Buy a saddle, bung it on your bike and ride away; that’s the usual way. Not with a Brooks leather saddle, however. That’s not to say the new owner can’t simply bolt it on and ride away; contrary to popular belief, it will be reasonably comfortable even when fresh out of the box. The nicely run-in example shown was ridden with no break-in by BikeMagic editor David Arthur from London to Exeter in one day and pronounced excellent.
To get the best from a Brooks, however, it is considered by both afficionados and the manufacturer best to prepare the saddle, prior to the first ride, by applying a curious substance known as Proofide. Supplied in a 40g tin, it contains various waxes and oils supposed to “condition, preserve and shower-proof” the leather of the upper.
“Back in the day”, which might mean three decades ago, the preparation process was long, involved and subject to personal preference. Before the advent of plastic moulded saddles, leather was the only option. Given the importance of a comfortable seat to every serious cyclist from professional to long-distance tourist, methods by which the leather might be a) encouraged to soften quickly; b) do so without going too far and sag and c) stay useable in wet weather were hotly discussed.
Advocates mooted the application of anything from red wine (in which a saddle might be soaked) to a mysterious unguent known as Neatsfoot oil, which was favoured in the Hallett household. Following liberal application of the stuff to the underside, the upper surface would be repeatedly attacked with equestrian-style saddle soap until the whole could be considered supple enough to be ridden without immediately inducing severe boils and blisters.
Not surprisingly, any saddle so treated would adopt the required shape quickly enough, only to need frequent tensioning via the nose bolt in order to avoid the dreaded sag while neither saddle soap nor Neatsfoot oil had any appreciable waterproofing properties.
With today’s technology it is all so much easier. Proofide, which is solid at room temperature but which melts at the touch of a finger, is applied liberally to the underside in sufficient quantity to leave a coating once it has solidified. The idea is to leave a water-repellent barrier to keep off stray splash. The top surface gets a lighter application, with solidified excess buffed away with a cloth. This also leaves a water-repellent finish that will protect the saddle from a light shower.
One might ask why Brooks doesn’t send its saddles out with Proofide applied and thus ready to ride. Perhaps the idea is to get the new owner to bond with the saddle, even before it is ridden for the first time. After all, once time and effort have been invested in it, any initial misgivings during the first few miles of riding are more likely to be dismissed.