Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Almost like a Brooks? First Impression of the Velo Orange Leather Saddles Model 1 and Model 3

Update July 2012: Please also read my recent review of the Model 1.
After my recent Brooks mishap I decided to try something new. Velo Orange, one of the brands that sells leather saddles made by Taiwanese company Gyes, had a sale on two of their models, their "Model 3" being a copy of the Brooks B17 touring saddle, and "Model 1" a copy of the Brook Team Professional, which is somewhere in between a touring and a road racing saddle. It would be hard not to compare the VO offerings with their Brooks counterparts, and since I have a good deal of experience with Brooks products, that's what I'll do.
Velo Orange Model 1 (left) and Model 3 (right)

First, let's talk about cost. Shipping to Canada was 17 Dollars and unfortunately I also got hit with sales tax and processing fees (it's pretty unpredictable when you have to pay sales tax and when you don't). So the overall cost for both saddles was 60 + 65 + 17 + 25 USD, coming out to 83.50 per saddle. On Amazon.com, a real B17 currently sells for 107 USD and a Team Pro starts at 135 USD, both including shipping to the US. With some research it might be possible to get them for slightly less (e.g. buying from a European webshop), but the Velo Orange saddles are definitely still going to be cheaper, even at their regular price of 85 and 90 dollars.
"Aged" leather of the Model 3. Not the binding in the middle of the saddle
On first view, the saddles look pretty similar to their Brooks inspiration, but there are a number of differences. For the Model 3, the most obvious one is the leather itself: whereas the regular Brooks features smooth leather, the VO saddle's surface resembles more that of the Brooks "Aged" models. The "aged" leather is supposed to break in more quickly--but consequently will also stretch and wear more rapidly. VO doesn't say anything in particular about the Model 3's leather and the leather still feels pretty stiff and hard. The Model 1, on the other hand, has a smooth surface that looks a little more dull than a real Brooks. But I'm suspecting that might change after the application of Proofide and some polishing/riding.

Model 1. A little dull.
From below, both saddles look quite different from a Brooks: instead of leather you see some kind of textile layered over the leather's surface. I guess this is for protecting the saddles from road spray, something that I don't have to care about because of my fenders. Another obvious difference between the Model 3 and a B17 is that the former is bound with two holes in the middle of the saddle. This prevents the sides of the saddle from flaring and it will also make the saddle a bit harder (depending on how tightly you bind it). Compared to a standard B17, Model 3's rivets are bigger. I'm not sure what they're made out of but it's not the copper of the more expensive Brooks saddles. Finally, in contrast to the Team Pro, Model 1 has bag loops, a feature that is pretty important to me and that made me buy a Swallow instead of the Team Pro for my road bike. 

Here you can see the textile underlayer
Underside of the Model 1
One less obvious difference are the saddle rails. I've complained about the sub-standard strength of Brooks rails (somewhere in the 6.6 to 6.7mm range) and fortunately the VO saddles feature wider rails. My calipers are out of battery at the moment, but it looks like the rails are at least 7mm wide. This will hopefully prevent the rails from breaking--but might also make the ride slightly harsher. Another frequent criticism of Brooks saddles is their limited fore-aft adjustability. Because Brooks saddles were developed in the age of slacker seat tube angles and haven't changed since then, some people have problems getting the saddle as far back as they would like to. I haven't measured the rails yet, but VO says theirs offer 10mm more space. (If you want even more range you should have a look at Selle AnAtomica saddles).

Model 1 next to a Brooks Swallow
Another less obvious difference is weight: On my kitchen scale, the Model 1 came in at 541g (claimed weight 520g) and the Model 5 was 646g (vs 665g claimed). This makes a tie between Model 1 and a Team Pro (claimed weight 520g), but quite a difference between Model 3 and the claimed 520g of a B17.

I think this is all I can say for now, but updates will follow once the saddles are in use.
Update July 2012: Extensive review of the Model 1


  1. I'll be interested to hear about the break in period on these. That's the main reason why I've never tried a leather saddle - after hearing reports of people riding in discomfort for 500 miles hoping for change that had yet to come.

    After my last saddle troubles a few years ago, I bought a $20 one from the bin at the Bike Rack and put 5,000+ miles on it and have been very happy.

    1. Well, leather is natural product, so the break-in period varies widely. My experience so far:

      * Brooks B17 Imperial: Comfortable from the beginning. Breaking in (as in visible deformation) took definitely more than 500km but it didn't really matter as the improvement in comfort wasn't that noticeable.

      * Brooks B17: we gave this saddle to the accomplice's dad as a Christmas present. Even after riding it for over a year the saddle was still hard as a rock--and uncomfortable. I've offered to take over the saddle and see if my 190lbs will make it break in.

      * Brooks B17S (women's): this saddle, ridden by my accomplice, broke in very quickly, definitely less than 500km

      * Brooks Swallow: significant deformation visible right after the first 120km ride

      My general advice is: if you have a plastic saddle you're happy with there is no good reason to switch to a leather saddle. They're heavier, need to be covered in the rain, and if you have bad luck with the leather they'll either stretch out too quickly or not quickly enough.

  2. Here's my 2 cents since I have both the Model 1 and 3 on two different bikes. My model 3 has the most mileage, about 6,000 miles while my Model 1 has around 3,000. Both saddles are broken in and feels pretty dam nice! I also own Brooks B-17, Swift, and Pro. They are all fine but the Swift is my least favorite of all of my leather saddles. I've been riding leather seats since 1997. And yes I also ride a weight weenie road bike with a plastic light saddle and I enjoy this ride too but for me leather rules!

    My model 1 is on a steal frame road bike and I ride it on 200k brevets and century rides. It gets more comfortable as it gets ridden more. My model 3 is on my commuter/touring/trail bike and this saddle is awesome! The leather has a nice rubbery feel that hold me nicely during the ride.

    Will it last compared to my B-17 which is on my VO Rando bike and the saddle has over 16,000 miles, who knows but my model 3 has ridden in plenty of lousy weather and is holding up pretty nicely.

    I don't worry about the weight because the whole bike is no light weight to begin with. But I have ridden quite a few 200k brevets, most of my commutes and many multi-day rides on it and it has never bother me. The comfort rules and this matters most for me.

    The Model 1 and especially the Model 3 are both well made and I would not hesitate to buy another, even to replace an old Brooks...........period!

    1. Bob, thanks for chiming in. I don't have anything new to report on my Model 1. It's been creaking a bit lately, but I attribute that to the additional stress from having my bike set up with a fixed-gear drivetrain.

  3. My experience with the B17 is that is was comfy right out of the box and remains so.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with the B17. I recently repaired my B17 Imperial, and it's interesting how different it feels. Probably material for another post in the future...