Straight out of the box the rubber-and-canvas Cambium has the comfort of a well-loved leather saddle. Just buy some spare trousers…
Bike saddles are weird.
You’d think that the comfiest saddle would be the softest—a plush, wide cushion of a thing that caressed your buttocks. Unfortunately, that’s actually the opposite of what you want.
As with all bike matters, Sheldon has the answer. Here’s his analogy:
Imagine sitting down on a coffee table. Your weight is concentrated on the two bumps of your “sit bones”, also known as the “ischial tuberosities.” These are the parts of your body designed to bear your seated weight. Most cases of saddle-related discomfort arise because the load is carried on the soft tissues between the sit bones.
Imagine placing a soft pillow on top of the coffee table. Now, as you sit down on it, the sit bones compress the pillow, which yields until the sit bones are almost on the table surface again. The difference is that now, you have pressure in between your sit bones from the middle part of the pillow.
In the same way, a saddle with excessively soft, thick padding can make you less comfortable by increasing the pressure between your sit bones.
Many cyclists are unaware of this, and many saddles are made to appeal to the purchaser who chooses a saddle on the basis of how easily the thumb can sink into the squishy top. This type of saddle is only comfortable for very short rides, (though an inexperienced cyclist will often find it more comfortable than a better saddle, as long as rides don’t exceed a mile or two.)
Sheldon Brown – The “two-bump problem”
“Pressure between your sit bones” is a polite way of putting of saying no blood flow to your
Perhaps the most common solution to this is a Brooks. As British as a dreadnought (and of similar weight), Brooks leather saddles provide armchair levels of comfort if you’re going to be on your bike for long periods.
Unfortunately, some people find they take a bit of breaking in…
Enter the Cambium saddle
The Brooks Cambium is a rubber saddle, trying to give you that broken-in leather level of comfort without the painful few months at the beginning. Willy Bain at bicyclerepair.co.uk has a pair of Cambiums available to try, and was kind enough to lend me this one for a week to try out.
You’ve got a fairly standard Brooks metal undercarriage to the saddle, although without a tensioning bolt at the front. The saddlebag loops are neatly built into the body, rather than hanging below.
The saddle itself is a thick layer of rubber with a fabric upper surface. Brooks say the cotton has been treated to protect from the weather, claiming “practical indestructability”.
I think it’s unlikely to last quite as long as a good slab of cow, but I’m sure you’ll get your money’s worth out of it.
There’s a central oval cutout from the top that presumably gives the thing some flex.
The natural colours would look superb with some gumwall tyres. It looked a little weird on my black-and-brown touring tank, but not obnoxiously so. And I do like that back end.
As comfortable as a leather Brooks
Yup, from first use, it’s almost as good as my leather B17.
Given that B17 has been on the bike for four years and is thoroughly moulded to my backside, that’s pretty high praise.
If you like a “normal” Brooks, you’ll get on fine with the Cambium. If you haven’t tried either; you’re missing out.
But should I buy it?
Ah, there’s the rub.
Firstly, I didn’t really have to break in my leather Brooks. It was fine out of the box, and just got better with age—the months of anguish reported by some others just didn’t happen. As such, it’s tricky to recommend the Cambium if you haven’t already tried the cheaper leather options.
Secondly, it’s brutal to clothing. That woven top grips Lycra something wicked, and was pretty adhesive to cords as well (other trousers are available). One of the things I really like about smooth leather saddles is the ability to slide about on them to minutely adjust your position as you go, and the longer life of trousers given the reduced friction. I’m not sure I’d want to expose the seat of my wool suit to the Cambium on the daily commute…
Finally, it’s pricey. You can get the leather B17 for around 85 quid if you shop around (still expensive, I grant you!), but the Cambium is £115 at Evans, and not in stock anywhere else at the moment.
Given all that, unless you’ve already tried a virgin leather saddle and found it agony, I reckon the Cambium could only be described as an indulgence.
Go for it.
You’ll find no judgement here.
PS: You may have noticed a slight increase in the quality of photographs used in this post (if not an increase in actual photographic skill). I got a new camera for Christmas.
PPS: Cambium (noun): layer of actively dividing cells between xylem (wood) and phloem (bast) tissues that is responsible for the secondary growth of plants. Take ten points if you already knew.