Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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)!