We’ve gotten a few Gilles Berthoud products in. Among them is a saddle that I’m very excited about. The saddle is a Gilles Berthoud. It looks at first a little like a Brooks, and it’s this similarity that excites me. The Berthoud is made from very thick high quality leather, which is screwed down to the saddle body. Where the Brooks saddle body is all metal, the Berthoud has metal rails and a plastic back (called a cantle). The plastic cantle is reputed to be amazingly strong and is designed to have a tiny bit of flex for extra comfort. The looks of the plastic might put some people off though.
Overall the quality looks incredible. Whereas Selle Anatomica saddles have tiny little bunched bits of leather between the rivets, the Berthouds are totally smooth. This suggests that the leather has been perfectly shaped before being attached to the body of the saddle, and the screws just hold it in place, rather than having to tension it. Hopefully that means it’s immune to the failure mode you see on old Brooks, where the leather starts to crack and tear around the rivets.
The leather on the Berthoud is much thicker than that on a Brooks, so over the long term it shouldn’t develop the little areas of sag at the back near the center which a Brooks seem prone to. The tension adjuster at the front is operated with a 5mm Allen key, rather than the Brooks open ring spanner. The internals are hidden by plastic, and though the mechanism underneath it might be the same as a Brooks, it looks less agricultural – or less charming, depending your taste.
When I chose my saddle I compared it to my Brooks Professional and picked the wider of the two available options because it was the most similar. I was worried at first because the nose is a little wider and it felt uncomfortable to begin with. But I quickly got used to it. Also, whereas on a Brooks I prefer the nose tilted up more than on a Rolls or a Flite, on the Berthoud perfectly flat was the ticket for me. Once these were sorted out the saddle was comfortable, though very hard. Over the long run I’m assuming it will soften a little, though the thickness of the leather makes me think it will take a long time.
We also have Berthoud bar tape, leather dressing and a small range of handlebar bags. The bags are beautifully made, and have well-thought-out pockets and straps. The bar tape is softer than Brooks leather tape and has nicely chamfered edges so that it doesn’t have bulky ridges where it overlaps on the bars.
The downside to the Berthoud gear is predictable enough. It’s very expensive. In my view the high quality of their products makes it worth it.