Introduction: Pimp My Bicycle... With Leather!

About: I've always been very creative and loved figuring things out for myself. My mom is also a very hands-on person and knows everything from laying tile to how to build a little house, so I learned a lot from her …

This bicycle remake was for my husband's birthday just a few weeks ago. He had been given this older bike and he actually never cleaned it (sorry, honey) and it got quite a few scratches and other things that didn't look too pretty. He downed the thing once, scratching up his saddle and handle bar tape as well. That, by the way, hadn't been changed for a long time and looked quite gross.

So for his birthday I was thinking I could improve his "situation" and since I've been on a leather trip recently, why not use that. It didn't start off with what I ended up doing. The idea started very innocently with just thinking of added a leather bar tape and maybe covering his seat, but it didn't end there. The wheels in my head had started to turn and once that happens, nothing or no one is safe anymore. ;)

So, after a while of thinking... NATURALLY, I decided to cover his entire (well, the majority) of his bike in leather, plus some other added bonuses like DIY fenders.

Let me show you what we got here :)

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Pertaining tools and materials used... there were many, it's hard to com up with an exact list, but a few of them were:

- Leather, Needle, Nylon thread, Beeswax, Hole punch, Crab fork aka edge groover, Awl, Scissors, Rubber hammer, Double sided tape

- Regular hammer, Screw driver, Lubricant spray, Fine wire wool, Gloves, Wood stain, Rugs, Poly finish, Drill, Drill bits, Sander, Brush, Nails, Screws, Wire gauge, Washers, Nuts & bolts, Wrench, Pliers, Tape measure

Basically your standard tool box ;)

Step 1: Before

First of, let me treat you to a few before pictures. There will be more along the way.

Step 2: Cleaning and Disassembling

Taking the bike apart isn't very hard, the most important thing, however, is to remember where everything goes! I like to take pictures to document how things went, especially if I don't have the slightest clue about them.

I had actually contacted a few bicycle people around us and met a great independent guy that gave a few good tips, especially about cleaning. He would also put everything (things I couldn't, like gear and brake cables) back together and make sure it would run smoothly in the end. Funny enough, he discouraged me from doing this, but he didn't 'see' what I did. Fellow DIY'ers will understand. In the end, when he saw the work finished, he was quite impressed and we might go into some little business with the handle bar wraps. We'll see about that. :P

Also, it helps if you have some sort of bicycle stand. I, unfortunately, didn't discover this great makeshift stand solution (see pics) until a few hours of work in and it sure wasn't comfortable having a steel bike frame laying on your thighs for cleaning. ;)

The actual part of cleaning is rather simple to my surprise. I got some very fine steel wool (the super fine ones, not the ones you normally use for dishes) and lubricant spray from the dollar store (haha, if you read any of my other ib'les, you might see a recurring theme here with the dollar store) and scrubbed away. The rust came right off. Some parts were so damaged, however, I just had to replace them.

Step 3: Making Patterns

Now that I decided to wrap not only the handle bar in leather, but also the frame, I needed to make some patterns.

The way I did this was by grabbing a bunch of paper... Now, using one piece I laid it over the end of the bars and tried tracing the outlines first just with my finger and then I perforated it with my awl. Next I cut them out and checked if everything matched. The pictures will explain it very well, too. Then I measured the thickness and length of the bars themselves. Most were the same, except for the front fork and some bars in the back. So to get the tapered shape, I just measured in intervals and marked those measurements on paper, creating the pattern. Then I would cut those out and hold it around the bars to double check if they fit. If there was too much or too little, I would go back and add or subtract some. This process was rather time consuming. More so than the actual sewing.

Step 4: Attaching Leather to the Frame

I laid down the paper pattern pieces and cut away. Using my crab fork substitute for a wing divider I marked guide lines for my hole punch and then did the holes. I bought a big spool of nylon thread prior to this that, unfortunately, was not waxed. Oh well, not a big deal, it was still worth the little money I paid.

I also got this fantastic double sided tape from this Japanese dollar store called Daiso. I added that to all my pieces before I attached them to the frame. The tape is pretty strong and held the leather on the frame without any support from me. That made sewing a breeze and there was zero movement.

I used a cross stitch for all my pieces. My first attempt looked just like that, a first attempt... There's definitely a learning curve. :)

Like I said, sewing was actually the easier part... until I get to the handle bar.

Step 5: Handle Bar

And here we meet again...

I have to admit, I did NOT anticipate this handle bar to give me this much grief. I almost stabbed myself in the eye with the awl, if I didn't wear glasses. No kidding. The things you do for love! :)

So first off, you need to take off any old handle bar wrap and cushioning and dirt that comes with it. I was told I should put some cushion underneath the wrap, but then I think it's just preference, so I opted for a compromise. I used some sport tape I also found at the dollar store (I know, it must be a sickness). It actually worked great, because one of its properties is to stick to itself and it's so flexible it wraps nicely around the curvy handle bar.

The piece of leather used for the handle bar is basically just a long rectangle with a small cut out for where the brakes go. It's good to make it a bit longer to have some wiggle room.

