Back in August it became apparent that Debbie’s 8-year old Fi’zi:k Vitesse saddle on our Calfee tandem was wearing out. Well, to be more specific, the perforated pleather saddle cover was suffering from delamination and, as it turns out, gel material leaching through the worn-out coating on the saddle cover that was designed to function as a barrier.
I considered taking a shot at recovering the saddle with some new leather as a fix, but didn’t want to get halfway into the project and find that the saddle was not salvageable. So, I went off in search of a new saddle which is far more challenging than it used to be since brick and mortar, local bike shops (LBS) are now far and few between and don’t stock a lot different saddles: internet commerce has pretty much killed robust inventories at the LBS. Thankfully, and based on the success I had with the Bontrager Montrose Comp saddle I found for the Calfee when my also very-old Selle Italia ProLink saddle failed at last year’s Southern Tandem Rally in Venice, Florida, they had a couple different Bontrager saddles that looked similar in size and shape to Debbie’s Vitesse. However, all of them would be far more firm than the worn-out gel saddles, so this was not going to be a seamless saddle change… as few ever are.
To make a long-story short, the first Bontrager saddle she tried which was a women’s specific design was the Yatra Comp (at left) which did not work well and was returned under Bontrager / Trek saddles 30-day fit guarantee. However, the Arvada Comp (at right) while definitely less forgiving than her Fi’zi:k Vitesse provided her good support and sufficient comfort without causing any chafing. She’s since gotten very comfortable with it and we also replaced a 7-year old Fi’zi:k Vitesse that was on the triplet as it was also starting to show signs of cover delamination. Again, she had no issues with the saddle during our 130-miles of riding at this year’s Southern Tandem Rally.
Getting back to the subject of this blog entry, after making sure the Bontrager Arvada Comp worked-well, I began my experiment to see if I could successfully re-cover Debbie’s old saddle with new leather to give it a second life. The project was made a bit more challenging since the Vitesse has two gel inserts incorporated into the saddle’s construction. However, since there was nothing to lose, I pressed ahead:
- Step #1 was removing the screw-on, plastic corner guards and stripping-off the old leather cover without doing any significant damage to either the foam foundation or the gel inserts. A few bits of foam came off with the cover which was good; however, peeling the gooey, fragile gel away from the cover was a bigger challenge and I was able to salvage most of it.
- Step #2 was finding the right piece of leather that would be the correct weight, size and not insanely expensive to make the project feasible. Thankfully, I found a 15″ x 15″ remnant of black, 4 oz Italian cowhide leather skin for $15 that is large enough to cover two saddles.
- Step #3 was trimming the new leather to fit the saddle, which sounds a bit easier than it is. The old cover could be used as a guide, but you have to wait until the leather is soaked in water then stretched over the saddle and allowed to dry before you can do a final trim to fit.
- Step #4 was soaking the leather and then stretching it over the old saddle. I elected to use my electric stapler to secure the leather to the inside lip of the saddle, much the same as you do with a motorcycle saddle. It allows you to get a very tight pull on the leather without marring the exposed leather with spring clips that don’t hold nearly as well as the heavy-duty staples. Note that the thick plastic saddle shell requires the highest impact setting on the stapler, otherwise the staples just fold or shoot off into space when they hit the hard plastic.
- Step #5 was letting the wet leather dry and conform to the saddle overnight so that it could be removed and still retain the shape needed when doing the final installation with spray-on 3M 77 adhesive. Let me also note, using thicker and more durable 4 oz leather vs. 2 oz or 3 oz also complicates things since getting a tight fit at the nose of the saddle is extremely challenging.
- Step #6 was removing the staples and the now-dry cover from the saddle so the saddle could be prepped for applying the adhesive.
- Step #7 was taping off the parts of the saddle base and rails that would not be covered with spray-on adhesive using automotive (green) painters tape around the edges then the wider, blue household painters tape.
- Step #8 was unique to the gel saddle inserts in that I elected to cover them with plastic stretch wrap that will hopefully act as a barrier between the gel and the leather cover. Again, this is a carry over from motorcycle saddle recovering where you put a plastic membrane between the leather and the foam core to keep the foam from getting wet when the bike sits out or is ridden in wet weather.
- Step #9 was applying the 3M 77 spray adhesive to the underside of the leather cover and to the saddle foam, plastic membrane over the gel inserts and around the outer, underside edge of the saddle. You need to work fast with the adhesive as it begins to set-up in 30 seconds and will hold fast after 60 seconds. So, the trick is making sure your pre-formed leather is centered and aligned as you put it across the top of the saddle and then work it on to the saddle from the middle to outside edges. The adhesive is so tacky that you can pretty much hand press the leather on the outer, underside edge and get a very good bite. However, I still used clamps in a few spots around the nose where the leather was bunched up to make sure there was a very secure bond. It also helped to “roll the nose edge” on a smooth, hard clean surface to give it a tight, smooth fit.
- Step #10 was letting the adhesive dry for 30 minutes before “messing” with the saddle.
- Step #11 was removing the tape from the underside and then trimming any excess leather from the perimeter edge. I should note, the Vitesse has a funky, non-functional “notch” at the back that would normally require doing some cut & sew work to properly cover. I opted to just wrap it and leave a void back there on this 1st effort.
- Step #12 was re-installing the screw-on corner guards and pressing in the Fi’si:k plug in the back of the saddle: I believe there’s a water bottle cage mount that can go into that space.
- Step #13 was cleaning the adhesive residue off the cover that will invariably get on your hands while you’re installing the cover over the saddle.
And, here’s the final product, with the recovered saddle at left and an original at the right.
It was a very good learning experience. Obviously, the less complex the saddle is the easier it would be to recover. Some of our Selle Italia “TransAm” saddles with their anatomic cutouts and other features tend to be made from up to 7 pieces of leather that are stitched together, so I’m not sure if that would be something I’d want to tackle vs. a good-old Flite Saddle.
I’ll probably re-cover Debbie’s other Vitesse saddle just in case she decides she’d prefer the gel saddle she’s been riding for the past 8 years vs. the Bontrager Arvada Comp at some point as I’m sure the second one’s gel inserts are in better shape and, well, I’ve learned a few things on this first saddle that should allow me to step-up-my-game on the second one.