the freewheeler

Antique Leather Bicycle Saddle Repair

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Hello All - I am a new member, and this is my first post. I'm excited to begin learning from this community.

I have an antique bicycle saddle that has split on the "nose," where it was riveted to the metal subframe. I'm debating whether or not I should try to reconnect the leather in this area, but do not want to experiment anything with the process. The value of the saddle is ~$300, so I do not want to risk devaluing it.

Having said that, I've been looking around and seen a few products advertised to "glue" leather (Tear Mender). Would this be a safe method to use? In addition to this, should I use any other products to glue the leather to the steel subframe...was considering some kind of epoxy for this because it will be hidden once the leather itself is mended. Finally, is there anything I can use to fill the joint and color to match the rest of the leather? (see 2nd photo)

I will not ever actually use this saddle to ride on, so I am not concerned with any weight stresses that would otherwise occur. The bike will only sit on display.

Please see the photos below and let me know your thoughts! Thank you!

IMG_3867_zpsggmuhdbu.jpg

Edited by the freewheeler

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Are you hoping to maintain that "untouched" patina look, or would it be okay to look like a refreshed original?

If the saddle is solely for display you will have more options, but if you sell it I would suggest being upfront about it having needed that type of repair.

There is no way to erase the tear, but you can get it to still look nice and, possibly, functional for limited use.

1) Clean. Start by cleaning it with saddle soap or Lexol leather cleaner, following the instructions on the tin. Then, apply some Lexol conditioner to it. This is to help moisturize the leather again and to slow the drying that led to the original tear.

2) Repair. One option would be to try to apply fiberglass underneath the saddle and above the metal. I think this would be terribly messy, but it could theoretically work. I would go another route.

To me, ideally, you would slip a layer of material underneath the tip of the saddle, above the metalwork and beneath the leather. This layer is to reinforce the part of the leather that weakened/spread the adhesion area so the adhesive is more likely to work.

One option would be a thin piece of strong leather (goat, kangaroo, or thin vegetable tanned cowhide), with holes/slits made to allow for slipping around the rivets... assuming you don't want to replace the rivets. The holes/slits will apply to about any of these options.

Another option as a reinforcement would be a piece of nylon webbing or polypropylene webbing, such as used on backpacks. 

Another option would be to buy a pair of small dress shoes from Goodwill and cut out the back of the shoe that goes around the heel. Some shoes have a thin plasticky material that the liner/leather is glued to to help the back of the heel stay in shape.   A woman's shoe may be your best choice, sizewise.

Another option is to wet form a small piece of rawhide (e.g. Dog treat), which, when dry again, is quite strong. It should probably be lacquered after doing this to protect it from moistening/softening again.

Another option is to use a heat-formable plastic like Kydex, as used in holsters, or the tip of another newer disposable bike seat, for that matter..

Lastly, you could get away with a thin strip of metal, such as stainless steel or brass (so that it doesn't discolor the leather over time).

I would recommend one of these backers if you are willing to do that, as it will improve your chances of success.

In any case, you then want to apply a clear contact cement to both the backer and the underside of the leather. Preferably, the cement (e.g. Barge Clear Toluene-Free Cement, Master All-Clear Cement) will be thinned with the appropriate thinner.

Whether or not thinned, apply a very thin coat to both the backer and the underside of the leather, likewise for the two edges of the tear. Let them all dry entirely without touching. The logistics of that will be up to your creativity. If you can't figure out any other option, use a thin strip of vinyl to keep the two layers separated (because those cements do not stick to vinyl well).

After both layers have dried entirely, apply another thin coat to the same areas and let them dry for several minutes, until sheen of the cement has faded from looking "wet" to looking kinda dry.

Now, the moment of truth. Press the leather tear back together and, in one movement, also press the leather down onto the backer, starting from the top center and working down to the edges to avoid bubbles/bumps. Press and hold with the palm of your hand for thirty seconds or so. It should hold well enough for you to let go after that.

Now, walk away and come back tomorrow. Don't test the adhesive. Let it cure overnight.

3) Condition. Get the entire saddle moist by applying a sponge that is damp with clean water. While the leather is damp, apply Lexol conditioner again to the entire saddle. Then, apply a leather balm such as Rudy's Bee Natural, or a little Dubbin, or any of the other liquid or balm leather lotions.

