How not to break in a leather saddle.

No saddles were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

No saddles were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

There are a lot of opinions on the best way to break in a leather saddle. I’m no expert. I have 4 leather saddles that I bought used and all but one of them were already broken in. The one that wasn’t broken in was a decades old NOS Wright’s W3N. It was quite dried out, hard as a rock and completely unrideable. While I was trying figure out how to bring it back into usable condition I did a bit of online reading on the subject.

For new saddles, the consensus seems to be to not do anything drastic. Break the saddle in by riding. Don’t oversoak the saddle with oil because once the oil is in it’s there to stay. Don’t mess around with the tensioning bolt until the saddle starts to sag after many years of use. Overall, the more gently you treat the saddle initially, the more years of use you will get out of it.

A while back I picked up a number of old cycling books from a second hand store. One was from 1980, “The Bicycle Touring Book” by Tim & Glenda Wilhelm. It’s a pretty good book, and deals out thorough (if sometimes outdated) advice on bike touring. It also has the following peculiar advice on breaking in leather saddles. The bold text emphasis was added by me.

First, place the saddle either directly in the hot sun or near a 100-watt light bulb. Do not put it where your hand is not comfortable with the heat. Turn it over after about half an hour. When the leather is as warm and soft as it is going to get, tighten the nut under the front of the saddle…Tighten the nut to the point where the saddle is drum tight, but don’t overdo it and tear the saddle from the rivets.

Next, while the saddle is still warm, apply some sort of leather oil (neatsfoot, mink, Huebard’s shoe grease) to both sides of the saddle. Keep the saddle warm and apply oil until the leather won’t absorb any more. If the saddle loosen’s, tighten the saddle’s adjusting nut again to keep it taut.

Once the saddle is saturated, keep it in a warm place for 10 to 12 hours – in the sun or under a warm light. Now, find a comfortable place to sit and beat on the top of the saddle with a 12-ounce to 16-ounce ball peen hammer. Use the round ball end. If you don’t have a ball peen, use a rolling pin, section of pipe or any smooth rounded object. Beat on the entire surface but concentrate on the rear portion and along the top edge of the saddle where it folds over. Let the hammer do the work; you don’t have to pound hard, just continuously. How long? How soft do you want your saddle? The more you beat, the softer the saddle becomes.

If the saddle loosens up a lot, tighten the adjusting nut again. This process takes a few days to complete because your arm gets too tired. Do it while you watch TV or walk around the block – that will give the neighbors something to talk about…

Now test the saddle for flexibility. Most tourists like their saddles to flex a little; loosen the adjusting nut to accomplish this….You don’t want it drum tight either. Your saddle is now ready to ride.

It reads like a list of everything you are not supposed to do to a new saddle. Not to mention things nobody would consider necessary to warn against, such as hitting it with a hammer for two days. I think it might be useful if you need the saddle to be ready RIGHT NOW and aren’t concerned with having it wear out in short order. With these saddles typically costing at least $100.00 I’d like them to last as long as possible.

Has anybody out there tried this method? If so, I’d love to hear how it worked for you and how long the saddle lasted.

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10 thoughts on “How not to break in a leather saddle.

    • I remember the RBF describing using that method to revitalize an old saddle. I was considering it when I was working on my dried out Wright’s W3N. In the end, I water blocked it, rode it for a couple of hours, and then applied a healthy coating of mink oil and left it in the sun on a hot day. It drank up a lot of oil and though it became more pliable it never seemed “saturated”. It’s been a great saddle since then.

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  1. I’ve ridden about 1000 miles on my Brooks saddle and it hasn’t changed much in shape. I just lightly oiled it and didn’t touch the bolt. The main difference is that it’s lost its super-shinyness so my bum doesn’t slide all over the place when I’m cycling now!

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  2. I bought a second hand one just worn in but not too old then it reshaped in a week to my arse. Had a new one on brompton that took 500 miles so soften – oiled it 4 times and left to soak in overnight and then polished off

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  3. Not sure aboot Canada, but here in Australia i doubt one could walk around the block flogging a bike seat with a hammer (or rolling pin) whilst waving at the neighbours for more than an hour or two without getting carted off to the loony bin! Think i know why this blokes arm is getting too tired.

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