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The top 8 best saddles for vintage road bikes

In this article I’m going to give you an overview of the best saddles for vintage road bikes.

My definition of vintage might differ from yours, but any steel bike from the early nineties, eighties or older probably qualifies.

Naturally what’s best for a vintage road bike differs as well, but usually the design aspect plays a more important part than other aspects. This is because road bikes from those periods were markedly less gaudy than their newer counterparts.

So you’ll find a lot of classically shaped options from Brooks and Selle San Marco in this list. Brooks because they’re the brand that basically still makes saddles from before WWII, and their Cambium offerings are simply fantastic. And Selle San Marco because they’ve decided to reissue an entire classic lineup of vintage pro peloton saddles.

So be ready for lots of leather, chrome, and rivets, on fantastic looking offerings to quench your thirst for the best saddles for vintage road bikes.

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

Brooks C13

C13
C13

The Brooks C13 is a relatively small road racing saddle in Brooks Cambium lineup.

The Cambium line was a brilliant move from Brooks, to significantly increase their product offering with something that was at the same time unique but adhering to more modern saddle standards.

The traditional Brooks break-in period doesn’t apply to Cambium saddles and the C13 offers an even more modern take, with carbon rails.

Brooks did an enormous amount of R&D that goes into their proprietary shell and it shows. This saddle is still pretty heavy with the smaller version just under 300 grams, but you get a high-quality saddle in return that promises to be one of the most comfortable in the market.

At 145 millimeters it has about an average width for a road bike saddle, and the aluminum rivets still give it that authentic-looking feel.

The only downside is the price, because with the carbon rails, it does mean this saddle is very pricey indeed.

Expert Experience

Jez Ash | Contributor – April 15, 2016

I really wanted to like the Cambium C13, and it’s seen a lot of use over the last three months. In the end, though, it just wasn’t as comfortable for me as other saddles. We’re all different, though, and saddles are an area where this is very much the case, so it’s quite possible that your bum would love it. I’ve given it a good mark as it’s a lovely thing, very well made and I’ve heard enough anecdotal evidence to establish that other people find it very comfortable. I’m just not one of them. I suspect that a wider version with the cutout could be a better match for my behind.

Pros and Cons

Brooks C15

C15
C15

The Brooks C15 is a tad bit longer than its C13 cousin measuring 283 x 140 mm.

It looks a lot like that saddle in that it uses the same material for the shell, rivets, and cover, but as for the ride feel it’s quite different.

For starters the C15 sits on steel rails, which drastically reduces the price. Carbon rails are known for taking out a bit more road buzz and being more flexible, which makes the C15 feel a bit stiffer.

Obviously it’s beautifully finished but that longer shape and steel rails does mean you’re looking at a saddle weighing 450 grams. A weight I do not necessarily consider to be in line with a true racing machine. For the same amount of money you can have a saddle that weighs less than half.

With its race shape, with great clearance, high level of comfort, and weight, the C15 is kind of an odd saddle in the performance category. But the far majority of people prefer comfort any day over the extra 150 grams.

So that means you choose the C15 for its looks, and the overall ride quality of the vulcanized upper, which is fantastic.

Expert Experience

Nick BruckBauer | Contributor – October 24, 2019

The Brooks Cambium C15 is a unique saddle with classic looks reminiscent of Brooks’s famous leather saddles. Brooks has long been known for high quality tensioned leather saddles with their timeless quality and classic aesthetics. The Cambium maintains some of the iconic Brooks looks but aims to up the performance with a more modern shape and lower weight. The shell of the saddle is made of Vulcanized Natural Rubber, giving the saddle unique ride characteristics. Riders looking for a durable saddle with classic styling will appreciate the Cambium C15. The Cambium is well suited to commuting or touring duty (if a flexible shell is what you are looking for). We probably wouldn’t use this saddle on our road bike if speed and performance are the priority.

Pros and Cons

Brooks C15 Carved

C15 Carved
C15 Carved

The Brooks C15 Carved is the same version as the regular C15, except it has a cut out.

As with the Brooks C13, whether or not you opt for the cut out version is up to. Just remember you get a bit more compliance out of the saddle because of the missing material.

Expert Experience

Stu Kerton | Senior Product Reviewer – September 08, 2018

I found the narrow nose of the C15 perfect for the type of riding it’s intended for. I could get really low and pedal hard without my thighs rubbing against the sides or feeling like anything was getting crushed.

Its one downside is its weight: 426g is pretty massive for a performance saddle and it is noticeable, although it’s a good compromise with the comfort. The C15 is really in its element on a quick audax machine or long range tourer/bikepacking expedition where you want the racier position but with some forgiveness.

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 saddles for vintage road bikes

Name
Rail
Price
Dimensions
Weight
Shell
Padding
Cover
Brooks B17 Narrow
steel
150 euros
279 x 151 mm
510 g
none
none
Brooks B17 Narrow Carved
steel
150 euros
279 x 151 mm
510 g
none
none
Brooks Swift
steel
165 euros
272 x 150 mm
510 g
none
none
Brooks Swallow
steel
190 euros
285 x 153 mm
490 g
none
none
Brooks C13
carbon braided Ø7×9 mm
200 euros
S 275 x 145 mm L 275 x 158 mm
S 295 g – L 310 g
vulcanized rubber
none
Brooks C15
steel
120 euros
283 x 140 mm
450 g
vulcanized rubber
none
Brooks C15 Carved
steel
120 euros
283 x 140 mm
432 g
vulcanized rubber
none
Selle San Marco Regal Le Rino
carbon steel
109 euros
283 x 149 mm
380 g
Techno-polymer
Biofoam

Sources

Ian Osborne, Brooks Swift Saddle review, Bikeradar, February 15, 2008
John Stevenson, Brooks Swallow Classic review, Bikeradar, September 4, 2007
Jez Ash, Brooks Cambium C13, Road.cc, April 15, 2016
Nick BruckBauer, Brooks Cambium C15 Review, Outdoorgearlab, October 24, 2019
Stu Kerton, Brooks Cambium C15 Carved All Weather, Road.cc, September 08, 2018
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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