High performance racing bicycle technology and technique
Audax - Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle
Monday, March 20th, 2017


Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle


Simon Whiten


Preview of the Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle


In the age of the carbon bicycle, is there a place for the traditional craftsmanship that produced this Gilles Berthoud Galibier saddle?

Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

I’m guessing few of you have heard of Gilles Berthoud; their saddles are not used by the ‘Pros’. If you have heard of them it is likely you have a touring bike and like the finer things in life, or hark back to a bygone age of craftsman-made products to see you through events such as Eroica Britannia.
Gilles Berthoud don’t just make saddles. They manufacture a select range of high quality products from their workshop near Macon, in eastern-central France, not far from the Swiss border. There are magnificent mudguards, the most beautiful touring bags, shiny bike racks, very clever and classy chromed mirrors, genuine leather bar tape, superbly engineered thumb and twist gear shifters, and classically styled, made to measure steel bikes. They are not afraid of innovation though and even make a really nice pair of carbon mudguards that would grace any pro’s winter training bike…

Gilles Berthoud brazing

Gilles himself brazing

Coming from the Gilles Berthoud workshop, you can get hung up on the fact that this Galibier saddle is a real work of art – part of me wants to display it rather than defile it with my posterior – but despite the leather top and bold brass rivets, it is a thoroughly modern piece of kit. The rails are titanium and tough modern plastic supports the structure.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

The shape of the Galibier saddle is appropriately classed as race. It is 146mm wide at the rear but narrows perfectly for most of the 278mm length. I love the shape and it should suit most riders, even those with huge thighs.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

Impressively the saddles are made using machinery that the team at Gilles Berthoud developed and made themselves. The saddle manufacturing process took them 4 years to master. Real craftsmanship.

A Gille Berthoud Saddlemaster

A Gille Berthoud Saddlemaster

Examining the saddle, the impressively shaped, vegetable-tanned leather top is cut from the back part of the cow’s hide, where you can create leather that is thick, tough, resilient and homogeneous.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

Underneath, perhaps surprisingly, there is a crescent shaped backplate and a matching grey nose made of an injection-moulded plastic material, which is tough and absorbs vibration.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

Situated just outside of the actual area you will sit on, conical brass washers, perfectly etched with “Gilles Berthoud”, and stainless steel bolts attach the leather top to that plastic base structure.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

The washer at the front of the saddle has the year of manufacture and the serial number. Attention to detail is excellent.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

Brass washers and steel torx bolts

Should the need ever arise, you can use a T20 Torx driver to loosen the stiffner and a 5mm Allen key in the nose to adjust the tension of your saddle.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle 13

Why would you choose a leather saddle then?
There are benefits to leather saddles, such as the fact that the leather actually moulds to you as you adapt to your new saddle, providing exceptional support and comfort. As their marketing says, “the best present you can give to a cyclist’s butt is a hard saddle.”
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

The firm leather of the Galibier saddle provides better support to your sit bones and while the soft tissues around these ischial bones will adapt to the pressure of the saddle, the saddle also adapts to them.
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

The leather ‘breaks in’ so the more you ride on it the more comfortable it will get.
Gilles Berthoud leather top

Berthoud believe that leather affords better moisture management, and should prove a bit more user friendly on the very hottest of days in that most sweaty of areas.
Perhaps as a result of the firmness of the leather they use, Berthoud employ the damping system of titanium rails and plastic crescent and nose piece, fixed by a stiffening clamp: the ‘Chariot Galibier’.

Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

Not only does this make for an incredibly comfortable saddle but the plastic itself is “more resilient than steel, making the saddle much less prone to failure”. Apparently it is so effective you can see the saddle moving during pedalling thanks to this inbuilt flexibility.

Chariot Galibier

The ‘Chariot Galibier’

If you buy into the advantages listed above, then there is no reason not to mount this saddle on any bicycle at all, even a modern carbon race bike. Well, there’s perhaps one…

Despite the name, the Galibier is a heavy piece of kit in the saddle world. It weighs in at 356g on the CTR scales. My usual perch, of which I have five, weighs just 145g. It seems odd to think about putting such a heavy platform on a performance orientated bike but then why not? If you are not racing on hilly circuits, not fussed about a few extra grams, and want the sort of moulded comfort that is personal to you, why not?
Gilles Berthoud Galibier Saddle

I can actually think of a few riders who would love this saddle but have probably never heard of it, thereby never contemplated it. They don’t race, they don’t hanker after super lightweight bikes, but they do ride an awful lot, and they do like to have the right kit that attracts the right sort of attention at the coffee shop.
Would I put it on one of my bikes? Well, short term I am going to. It will be in fantastic contrast to the carbon of a new build we have going on and I will come back to you with a full review.
Gilles Berthoud

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