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How to recover an old bicycle seat

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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!)
 
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Step 1: 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.
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djeucalyptus (author) 10 months ago
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!
B4SEC4MP3 years ago
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)  B4SEC4MP10 months ago
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.
wtp19811 year ago
Did mine yesterday. Only took one hour to finish it. Thanks for the instructable.
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djeucalyptus (author)  wtp198110 months ago
Looks great! glad you put this instructable to good use!
saraclaws10 months ago
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.

     
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djeucalyptus (author)  saraclaws10 months ago
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!
dgabert1 year ago
So, I have an old moped seat with some wonderful springs and no foam or cover... How would I work this out?
naveed55711 year ago
great work. worked out my kids bicycle. thanks a lot.
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.
profpat2 years ago
nice one!!!
coachjoe2 years ago
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.
Noack saddle project.jpg
Wasagi3 years ago
Beautiful!
shooby4 years ago
How well does the new material hold up to wear and weather compared to leather?
djeucalyptus (author)  shooby3 years ago
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.
reddogny3 years ago
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.
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)  BtheBike3 years ago
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 IV4 years ago
this by far, is my favorite project here on Instructables. If only I hadn't thrown away previous tattered bike seats :(
lampajoo5 years ago
road kill fur seat anyone? thanks, I was just going to ductape mine, but this is a way better idea.
lol make it out of a hedgehog road kill!
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?
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>
djeucalyptus (author)  gervasegallant5 years ago
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.
rada1945 years ago
Would a T Shirt work for the fabric.
djeucalyptus (author)  rada1945 years ago
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.
HAZMAT23645 years ago
Would it be possible to use an iron to get it flat without melting it?
djeucalyptus (author)  HAZMAT23645 years ago
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_thumbs5 years ago
From where? ;-) (I once "recovered" a Contax 139 Quartz. Real leather made it a much nicer camera.)
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.
kmpres5 years ago
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)  kmpres5 years ago
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.
camp6ell5 years ago
very nicely written up and the saddle looks great.
dacker5 years ago
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)  dacker5 years ago
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.
Csebastian95 years ago
sweet you can also do it with a book cover since it's stretch
Csebastian95 years ago
wow
awesome A++
srilyk5 years ago
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.
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