Brooks Cambium Saddle Review (best buy of the year)

The title gives it away. The best bike-related item I bought this year was the Brooks Cambium Saddle. I didn’t actually buy it, it was a birthday present from the wife. Some people have real trouble with saddles. I’ve generally had no difficulties in finding the right perch.

Can you smell fish?

Some time ago i experimented with a San Marco Regal, it’s one of the nicest looking retro-saddles. It made some unwarranted and painful changes to my lower goochular region and has been banished to the shed ever since. The Cambium is not dissimilar in looks, with a riveted construction. The base is made of vulcanised and hard rubber with the top coating of cotton canvas. It’s slightly rough compared the smooth sheen of a Fizik or San Marco, to the extent that some johnny-come-lately peak-millenial bike boom converts have taken to lambasting the saddle for wearing out or through a pair of expensive jeans. It doesn’t wear through lycra, but if you’re over anxious about distressing a pair of pre-distressed jeans then this might not be the saddle for you. Unless of course you’re pairing it with the Rapha city riding jodphurs and softshell kepi, for epic, concierge-led rides with the Dalston Chapter.

As a general rule, the only time saddles really matter are when I’m doing lots of fixed miles, usually over winter. This is because there is more lateral movement, or movement in general, when riding fixed, thus leading to an increase in chafage and other unpleasantness. All of which reliably answers the question ‘how is the new saddle?‘, with ‘it tore me a new one‘.

I have used a Brooks C17 and a Spa Cycles Aire. Both were OK. The Brooks is very heavy and little bit too antiquated. The Aire is much cheaper than the Brooks and is racier, but also has a high gap between the rails and saddle which make it look a bit wrong. The racier Brooks saddles are fiercely expensive. The Aire is also impossible to break in. It’s made of reinforced kangaroo-hide and is leatherier than Tom Jones’ face. Not that I’d try to break in the latter.

same leather as the Spa Cycles Aire and Wharfedale

Last year Brooks bought out a new line of saddles with a cotton covering, called the ‘Cambium’. They do a wide C17 and a narrow C15. They have managed to capture the middle ground between racy and retro. I took one on test from Strada Cycles and had no difficulties at all. They come in at about £110, but with club discount I essentially got it cheaper than it would be from any well-known online retailers.

The best way of knowing if a saddle is right is if you complete forget it’s there. This is unequivocally the case with the Cambium. It does the job with a minimum of fuss; it’s just wide enough with a sturdy and hard plastic base under the covering to support the sit bones. I’ve had no issues at all. In fact, i promptly went out a bought the narrower C15 for the Mercian.

After 6 months of commuting and longer rides the Cambium is proving its worth, it’s very comfortable. It’s the only saddle i’d recommend unequivocally to anyone. I’m not a huge Brooks fan, as a rule of thumb I’ve had difficulties even breaking in the C17, my low weight means i haven’t so much as dented the leather after thousands of miles. The Cambium has more ‘give’ because of the construction. It also looks lovely and complements both the Bob Jackson and the Mercian and both the C15 and 17 have a set of bag loops hidden within the construction; perfect for the Carradice. It’s not far off being the perfect saddle.

I can't believe it's got bag loops as well Dad, hidden away like that. Very clever.
I can’t believe it’s got bag loops as well Dad, hidden away like that. Very clever.
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Recedite, plebes

I went out riding today, upping the mileage considerably to a whopping thirty miles. It may or may not have been fully thirty and it might have not happened at all because it wasn’t a digitised ride. I have yet to switch the garmin back on. It was a pre-christmas loosener, aimed at salving my conscience ahead of ongoing food and wine imbibement.

On the way back I stopped off at Strada Cycles, Bedminster Chapter. They don’t have a concierge. Instead, the appointed minion offered me a cup of tea in a SRAM mug. It was the proprietor’s cup of tea, but I was encouraged to drink it because he was outside being molested by a dog. This is the kind of service i’d expect for £200 a year. Nothing less than a reckless hot beverage gazumping and a floor show involving the Strada “Brand Manager” and an over-excited, wantonly salivating canine.

Dan wonders where the concierge has got to and why he's left riding a bike ill-equipped for winter
Dan wonders where the concierge has got to and why he’s left riding a bike ill-equipped for winter instead of the promised bongo-rocket. 
The Old Church. Not as good as the New Church.
The Old Church. Not as good as the New Church. The Nailsea (West End) is a hotbed of showtunes. 

