Classic Motorcycle Seat Repair

Motorcycle Classics Garage

| March/April 2010

  • motorcycle seat 1
    The worn-out seat on associate editor Landon Hall’s 1973 Yamaha TX650.
  • motorcycle seat 21

  • motorcycle seat 2
    The first step is removing any seat hardware. For our Yamaha that meant removing the bolts securing the grab strap, the front and rear hinge plates and the seat lock tongue. Take pictures, and mark and bag the parts so you know where they go.
  • motorcycle seat 3
    The Yamaha’s seat cover is secured by metal barbs in the seat pan. Removing the cover is simply a matter of stretching the fabric back and off the barbs. At this point we were simply checking the fabric’s strength.
  • motorcycle seat 4
    Before the cover can come off you have to remove the aluminum trim strip running around the seat. It’s held in place by eight small nails secured by spring clips, which are easy to pry off with a screwdriver.
  • motorcycle seat 5
    Spring clips removed, gently pull the trim strip off the seat. Don’t worry if you damage the clips, you can find new ones at most hardware stores. Don’t lose any of the nails, they’re unique. Mark the nail hole locations on the seat pan with chalk. We forgot, costing us time later.
  • motorcycle seat 6
    Now you can start getting down to business removing the seat cover. We found it was easiest starting at the back; releasing the fabric’s tension here loosened up the cover.
  • motorcycle seat 7
    Working our way around from the back, we gently pried the metal tabs up 90 degrees to make it easier to get the fabric off. Be careful, as rusted tabs will tend to break.
  • motorcycle seat 8
    Once the cover’s been freed from the tabs, gently pull it away from the base, starting at the bottom. Go slowly, as the old foam often sticks to the fabric.
  • motorcycle seat 9
    Once the cover’s released from the bottom edges, it should basically fall off. It looks even worse removed than it did in place!
  • motorcycle seat 10
    Our seat had already lost a sizeable chunk of the foam core where the seat had torn the worst. To repair it, we first cut out the surrounding area to make a defined notch in the seat foam.
  • motorcycle seat 11
    Next, we took some upholstery foam and cut out a similarly shaped but slightly oversized piece. The new cover will even it out. Using 3M Hi-Strength 90 Spray Adhesive, we then glued the foam patch in place.
  • motorcycle seat 12
    At this point we were ready to install our new cover, but first we worked our way around the seat pan one more time to make sure all the metal barbs were pulled up to where the fabric would easily clip on.
  • motorcycle seat 13
    After gently heating the cover with a hair dryer, we placed it over the old foam and centered it. Turning the seat over, we started at the back, making sure the cover stayed centered and that we liked how the fabric was sitting, then clipped it onto four of the barbs.
  • motorcycle seat 14
    With the cover secured at the back and the metal tabs pushed down flat, we moved toward the front of the seat, making sure the cover was still centered and clipping it in place about a quarter of the way back from the front. Saddlemen recommends securing it closer to the center, but we opted to move forward because of how our seat pan bulges out in the middle.
  • motorcycle seat 15
    Using the hair dryer to warm the fabric so it would stretch easily, we then pulled the cover toward the front and clipped it onto the tabs at the center of the pan, then worked our way to the edges.
  • motorcycle seat 16
    Next, we worked back along both sides, using the hair dryer to aid stretching and checking to ensure we were centered as we stretched the fabric over the pan. We did this slowly and carefully, making sure we had a nice, even pull on the fabric. Once we were happy with how it fit, we folded the metal tabs flat.
  • motorcycle seat 17
    WIth the cover on, use an awl to push through the fabric where the studs for the trim piece go through. We forgot to mark the nail hole locations with chalk (see #4) and had to refer to photos to find them.
  • motorcycle seat 18
    One of the nails that holds the trim, along with an old speed clip on the left and a new one on the right. New clips were only $0.26 each at the local hardware store.
  • motorcycle seat 19
    Install the nails onto the trim. Gently position the trim piece in place on the seat and push the nails through their holes. Check that the trim piece is correctly located, then push the nails in and clip them in place with the speed clips.
  • motorcycle seat 20
    That’s it! Work your way around the seat a couple of times to ensure the speed clips are secure and the metal tabs are folded down, and you’re done. Looks pretty good, eh?

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One of the first things anybody notices about your bike is the bodywork. Nice paint and clean sheet metal have a way of making even a tired old dog of a bike look appealing. That also extends to the seat, because whether you’re showing or selling, a torn saddle is an instant turn-off — especially if you’re selling. While a lot of prospective buyers will look at a torn seat and instantly think “price reduction,” more will think about the cost of having it redone, which can easily run a few hundred bucks.

That makes replacement a no-brainer, right? What’s surprising is how many owners don’t — or won’t — attempt to replace a torn or worn seat cover themselves, worried they’ll muck it up.

Yet unlike, say, rebuilding an engine, it’s a pretty basic proposition, requiring almost nothing in the way of special tools, and the end effect visually is almost disproportionate to the effort. Really, the biggest challenge is taking your time. And compared to a lot of other projects, it’s surprisingly cheap.

For this project, we replaced the worn-out seat on associate editor Landon Hall’s 1973 Yamaha TX650. Like most almost-40-year-old machines that have spent any time outside, the seat cover on Hall’s 650 was shot. More concerning, it needed to be replaced sooner rather than later before continued fraying and ripping led to overexposure of the foam core, which tends to crumble and degrade rapidly once exposed to sun and moisture.



The 650’s saddle cover is held in place by little more than a trim strip and a few dozen metal barbs stamped into the seat pan, which pierce through the cover fabric. It’s typical of the era, a design used by many manufacturers including British as well as Japanese, making this type of seat a good place to start for your first go at basic reupholstering.

For this project, we turned to Saddlemen for one of its SaddleSkins covers. Saddlemen makes both new seats (mostly for cruisers and dirt bikes), and covers for a variety of Asian and American bikes. Its replacement covers are designed to be installed permanently or temporarily. Temporary installs are made possible thanks to a drawstring sewn into the cover’s bottom edge, and while the folks at Saddlemen claim this works fine on many bikes, they acknowledge that best results are achieved by removing the old cover and permanently installing the new one. We wanted best results, so we went the permanent route, which, we suspect, most owners would. We found the quality of our cover to be excellent and, at $64.95, very affordable.



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