Product Review: Velo Orange’s Model 3 Touring Saddle

Saddles, as most longtime cyclists learn, are a very personal choice. As one of the primary interfaces between human and machine, the right saddle is a real “make or break” component that can spell the difference between two-wheeled bliss or agony. Many cyclists have found a particular saddle that works for them, sometimes after much trial and error. Just as often, saddle manufacturers tinker with the shape of a favorite saddle or discontinue a model, and that hurts (literally and figuratively). I have found two saddles that work for me — the original Selle Italia “Flite”, and the Wilderness Trail Bikes “SST” (in various flavors). Both are similar in that they have a narrow nose and and a somewhat flat top where my sit bones go. The WTB saddle is in current production, but sadly, the original Flite shape is best found on Ebay…and Lord knows I’ve hoarded a few.

The classic leather saddle is a very polarizing item — those who love them speak of them in evangelical terms and wonder how anyone could use anything else. The haters, on the other hand, use terms like “holy hell” or “ass hatchet”, and they wonder how anyone could stand that sort of abuse. I tend to fall into the latter camp. I remember riding around on the back of my grandfather’s tandem, cursing the unforgiving Brooks B17 mounted back there. However, I was very young then and have tried to keep an open mind about leather saddles over the years; if they work so well for so many people, perhaps I was missing something?

When the good folks at Velo Orange offered us a chance to test out their Model 3 Touring saddle, I raised my hand to volunteer. Could this be my chance to finally discover what was so special about classic leather saddles? Read on and see…

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The VO Model 3 is made of heavy Australian cowhide, with some kind of laminated fabric underneath to help prevent stretching. The saddle has a pebbled texture over the top and a smooth finish along the sides and back. The lower edges of the saddle’s skirt have been tapered (“skived”, in the parlance of leathermakers). VO chose to punch small holes in the skirt of the saddle, right around midpoint, and lace them with nylon cord. This is a trick other saddle users have employed to prevent the saddle from splaying out over time. All the hardware, including rails, rivets, tension assembly, and bag-mounting slots, is made of gleaming chromed steel. I’ve heard tales that Brooks saddles sometimes have mounting problems — the shorter rails do not offer the user much positioning flexibility. VO makes their rails 10mm longer to help out with that. This is all anecdotal to me; I am not familiar enough with the ins and outs of Brooks or any other leather saddle models.

Out of the drawstring shipping bag, the saddle looks and feels like a quality piece of equipment. Weight weenies need not apply, though — all that thick leather and chromed steel comes at a sizeable penalty of 665 grams. That’s 450 grams — almost a pound — heavier than the gossamer Flite saddle fitted to many of my other bikes. Frankly, though, this saddle is aimed squarely at a market that doesn’t overly concern itself with weight.

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Like most leather saddles, there is a provision to tighten the leather over time as it breaks in and sags. VO thoughtfully provided the tools needed to do this, and the tensioning nut is right at the nose for easy reach. No struggling with a proprietary wrench like the “big” leather saddle maker…the allen bolt is easy to access and tension is held in place by a simple nut:

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Dimensionally, the VO Model 3 is sized similarly to my preferred saddles…with a width of 170mm and a length of 285mm, the wide part of the saddle spans my sit bones the way a saddle should. If the span is right, that helps eliminate the possibility of numbness down below, and I have not had problems in that way so far. The nose of the saddle is substantially wider than my regular saddles, though –up to a centimeter or more wider — as the nose blends into the rest of the saddle. I am very conscious of the flared nose/skirt rubbing my inner thighs — it’s not painful but certainly uncomfortable over the long haul.

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While the saddle “fits” my sit bones, I am a little dismayed at the amount of time it’s taking to break in the top of the saddle. Perhaps I don’t weigh enough, or I don’t sweat enough, but I’ve got well over 300 miles on this saddle and it is just as hard and unforgiving as the day I installed it. That’s none too comfortable. I don’t have a lot of natural padding, and even a thin layer of foam makes a difference in my comfort. Plus, there are so many conflicting methods of breaking in a saddle, from soaking it in oil to heating it, getting it wet and riding on it until it is dry, etc. — I didn’t want to accelerate the process unnaturally and potentially ruin this thing. What I am going to do is keep riding it and see what happens.

