Introduction: How to Recover an Old Bicycle Seat

Picture of How to Recover an Old Bicycle Seat

After being asked by many a friend, I figured it was time to lay out the relatively simple steps I use to breathe new life into a tired and ragged bicycle seat by a simple recovering... not to mention a cheap and simple way to change the look of your bike, if aesthetics are your thing.

Using just a few simple supplies that aren't too difficult to round up, what was once trashed can be new again (if not better!)

Step 1: Supplies and a Few Notes

Picture of Supplies and a Few Notes

The photo shows it all. Here's the materials list:

- an old seat (for this example I used a basic Ritchey Vector Comp saddle)
- new seat material (see note on materials below!)
- 3M Automotive Headliner Adhesive
- Pliers (for removing staples)
- Pen (a sharpie, or any fabric marking pen)
- Scissors
- craft knife
- Staple gun
- Staples (see note on staples!)

Notes on covering material
The beauty of this is you could feasibly use just about any material you'd like for this project. I've used everything from leather seat cushions from thrift stores (or better yet, ones destined for the garbage) to heavy-duty red & white plaid picnic table cloths.

For this example, I'm using marine upholstery vinyl. It's durable, holds up to the elements, doesn't need any treatment (like many leathers), won't stain, and is relatively cheap and easy to get a hold of. I picked some up at the local chain fabric store.

The other nice thing about this project is you really only need a 12"x12" scrap of fabric (even less for most saddles) so just about any scrap material will work, and most scrap leather/vinyl can be had on the cheap.

Notes on Staples
While there are a wide variety of upholstery and industrial staples, I've kept it simple and used a bargain staple gun and the smallest (shallowest) staple available at the mega-mart home improvement shop. Ideally, if you can easily find them, staples that are 4mm (5/32") long are ideal, but I'm in a small town and didn't feel like going through the trouble/cost of special ordering, so I picked up some 6mm (1/4") staples (Arrow JT21 #214) that do the trick if you're careful.

Notes on Adhesives
I highly recommend Automotive Headliner Adhesive for this application, and the 3M version is pretty much the gold standard. This could be done with contact (rubber) cement or a myriad of other adhesives, but durability, permanence, and initial strength to hold while upholstering all make headliner adhesive a worthwhile choice. It can be found in small 5oz. cans (intended for touch-up) that is more than enough for a few bike seats.

Step 2: Remove Staples

Picture of Remove Staples

Carefully pry off all of the staples used to hold the leather/vinyl to the underside of the saddle.

I use a combination of small needle-nose pliers and regular gripping pliers to work the staples out. Occasionally a thin bladed screwdriver may be needed to get under the staples.

Use caution so as to not rip the cover (you'll need to trace it later).

Step 3: Remove Original Cover

Picture of Remove Original Cover

Gently pull the original cover off. I find starting at the nose (front) and working back is usually easiest, as there's extra material gathered at the front so you can get better leverage. Be careful when lifting around the sides so you don't accidentally pull any of the foam/padding off of the saddle.

Also, to ensure a clean finish, remove any of the remnants of adhesive that may still be on the saddle. get the body as clean as possible (use some solvent if necessary). It really makes a big difference in the recovering.

Step 4: Trace Old Cover and Cut New Material

Picture of Trace Old Cover and Cut New Material

I do my best to hand-stretch the old cover into a relatively flat shape before tracing. After years (if not decades) of being formed onto a saddle, it can be difficult to try to trace it without first stretching/flattening.

I use a few weights (cans, in the photo) to help keep it flat as I'm tracing.

As I work my way around the old fabric, I gently pull it out as I trace the outline to ensure the pattern will be large enough to wrap around.

Also, be sure to test the pen you're using to trace on an extra scrap of fabric. I used a sharpie which worked, but on some thinner materials or light colors, permanent pen could bleed through.

Trim your outline loosely with scissors.

