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The top 5 best leather road bike saddles

This article features what I consider to be some of the best leather road bike saddles on the market.

Before I show you the contenders, I have to make a couple of things clear. Some things you might already know yourself.

For starters, leather isn’t a material you’ll find being used on saddles for road bikes today. That’s because it’s both expensive and heavy. The majority of listings here are Brooks saddles and that brand is highly associated with more vintage oriented bicycles or nimble single-speed bikes.

All of the saddles shown here have designs which predate the turn of the millennium. That means they are classic designs. Predominantly wide and long. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with classic designs and some of them are still featured today.

Especially Brooks saddles are known for their breaking in period. That means that over time the saddle adjusts to your particular anatomy and placement of the sit bones. That’s because Brook saddles don’t have a separate shell, but rather a really thick piece of leather that’s stretched.

Leather is an organic material, which is extremely durable, robust, can be made waterproof, is naturally breathable and looks great when maintained well. It has a certain allure that non-leather saddles just don’t have.

But you probably already knew all of this, so here are my top picks for the best leather road bike saddle your money can buy.

Brooks B17 Narrow

B17 Narrow
B17 Narrow

The Brooks B17 Narrow is the slimmer version of one of the most renowned saddles in Brooks’ entire lineup: the B17.

For today’s standards the 151 millimeter isn’t all that narrow, with most non-retro bike saddles falling well below that number, but none of Brooks’ saddles can really be called narrow when compared to other big brand names.

Fortunately, as long as you don’t feel your thighs chafing, the width has less impact considering the fact that the 5mm tanned leather upper adjusts to your sit bones gradually. The lack of supporting shell means sit bone width matters less, if at all.

Inexpensive is not a word that coexists with the entire lineup of Brooks. All of their saddles demand a premium. But the hand-crafted saddle with steel rails is truly a timeless beauty and a classic finishing touch for a retro build or vintage bicycle.

Riding a Brooks saddle and feeling its shape over time is something that has to be experienced to appreciate, and the B17 Narrow offers that experience as a high-quality leather road bike saddle.

Expert Experience

Alissa B | Site Owner – January 30, 2023

I’m a proud owner of two B17 saddles myself. My first, the standard unisex model, got me nearly ten thousand miles through Southeast Asia, Patagonia, and across the USA. As a rather narrow woman with a craving for freedom and a mistrust of the whole “female bodies are designed for childbearing” thing, I proudly rode my unisex saddle while proclaiming that “not all women have wide sit bones” (true, but beside the point). I was comfy enough, though during long days in the saddle (as when racing across the US) I sometimes had to grit my teeth and slather on the chamois butter.

Pros and Cons

Brooks B17 Narrow Carved

B17 Narrow Carved
B17 Narrow Carved

The Brooks B17 Narrow Carved is the exact same version as the B17 Narrow without the center cut out.

For a saddle with such a vintage build, a center cut out behaves a bit differently than on a saddle with a shell. To keep the shape of the saddle in place, there’s a lace that ties underneath the leather upper and keeps the sides from pulling away from each other.

As with all Brooks saddles, the B17 Narrow Carved has a breaking in period, where the thick leather upper adjusts to the rider. But after a considerate amount of miles both the breaking in and center cut out make for an exceptionally comfortable retro-styled saddle.

This saddle is definitely a special piece of bicycle equipment for the vintage connoisseur who doesn’t mind the time necessary to grow towards the ultimate riding experience. And as such the B17 Narrow Carved offers its goodness for those who’re willing to wait for it while riding.

Pros and Cons

Brooks Swift

Swift
Swift

The Brooks Swift is a stunning piece of art with its hand-hammered copper rivets in a sleek design.

The steel rails support a 5 millimeter tanned leather upper of 272 x 150 mm. Because of the materials used and how they are created, none of the Brooks saddles are lightweights. This saddle tips the scales at 510 grams. That being said, Brooks saddles are meant to be experienced for their ride quality and comfort they offer over time. Not to be fitted on your hill-climb bike on race day.