For those of you who like to carry your tools and snacks in something other than a cheap zippered under-saddle pouch, the VO saddle comes complete with two bag-mounting slots on the back. Just think of how nice a good saddlebag will look back there!

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That brings me to another point: the VO saddles (this one and their other models) are classy…they look and feel like quality stuff. On MY bike, it sort of stands out…an embarrassingly nice saddle on what is otherwise a beater from the junkpile (literally). You want to pretty up your machine? VO may be the way to go — the Model 3 is priced at $85.00, substantially less than some of the other brands but just as nice in my opinion. This model comes in three colors…black, dark brown and honey (the color they sent me). Surely one of those colors will tickle your fancy and convince you to dress up your bike with a new saddle and some matching leather bar tape?

So…what’s the verdict? Did dear Jack see the light and become a devotee to the allures of fine leather saddles? Not so fast…frankly, the jury is still out. I have to see how this thing breaks in over time — I’m not concerned about the long-term durability, for the VO saddle is made from good materials. But the comfort issue will have to play out over the future — the discomfort I experience from time to time does not keep me off the saddle, and in fact I WANT to ride this saddle more to experience that magical moment when the leather forms to me. Still, I like comfort from day one, and this saddle simply doesn’t offer that. In short, I am in no hurry to rush out and replace all my other saddles with copies of this one.

Stay tuned in the next few days for two more Velo Orange product reviews, including the Polyvalent crankset and the chromed pedal half-clips.


14 Comments

  1. TN September 18, 2011 9:26 pm 

    I put a Brooks leather saddle on my Electra Townie this summer and while it has not softened up at all (still hard) as a result of my daily 14-mile commute and weekend fun riding, it has started to conform to my shape some – it’s starting to show some “dimples”. The shop (largest Brooks retailer in WA state) told me to be sure and tilt it up at about a 12% angle which helps keep me on the saddle instead of sliding off it. It is hard, but it is comfortable too.

  2. Steve A September 18, 2011 9:30 pm 

    Some of us are fortunate enough to find a wide variety of saddles to work just fine. To help break the saddle in a bit, use some anhydrous lanolin. You can get it at drug stores. You can use leftover lanolin to soften your hands.

  3. Mike Myers September 19, 2011 4:09 am 

    I’m a Brooks evangelist. I have B17s on all three of my bikes, and they were comfortable right out of the box. I think the leather they’re made from is softer than the Brooks of old on the standard models.

    I hope VO makes a go of it. Chris K runs a good company and has brought lots of unique products to market. It’s nice to see a company that understands quality and style.

    That being said, there are leather saddle issues I feel I need to address.

    First is break-in and expectation of comfort. A leather saddle is comfortable in a different way. It’s a hammock, basically. It’s never going to feel cushy to the fingers. One of my saddles has 5000+ miles on it, and it LOOKS exactly the same as it did on day one. There are slight dimples where my sit bones are, but it’s not drastically different. As far as treating the saddle to speed break-in, DON’T DO IT. Some ppl soak it in neatsfoot oil, or motor oil. That will soften the leather but make it sag. I just put a coat of Brooks Proofide on it and away I go.

    The adjustment screw should be left alone. If I weigh 180 pounds and haven’t touched my screw in 5000+ miles, then it should be a LONG time before most people have to touch theirs.

    I wish VO luck with their line of saddles. For me, Brooks is the only choice. I will have a B17 on my bicycle until I end up an old man on a ‘bent trike.

  4. G. Tyler September 19, 2011 8:56 am 

    I have both a B17 and the VO sprung leather saddle. Once I got the B17 broken in I moved it from my commuter bike to my LHT that I use on long rides and replaced it with the VO sprung leather saddle. I have been using the VO saddle daily since spring and it has yet to soften up like the B17 and have even used proofhide on it a few times. I think the leather being that much thicker then the Brooks and the fiber laminate underneath will give a long life to the saddle. It is comfortable for me now on my commutes but I don’t think I would put it on my LHT for a 60+ mile bike ride, it’s not that comfortable! It was a good deal, looks good and works well for shorter rides. Perhaps riding it through winter will soften it up a bit more.

