Brooks C17 Cambium Saddle Review

For the past couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of riding on my Moots Routt, putting in miles in preparation for Dirty Kanza.  At Dirty Kanza, I’ll be a part of a special project that will have more details in the future…but as a component of that project, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to spend some saddle time on a Brooks C17 Cambium saddle.  (I test rode both the C17 and C17s (short) version, and settled on the C17 standard).  I’ve put many hours on the saddle, with rides ranging from 45 minutes to 5+ hours, and feel pretty confident that I know how it performs.  I only have a few months on it, so I cannot comment on long-term durability thus far, but what I’ve read elsewhere has been positive.

My Cambium went on the Moots, and sees all conditions.  Mud, dirt, gravel, snow, rain, heat–you name it.  The Cambium is a synthetic material saddle, and is perfect for these kind of trying conditions.

I haven’t had a good chance to take glorious photos of it, but here are some garage poseur shots:

Note the relatively flat profile:

Gently textured material:

I typically ride my Ergon SM3Pro saddles on mountain and gravel bikes, and I’m a big fan of the SM3, and was a little reluctant to switch saddles, particularly in front of a 200 mile gravel ride.  But I like trying new products, and this is a Brooks-related project, and so I slapped it on my little titanium wonder and checked it out.

My first ride was about 25 miles, and that was an adjustment period.  The saddle didn’t require any break-in period, but the profile was a little different than the SM3–there is no central depression (although Brooks does offer a carve version with a central cutout.  From what I’ve heard, the carve version removes some of the integrity of the saddle, and makes it ride a little softer.  I really didn’t want that, and hence I skipped the carve.  If you like a softer saddle/cushier ride, check it out).

I like flat saddles.  Saddles that have a rise or ridge in the middle, or that are very curved across the surface, are uncomfortable for me.  If you look at the C17, it appears to have a curved profile, and hence I was a bit leery.  However, after just a few minutes on the saddle, I could tell that this would not be an issue.

The material that the saddle is made out of is magical.  It has the perfect amount of give to be comfortable for long days in the saddle–but is firm enough to be supportive (and not bouncy) for your hardest ‘in the saddle’ spinathons.  It doesn’t change texture when it gets wet, so it doesn’t get slippery in the rain (or when you’re really sweating).  The shape of the saddle is perfection–supportive where your sit bones are, but nicely contoured such that the front of the saddle doesn’t rub on your inner thighs.  The rivets are a nice aesthetic touch, but they are never felt while riding, because of their position.

If you get ‘on the rivet’ and really hammer, the contour of the saddle is again perfect–sliding forward an inch to a more aggressive position provides a narrowed seating area that is ideal for your hardest efforts.  Slide back to a normal position, and it’s support embodied for daylong onslaughts.  Sit up and slide all the way back, and it’s a comfortable perch to recover from.

I like the look and aesthetic of the saddle–the black looks great on the Moots.  Thus far, several months in, the comfort is amazing.  I don’t miss the SM3 in any way, even when I’m on the bike for hours at a time.  Thus far, the experience is overwhelmingly positive.

Are there any criticisms?  No–but I have 2 observations.  First, this isn’t a “light” saddle.  Going from the SM3 Pro or Pro Carbon to this saddle is a palpable increase in weight.  You don’t feel it on the bike, but if you hold both in your hand, you can tell the difference immediately.  The offset in comfort and durability is worth it, however.

Second, this is a saddle that I would use (and will use) without hesitation in the realm of multi-hour gravel rides.  If I was spec’ing a saddle for the most intense road rides, I would stick with a traditional road saddle that is harder and lighter.  This isn’t the saddle to put on your Madone, if you’re going to go out and hammer it for 90 minutes.  Right tool for the right job.

I’ll keep updating this review as I get more time in with this saddle, but thus far, it has been a worthy upgrade to the Moots.

Glory Days

I haven’t posted anything substantive on here in nearly a month.  It isn’t for lack of riding.  I’ve been riding a lot–more than ever, perhaps.  My riding has been steady efforts, for longer duration than I’d normally ride.  The positive side is that I’m building an endurance base that should suit me well for this season’s upcoming challenges–predominantly Dirty Kanza.  The downsides are numerous and include: a) boredom; b) a paucity of interesting things to blog about; and, c) a marked diminution in my top end.

I was driving home late last night, after a work meeting, and was listening to some Bruce Springsteen.  Glory Days came on, and I started to think.  I recently had one of my best friends tell me that he had reached a pinnacle, and that’s such a scary thought to me.  It’s a scary thought because it implies that a decline will soon follow.  Peak, pinnacle, plateau–they’re all concerning, because they imply a lack of improvement.