It was a windy day. A buzzard flew alongside in silent contemplation. herons circled drunkenly, their movements both laboured and graceful.

It’s good to be back on the bike and out in the countryside.

Strada Cycles, Bedminster

My local bike shop is Strada Cycles in Bedminster. It’s a small but perfectly formed treasure trove of high-end road erotica, but also stocks a range of bikes to cater for all types of cyclists. It’s important to support your local bike shop for all sorts of reasons and I’m going to try and list a few.

1. Bikes are tactile and physical objects which require a physical and tactile buying process. Getting the right bike is something that requires a real-world experience. You need to see if a 58cm in X frame is the same as the 58cm you ride in Y frame, take it out for a spin and get some advice on all manner of things like stack height and Q-factor. The experts at your LBS provide this service.

tactile and physical objects – at an especially good price.

2. Bikes need fixing. I like to see myself as a mechanical wunderkind and in truth, i’m probably somewhere above the layman when it comes to bicycle engineering. I can assemble and fix most things. However, i don’t have a full range of shop tools and there are several jobs that are beyond my compass. Things tend to break at key moments; invariably the day before a race. Strada Cycles have regularly answered my last minute prayers and made a quick repair, despite their mega-busy schedule. This is because I have a good relationship with the shop, but also because they always want to do what they can to help.

3. The bike shop is like the record shop. The record shop has been ravaged and all but destroyed by the incessant march of technology and the preference for the invisible download over the physical object. It’s hard to quantify, but if you’ve spent a misspent youth in Reckless Records, or Sister Ray, or Binary Star, then you can recapture some of those hazy, esoteric and highly specialist days spent talking about weird things and occasionally buying something by heading to your local bike shop. It’s run by people who love bikes. They like talking about bikes.

4. It’s an important part of the local community and acts a bulwark against globalisation, both generally and in the bike trade. It’s a part of the diversity of the high street. If you’d rather have an enormotrekgiant concept store then carry on. I prefer a bit of light and shade.

Aside from these 4 points, there are a host of other reasons why you should visit your LBS and Strada Cycles. I popped in today to get some road food. This is the weird synthetic gel stuff that can help in a race as long as you don’t mistime the caffeine gel and end up gurning and gibbering to anyone nearby for an hour afterwards about the amazingness of your 8th place in the local fish and chipper. Whilst deciding what to get i noticed this spangly item:

Belle says, “it makes me want to break my bike just so i can ride it”

Strada Cycles have a courtesy bike fleet. They issue these to the disintransported citizens of the people’s republic of Bedminster in their hour of need. This is brilliant. The shop is run by Mike and Teresa, and ably assisted by Matt, Jez and Ian. There are others involved, but these are the core operatives in project Strada.

Jez as front of house; welcoming in the punters with a disarming smile.

Jez has been struggling to get out on the bike lately. He has big plans to ride an epic 58 mile sportive in a couple of months time and is about to embark on some altitude training. His motivation has slipped but it’s only a matter of time before he’s back chewing stem and laying waste to Strava KOMs up and down the Mendips. Jez is a fan of Slash’s Snakepit, whatever that might be. Jez sometimes daydreams about opening an Emmelle Concept Store to capitalise on the current bike boom. If Emmelle are tied to a pro-tour team then he’ll probably plump for Townsend. Jez is a legend amongst the Bristol and Bath cycling fraternity.

Mike: Captain, Skipper, Band Leader, Tech Guru, Utopian Socialist

Mike is riding a 25 mile time trial in 2 weeks time. He’s working to an even closer deadline than Jez. It will be the springboard for a calculated assault on a number of fast courses up and down the district. Mike can fix anything at the drop of a cycling cap and builds fantastic wheels. Mike is Strada Cycles.

Matt gives a Specialized Allez the what-for.

Matt lives out the back in a small annexe. They send him things to fix and slide cake and coffee under the metal door when he’s fulfilled his quota of wheelbuilds for the week. Matt’s mechanical skills are beyond compare. He is a magician with a torque spanner and a master wheelbuilder. Matt is planning to race this season, he is chasing a 19 minute 10.

The final member of the rogue’s gallery is the mighty Ian. I have been led to believe he rides a titanium bicycle. He may even get an entirely separate profile at a later date such is his standing. He is a softly-spoken giant amongst men.

