New skin.

I’ve recently begun learning how easy it is to give new life to some of the weathered and otherwise life-beaten saddles that have somehow filled a box or two of space in my studio. As an example, I took an old Vetta (above) that seemed structurally sound, but aesthetically lacking. The stretched artificial, human-made fibers of nylon or polyester – or whatever the hell it is – were ripped and separating from the foam padding of the saddle. It was only a moment’s work to remove the last shreds of clothed dignity from the seat.

I’ve been inspired by the efforts of bikeforums.net members who’ve saved some pretty ugly looking butt supports. One forum member described and illustrated his process in detail here. I’ve followed his lead, modifying how the adhesive is applied – I used a two-coat dry rubber cement contact bond instead of the adhesive he recommends, mostly because I am very aware of the dangers of airborn particles coming from the spray adhesives he uses.

So, the illustration (below) should be considered my “before” photo.

The next step involved shopping at a Thrift Store for a “donor” jacket. I visited Goodwill, where I located a leather coat for six dollars. Removing the leather was quite easy. I used an X-Acto to rip the seams and after a couple inches of torn threads, the leather separated with minimal pressure. For this saddle, I used material from the sleeve, which turned out to be the largest area of uncut and unstitched leather on this particular garment.

Once removed, I calculated that I had enough leather in the two sleeves to recover four road saddles. There is also enough material in the remainder of this particular jacket to experiment with a lot of different ideas, including bar wrap, toe clips, and customized brake levers.

I used the following tools and materials:

  • Worn saddle
  • “Donor” leather jacket or other salvageable item – thin leather works best
  • X-Acto knife
  • Rubber cement
  • Seat post
  • Scissors
  • Flat bladed tool, like a screwdriver (I used an artist’s palette knife)
  • Cheap, disposable bristle brush (I used an artist’s bristle that I purchased at the dollar store, five for a buck.)

To summarize my steps:

  1. I removed the leather from the jacket and set it all aside except for one sleeve.
  2. I placed the leather sleeve flat on my drawing table. With the saddle placed seat-side down, I traced a rough and very generous outline that allowed sufficient material to wrap the saddle (and then some.)
  3. With the seat post in place, I locked the saddle into my bike rack. A bench vice works just as well, or you can simply hold the post in your hand. I gave a very liberal coating of rubber cement to the entire padded surface of the saddle, the edges, and down the inside edges of the backside of the saddle (you have to hand hold the saddle to get the back part.) Be sure to open a window to keep air flowing!
  4. While the saddle dries (in minutes, by the way), I coat the back of the leather, all the way to the edges. Once both are dry, I repeat the coating. Rubber cement is viscous and will spread easily.
  5. The two surfaces must be dry before assembly! Once dry, I will very carefully align the top of the saddle with the leather, which is laid flat on my drawing table. I “eye ball” things to ensure there is going to be enough overlap to reach and wrap around the edges of the saddle. Once aligned, I will bring the two surfaces together; they will immediately bond.
  6. At this point, only the high points of the saddle are bonded to the leather. I flip the saddle over and remount it into my bike rack so that I can use two hands. With both hands, I pull the leather tight in the middle, working to the back of the saddle and constantly stretching and smoothing out wrinkles with my hands. I tuck the edges under, to the inside edges of the saddle. There should be enough extra material that I can come back later and trim off the excess for a cleaner finish. It’s important, however, to have enough material wrap to the inside and adhesive to the sides so that with use, the leather remains tight and intact.
  7. I return to the leather at the sides and begin to work toward the nose of the saddle, working both sides equally. The nose of the saddle is the most difficult part, especially because the thicker leather will “bunch” together and wrinkle unless you stretch and smooth, stretch and smooth, using a flat tool (screwdriver or palette knife or similar) to press the insides down firmly. Some people will add darts to the underside of the leather to facilitate the elimination of wrinkles and bunching. I haven’t had to do that yet, but I plan to try it to see if the technique will ease the process… it seems like it should.

And now the “after” photographs:

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