Saturday, July 14, 2012

Almost like a Brooks? Part Two: Review of Velo Orange Model 1 Saddle

Edit July 2014: Please also read part three of my review.

A couple of months ago, I posted my first impressions of the Velo Orange Model 1 and Model 3 saddles. In the meantime, I have ridden the Model 1 for over 2500 km now on rides ranging from my 5km commute to 10 hour, 160 km days on a tour from Montreal to Toronto. The Model 3 hasn't seen that kind of mileage yet and therefore I will only give an extensive perspective on the Model 1 for now.

Break-in period

Asymmetrical break-in
The break-in period of a saddle can vary widely, and the Model 1 was definitely on the lower end. Similarly to my Brooks Swift, the saddle started showing signs of breaking in right after my first 120 km ride: The leather got a little softer and you could see little dents forming where my sit bones contact the saddle. These dents have gotten bigger over time and now one can clearly see the characteristic asymmetry that's due to my scoliosis. There hasn't been any flaring of the saddle's sides and I don't expect that to happen any time soon. One thing that differentiates the Model 1 as well as the Swift from my B17 Imperial is the ridge that is beginning to form on the centerline of the saddle. I only noticed it after reading accounts of people reshaping their saddles -- with weird methods like soaking it in water! -- because of this ridge. Because of the cut-out no ridge can form on the B17 Imperial, but I must say the ridges do not bother me at all. We'll see if that's going to change should they get more prominent.

Leather quality

In her review of the Gyes-produced saddles, the author of Lovely Bike described the material of the saddles as "cardboardy." This particular term doesn't resonate with me as a good description of the material, but compared to Brooks saddles there is a noticeable difference. Both my (now broken) B17 and the Brooks Swift have completely smooth surfaces, whereas the VO's leather has a fine pattern. In addition,  Functionally, this does not make a difference: all three saddles allow to easily slide around on them. Aesthetically I have a preference for the Brooks look -- but aesthetics are low on my list of criteria for choosing a saddle. The thickness of the leather is about the same as on my Brooks saddles: between 4.5 and 5.5mm (this is difficult to measure, though, and the thickness varies on different parts of the saddle).The sides of the saddle are chamfered, just like with the narrower Brooks models.
Slightly crinkly leather near the sit bone dents


One reason for buying the VO saddle was that I hoped its rails would be less prone to breaking than that of my B17. Brooks rails have a diameter of about 6.8mm (I'm assuming that's 17/64 inches), whereas the VO has 7mm rails. A difference of 0.2 mm (or 3%) does not sound like much and I have no idea how much of an difference it makes for longevity. The rails are chrome plated which some have claimed is not only environmentally problematic but also not good for strenght. I don't have the expertise to evaluate these claims.
Another aspect of Brooks saddles frequently criticized is the limited range for adjusting the saddles fore-aft position. My Swift offers about 70mm of adjustment, compared to 80mm on the VO.
Lots of room for adjustment


The looks of the Model 1's rivets are right in between my B17 and the Swift: The B17 sported the small diameter (8.75mm) nickel-plated steel rivets and the Swift has the nice, big hammered copper rivets with 13mm diameter. The Model 1 rivets have a diameter of 12mm, are hammered and made from stainless steel (according to a webshop selling other Gyes saddles).


Comfort for most is probably the most important factor in choosing a saddle. At the same time it is the most difficult one to describe and also highly dependent on the rider. Personally, I am very satisfied with the comfort of the Model 1: On my tour from Montreal to Toronto I rode it on several consecutive 150km days without any issues. In commuter mode, I have noticed that the saddle is a bit more sensitive to the choice of underwear: with the B17 Imperial this was not an issue and I could easily do 60km rides in street clothes. With the Model 1, on the other hand, it sometimes happens that my clothes have a seam in the wrong spot, causing discomfort on longer rides around town. I suspect that this is mostly due to the narrower shape of the saddle, and that I would have similar issues with the Brooks Swift if I ever rode on it in everyday clothes.


My ultimate verdict will very much depend on how long the VO saddle will make it. If it'll last longer than my B17 I would fully recommend the saddle, if it lasts the same amount of time I'd say: go for the Model 1 unless aesthetics are high on your agenda. VO appears to have regular 60 dollar sales of the saddle and at that price Brooks doesn't seem like a great deal.

Edit July 2014: Please also read part three of my review.

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