Ian holding a bongo mag and a bongo wheel

And that’s it really. Everyone needs a friendly local bike shop and I’m lucky that mine is Strada. It is the best local bike shop I have ever frequented, and I’ve been to a few. They are friendly and welcoming, they fix your bike properly and they will sell you the right bike.

Etape De La Défoncé

Adjective

défoncé m. (f. défoncée, m. plural défoncés, f. plural défoncées)

  1. (slang) fucked, wasted, high (on drugs)

Verb

défoncé m. (f défoncée, m plural défoncés, f plural défoncées)

  1. Past participle of défoncer

Yesterday was the final stage for two of the most important stage races in living memory. The Tour De France and the Etape De La Défoncé. Unfortunately i couldn’t ride both so i opted for the latter. I came home after the stage race to watch the former, and marvelled at Wiggins performing the leadout, giving it a flick of the elbow on the last corner of the Champs-Élysées, leaving Cav to power up the straight to take his 4th win in a row. Later on the podium, Wiggo unleashed another impeccably timed one-liner; “We’re just going to draw the raffle tickets now”.

Cav and Wiggo get ready for the Etape de la Defonce
Wiggo re-enacts his fist pump for the EDD crowd.

I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by this year’s Tour. There’s not an awful lot more to say. My Mother rang me to discuss Both Wiggo’s and Cav’s victories yesterday. My Mother-in-Law cites Bradley Wiggins as her new hero. Everyone at work is talking about it. It’s on the front cover of The Times as a special wraparound poster – there is nothing else apart from the spectacular sight of the yellow jersey in full flight.

astounding

Whilst the Etape De La Défoncé may not have seared itself into the collective consicousness of a nation in quite the same way, it has left an indelible impression on the psyche of the participating peloton. It’s a terrific race, but pretty tough on the legs. I felt much stronger yesterday and rode much more conservatively at the start, despite us defending a slim lead. I rode in the bunch and did everything i could to avoid expending any energy.

John forgoes the team talk in favour of a team ‘stare’ instead.

John was in yellow and having a great race, things were getting spicy when suddenly a car came across a roundabout and he swerved onto the raised lip, knocking his gears out and ending his race. One of the amazing things about racing in Wales is that the Marshalls and NEG have the power to stop traffic. This leads to all but closed roads. Occasionally someone squeaks onto the course and causes problems. The NEG do an amazing job.

the red and gold reflected in the glorious weekend sunshine

When it got to the first major climb the race just exploded; riders started going backwards. One of the Kingston Wheelers took it on from way out for the time bonus and it just went mental. I found a tempo and rode back across. For the first time in a road race i found myself overtaking lots of riders and holding my own right at the front of the peloton. I began to bridge across to the main group, riding cautiously on the descent before tacking back across again, meeting up with Tom Ilet who was having a terrific race in the red and gold. Christian also was hurting himself recklessly and doing damage to the bunch in the process. It was exciting. I then went for the little ring to spin over the top and ride on with the break. It didn’t quite work out, the chain unshipped and wedged between the seat stay and the chainring. I couldn’t flick it back on so had to stop. It took me ages to get it back on, by which time riders had come flooding past and the break had gone. I was left in a futile chase across the valley to try to get back on, but didn’t make it. Again, i thought i must have been a long way down, but there were big groups behind me on the road. I got in with one of them, but wasn’t quite on their rhythm so succeeded only in disrupting their smooth chaingang until i managed to get in sync. Then my chain came off AGAIN. And that was it, i came home further back.

Strada Cycles holding onto yellow… by one second

It was a missed opportunity really; i wouldn’t have won or anything, but i definitely could have ridden for/with Tom and Christian and held on at the front, there were a number of big climbs to go. Tom took 5th overall and Christian bagged points to move up to 3rd cat. Sam had a tasty crash, but luckily somersaulted into a soggy and grassy ditch, rather than the unforgiving tarmac.

I’ll have to go back next year, it’s a brilliant race and is amazingly well-organised by Will Pring and his team of volunteers. I went from the euphoria of the stage win, to the slough of despond that is getting dropped, then back to the giddy heights of mixing it up on the climbs and seeing other people go backwards, then back down again, before finishing on a high because of the camaraderie and support from all the riders in the race. Riding with the Strada chaps was a blast, they are gentlemen all.