So I was driving along in the dark, wondering if there will come a point in time where I will reflect back on the past couple of years as my glory days.  That is such a profoundly depressing thought–that at some point in my life, I will reflect back and see the best of life in the past.  It frankly scares me to think about identifying a pinnacle or peak.  It scares me in so many contexts.

In the realm of riding, I know I need to bust things up a bit and start throwing down some intervals.  I know I can continue my upward growth once I change up my training regimen. I’m hopeful it will come back to me quickly.  But in the realm of life, so much is changing–and so fast.  I look forward to warm weather and more photo ops.  I look forward to opportunities to truly break in the Fuel, and share some thoughts about it.  I try to embrace the future with optimism, notwithstanding my tendencies to the contrary.

Frank Sinatra said that the best is yet to come.  Dave Matthews said that we should wash out the tired notion that the best is yet to come.  I think that what Dave meant is that we should focus on making each moment the best that it can be, rather than assuming that things will get better at some point in the future.  I think his perspective might be superior.

The future is uncertain and largely beyond our control.  I give myself over to that powerlessness with regard to things that I cannot change.  I will work to improve on the things which I can improve upon, and I will work to enjoy myself in the moments that I am fortunate enough to enjoy with my friends and family.  I will fight back with ferocity against the concept that things are at a peak or pinnacle, and I will push on to the next summit and the ones beyond.

I’ll get back to blogging with more regularity when the moment is right.  For now, I’m focusing on rebuilding my base.

45NRTH Sturmfist 4 Update

I had previously shared some preliminary thoughts on the Sturmfist 4.  I now have quite a few miles and hours on them, and have some updates.

They are, bar none, the best cold weather bike gloves I’ve ever worn.  They’re the best cold weather gloves I’ve ever worn.  Ski gloves, mittens, whatever you want to compare them against.

Last weekend, I did several hours on the fatbike, out in the wind, riding snowmobile tracks across bare farm fields.  Temps were 13 degrees, wind was 25mph, wind chill was bitter.  I wore the gloves, by themselves, no chemical heaters, nothing else.  My hands were perfectly warm and comfortable.  I even stopped to drop air pressure.  Because the wool liner gloves are so flexible, I was able to remove just the shell glove, and keep the liners on while I fiddled with the presta valve stem.

Last night, temps were around -6, wind chill was around -30.  Moreover, it was dark.  I did have a pair of chemical heaters in the gloves, and frankly, my hands weren’t just comfortable…they were warm.  Not a tinge of coldness, notwithstanding riding somewhat technical trails and having to have a finger constantly on the brake lever.  I threw the heaters in the shell about 20 minutes before the ride, the gloves were warm and toasty when I put them on, and my hands were perfect the whole ride.

Cold hands and cold feet are the single biggest challenge for me in the winter, because I have poor circulation due to the Raynauds.  The 45NRTH Wolvhammer and Sturmfist combination are, quite frankly, what enable me to ride outside when it’s cold out.  There is no way I can overstate how much of an improvement these two products have made in the quality of my winter riding.  Without them, I either can’t ride outside, or I ride outside and freeze.  And I’m talking painful, hands stop working, no color or blood flow, potentially damaging cold hands.

I can’t speak to long-term durability of the gloves yet.  But if you have cold hands, the Sturmfist 4 is the glove you should be looking at.  There are few products that have had such a direct and meaningful impact on my personal comfort.  There are many companies that make jackets, or pants, or hats.  I have not found any company that makes a comparable glove.  They are a game changer–they are a product that literally makes my life better.  I can offer no higher praise.

Wear Wool.

I’m a tech guy.  I like shiny things.  I like electronics.  I like new ideas.

When it comes to clothing for riding in winter, I get all keyed up about permeable membranes that assist in moisture transfer.  The benefits of a fabric that stops wind and rain, but lets moisture out are self-evident.  Indeed, for the first several years of my riding, my wardrobe focused largely on layers and layers of tech fabrics.  You need the windstopper base layer to keep you warm and wick moisture away, and then maybe a poly-whatever base layer over that for insulation, and then a poly-whatever jersey (or not), and a goretex or windstopper shell on the outside.  These are things that I believed were absolutely necessary for winter riding.  On a night when it was 20 degrees out, I’d be wearing at least 4 layers on my upper torso.

