Harvest Century September 22nd

Local Cobbler Debuts Handmade Leather Saddles

Posted by on January 18th, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Leather Saddle Maker Jeff Mandel-3.jpg

Handmade saddles by Jeff Mandel.
(Photos © Jonathan Maus)

Jeff Mandel specializes in making leather shoes from his small shop in Southeast Portland.

Taught by masters in Holland, Mandel does everything by hand and he has documented each and every pair he’s ever made (he just finished pair number 23).

A few days ago someone told me (thanks Jessica!) that Mandel not only works out of the same building as I do, but that tomorrow he’s having an open house where he’ll debut a new product; handmade, leather bike saddles.

I just stopped by his shop to check them out.

Leather Saddle Maker Jeff Mandel-6.jpg

Jeff Mandel.

Mandel’s first batch of saddles utilize the metal frames of the archetypal Brooks models that are revered by cyclists worldwide. After mastering the process, he plans to team up with a friend who will do all the metalwork, creating a completely Portland-made handcrafted leather bicycle saddle.

Mandel — who rides a Dutch city bike to work everyday — is experimenting with dyes and said he’s having fun coming up with different colors and patterns. The price of the saddles will be “competitive with Brooks” (his shoes run $800 and he says they’ll last 10-20 years).

Today, just as my brief visit was over, he said he also wants to work on adapting his shoes to accept SPD cleats (photo below). Classy!

Leather Saddle Maker Jeff Mandel-5.jpg

Notice his sketch of Speedplay cleats.

Mandel is just getting off the ground here in Portland, but I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about his work in the months and years to come.

You can see Jeff’s work tomorrow at his first Open House event since moving to Portland from Eugene just a few weeks ago.

Learn more about Mandel’s work at ExITShoes.com.

For a few more photos of my visit to Jeff’s shop, check out these photos.

    ExIT Shoes Open House
    featuring leather bicycle saddles
    Saturday, January 19
    Noon to 4pm
    The ActivSpace Building
    833 SE Main St. #201
Please support BikePortland.

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    Jessica Roberts January 18, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Jeff is also a fantastic tango dancer, and I have the chance to see his handmade shoes at dances all the time. They\’re absolutely gorgeous, and I especially love the colors…I haven\’t seen the saddles in person yet, but I\’m sure they\’ll display the same care and elegance.

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    aaron January 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    His saddles are only $100ish but his shoes cost $800? Wowza.

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    Austin Ramsland January 18, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Wow. That is really cool.

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    Carl January 18, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Lookout, Brooks! Your overpriced and increasingly-shoddy kingdom is about to be rocked!

    I\’ve SEEN that bike parked at ActiveSpace and that saddle always gets a double-take. Looks like someone chopped a B66. OKImanerdbye.

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    Tomas Quinones January 18, 2008 at 4:05 pm


    Maybe it\’s time to get a leather saddle for my Betty!

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    felix January 18, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Who would want to wear a pair of shoes for 10-20 years? Those mofos would be so stinky!

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    mle January 18, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    #6 Felix

    You would not be wearing these $800 shoes every day. The whole intention is to have 3-4 pairs of shoes like this you rotate, which gives each pair a chance to air out and relax etc.
    The catch is that these shoes will fit you so much better than ready-to-wear and feel so good as a consequence you will *want* to wear them all the time.

    is a fun place to start if you are really interested in a peek into the world of custom apparel.

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    Todd Boulanger January 18, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Sign me up for one…a B-17sh with large copper rivets … in a british racing green…or that nice yellow or a hot red!

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    Matthew January 18, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    $800 for shoes that last 20 years and fit perfectly, vs the $100 pairs that only last a year and aren\’t perfect that I\’m buying now…

    I don\’t know about the saddles, but when he makes a pair with SPDs in them, I\’ll want to see them.

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    gabriel amadeus January 18, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    errrr, I\’m am loving his work, it is really amazing. But #7 mle, you\’re suggesting I spend $3200 on shoes?

    Even if they last for 20 years…

    I probably buy 3-4 pairs of shoes a year, none over $20. So that puts me at $1600 for 20 years. And I\’m a classy mofo!

    Probably almost 75% as classy as anyone wearing his shoes, not 50% as classy as you imply. Jusssayin….

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    sh January 18, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    These look gorgeous!

    Are we not the most talent-ladden city in the country? It seems like a day no longer goes by where it\’s not revealed that someone here is doing something cool, artful, and entirely unique.

    Damn Portland, you are one fine place!

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    Jeff Mandel January 19, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Thank you all for the complements and good wishes!

    On the saddles, it was my friend Rod Bautista in Eugene who started the saddle project. I\’m doing the leather work, he\’s doing the metal work. We can definitely provide a saddle of higher quality material, we are also planning to make a few improvements on the old standard…

    On the shoes: Felix, #6, on the stink, that\’s a big issue with shoes. It\’s mostly a materials issue. Most shoes are made with synthetic components that you can\’t even see. In the toebox, for example, impermeable thermoplastics between the liner and the upper trap moisture. Then it molds and stinks.

    An all leather shoe will breathe, but more importantly, vegetable tanned leather will absorb moisture and also kill most bacteria.

    If allowed to dry out at least overnight you can wear them every day, and no stink! (Ok, a little personal hygiene helps too.) As mle points out in #7, another pair of shoes to wear in rotation would help allow for drying out in our rainy weather or super sweaty feet.


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    Loren January 19, 2008 at 10:06 am


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    Stripes January 19, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Oh, those saddles are so pretty! One thought – I hope they are not quick-release, coz I doubt if I bought one, it woulds stay on my bicycle for more than five seconds unless it was bolted down! 🙂

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    David Feldman January 19, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Can he build new leather on an old frame?
    I have a 50 year old Olmo with a rotted saddle–a prime candidate for his work!

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    Evan January 20, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I\’ve still got a pair of \”Race Vogs\” for anyone who remembers them. Race Face teamed up with John Fluevog and produced a limited edition of the fantastic Angels shoes with SPD mounts. They are sweeeet, and only used on special occasions. Although if I were to spend $800 on a pair of shoes, I think I\’d prefer something that didn\’t have a big hole in the bottom…something I could wear on days that I don\’t ride.
    Now if Jeff could team up with D2 or Rocket 7…

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    Cøyøte January 21, 2008 at 8:33 am

    It would be really cool if his partner develops a new frame. Something like the chrome-moly Leper frames.

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  • ExIT Shoes » Open house review January 21, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    […] you Jonathon Maus for the story on bikeportland.org. quite a few people showed up to see the seat […]

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    jj January 21, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Oh I so so so regret not getting those Fluevogs for my sweetie when I first (and only) saw them in SF. One of the few times I didn\’t buy something and later really regretted it.

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    Dabby January 21, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    $800 dance shoes with a cleat screwed onto them?

    I dread the day when I see people Mt. Biking in Capezio\’s…. (I used to wear those in the 80\’s)

    Hopefully more bike specific than the photo shows…

    The saddles look nice, though I would never trade my Selle Italia Flites, or Selle San Marco Rolls \”Due\” for anything.

    And oh the joy of the Sidi heel cup.

    Do the dance shoes have a good heel cup?

    All ribbing aside, good luck on the saddle venture.

    Maybe you would like to recover a couple of my Flite saddles for me? All quotes I have had so far have been outrageous.

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    Jessica Roberts July 10, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Update: check out his new bike shoes! I saw these in person today and they are gorgeous.

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