than 250 miles per week experienced erectile dysfunction, while 61% reported numbness in the genital area. The problem is not limited to male cyclists. A separate study involving 282 female cyclists found that 34% of them had experienced perineal numbness. The usual culprit here is the bicycle saddle’s foam padding, the very softness and compressibility of which results in it being pressed up against the perineum and exerting pressure that can slow or even block the flow of blood through the tiny arteries of the area.

As I mentioned previously, beyond their reproductive health benefits, leather bicycle seats are more comfortable on hot days. Being a natural material, leather has natural breathability and so does not become hot and sticky like synthetic materials do. Moreover, high quality leather has the right mixture of give and resiliency to make for a truly comfortable ride over the long haul. So, if comfort is your main concern, a leather saddle is your best bet.

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Leather bicycle saddles do have one obvious drawback: weight. It’s not so much the leather itself that’s heavy, but rather the sturdy metal frame required to maintain the saddles shape and support that adds weight. The lightest leather saddle available is the 360 gr. Brooks B15 Swallow Titanium. Most lightweight racing style saddles made from synthetic materials range in weight from about 200 to 380 gr. There’s even one saddle made completely of carbon fiber that tips the scales at a lightsome 81 gr.

There is an obvious choice to be made here: do you want added comfort, or a reduction in weight? The answer will depend on what kind of cyclist you are. If you are a serious competitive racer, the choice is made for you because every gram saved will help you to win races. If you are a casual cyclist who only uses your bike occasionally, and for limited distances, you might not feel that the cost of a high quality leather saddle is justified. But if you fall somewhere in the middle, that is, you log a fair number of miles on your bike, but don’t ride competitively, a leather saddle might be the best choice for you. It’s an especially good choice for bicycle commuters and tourers.

Once you’ve made the decision to opt for the comfort of a genuine leather saddle, deciding which brand of saddle to go with is a no-brainer. Brooks England Ltd. has been the undisputed leader in the field almost since John Boultbee Brooks filed his first patent on “Saddles for Bicycles and Tricycles” in 1882. Back then, Brooks was ahead of its time. In 1890, the company employed “registered cutting, a sure preventive to all perineal pressure.”

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