It was an amazing weekend to be riding a stage race with a rider in yellow.

Maillot Jaune (Etape De La Defonce)

It’s been a slightly insane day. I’ll work backwards. I’ve just finished watching the Tour and I am more than slightly overwhelmed by Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial performance. I was also left gobsmacked by his amazing interview in French where he compared Francois Hollande to a chap from Big Brother. Apparently he’d promised to breakdance with Hollande if he won Le Tour.

La maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins s’est gentiment moqué d’un journaliste qui lui indiquait la présence du président de la République, François Hollande, à l’arrivée de l’étape à Brive, vendredi.

Ah bon ? C’était lui ? Je ne savais pas qui c’était, je croyais que c’était quelqu’un de Loft Story…... Il est où maintenant pour que je fasse du break dance avec lui ? Vive la France ! a-t-il souri.

Whilst Britain’s latest national hero was scorching his way to history across the baked tarmac of Bonneval, I was involved in stage race in South Wales. It started off with a team time trial, then a 53 mile hilly road stage. I love team trials. They are beautiful. Tomorrow is a 45 mile very hilly road stage. I’m riding for Strada Cycles Road Team, even though there is a BSCC outfit in the race. It’s a long story, but all’s fine and i haven’t yet been banished into the outer regions of the Severn Road Club for my rank turncoatery.

Bedminster’s answer to Froome and Wiggins

The plan was (John has lots of plans, this much i learnt today) to try and take the yellow jersey in the TTT and then defend it in the road race stage. John’s plan kind of worked, insofar as NOTHING went according to plan, but we managed to take the yellow jersey and defended it (in the loosest sense of the word) in the road race stage.

Le Maillot Jaune! Sacre Merde!

The TTT was about 7.3 miles. We managed 16.20. I’m not sure what the average speed was. I do know that at the turn John went the wrong way and had to do a complicated volte-face to get back and then we sat up a bit whilst he buried himself to make up the 50 metres. It was quite entertaining. We still managed to beat the next best team by 27 seconds which gave us a decent cushion for the road stage, especially considering the 20 second time bonus on one of the primes. Which brings me on to the road stage…

There was a prime at 3 miles. Immediately after this a break got away and we were left with chasing duties. I spent about ten miles on the front with Matt trying to get it back and it really hurt, and in short, it destroyed me. I started going backwards on the climbs. This happens to often to me in road races, i’ve yet to figure out why or how, it’s another post i suspect, with lots of navel-gazing and speculative nonsense, but i imagine it will throw up the incisive insight that a hillclimb is a time trial. I am good at time trials. A climb in a road race is not a hillclimb. I am not particularly good at road races. QED.

At one point we were working to chase down the break, doing a lot of through and off and really driving the pace. Whilst this hurt a lot, and i found the gaps getting steadily bigger, it was also a highlight of the race. As the wind changed direction the movement of the paceline switched and we changed on the inside. It was fascinating.

I started to yoyo off the back. It’s really hard. You can only get back on so many times. Whenever there’s a lull you plead for respite, but it soon picks up again. Eventually, after about 45 miles, and 8 miles from the finish, the elastic snapped. This wasn’t altogether unexpected, i had a feeling my endurance would let me down due to the lack of training. It’s a bum deal, but as i mentioned previously, the twin alignments of work and weather scuppered my build-up. I waved goodbye to the bunch, metaphorically, and locked into a battle for survival just to make it up the last 8 miles.

There was one chastening section; the race heads out to roundabout and then back up to the finish. I had to witness the break heading back. It was the cycling equivalent of the walk of shame. In the end, John held onto the jersey by ONE SECOND. This is great news. It’s also awful news because it means we have to go out and do the whole thing again. The only silver lining is i’m about 2 hours down on the GC so everyone will leave me alone. I don’t think my legs will be in attendance. I don’t like to compare myself to Jens Voigt, but i felt a certain empathy with his latest utterly genius pronouncement about the Tour. I don’t like to compare a 53 mile road race stage and 7 mile time trial around Cowbridge with 3000km through France either, but what the hell.

http://www.itv.com/tourdefrance/news/cult-cycling-hero-jens-voigt-talks-to-ned-boulting/

Every cell of my body was screaming at me: ‘Stop, stop, I’m tired.’ I could hear them all, millions of little cells yelling in agony: ‘Jens, stop, I can’t do it anymore!’