Step 5: Spray Adhesive

Picture of Spray Adhesive

In a well-prepped (headliner adhesive is sticky stuff!) and well-ventilated area, spray the top of the seat with the headliner adhesive, following the instructions on the can.

With most 3M headliner adhesives, you spray, let rest for 10 minutes, then spray again (at a perpendicular angle to the first spray for even coverage) and then give another 10 minutes to dry.

With headliner adhesive, the waiting time is definitely necessary to build the proper adhesive material.

Step 6: Placing the Cover On

Picture of Placing the Cover On

Gently position the seat on to the cover (both face down), being careful to center.

Then gently flip it over and from the center of the seat, rub the cover with one hand, while gently stretching the material so there's no bunching.

Push the cover on to the seat around the top to set the material in place, but do not begin to wrap around the edges yet.

Step 7: Second Spray

Picture of Second Spray

Again, in a well ventilated area, prepare for spraying again. This time around, place the seat face down with the unattached material splayed out.

Cover the rails (metal bars) so no excessive spray ends up on the bottom of the seat. I used a plastic bag, but masking tape or newspaper would work as well.

Gently and lightly spray the fabric/vinyl material, again following instructions and allowing time to dry between the two coats.

Step 8: Final Attachment of the Cover

Picture of Final Attachment of the Cover

Gently pull on the cover to stretch it around the sides of the seat, being careful to pull uniformly and evenly while gently applying pressure to adhere the material to the seat.

Pull and wrap the vinyl/leather around the edges. The adhesive is usually strong enough to temporarily hold the edges that have been wrapped around.

Pull taught and using the staple gun, carefully staple the edges to the underside of the seat. Work your way around the seat until all edges are pulled and stapled. Staple toward the top of the seat (downward, when the saddle is underside-up) instead of outward to pull the material taught and so you don't accidentally pierce through the sides.

I generally find it easiest to start at the center of the back, with a staple dead center, and then work my way around either side. The same idea should be used on the front as well, pulling the center of the nose over first, then working around either side.

Be careful, especially if using longer staples, that you don't accidentally pierce through the sides of the saddle (and possibly the vinyl/leather).

I usually use an x-acto knife at the end to trim any excess material (if there is any). Usually, I'll trim the material around the rear seat-rail attachments to create a cleaner look (check the photos).

Step 9: The Final Product!

Picture of The Final Product!

Clean up any adhesive that accidentally ended up on the seat rails, top of the seat, etc. and there you have it: a brand-spankin' new bike seat. You're only limited by your imagination (and your fabric choices)!


bjoshuap made it! (author)2015-04-21

Thank you for the great step by step instructions and pictures. I ended up using 3M 90 instead of the 3M 80 (or headliner adhesive spray). Supposedly the 3M 90 is stronger and more heat resistant, but has a much shorter tack time and will set up faster, meaning less room for mistakes. I decided to go with the 3M 90 because my saddle seemed pretty thin to be able put staples into without them poking through the foam and vinyl, so I wanted a glue that would hold down the vinyl on the bottom of the saddle like nails. This meant that instead of applying the glue only to the saddle or the vinyl, I had to apply it to both surfaces (as recommended in the instructions for 3M 90). It remains to be seen how this holds up during riding, but I am hopeful.

I did this as a part of the restoration of a vintage 1983 Trek 620 with stock gray and blue paint.

ryanhoetger (author)bjoshuap2015-07-19

Any updates to how it held up?

bjoshuap (author)ryanhoetger2015-07-19

It seems to be holding up great so far. The adhesive is super strong and is holding up on the bottom as well as if I had used staples. I did use one staple on he bottom at the nose of the seat where there tends to accumulated a bunch of vinyl fabric. I think that without that one staple there right under the nose, that it wouldn't have held up quite as well.

customchris88 (author)2015-07-07

I realy like the way you explained how to do this.I'm going to give it a try. thank you. where has Instructables been all my life!

rph52 (author)2015-03-25

Thanks for the instructions. I covered an Avocet Gelflex and learned some lessons along the way.