4) Waterproof. This is optional. If you like, now apply waterproofer such as Huberd's or Sno-Seal, following the directions.

5) Cream Polish. Apply some self-shining shoe cream Polish (in neutral, or Mid-Tan or the color you prefer). Tarrago Self-Shining shoe cream is quite good. Meltonian shoe cream is also good. Lightly brush with with horsehair brush. Where the seam was, be generous with the cream Polish to act as a bit of a filler.

6) paste wax. I like Lincoln but Kelly's and Kiwi are also good. Shine the seat like you were shining shoes. Apply a little extra to where the tear was, as filler. Ideally, this will be several thin layers. Neutral has no pigment, others do, so choose the one you prefer. Brush/buff.

7) Seal. Use Resolene, diluted 50:50 with water and apply a few thin coats with a sponge or light brush, avoiding brush marks.

8) Optional: a spray shine like Quick Shine 48 or Meltonian Super Shine, just for that extra touch before putting it on display.

By now, the saddle should be beautiful. As to its value as a collectible, I have no idea what reconditioning does to resale value. The above is the most professional-level repair I know of.

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2 hours ago, johnv474 said:

Are you hoping to maintain that "untouched" patina look, or would it be okay to look like a refreshed original?

By now, the saddle should be beautiful. As to its value as a collectible, I have no idea what reconditioning does to resale value. The above is the most professional-level repair I know of.

Wow, thank you for the exhaustive response. It's incredibly thorough.

In the end, I want the saddle to look exactly like what it is: a 75 year-old piece of leather that has literally been through war. I'm definitely not after a "showroom quality" look, and want to maintain the patina that's evident on the rest of the bike. It needs to tell a story.

The most reasonable option appears to be using a backer to reinforce the split area - either leather or nylon. So you would recommend using an all purpose contact cement (Barge), and not a product like Tear Mender?

After conditioning with Frye cream, I will try one of your suggested filler methods (polish and/or paste wax). Do I need to do both, or is it ok to just use a paste wax? I do have some Meltonian I could also use if completely necessary.

For what it's worth, here are a couple photos of the bike...

{option}http://i465.photobucket.com/albums/rr16/mbbowers/IMG_3432_zpslhysk1ru.jpg[/img]

{option}http://i465.photobucket.com/albums/rr16/mbbowers/IMG_3443_zpsdjkbbmqw.jpg[/img]

Thanks for all of your help.

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Do you know about bikeforums.net?  Lots of good info on there and a couple guys that specialize in this subject.  I am a bike collector and have many vintage leather saddles myself.

The tear likely happened as a result of over-tensioning, and possibly exacerbated by dryness.  

I think you can glue it and blend the repair in a little, but in my opinion it isn't going to look great.  Some backing makes sense.  Are you doing anything to the bike itself other than cleaning?  You don't want to totally recondition the saddle if you don't treat the bike similarly.  Hope that makes sense.  Good luck!

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12 hours ago, Tugadude said:

Do you know about bikeforums.net?  Lots of good info on there and a couple guys that specialize in this subject.  I am a bike collector and have many vintage leather saddles myself.

The tear likely happened as a result of over-tensioning, and possibly exacerbated by dryness.  

I think you can glue it and blend the repair in a little, but in my opinion it isn't going to look great.  Some backing makes sense.  Are you doing anything to the bike itself other than cleaning?  You don't want to totally recondition the saddle if you don't treat the bike similarly.  Hope that makes sense.  Good luck!

Of course! I frequent bikeforums, but The Classic & Antique Bicycle Exchange (The CABE) is actually a much better resource for classic bicycles. I suggest making an account if you do not yet have one.

Unfortunately, tears of this kind are well documented on these saddles. As you said, it was overtightened and dried out, and would have torn as soon as someone put additional weight on the saddle.

I think I mentioned, but I am not doing anything else to the bike aside from cleaning...it's a piece of history and needs to show its wear - to tell a story.

I only would like to repair the saddle to a point that the tear is not immediately apparent, and do not intend to make the saddle rideable.

Thanks! Let me know if you'd like to see some more photos of the bike itself. I actually own two and one is currently listed for sale.

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