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The Brooks England x Tokyobike Ltd. Edition Bike Is Rose Gold Porn

Brooks England is legendary in the cycling world, known as much for their long-wearing saddles as for their aggressive commitment to their "heritage quality" style and brand. For the last 150 years, and the last 25 in particular, they've ignored modern fads and dialed in what makes a bike seat comfortable, durable, distinctive and sexy (if you swing this way). To celebrate this big birthday they partnered with several of the world's best bike makers to produce small batches of extra flashy, Brooks-inspired bikes. 

In this edition Tokyobike and living-legend bike builder Osamu Fukuda (of Kirin and Kinfolk fame) were tapped to create a fast and minimal city bike modeled on the Mini Velo. Brooks England x Tokyobike joint released just ten super elite bikes, hand built by Mr. Fukuda himself and kitted out with simple, drool-worthy Japanese made components. 

While they're certainly not Brooks-old, Tokyobikes has done similar tinkering with their simple frame designs over the years. Their line of city bikes couples smaller wheels and classic frame geometry, allowing shorter people actual comfort on otherwise traditional-looking bikes. These graceful fillet brazed frames use that style, with slick details like internal housing and a copper number plate. 

Each of the limited edition design schemes emphasize copper as a central theme. In the Brooks x Tokyobike, it shows up from the rivets of the saddle, to the grips, to the rosy bling of the chainring bolts. 

Worth the £2,100 (~$3,000)? For a hand built Fukuda frame with impeccably curated parts, I'd have to say yes.

Oh, did you want one? Well, sorry, they've sold out already. But Tokyobike is happy to add a flashy Brooks saddle to any of their existing (if less illustrious) line. 

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How Berthoud Bike Seats Are Made

If you're bike nerd enough to have heard of Brooks England, or want to see product design taken to its sexy logical conclusion, treat yourself (at least your eyes) to a Berthoud. These French saddles are an even blingier take on traditional leather butt holders for your bike. While younger and less famous than the now non-English made Brooks, they already have a cult following among bike tourers and designers alike.

The first Berthoud I ever saw IRL was on a bike grump's gorgeously restored '70s Peugeot, where it felt both natural and out of place. The splotchy leather looked like it had been nicked from a catahoula leopard dog, or lost a fight with bleach. On closer inspection, I would have noticed a few other weird features to make it stand out, if subtly. 

Gilles Berthoud makes a lot of interesting bike products, from panniers to bicycle frames, all designed around the pragmatic elegance of classic French bike touring. The rise of randonneuring and cyclocross have brought more attention to rougher riding styles in recent years. With them has come an increase in riders who beat the hell out of their bikes. As the popularity of his bags and fenders has grown, Berthoud grew impatient with the quality and durability of the leather saddles offered and decided to add them to the roster, after a few modern tweaks. 

With one foot firmly in the OG camp, Berthoud's design combines thick veg tanned leather with unorthodox materials and improved hardware. The frame the leather is stretched to is (shockingly!) made from hard polycarbonate plastic rather than traditional steel. This was initially feared to have a lower life expectancy, but in the 8 years since launch, few complaints have lasted and the material seems to do a far better job of absorbing bumps. 

The second major update is the large and in charge screws that hold the leather upper to the frame. These allow the user to easily take the seat apart for leather care, and subtly destroys the anti-DIY party line of certain other brands. The Torx heads are cushioned in big brass washers and spaced further outboard than normal, putting them outside the range of your sensitive butt parts. The company also offers replacement leather uppers, if you do manage to wear one out.

The third update is the sleek tensioning system. As leather saddles wear they stretch out, just like shoes or belts or your leather party slacks. To keep the tension butt-friendly, most seats have a built in tensioner integrated into the nose of the saddle. One of the side effects of twisting a bolt or wedge to increase tension is the twisting of the seat rails relative to the leather upper. It won't destroy your ride immediately, but it's not good. Berthoud's system adds a machined aluminum brace—designed to hold the frame square under tension—and tightens with a single easily accessed allen bolt. 

This video gives a short and shockingly hands-on look at the Pont de Vaux factory and the human scale process for producing their gorgeous saddles. 

While I respect all types of production, the coolest parts come down to the company's respect for the character and quality of leather as a durable material. After individually selecting the section of rump leather used, the leather cutter hand-places each die individually to maximize the orientation of the grain and thickness along the saddle. The seat's thickness and flex gets tested multiple times throughout forming and assembly. 

The process of pressure chamfering the bolt holes is particularly satisfying, and gives me some closure on the "why don't more seat rivets rip?" question I've carried in my heart for years. It's a pretty fantastic process.