  5. harry krishna September 19, 2011 10:14 am 

    ditto on mike’s remarks. correct adjustment, not “breaking in”, was a bigger deal for me. my biggest problem was separation at the rivets. after two brooks professionals, i go with small rivets like the b17. living in the south, leather care is the most important item. i’m currently in the johnson’s paste wax camp.

  6. Doug Jesseph September 19, 2011 12:37 pm 

    I gave up on the leather saddle routine after four months of a Brooks B17 on my commuter. It started to break in reasonably well, but I got rid of it when I realized two things: it’s too damned wide, and I couldn’t get a comfortable level position no matter how I adjusted it. I’ve gone with the Selle San Marco Rolls, and have left saddle sores and annoyance behind, so to speak.

  7. BluesCat September 19, 2011 1:02 pm 

    Whatta ya mean, GR?!? “Those who love them speak of them in evangelical terms and wonder how anyone could use anything else.” In order that you don’t incur the wrath of the Gods of Comfort, this evening I’ll light a candle for you at my Shrine To The Brooks Flyer.

    Seriously, though, if a Brooks B17 isn’t comfortable for someone, they might want to consider the Flyer, which has springs. The springs makes the saddle comfortable right out of the box, and it only gets more comfortable as the leather breaks in.

    And, yes, use Proofide ONLY, copious amounts on the underside of the saddle during the first 500 miles.

  8. RIDER September 19, 2011 1:07 pm 

    Wow, it looks the patent must have run out on the B-17.

  9. Sophia October 31, 2011 8:10 am 

    Hello,

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  10. tim December 27, 2011 10:05 am 

    Thanks for the input. Based on this review, I am now riding a VO Mod 3. I’m impressed with the build and material quality. Although I’m early in the break-in phase, the dimensions and shape are such that the saddle is comfortable for the most part (I think my sit-bones are already pretty tough). Bumpy sections are uncomfortable, but I guess that will change in another few weeks. I weigh in at just under 100kg, and I feel that the leather is not too thick to break in well and last a long time. I can certainly see how a lighter rider might bounce around for a long time without making a dent, though.

  11. rc October 19, 2012 7:31 pm 

    Any followup? Did it work out?

  12. Ghost Rider October 20, 2012 6:00 am 

    @rc — I rode this, and rode this, and rode this some more. Never made a dent in it, and it never achieved the comfort I really demand from my saddles. I wound up giving it to a friend who wanted to try a leather saddle, and he reports that he is quite fond of it.

  13. rc October 21, 2012 7:52 pm 

    Thanks for the reply on the old thread. Sorry it did not work out… my bro-in-law had the same experience with his Brooks B17, never liked it, and said he was actually able to sell it for more than retail because it was broken in (which confuses me since you would want it broken into your own shape, right?).

    Meanwhile, I like my wife’s brand new B17, and she doesn’t. I am going to give a VO a try on my bike, assuming this is all specific to a person’s own rump and possibly the specific individual saddle (not just make and model). I appreciate everyone who posts their experiences!

  14. Bob Torres July 13, 2014 6:01 am 

    I have both the B17 and the VO Modle 3. My B17 is 15 years old and I love it, but it took a long time to break in! My model 3 is 3 years old and broke in pretty fast. After 300 miles my sit bone marks were visible. I use my model 3 on my comuter bike but this same bike is used for trail riding and touring. They both have a similar feel but not exact. The B17 has a flatter feel on the rear part of the seat while the Model 3 has more of a Brooks Pro feel but softer. I also have and ride on a VO Model 1 but that’s a different style of saddle, built almost exactly like the Brooks Swift since I have that too. I feel the VO saddle is equal or better than Brooks. Has a nicer finish, better rails but their seats does creak on most pedal strokes. None of my Brooks does that. Still VO has done a great job!

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