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Leather Bicycle Saddle Repair

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by John "If it broke, fix it" Allen
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This page is a companion to our page about leather saddles.

Repairable!

Leather saddles, unlike most plastic saddles, are repairable. Leather saddles can break in three main ways:

Any of these problems can be corrected.

Brooks repairs saddles at its factory location in England, and as of this writing there are three other authorized Brooks repair locations around the world. Transport Cycles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, is one. Simon Firth, at Transport Cycles, reports that he also repairs the new Cambium (non-leather) saddle, and covers Brooks warranties.

Simon Firth, at your service!
Simon Firth

Brooks will extend a warranty to 10 years if a saddle is registered on its Web site. Aaron's Bicycle Repair in Seattle also offers leather-saddle repair. Brooks stocks and supplies replacement parts; repair of old saddles is still entirely possible, because the basic design of Brooks saddles has remained the same for decades. Repair of other brands depends on parts availability. Contact information on repair sites is at the end of this article.

The most common repair is for a broken rail. A bicycle collector or museum may wish to replace the leather when restoring an antique bicycle.

Some older Brooks saddles have a feature which also makes it worth the trouble to replace the leather: ferrules of the type shown in the photo below. They insert into the bag straps. Newer saddles lack these ferrules and can cut through straps. It is worth saving ferrules from a worn-out or broken saddle. They can be pried out and re-used.

ferrules that save bag straps

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Brooks Repair Locations

U.K.
British flag
Brooks
Downing Street, Smethwick Tel: +81 75 622 7755
B66 2PA, West Midlands, Fax: +81 75 622 7766
England, UK Email:
  Web: Repair enquiry to Brooks
USA
American flag
Transport Cycles
1105 Frankford Avenue Tel: +1 215 425-4672
Philadelphia PA 19125 Fax:  
USA Email:
  Web: Transport Cycles Brooks Saddle Repair
Japan
Japan flag
Diatech Products
Yubinbango 612-8042 Fushimi-ku Tel: +81 75 622 7755
KakinokiHama cho address 431 Fax: +81 75 622 7766
Kyoto, Japan Email
  Web: http://www.diatechproducts.com/
Germany
German flag
RTI Sports
Universitatsstrasse 2 Tel: +49 (0) 2618 999980
56070 KOBLENZ Fax: +49 (0) 2630 955230
Deutschland Email:
  Web: https://www.rtisports.de/

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Do-it-yourself leather-saddle repairs

A home mechanic may also attempt a saddle repair, and it is sometimes possible to cannibalize parts. When a saddle rail broke on a Brooks B17 -- after 30 years of service -- I checked and found that the undercarriage of a Wright's saddle -- Brooks's low-end brand from the 1970s -- was identical except for the finish. I drilled out the rivets from the Wrights saddle and removed its misshapen leather, installed the leather from the B17 and had a perfectly functional saddle again.

You'll need an electric drill and bit, a hammer, flat-ended punch -- an old pedal spindle will do -- and a sturdy metal surface. The flat surface at the rear of a bench vise will do. There is little to lose in making the attempt. If you drill out the rivets from the inside, you are unlikely to damage either the leather or the undercarriage.

You need only replace the rivets at the rear of the saddle. The metal shoe inside the nose of the saddle comes off with the top, once you have removed the rivets at the rear. Copper rivets suitable for saddle repair are available at hobby shops, and online. Genuine Brooks rivets are available too, but they aren't any better, and they are very pricey.

With a sprung saddle, you may be able to avoid drilling rivets, by disassembling the undercarriage and replacing the broken parts. I did this when the rails broke on a Brooks Flyer.

My Flyer with broken rails
Broken rails on Brooks Champion Flyer

When the rails break, the nose bolt and slider come loose. Let's hope that you didn't lose it them the street -- or if you did, you ordered new ones. If only one rail broke, the other will hold the parts in place.

I had the nose bolt and slider. I was able to order a new undercarriage from Brooks in England. This includes springs, but it is easier to undo the nuts at the lower end of the old springs and re-use them, because it is possible to turn the bolts. Keep the extra springs, as spares: springs also have been known to break.

If only one rail is broken, you'll have to disassemble the saddle by drilling out the rivets at the rear, or undoing the bolts of a sprung saddle. You may find found it easiest to undo the nuts at the top of the springs, or at the bottom.

Assembly of the front end of the saddle is a bit of mechanical puzzle, and can be confusing. Install the slider onto one of the lower rails at the side, from inside to outside, following the arrow in the photo below. The "wings" of the slider which secure the lower rails should start facing downward (with the saddle upside-down). Slide the slider around to the front, rotate it into place and insert the nose bolt.

Assembling the nose parts

Preferably assemble these parts before installing the rivets or bolts at the rear of the saddle. Getting the nose bolt into place can be difficult if the rails are in place -- though if the nose bolt is adjusted as loose as possible, you may be able to pry it into place with a flat-blade screwdriver, while squeezing the top of the saddle and the lower rails together behind the nose with your other hand, to tilt the metal shoe at the nose away from the bolt.

The nose bolt secures the upper rails (sprung saddle only) as indicated by the arrow in the photo below.

How the nose bolt secured the upper rails

Re-riveting an unsprung saddle is simple, but getting the wrench past the springs of a sprung saddle can be a bit tricky. Use a thin open-end wrench -- 1/2 inch for the Brooks saddles I've worked on. Getting a nut started is easier if you attach it to the blade of a screwdriver with a dab of grease, to reach in between the coils of a spring.

If a coil of a spring blocks a bag loop, loosen the nuts at both top and bottom to rotate the spring, then retighten.

Sheldon strongly recommends not tightening the nose bolt. In his experience, that ruins saddles.

A leather saddle with a repaired undercarriage is as good as new -- no, better than new: it is already broken in!

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Links

Also see the more general article about saddles

...and our article about leather saddles

Saddles for sale at Harris Cyclery

Brooks, home page

Brooks, 10-year warranty registration

Gilles Berthoud

Lepper

Rivet Cycle Works

Selle Anatomica

Aaron's Bicycle Repair, repair of leather saddles

Conservators' advice on leather treatment

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Last Updated: by John Allen