Since 1866, when John Boultbee Brooks first wielded his iron awl and cobbler's hammer to stretch leather over a bike saddle, his company has been known for its craftsmanship, durability, and quirky British insistence on doing things differently. Cyclists are fiercely attached to the brand. Thus, when Brooks England turned to IDEO to design its first new bike saddle in decades, it was essential that the design pay respect to the company's heritage.
The result is the Cambium C17, a saddle that offers the same durability as traditional Brooks leather saddles but with instant comfort and weather protection. It took them nearly seven years to source the materials and perfect the process for creating a more comfortable saddle. Project Lead Thomas Overthun sheds some light on IDEO's approach to the challenge.
Disruptive innovation is at the core of Brooks' heritage. There were no comfortable saddles before Brooks invented their now-classic, but then-revolutionary and high-tech leather saddle. Brooks took a simple hammock construction concept and combined it with natural, high-quality materials that promoted comfort but were also durable enough to last a lifetime.
The company also had a history of being slightly quirky and doing things differently, so we wanted to revive that spirit and make it relevant to an emerging group of users. Unfortunately, a lot of heritage brands have a tendency to stagnate a bit because they work hard to preserve a product's original attributes. Taking risks is how other heritage brands have taken a step forward, grown and innovated—a good example is Burberry evolving from the original trench coat design. Doing something different is risky, but it's also what makes a project exciting.
Brooks came to us with the insight that there are in fact two user groups. The first is the fanbase of traditionalists who love taking care of the saddle's leather and improving the comfort over decades of wear. The second is a smaller subset of users who want the same comfort, style and quality but without the effort of waxing the leather, removing it to avoid rain damage, and then wearing it in to achieve the perfect fit. It's not dissimilar to breaking in an expensive pair of shoes that you know will last a lifetime. The new saddle is more sleeker, gives instant flexibility due to the layering of new materials and is virtually maintenance free. It's a more modern version of a timeless, classic saddle that doesn't violate or go against any of the core brand attributes.
Besides the fact that Brooks had extensive customer insights to work from, we were also fortunate to have worked on several cycling projects, which informed our early thinking about the collaboration with Brooks. We had experience in creating comfortable shapes and build models to suit a wide cross-section of users. For this project, we built a series of 3D CAD models in order to get the contour of the saddle just right. We then built models out of hard materials before evolving the prototypes to incorporate materials that would promote comfort and flexibility. Considerations such as durability and cost followed.
The new Brooks Cambium manufactured in Italy and is available now through their online shop.