Brooks Cambium C17: Long-Term Review

Brooks England offers an elegant, comfortable saddle to compliment any build. However, abysmal service for buyers in the United States sours an otherwise perfect product.

[Update: Brooks responded to the concerns raised in this article – see the latest updates near the end of the piece.]

Overview

The Brooks Cambium C17 is a saddle with obvious pedigree: Brooks England has arguably produced the most comfortable saddles for long-distance riding and touring for many years. A Brooks saddle could be considered the icing on an otherwise beautiful bike build, garnering respect from casual riders to the most discerning bike nerds for its beautiful aesthetic and vintage appeal. But with these qualities come with the typical issues with owning a leather saddle: a lengthy break-in period (500-1000 miles) and constant care and attention of the stretched-hide base – especially if you’re riding consistently in the rain.

Enter the Brooks Cambium, a modern take on the classic Brooks shape with none of the issues that plague the original leather designs. Constructed with a base of natural rubber and topped with organic cotton canvas, the saddle claims waterproofedness and “maintenance free” use. Four color options allows customization to fit nearly any build while still maintaining a classic aesthetic. Within the last few years, the Cambium lineup has been expanded to offer three shapes (C13, C15, and C17) so there’s a saddle for every type of rider.

Is the Cambium the perfect saddle for adventure riding? Well, almost.

Comfortability

Over the last two years, I’ve had the Brooks Cambium C17 “Carved” model mounted to my daily commuter and dirt-touring bike. Without reservation, I’ll admit this is the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever owned. Fearing damage to the nethers from long hours in the saddle, I opted for the “carved” model that includes a cutout to relieve pressure on the perineum, though I’ve since heard from other Cambium owners that the standard model is just as comfortable. It’s a personal decision.

The saddle is roomy and offers plenty of variability in positioning. Whether I’m pedaling around town casually in a more upright position or grinding away miles in the drops, I’ve never felt uncomfortable while riding. The saddle design accommodates a number of rider shapes, tapering in the right places to prevent uncomfortable pressure and chafing. A slight springiness in the rubber base provides a comfortable ride when the road gets rough, though it can feel strange when you hit a few consecutive bumps and the saddle begins to rebound, a feeling similar to a low-pressure tire.

Virtually no break-in was required, though I did spend a few days tweaking saddle placement to ensure it fit my personal riding position. I settled on a fairly neutral fore/aft, with the saddle’s middle-third level. Brooks recommends setting it up flat or even slightly nose-down, which is in contrast to their classic saddle lineup which can be typically found in a nose-up configuration.

Looks & Durability

I purchased the Cambium in “Slate”, a color that could be described as a dark gray/purple with excellent depth and variation. The resulting contrast of the cotton upper with gunmetal aluminum hardware makes for a subtle-yet-lavish execution. The two-tone effect where the top meets the rubber base, metal rivets and “Brooks” designation on the rear add just enough interest without feeling excessive.

Over the last two years, the saddle has endured nearly everything I could throw at it. My Cambium has weathered daily abuse from the chafing blue jeans, brick wall bike-leans, unexpected thunderstorms and uncovered nights in the woods. The cotton canvas upper material has certainly aged from its treatment, though I would argue this benefits the look of the saddle. Like the Brooks leather saddles, the Cambium gains its own unique ‘patina’ from dye transfer and wear. On the extreme left/right edges, the cotton has worn through to the rubber base but the material is adhered in a way to prevent peeling and flaking. Below the surface, the saddle is as solid as ever. After two years of daily use, the ride quality is indistinguishable from the day it came out of the box.

Warranty & Repair

Earlier in this review, I noted that the Brooks Cambium was “almost” the perfect saddle. If it weren’t for my experience with Brooks Customer Service, I would still be evangelizing this saddle to everyone I meet. Brooks trumpets their “10 Year Warranty” and lifetime service throughout their marketing materials, stating that any component of the saddle can be replaced should it be required.

If you are a company selling high-end products at a global scale, you should be willing and able to repair your products at the same scale

About three weeks ago, I clipped a pedal while cornering at low-speed, causing my weight to shift abruptly onto the nose of the saddle. Immediately, the two tubular steel saddle rails bent at a 15-20% angle near the saddle clamp, rendering the saddle unridable. While I would expect a quality saddle to be more resilient to this type of treatment, especially considering the abuse my mountain bike saddles have seen in over-the-bars crashes, I contacted Brooks to see what repair options were available. What resulted from my inquiry is one of the most lengthy and frustrating experiences I’ve had with a bicycle parts retailer.

I received a response four days after my inquiry that recommended I email the Brooks Repair team in Philadelphia, for which they provided an email (interestingly enough, hosted at Gmail.com). I copy/pasted my original request into a new email to the Philly team, and awaited a reply. Three days passed. Having received no response from the Philly Team, I reached back out to Brooks England to ask for their recommendation.

Five days later, they responded with a direct-contact to “Simon”, who runs a state-side Brooks repair business. Again, I copy/pasted my appeal in an email to Simon. Almost immediately, I received an automated bounce-back email, indicating the address was no longer in service. I contacted Brooks yet again to let them know. Two days later, I have not received a response. [See update below]

Conclusion

The Brooks Cambium C17 saddle is a beautiful, well-designed addition to any bicycle. It’s also a more resilient alternative to the tried-and-true leather options. Long-term testing proved the saddle can endure the standard wear-and-tear that a daily commuter or adventurer can throw at it – and look fantastic doing it.

But here is the catch: If you are a buyer based in the US and need to send in your Cambium saddle in for warranty or repair, you will be frustratingly left with no service or warranty support. For that reason, I would advise US-buyers against purchasing this saddle and to look for another option, domestically or otherwise.

If you are a company selling high-end products at a global scale, you should be willing and able to repair your products at the same scale. If not, you should disclose your inability to provide service with a “buyer-beware” statement at the point-of-purchase. Brooks England did neither of these things, and instead has failed to deliver on their service guarantee. Had I known this, I would have chosen another product the first time around.

Update, May 2017

Unexpectedly, I received an email from a Brooks team member last week including a detailed apology for the poor experience I had with the U.S. Customer Service following my request for repair. The team member noted that Brooks had taken steps earlier this year to resolve the problems with their U.S. service model to prevent a situation like the one I encountered. They also offered to replace the saddle with another Cambium – an offer I was happy to accept, considering how much I enjoyed the first one.

This all begs the question: would I recommend buying the Brooks Cambium after this experience? Yes, for two reasons. First, as I noted in the original review, it’s a fantastic product and still the most comfortable saddle on any of my bikes. Second, I appreciate the straightforward, no-B.S. answer from Brooks, even if it took them a while to respond. If they have resolved their service issues as noted, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick another one up.

 

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