John Boultbee Brooks was in dire need of a more comfortable way of getting to and from his leather trading business. After his horse died in 1878, he couldn’t afford to replace it, so he borrowed a bike from a friend. What his pal failed to mention was bicycles were known as ‘boneshakers’, on account of the wheels being made of iron and the saddles of wood.
So, he decided to do something about it. Borrowing the skills his father, a saddle maker had acquired over a lifetime in leather, he set to create something that wouldn’t leave riders in agony after short journeys. Four years after his first experience on a bike, he filed a patent for a saddle made of the soft leather from the underside of the hide but with additional springs for extra comfort. The Brooks saddle was born.
Not much is known about John’s character, but peering through the original design books he, and later his son, Boultbee Brooks kept, reveals an active mind that saw opportunities to innovate in everything from chairs, to cabinets, to mirrors and bins for both commercial and industrial use. Necessity was replaced by an addiction to design. He took to the process so well, his original design for the B17 saddle is still the company’s flagship model more than 100 years later.
The 20 components that make up the spring-mounted saddles are still assembled by hand and take three days to make. Modern innovation has yielded improvements in materials, and hence overall comfort, but the simple, elegant synergy of steel and leather is still what gets innumerable modern riders through life’s complicated journeys.