L-R comparison of the Berthoud Touring, Brooks B17 and Brooks Swift saddles by Ocean Air Cycles

Leather seats are as old as bikes. While they might seem tweedy or overly aesthetic they're pretty minimalist when compared with contemporary bike seats, which largely rely on a multi-layer construction to provide the support, padding, and flex required over the course of a ride. This material sandwich leads to worn out top coverings, delaminating seams, and foam breakdown. In short, the quest for a lighter seat has lead to a good deal of waste and a LOT of trial and error when finding the right seat for your butt. Tensioned leather seats can't totally fix the trial and error part, but they do have the benefit of breaking in to your body's custom curves over time. They also offer flexibility and durability that distance riders flock to. The big downsides are initial cost and upkeep, but if you care for them like nice shoes they'll live a similarly long, good looking, good feeling life.

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Tools & Craft #91: The Transmission of Power

There have been 5 major upheavals in the development of woodworking tools. Each upheaval changed the way woodworking was done, changed furniture styles, and changed the skill level needed to produce professional work. The dates are approximate.

1. Hand tools mature and become standardized, c. 1750-1850.

Aside for the water or wind powered sawmills, which were not ubiquitous, all work was done by hand. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution quality steel became more available and at much lower prices. Greater availability of tools along with a population explosion greatly increased both the demand for wooden buildings and the demand for furniture. Tool manufacture became the province of highly specialized industrial firms, working out of several major cities; Sheffield and Birmingham topping the list. Centralized manufacture took advantage of new national transportation networks of canals and railroads which drastically reduced the cost of transport and by extension, further reduced the cost of the end product. Regional makers could not compete. Tool designs standardized. The lowered costs of tools made it possible for more people to answer the demand for wooden products successfully and the standard of finished work became higher and fancier. However all furniture and house construction involved skilled labor working fast.

2. Water and steam powered machinery - the Age of Belt Transmission, c. 1840-1920.

As the Industrial revolution matured precision machines allowed for the construction of the first woodworking machinery. The machines were large, belt driven, and required a lot of capital to obtain, and specialists to maintain. The latter limitations made machinery impractical for smaller shops but in the United States, especially for furniture making, the factory system became the norm and furniture became a factory made item that the middle class could afford instead of purely a bespoke industry for the rich. As the nineteenth century wore on the middle class no longer bought simple joiner's furniture. Instead they bought fancy factory made versions of the latest styles made for the rich.

In house construction the biggest change comes in the 1840's with the introduction of inexpensive, pre-sawn lumber in standard sizes, which completely changes American architecture away from traditional timber framing. While previously standard sized timbers were used for most construction the introduction of framing with 2" x 4" standards greatly lowered the skill level needed for house construction. Fairly early on moldings and other worked details are made by machine. Later in this period pre-made door and windows further standardize construction and lower the needed skill to build a house. The United States was a leader in developing highly specialized machinery for production work in the furniture industry. In England some industrialization took place but there was far more reluctance to industrialize as the piecework system made it impractical for investors. Capital was also much harder to get. Even as late at the 1930's mid-price furniture in London was made by small workshops working with hand tools only. However these shops would take their wood to the local lumberyard for planing.

The picture at the start of this blog entry is of a early planing machine from the early 1850's. While I don't know if this machine was ever built, at this time machinery like this would be found only in saw mills, very large lumberyards, and in the US, large factories.

3. Stationary electric motors, c. 1920-1960.

With stationary electric motors it became possible for small shops to have "machine rooms" and compete with the giant factories. No longer did you need an expert to run a system of pulleys from a central location. Each machine needed could be installed independently, anywhere there was electric power.

4. Portable Power Tools, c. 1940-1990.

The boom in housing after WW2 put a huge strain on the national capacity for building housing. Motors became small enough to make hand held tools and for the first time a portable circular saw, drill, and jig saw could replace hand tools on a job site. Most important of course was that far less skill was needed to use power tools than maintain hand tools in productive condition, so lesser skilled craftsman could be employed. In addition, plywood and other materials that would easily dull hand tools could now be readily used on their own and plywood and other sheet goods replace solid timber wherever possible. Cordless tools, popular since the 1980's have increased the versatility and productivity of on-site building equipment.

5. Prefabrication and outsourcing, c. 1980.

The real change in production since the 1980s has been increased use of prefabricated parts. Even framing elements are routinely assembled in a factory and trucked in. Overseas outsourcing has moved a lot of the core furniture making and building elements overseas. Architectural woodworking for most Americans is no longer the work of a skilled cabinetmaker making a kitchen or library. The actual woodworking is now done at a factory and except on the high end, prefabricated, machine made parts are just assembled at the job site. Furniture is less and less a work of a cabinetmaker or a woodworking factory and more an advanced, automatic production of composite materials and high tech. Furniture, which used to be an expensive capital investment for any family is increasingly a commodity item that you buy, use, and discard like an item of clothing. The overwhelming majority of Americans have very little connection to new furniture built in a traditional manner.


This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.

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