djeucalyptus (author)2013-09-12

I figured I should post a bit of an update seeing as it's been 4 years and I've found this particular saddle oddly comfortable for me that I've been swapping it around and have been using it almost daily for the past year and a half. The marine vinyl looks just about as perfect as it did on day one. No stains or discoloring, and only a few minor abrasions at the bottom edges from some nasty commuting (pavement) and cyclocross (dirt/gravel) crashes.
The staples have all held well (although I may have been lucky with the specific plastic of the frame) and the adhesive has held well everywhere except for the edges, which I've since re-glued with some gorilla glue and it's holding again without problem.

And I've recovered a handful of other saddles in similar fashion since this one, and all have been satisfactory at worst!

Most of all, I'm glad this instructable is continuing to prove helpful, inspiring some craftiness, and saving some old saddles!

SCHLEPIC (author)2011-07-20

This is an amazing Instructable you've put together here. Superbly well written and all of the photos are clear and informative. Thank you. Now that two years have past since the publishing, how has the seat held up? I'm curious as to how long those staples will hold on. I can hardly wait to try this myself, but I'm also trying to think of alternatives to using staples. Do you have any suggestions?

djeucalyptus (author)SCHLEPIC2013-09-12

Sorry for not replying to this one! There was a while when I went without visiting instructables, as horrible as that may be. I've been using the same saddle on my daily commuter almost daily, and for the last year and a half have been putting at least ten miles a day on it. All of the staples have held perfectly. A few of the spots around the edges where I couldn't staple and only used glue had worked themselves free with all of the rain in the Northwest winters, but nothing a few dabs of gorilla glue didn't resolve.

wtp1981 (author)2013-07-01

Did mine yesterday. Only took one hour to finish it. Thanks for the instructable.

djeucalyptus (author)wtp19812013-09-12

Looks great! glad you put this instructable to good use!

saraclaws (author)2013-09-12

I stumbled upon this Instructable and I am so thrilled to have found it! I had a really expensive carbon saddle that was a gift that had a rather terrible accident involving a faulty roof rack this summer, and I was not keen on the price tag of replacing it. Not being able to staple into carbon, I used the recommended headliner adhesive to affix marine vinyl to the foam and a combination of carpentry-strength hot glue and Loctite flexible super glue to secure the edges. I also found some reflective piping in the same craft store as the vinyl, which turned out to be invaluable for piecing together the parts to make that little cutout at the tail (Aliante saddles are tricky, it turns out). The effect was just marvelous and I will be referring to this again for sure! I was pretty stoked to find lime green; the fork they sent me to replace my crushed black fork is the same color, and I'm finally getting over being horrified at how loud it looks and embracing the hue. Thanks for such great, clear instructions.


djeucalyptus (author)saraclaws2013-09-12

nicely done! I like the idea of using the Loctite glue for the edges... a good addition to keep in the back of my mind! And the reflective piping in the tail notch looks excellent! Well done!

dgabert (author)2013-05-19

So, I have an old moped seat with some wonderful springs and no foam or cover... How would I work this out?

naveed5571 (author)2012-11-25

great work. worked out my kids bicycle. thanks a lot.

nelagremlap (author)2012-08-09

Thanks for helpful instructions...I couldn't find short staples (shorter than 1/4 inch) so I snipped some longer staples, in groups of 3 or 4, shorter. Kinda a fiasco. When I went to staple, it ended up I needed the 1/4 inch length. I used pliers (and a protector for the seat cover) to press the staples "home". I only regret that when I was pulling the seat fabric up around the sides that I didn't reach down to do it and smooth at the same time. I got some nasty wrinkles as a result. But mostly they're in the back...and my seat looks way better than before. Protecting the foam is the name of the game. thanks again.

profpat (author)2011-09-14

nice one!!!

coachjoe (author)2011-09-11

Great job in describing how to refinish an old saddle! To add to the knowledge here, I have been using a hand technique that does not require staples--I drill directly to the saddle pan (plastic & carbon) and simply use leather lacing to finish off the edge. A double cordovan stitch covers nicely and when laid properly will not be rough on the thighs in cycling. Here is a sample I use on my road racing bike . . . custom leather tooling as well.