The leather is easier dealt with when soaked in a little water and then pat dried beforehand. All easy until here. Then I started wrapping it... The first handle actually took me 4 hours just figuring out what the hell I'm doing. That's also when I decided that a cross stitch wouldn't work for this (maybe later when I do a few more) and I opted for a baseball stitch (don't know the official name). It made my life just so much easier. The second handle only took me one hour. The trick is 1. not to give up, 2. go forth and back a few times, 3. twisting, 4. lots of strength.

I think a second person would have made this a lot easier, so if you're attempting this, ask for some help.

Ok, so this is what I did exactly. I first tightened the piece at the very beginning and then went ahead very loosely with the baseball stitch. Keeping it loose will look very messy at first, but help a lot later. You'll run out of thread quickly, sewing it so loose, so when you get to the end, start going back and tighten it. While dong so, use your fingers and push the leather from behind to help close it up. Don't worry if it doesn't close immediately, I went back a few times.

You want to keep twisting the piece so that when you get to the brake, you're opening will line up nicely. See pictures.

You might still have a lot of wrinkles in the leather, those best come out using something hard to push the leather. I used the back of my awl. Take a look at the pictures to see the progression. It's a lot of backtracking, but it WILL look beautiful in the end!

Once you finished the wrap, cut off the excess and prepare for the plug. I showed in the pictures what exactly I did. Since the leather is too thick to fold it all inside, I had to just cut it very close to the opening and bend it a tiny bit inside with the help of the plug.

Step 6: Fenders

I also decided that this bike needed some fenders and they don't come cheap. I actually scored some free plywood, so what did I have to loose?

I had someone help me cut strips with a table saw. Those I cut to the correct length with a simple utility knife. I planned to glue two layers of plywood together and then bend them in the shape/radius of the tires. I would have preferred an actual cast and in hindsight that's what I should have invested time in, but at the time I made a "cheaper" version work.

I traced the radius of the tire on my work bench and then hammered nails along the line. This is when my husband came downstairs and knocked on the garage door asking what the heck I'm doing to his bike, he only hears hammering! (He knew I was working on the bike, just not what was happening to it exactly) I bent the two pieces of plywood I had glued together and pushed them into shape using a bunch of fasteners to hold it tight to the nails. I let that dry overnight.

Next up I just sanded them into shape. I held them against the tires to see where they would fit best, drilled the appropriate holes and then went on to create the u-shaped wires that hold the fenders in place. For this I used a 12 wire gauge. That's pretty tough, which I hadn't realized right away :P

I was able to bend it all to shape, though. Remember, measure twice, cut once. I attached the fenders to the bike and then judged where I had to make the cut and bend them in a loop so they could be attached with the appropriate screw.

Step 7: Putting Things Back Together

Now that everything has dried and been sewn up for the most part, it was time to reassemble this beauty again.

For the gears, I cut a bit of rubber from an old tire to protect the leather from indentations since it had to be tightened quite a bit.

For the piece that changes gears... the bicycle guy had told me not to take it off... well, but I did and he didn't even notice afterwards. :P However, it did not fit anymore, since I had first covered the whole piece in leather, so I had to make a cut out. I opened the thread up again and just cut a bit out. Worked pretty well, mostly because the double sided tape held everything together so well.

On to the horizontal bar that holds down the brake wire. I first just attached it with thread, but that didn't provide enough support. So I bought these clips, similar to what came with the bike already, but had been ruined with rust. They were a bit too big, but at this point I was tired of running to another bike shop, so I made it work. And it did :P

Step 8: Making a Bike Handle/Carrier

So then I saw this awesome thing online and I had to make it! It would make my husbands life much easier carrying the bike up the stairs to our apartment! It's a handle that'll attach to your bike. That's how simple it is!

I just winged it, but since have created another version for the bicycle guy.

Its basically just two straps with a buckle and one, more sturdier stap that connects the two and form the handle.

I would suggest making it unique to your hand size and what you feel comfortable with holding in your hand.

First, I cut two straps that would hold the handle, so measure your bars and make sure you leave enough room to attach a buckle and some play.

Then cut two rectangular pieces, mine are approximately 7-8" I believe. The second piece should be just a bit smaller, depending on your design (I realized that only after I took this pic and started sewing). Then I attached the buckles and started sewing up the rectangular pieces. I set those aside for a minute to make a stabilizer out of cardboard. The went into the middle and then I closed up the handle. Now you will want to make some holes for the buckle. That's how simple this is to create.

Step 9: Some Pretty After Pictures

WOW! And it's done. This whole process took me about 7 full days and lots of sweat (we were "blessed" with 90F weather when I did this three weeks ago...). I loved (almost) every minute of it. I could have gone without the almost-stabbing-eye incident, but besides that, it was a lot of fun to do. And most importantly, my husband LOVED IT! Unfortunately, now he's afraid to ride it. HAHA. I did tell him to just NOT WRECK IT, so maybe I had something to do with that fear. ;)

I hope you enjoy the after pictures just as much as I did and still do.

Please consider voting for me in the Leather Contest. Happy making everyone.

PS: Zaphod Beetlebrox made a good point in the comments section about treating the leather due to possible exposure to the elements. I did not treat ours mostly because I knew the bike won't be outside, except when it's ridden. However, I suggest looking into that option to keep your leather looking nice. He suggests a product called Hydroblock.

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