Brook’s England – The Birmingham Bicycle Saddles Factory Tour

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A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to attend a tour of the Brook’s (bicycle) saddle factory in Smethwick, Birmingham, UK.  The invitation was immediately accepted and a couple of days ago I found myself in the company of a small group of people being taken into the factory premises.  Knowing not what to expect I followed in the line of visitors to the office area.  To get to the office area we had to pass through the factory and immediately the excitement began to well up inside.  First impressions, this place was old and it housed some very old looking machinery.  I had expected, at least, that this would be a modern factory with up to date machinery and tech.  The actual initial experience was very much the same as the the experience of entering the Sedgwick Leather factory in Walsall.

Steve, our very knowledgeable and patient host and guide first provided us with some history and some background about the company followed by a visit to a small adjacent office containing, among other things, a display of all of the saddles made by Brook’s.  After a brief explanation of what we were looking at we moved on to the factory proper.  The first stop being the maintenance workshop, all very old looking, where much of the machinery is maintained  in house by expert engineers.  Lathes, presses, welders and the like arranged neatly around the space ready for action.  For a workshop the place was very orderly and clean and I can say the same for the rest of the factory.

Next we were given a tour of the machinery that is used to manipulate heavy metal wire to make the various metal frame components of the saddles.  Each machine painted lime green, old, well maintained and very heavy.  One by one we witnessed the machinery start up and then go through a run of a few pieces each.  Lots of noise and ‘drama’ were to be witnessed here.  Thumps, thuds, bang and clanks.  All sorts of very mechanical sounds and movements.  Mesmerising.  We were then taken to the area where the metal parts are assembled to make the frames of the saddles.  Here I switch to the present tense to assist in explaining some of the stages of building a saddle.

The next part of the process is the leather processing area which is located in an adjacent room.  The leathers used are the highest quality hides, vegetable tanned using English and Irish hides.  In fact most of the materials used on Brook’s saddles are produced in the UK and many of them produced in Birmingham and neighbouring areas.  The hides are taken to the cutting area where die cutting machines are used to cut out the flat shapes of the saddles.  The cutouts are stamped with a code after which the leather pieces are soaked in large vats of clean warm water in preparation for wet molding.  The wet molding is carried out by pressing the flat wet pieces of leather between a pair of male and female bronze dies that create the three dimensional saddle shape.  The wet molded leather is then carefully dried in three stages so as to ensure maximum leather integrity.  After being stamped with the Brook’s logo and cleaned up, the leather returns to the assembly area where the saddles are attached to the metal frame to complete the making of the saddles.

I have given a very brief explanation of the process of saddle making at the Brook’s factory.  There is no need for excessive detail here.  The purpose of this description is to give the reader a sense of the pedigree and heritage of this brand.  Although there is machinery and equipment all around the factory the production process requires a lot of time to produce.  Partly because some stages of production cannot be rushed such as wet molding and drying and partly because much of the production process is done by hand.  Some processes are done, quite artistically, entirely by hand such as the finishing of the beautiful copper rivets on some models.  A huge amount of thought has evidently gone into the design and manufacture of these saddles and hence, taken care of, these saddles clearly make some of the most beautiful, comfortable and long lasting saddles that can be bought.  All that remains is for me to get my hands on a Brook’s saddle of my own!

The following video shows short clips of some of the processes and stages in the making of a Brook’s saddle.  The original audio has been included to give the viewer some (very limited) sense of the sounds of the machinery.  The stuff of museums in daily action.

If you would like further information about the bicycle saddles made by Brook’s please visit their website at .