Wasagi (author)2011-05-08


shooby (author)2010-06-13

How well does the new material hold up to wear and weather compared to leather?

djeucalyptus (author)shooby2010-11-09

If you use true marine grade materials, I find it holds up just as well (if not better, depending on the maker) as leather. More weather resistant for sure.

reddogny (author)2010-10-20

Nice instructable. I'd like to point out however, that many bicycle seats have a hard plastic bottom that is very difficult for a standard spring-loaded staple gun to penetrate. I would advise anyone planning to do this themselves to buy/borrow an electric or air-powered staple gun.

BtheBike (author)reddogny2010-11-09

that is a hard plastic bottom . Air power could be over kill , eh? An office stapler may not be enough though.

this could end up being pretty lucrative if it were mastered like DJ Eucalyptus has
. I'm gonna try this on a practice ,beat up seat, with an old plastic shower curtain .

djeucalyptus (author)BtheBike2010-11-09

Indeed. I've done this many times with many different saddles and have never encountered any difficulty with hard plastics. And I've been using cheap (for light weight and smaller size) staple guns, nothing heavy duty.

And BtheBike: let us know how it turns out. I'd worry that a shower curtain, once pierced, would be inclined to rip/tear at the points of stapling with wear and tear. Just worth considering.

kouros IV (author)2010-06-08

this by far, is my favorite project here on Instructables. If only I hadn't thrown away previous tattered bike seats :(

lampajoo (author)2009-07-05

road kill fur seat anyone? thanks, I was just going to ductape mine, but this is a way better idea.

djr6789 (author)lampajoo2010-02-19

lol make it out of a hedgehog road kill!

punkandska66 (author)2009-08-12

I was trying to do this to my bike seat. But the metal rails prevented me from getting to some places with a staple gun. I could pretty much only do the back of the seat, but once I got towards the sides, I couldn't do it. How did you get around this?

gervasegallant (author)2009-07-29

I liked this article so much, I went out and bought some marine vinyl and some 3M headliner adhesive. I think I might have messed up the first attempt. I didn't have the old cover to go by, the seat was already coverless. Also I seem to have a problem getting the wrap around the nose of the saddle. Is there any particular trick to fitting around the nose>

the nose is usually the trickiest part. I usually start at the very front of the nose and pull the vinyl as taught as possible. Then it's just a matter of pulling taught and folding the extra material inside the nose. The vinyl has a good bit of stretch to it and can be pulled a great deal without damaging it. what part of it specifically was giving you trouble?

First of all, thanks for getting back to me. I see a lot of bicycle saddles get thrown out just because the cover is torn, so.... Maybe I should get some photos together, but not tonight. I probably have two problems with what I have been doing. 1) From what I see of your photos, I am wondering if the marine vinyl might be a little too thick for wrapping. I picked up a yard at Jo-ann Fabric store the other day. Your covers look to be much thinner than what I have. Another hint about this problem is that I bought some 1/4 inch staples and they don't work at all. I had to go back to 5/16" and even some of those won't work on the nose where the materials is bunched up a bit. So I might have to get longer staples. 2) Both saddles I have worked with did not have the original cover, so I've been guessimating. That means I have quite a bit of material. I notice your covers have about 1/2 inch for the staple. Having said all that, I have one saddle that is near completion. Not a perfect job, but if I can get the nose stapled, it might make the otherwise useless saddle useful . Thanks again.

rada194 (author)2009-07-11

Would a T Shirt work for the fabric.

djeucalyptus (author)rada1942009-07-12

It would definitely be worth a try. I'd be worried about it being a bit thin... and possibly the adhesive wearing down the material. Maybe try it with some sort of backing material and it might work nicely.

