Saturday, October 3, 2015

Brooks Cambium Saddle First Impressions: Equipment Hierophanies

Cambium, an exchange, see "cambio"; also the layer of active cells between xylem and phloem 

Things testify*. They give sense and shape to our understanding of the world as embodiment of our projects. Not only do their forms speak (to other humans) of their intended purpose, but also about who made them, and how, with what materials and techniques, and to what end. We imagine what to make, we make what we imagine, then later someone else finds what was made, and imagines what must have been imagined to make such a thing.

Anthropologists and archaeologists find dusty artifacts buried in the ground of long-gone civilizations, and from these artifacts derive the world that was. Or, not the world precisely, but rather the human image of the world as held in the minds of the people who fabricated the found objects. Such is the connection of mind to mind, even across thousands of years, that through studying a few scrapings on a stone, a few carvings on a chunk of wood, a few presses of a stylus into clay, a few dabs of paint on a wall, one might conceive the dreams of someone dead 5000 years ago.

The Brooks Cambium bicycle saddle, if discovered by some future archaeologist with even a hint of understanding of what bicycles were, who rode them, how, and why, will prove the point: it testifies to the project of crafting a fine interface layer between human and machine, one both durable and comfortable, effective yet invisible during its task.

Close-up of the cotton covering, and the torx-secured fastener bearing the model name

In case you haven't already heard the Cambium story, I'll just mention that Brooks wanted to create a saddle not requiring break-in like their traditional leather saddles do. So they came up with this innovative form of cotton and vulcanized rubber with that goal in mind. They are not cheap, with a normal price of around $150, but I've been wanting to get one for a while, and kept my eyes open for any sale or coupon that might help a little. Finally seeing a weekend sale, I bought one**. 

The underside showing the suspended rubber saddle. It all comes apart with a torx driver, if you like.

Out of the box (maybe the finest cardboard saddle box ever made), it seemed firmer that I expected. Solid. Not very giving to a finger press, or hand squeeze. But once mounted, and under my full weight, I got the idea right away. It's not soft, not at all. But it is compliant. It seems to deaden out road rumble, vibration, and roughness, to take out the small continuous bumps. Sidewalk expansion joints almost gone. The cotton cover looks rough but doesn't feel that way. I didn't find undue friction when moving slightly forward or back while riding. In a more upright position, it feels supportive and comfortable. In a lower position, hands on the drops, pedaling hard, the saddle...disappears. These are my initial impressions after a few rides. We'll see how it feels after a few hundred miles.

Adjusting it is interesting. After the first ride, I felt like moving it just a small amount further back would make it better (see photo below). This small adjustment did make a difference, and feels like just the right place to leave it for a while.

I just want to move it back that much

I've often written in this blog of how bicycle riding sometimes seems meditative, uplifting, inspiring. Others have expressed similar thoughts. That potential seems impeded when the bicycle is broken or clunky, contrariwise enhanced when it's operating smoothly and comfortably. The saddle, this key contact point or layer between rider and machine, is a key component that has to be right for the mind to ride to that more open place. 

You ride far and fast to the Cambio, wanting to exchange daily cares and worries for flow and clarity. The girl behind the thick glass wearing an old-fashioned visor counts out the currency, taking out a huge cut, and hands you back a modicum of sacred sight. The shimmering edges of average objects indwelt by the ground of all being become apparent for a few moments, the cosmos and "now" turn inside out are and equally huge. 

My face not far above the stem, my legs pedaling as hard and fast as they can, the sound of even breathing and the slight wavelike rocking side to side. 

This saddle they find one day with the cotton cover well worn and its vulcanized body well used will testify: he rode as one imagining that someone would unearth this saddle one day, in some distant better future in which pure bright hierophanies would be as common as excellent bicycle rides on fine fall afternoons.

*The introductory thought was triggered by some passages in a book by Daniel Boscaljon, "Vigilant Faith: Passionate Agnosticism in a Secular World". For example, "The second type of testimony offered by things is as signs to the surrounding cultural world; this form of testimony is unique to equipment, and no sense of the world would be possible without the ability of things to embody the projects of humans."

**I paid for this saddle myself and received nothing in return for this post. See my blog disclaimer for more info about that if interested.


  1. The key to all saddle adjustments is to make them small, combined with lots of evaluation time.

    1. Microadjust is a great name for saddles. I've seen some rails (not these though) with markings for very fine adjustment on them.

  2. what a kaleidoscopic description layer of good here, and the most interesting post about a saddle, i almost forgot i had never heard of the new brooks cotton model.. =]

    1. Thanks meli! Cambium reminds me of doodling cells in fifth grade, I had a contest with my friend to see who could doodle the most, and the most detailed, in one class....oh doodling, when did I stop doodling....

  3. I had to look up "hierophanies" and I am really glad I did. What a superb word! You have a real knack for elevating everyday subjects without it sounding like bullshit. Thanks, as always.

    1. I like to think that my select group of readers are the type who look up words. Thanks for confirming, RANTWICK! I'll try to keep it interesting, while also encouraging compassion response as a default rather than aversion reaction (the norm, unfortunately). Peace!


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