The logo is accompanied by skived edges that do nothing more than add to the design, creating a clear distinction between the shiny leather and suede.

Even though it’s just as heavy as the B17 Narrow, the fact that it’s less high means that for some people it’ll fit the design of a vintage road bike better.

Color options are available in standard black, brown and honey.

Expert Experience

Ian Osborne | Contributor – February 15, 2008

Unlike other über lightweight saddles, sitting on the Brooks felt special. It’s like riding a slice of cycling history. The leather is stretched and shaped for a comfy ride, and this will only get better with time. It’ll take some blood, sweat and miles – and probably years – to shape perfectly to your behind, but it’ll be worth it. The leather will stretch over time so you might need to take up the slack with the tension adjustment underneath.

Pros and Cons

Brooks Swallow

Swallow
Swallow

The Brooks Swallow is longer and more narrow than the Brooks Swift and just a tad bit lighter sitting at grams.

Because of its elongated shape, the saddle has two flaps that are attached to each other underneath the leather upper. This keeps the saddle from sagging too much and moving outwards while sitting.

The saddle has an entire chromed steel frame including the rails. Its long nose and relative low height when compared to other Brooks saddles ensure it has a definite race feel to it.

As I said before, you buy such an eccentric-looking piece of saddle equipment for the experience. And as far as experience goes with an authentic leather saddle, the Brooks Swallow probably offers the best road bike experience of them all.

Expert Experience

John Stevenson | Contributor – September 4, 2007

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’.

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.

Pros and Cons

Selle San Marco Regal Le Rino

Regal Le Rino
Regal Le Rino

Due to popular demand the iconic Italian brand re-released the Selle San Marco Regal. An eye-watering retro beauty of a road bike saddle that’s actually seen use in the Pro peloton decades after it was first introduced.

At 283 x 149 millimeters in size, the thing is huge with a sloping nose and eye-popping copper rivets. A thin layer of Rino calfskin leather sits atop a carbon injected nylon shell supported by carbon steel rails.

The overall design and aesthetics are absolutely breathtaking and obviously the saddle provides such a level of comfort that people still rave about it today.

Although Selle San Marco talks about using lightweight components the saddle is still on the heavy side at 380 grams. It means you won’t buy this saddle for its weight-saving aspect, because there is none.

But the length, shape, padding, and overall design made Tom Boonen use it during Paris Roubaix, albeit in a slightly altered version. That has to say something right?

Expert Experience

Simon Hartwell | Contributor – October 15, 2015

On initial contact the Regal doesn’t give the impression of being a comfortable perch, the shell is pretty stiff, and the foam padding, although dense, is quite slim. My first ride impression was that looks were not deceiving; the saddle was quite hard and unforgiving, but as the ride went on I seemed to get more comfortable on it. This continued as more rides and miles were racked up.

A few hundred miles later and the hull has developed a little more give, and although not plush it is supportive and surprisingly comfortable. It appears that you need to share a few hundred miles with the Regal before you feel at home on it. It remains firm, but acceptably forgiving for long rides.

Pros and Cons

Specifications leather road bike saddles

Name
Rail
Price
Dimensions
Weight
Shell
Padding
Cover
Brooks B17 Narrow
steel
150 euros
279 x 151 mm
510 g
none
none
vegetable tanned leather
Brooks B17 Narrow Carved
steel
150 euros
279 x 151 mm
510 g
none
none
vegetable tanned leather
Brooks Swift
steel
165 euros
272 x 150 mm
510 g
none
none
vegetable tanned leather
Brooks Swallow
steel
190 euros
285 x 153 mm
490 g
none
none
vegetable tanned leather
Selle San Marco Regal Le Rino
carbon steel
109 euros
283 x 149 mm
380 g
Techno-polymer
Biofoam
Rino leather

Sources

Ian Osborne, Brooks Swift Saddle review, Bikeradar, February 15, 2008
John Stevenson, Brooks Swallow Classic review, Bikeradar, September 4, 2007
Simon Hartwell, Selle San Marco Regal, Road.cc, October 15, 2015
bio vanseijen

Johan van Seijen

Founder Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website. 

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