HAZMAT2364 (author)2009-07-07

Would it be possible to use an iron to get it flat without melting it?

djeucalyptus (author)HAZMAT23642009-07-07

I'm assuming you mean in step 4 with the old cover for tracing? Not a bad idea... it would probably work well (although it's not incredibly critical of a step... a rough outline that's larger than the original is sufficient).

all_thumbs (author)2009-07-06

From where? ;-) (I once "recovered" a Contax 139 Quartz. Real leather made it a much nicer camera.)

xenobiologista (author)2009-07-06

Great Instructable. I have to move out of the country and sell my bikes off soon, and one of them could definitely use a new saddle cover. Also, this would be a good way to spice up a bike's looks by changing the saddle color.

kmpres (author)2009-07-04

Very nicely done and the results speaks for themselves! I imagine plain old 3M 77 spray contact cement would work as well. It's also available in my overseas neck of the woods (western Tokyo) where the headliner product gets a little fancy and would require quite a search. ;) Thanks for the well-written instructible!

djeucalyptus (author)kmpres2009-07-05

Pretty much any spray adhesive would work relatively well – even regular brush-on rubber/contact cement would probably work fairly well. The bonding strength and lasting adhesion of the headliner adhesive puts it just a bit above the rest.

camp6ell (author)2009-07-04

very nicely written up and the saddle looks great.

dacker (author)2009-07-02

Great job! After about 10 years, the saddle on my Cannondale is cracked. I've been looking around for a replacement, but they are pretty pricey. It looks like I can DIY for under $10 since I would only have to buy the fabric and adhesive. Do you buy the adhesive at auto parts stores (e.g. NAPA), or do you have to ask them to special order it?

djeucalyptus (author)dacker2009-07-02

forgot to mention that one. Usually, you can find it at a good auto parts store... occasionally at some local hardware stores as well. I've found some at a well-stocked upholstery shop that carried some auto and marine materials as well (although they only had a larger can at the time). You can also usually find it in the auto section of x-mart/wallyworld/megamart/etc.

Csebastian9 (author)2009-07-02

sweet you can also do it with a book cover since it's stretch

Csebastian9 (author)2009-07-02


hot-fresh-rider (author)2009-07-02

awesome A++

srilyk (author)2009-07-02

I imagine the split rail seats will be a bit more difficult to cover! I don't know if it would work the same but I know when you're stretching canvas onto a frame you tack one corner, then the opposite corner, and work your way 'round it. A seat doesn't have a corner but I wonder if tacking the nose/tail that way would work very well.

Gonazar (author)2009-07-02

Very nice workmanship, I like the results a lot.

Calorie (author)2009-07-02

Nice job. I'm inclined to look at this from a practical standpoint. Lots of fun to do. Your next task will be to recover your car panels. You can buy kits, or you can do it from scratch. I redid parts of my Saab 900. I had ALWAYS wanted a partial paisley interior. I reworked the interior panels and it rocked. Always confused new friends who sat in the car for the first time. They thought it came from the factory that way because it looked perfect. Auto Upholsterers do very well and you can have a lot of fun with it. They also make a lot of money, so it is a practical vocation. The guy I've used on occasion has been working for 40 years in the same shop. I had a custom convertible top made for a Saab 900 for $1,000 while a mass produced one that used the same type of material was $2,200. Drive on down to your local auto/marine upholsterer and ask to look at their material. They have every conceivable pattern, and some that you wish you hadn't actually existed (real Zebra leather.) Or you can do like I did, which was go to Mega-Lo Mart and pick up some cloth. It held up very well in the tropical sun.

SKPhoto (author)2009-06-29

Great Instructable, maybe I can make my bikes look pretty now. For this step, I recommend using a large peice of metal (ferrous) as a base and neodymium magnets to hold it down. You can get it super flat and trace it without hindrance. I hope it helps

theRIAA (author)2009-06-28

amazing job! so simple, great results.

denona (author)2009-06-27

that looks so pro nice job i will have to try this

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