I’m several years into my winter riding experience these days, and the benefit of that experience is that my riding garb has become simplified.  I still believe, very strongly, in the benefits of a really great tech shell.  I wear my Gore jackets when fat biking or mountain biking, and wear my Rapha jacket when riding gravel or road.  A shell is critical to keeping you dry (keep outside rain/snow out), and keeping the wind off of you.  What has changed, however, is my approach to base layers.

These days, I wear wool.

Wool keeps me warm whether it’s wet or dry.  It dries quickly.  It is durable.  When washed regularly, it doesn’t hold stink.  If you buy nice stuff, it holds up really well.  It’s versatile.

If the temps are going to be upper 20s or warmer, I’m wearing a thinner wool base layer, such as the Rapha winter base layer.  If it gets colder than that, I’m wearing the Rapha deep winter base layer with integrated hood.  And as far as base layers go, that’s it.

I’ve ridden on the road, in wind, in 5 degree temps wearing just a wool base layer and a shell–and been totally warm.  Zip up the zipper and you stay toasty.  Moreover, wool dries faster–if you start getting warm or sweaty, unzip a bit and let some air flow through your shell.  The wool keeps you warm, and dries out quickly.

Tech fabrics, as great as they are, simply do not wick as quickly as wool…and they don’t do as good of a job keeping you warm when they get wet (if they get wet).  The other issue with layering tech fabrics is that you end up creating microclimates between layers.  Tech fabrics are great at transferring water vapor from one side to the other.  However, if you wear a layer of tech fabric under a layer of tech fabric, the vapor transfer doesn’t work so well.

For example, if I wear a windstopper singlet under a tech shell, the water vapor from my body passes through the singlet’s membrane, and turns into water (not vapor) on the far side of that membrane.  That water gets trapped under the outer shell, and can’t get out.  The water vapor doesn’t remain vapor long enough to go through both layers of membrane…so you end up trapping and retaining sweat–making you wetter.  Adding a layer of fabric between the two just exacerbates the situation, as it creates a sponge to hold all of that water in place.

On the other hand, if you wear wool under a tech shell, the wool transfers the water vapor directly to the shell, the shell passes the vapor, and you remain dry.  No trapped moisture. If you do become wet, the wool keeps you warm nonetheless.

I’ve been wearing Rapha wool because that’s what I have.  I’ve started to look at some of the Icebreaker products more and more because, frankly, it looks like the highest quality wool merino on the market.  Picking a quality product is critical to ensuring that it will last and be useful for you after repeated use and washing.

A quick note on washing: I wash my wool base layers after every ride.  I turn them inside out, and wash with cool water in a machine–and then air dry.  No ill effects, even after a couple of years of use.

So today’s “lesson I’ve learned” is simple: Wear Wool.  Give it a shot, and don’t feel that you have to use a ton of tech fabrics to stay warm and dry this winter.  Anything to get you outside, regardless of the weather.

Broken

I’m writing with a bit of apprehension.

You may recall that about 2.5 months ago, I shared a certain exploit where I fell off my bike and landed squarely on my back.  In the immediate aftermath of that incident, I believed that the extent of the damage was a couple of broken ribs, based upon a series of X-rays I had.  But even a couple of weeks later, I was still way too sore for broken ribs.  I ended up going in for an MRI and…guff.

One minor compression fracture and two 10-20% compression fractures, all of the thoracic vertebrae.

The good news is that it doesn’t hurt the vast majority of the time.  It typically doesn’t hurt to ride…although if you fall off the bike and land on your shoulder, it sucks pretty bad.  Similarly, any quick twisting motion is pretty ridiculously painful.  It’s not a nice pain, either–it’s sharp.  Nauseating.  Instant.

Sure, I have celiac’s, but for the most part, I consider myself to be lucky that I’ve been healthy my whole life.  I’ve had a ton of broken fingers, but that’s it for broken bones.  I’ve never spent more than 2 hours in an ER in any one visit.  Never anything major other than digestive issues (ulcers, celiacs, etc).  I’ve never experienced pain with movement.  I’ve never had to think before jumping off a ledge, or before picking something up.  I’ve never had limits on activities of daily living.

It’s disconcerting.

I’m doing everything right in addressing this, letting it heal, not doing anything stupid.  But for being 10 weeks out, I’d expect to be further along.

On the other hand, this is one of those learning experiences.  When I can wake up and get up without any discomfort–I’ll appreciate that.  When I can have a deep sneeze without a rack of pain–I won’t take that for granted.  But for now–for now I’m broken.