Part of owning a motorcycle is the joy that comes from understanding its components and being able to DIY your way through most any issue. However, this ingenuity is not only limited to the mechanical elements of a bike, as it must also include those cosmetic and practical ornaments as well, like the seat. Now, I know the typical biker stereotype does not include a leather-clad, bearded behemoth sitting in the corner with a sewing needle, but the reality never fits the stereotype, right? Every biker can and should know how to reupholster their tired seat if only to protect the foam underneath the material.
Now, you could go out and purchase a brand-new aftermarket seat for your bike, but that will likely cost a pretty penny. Instead, you can follow this guide and learn to understand the material and the tools as you work your way towards reupholstering your worn-out seat and preventing that age-old iron butt condition for at least another few years or more.
Pick a Material
When it comes to choosing a material, you likely have two options: (1) leather and (2) marine-grade vinyl. While leather is a strong and durable material, it does not hold up well in all weather conditions, and it often needs to be treated and maintained to keep it from drying out and splitting. Therefore, most bikes that you see on the market use a marine-grade vinyl for the seats. This material is durable, affordable, and it is designed to stand up with little maintenance, regardless of climate. For that reason, vinyl is likely your best option.
Now, you can choose to make the seat cover yourself, but depending on the complexity of your seat design that might not be the best option. There are plenty of seat covers available for reupholstery needs. However, if you wish to be extra adventurous, you can use the old cover as a pattern, if you carefully remove it from the seat, which is honestly the best course of action anyway.
Figure Out Staple Length
Next, it is necessary to figure out the staple or tack length. While you might be eager to replace your seat, try to refrain from quickly pulling and discarding the old staples. You should start by removing one staple and determining the length of the legs. Though it might not seem like it, this is a crucial step in upholstery. If the leg length is too short, it might not hold the material well enough. However, if it is too long, then you will get a prickly surprise the next time you go for a ride. Also, you have to consider the new cover as well as your specific pan. Variations in material thickness might require a variety of staple lengths to secure the new seat. Therefore, be patient and pay attention to the staples you remove.
Choose a Staple Gun
After you have determined staple length, it is time to choose the tool you will use for the job. There are three types of staplers you might choose.
- Pneumatic stapler
A pneumatic stapler is often referred to as an air stapler because it uses either a canister of compressed air or gets directly attached to an air compressor. For upholstery work, especially with motorcycles, this type of stapler is best because of the different materials you work with and its overall versatility.
- Electric stapler
Electric staplers can also get the job done, but depending on the style of stapler you get, you might lose power. You can buy either an electric, rechargeable stapler or a corded option. Obviously, the corded option provides more consistent power.
- Handheld staple gun
While not the most powerful among the other staplers on the list, a handheld stapler can do in a pinch. One of the benefits of a handheld option is its affordability. However, the consistency and versatility of the tool depend solely on the user.
While the clear first choice is the pneumatic stapler, it is not the only one. Also, it might even be beneficial to have more than one option readily available, especially if your project requires staples of different lengths.
Set the Depth
You can’t just start shooting staples in willy-nilly, especially if you’re using an air stapler. You will need to set the depth first. Basically, you will want to set your pressure regulator to around 70 and slowly work your way up, testing the staple depth on the pan and away from the material. However, you can check your stapler’s manual for more specifics. Just be careful that the depth is not too much or too shallow. You have to goldilocks it, so you don’t damage the material.
Make the Material Pliable
Now that you have your tools ready, you need to make the material more pliable. Therefore, lay the material out in the sun. By placing the material out in the sun and allowing it to warm up, you will make the stretching process that much easier.
Set an Anchor Point
To begin upholstering your new seat cover, you will need to set an anchor point. Essentially, you will center your cover over the foam and shoot in a few staples to secure the fabric. This anchor allows you to have something to pull against as you work your way outward, keeping things taut.
Position the Staples
While it might seem unnecessary, a staples position is vital to its holding power. Therefore, the staples should be perpendicular to the pulling direction, maximizing the surface area of the staple’s crown.
Unfortunately, upholstering takes practice, and you might not succeed your first go at it. However, staples and vinyl are extremely forgiving, meaning that you can remove staples that aren’t working and try again. Don’t be afraid to fail. Persevere and learn.
It is true; you can pick up replacement motorcycle seats and only worry about the vinyl vs. leather debate. However, you can also embrace the spirit of the greater motorcycle community and DIY your way through reupholstering your seat. Don’t let a current lack of skill hold you back. Pick up a new cover or make your own and get out that stapler.