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Making A Custom Motorcycle Seat

Author: Chris Yarbrough

Photo by Cyril Huze

After owning and restoring motorcycles for several years, I ran into the dilemma of finding a great resource for custom motorcycle seats. So I spoke to the kind folks at a local custom upholstery shop. The guys at Grateful Threads here in Austin were great and they showed me how I could create my own seats with the right tools and some practice. Luckily, I knew how to use a sewing machine (somewhat) and was able to invest in some tools to do the rest. It took some serious practice but I learned how to do it. I would like to share the process for any of you who are interested in restoring your bikes and need to do your own seats.

First, a big thanks to Grateful Threads Upholstery in Austin Texas for taking the time to show me the ropes. They are Austin's foremost in custom motorcycle seat repair and fabrication.

They custom tailor every motorcycle seat to meet the needs and exact specifications of their clients. I can attest to their focus on the overall aesthetics and comfort of your bike to match your style and create a truly unique statement while staying true to the superb artisanship of the craft. They also serve anyone in the US. Non-Austinites can ship their seat to Grateful Threads and they will do the work to your satisfaction and send it back. So for those of you who do not want to learn upholstery but still want to get a great seat and a great price, give them a call or visit their website to view some of their work. They will not disappoint you.

Now For the Process For every custom motorcycle seat, first evaluate your specific needs to determine the proper finished look and preferred materials. Consider things like comfort and support as well as the appearance. Then dismantle the existing seat to find exact dimensions of the cover to ensure perfect fit and finish. Start by removing the seat cover or whatever is left of it. Remove the old stitching and keep the pieces as a template for the new cover. Keep in mind that you may need to add material in some places if the size of the cushion needs to change. Set this aside and break out the old sewing machine.

If necessary, then repair, reshape or replace the foam making sure to preserve perfect shape and support. You can get new foam at any local material shops. New pieces will need to be glued in place using proper adhesives and cut and smoothed to the original shape. Depending on the type of seat, your body shape, and your riding style you will add foam in some places and remove it in others if necessary. To lower the seat, use a grinder or electric knife to remove foam from the middle or to narrow the front of the seat. If you want more comfort, use a spray adhesive to add foam in some areas where the current seat does not have the necessary support. Then again, shape the foam with a grinder or electric knife. Make sure there are no rough areas. Once the foam has been restored to the new shape, ensure that all pieces are joined firmly and smoothed to create perfection in shape and function before new covers are replaced or fitted.

Now you can begin to redesign and create the perfectly fitted cover with the finish material and style of your choosing. If you built up the cushion in some areas, you will need to adjust your material templates to accommodate the changes. Recovering the seat takes some skill. Using the original seat cover as a pattern, trace it out on your new cover material. Add a small margin on all edges to give yourself a little room to work and for error. Sew the new cover together with piping if necessary and check for fit. If you are like me, this may take you a few tries. For those of you who can sew, you may have an easier time.

Fit the new cover in place. Start with the front of the seat, pull the cover tight and staple it in place with a pneumatic stapler. Once the nose covering is placed properly, stretch the cover over the rest of the new seat and staple it in place as you go. Avoid wrinkling the material. Work your way back and forth across the seat from side to side and front to back. If there is any excess material after the cover is placed, trim it off leaving a small margin on the outside of the staples to keep from getting tears later. If it needs to be adjusted later after use, simply pop the staples out and stretch and reshape as before then replace the staples.

Good luck and remember that this takes some practice and a little investment of money and time. I planned to do this a lot so for me it was worth it to learn. For those of you who just want it done once, it may make better financial sense to give the nice people at Grateful Threads a call and let them deal with the hassle for you.

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