How to Recover an Old Bicycle Seat

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Intro: 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)!

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54 Discussions

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brazasdaddy2018

Question 2 months ago on Step 5

Would gorrila glue work just as well? I'm on a budget and have gorilla glue on hand.

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gumpworsely

4 months ago on Step 9

Fantastic instructions!! Thanks for the effort you put into creating this page. It is a huge help for me!

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JulezN

Question 7 months ago on Step 8

I have a steel base on my seat so i cant use staples, will the method you said differ, so i can get it to evenly stick to the underside?
Many thanks...

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customchris88

3 years ago on Step 9

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!

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rph52

3 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the instructions. I covered an Avocet Gelflex and learned some lessons along the way. https://rayhosler.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/new-life-for-old-avocet-gelflex-saddle/

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djeucalyptus

5 years ago on Introduction

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!

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SCHLEPIC

7 years ago on Introduction

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?

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djeucalyptusSCHLEPIC

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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.

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saraclaws

5 years ago on Introduction

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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djeucalyptussaraclaws

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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!

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dgabert

5 years ago

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

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nelagremlap

6 years ago on Introduction

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.

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coachjoe

7 years ago on Introduction

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.

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djeucalyptusshooby

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

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.