With America’s heritage (clothing/brand) movement in full swing now, it’s easy to overlook our friends across the pond and the quality goods they produce. One of my favorite brands that exemplifies timeless quality and pride in workmanship is Brooks England.
What started off as a horse harness and general leather shop quickly took shape as one of the finest saddle (American translation: bike seat) shops in the country when John Boultbee Brooks rode his bicycle to work and quickly realized that the saddle was unfit for general human use. The ensuing product, a beautiful handcrafted saddle, was a rousing success and quickly cemented Brooks’ reputation as a formidable leather craftsman.
The company began making motorcycle bags and other accessories, continuing uninterrupted and under family ownership until 1958. Starting in 1962, Raleigh (and Sturmey Archer) oversaw the manufacturing of Brooks pieces at a new location in the West Midlands; this continued until about ten years ago when Sturmey went under and Brooks was purchased by another company. It was at that time that they began making saddles and other pieces as they had in the past, even reviving their original slogan and quickly restoring their brand image.
A Brooks Saddle is a work of art. Like other quality leather goods, it gets better with age; as a rider accumulates miles, the saddle molds itself to the rider’s body and becomes more comfortable. The leather is actually tensioned with an adjustable cantle plate and can be modified to the rider’s preference. It’s not uncommon to find a Brooks saddle on any quality bike; in fact, one of my favorite uses was on a recent post of Stuart Hobday’s Bike a few months back.
The Brooks website is quite intriguing as well. In addition to ordering products (the seats can be tough to find at local shops), there is a comprehensive blog, user pictures, and rider stories. My father has ridden a Brooks on a steel frame Trek for decades now, and when I was a kid I couldn’t understand why someone would use something so old on a modern bike. Now that I can appreciate a quality product, it all makes perfect sense.