I bought a bargain-priced titanium-railed Brooks Swift from one of my internet friends. The Swift is a ‘racier,’ ‘sportier,’ ‘spendier’ leather saddle than my B17, and a whole different category of throne altogether than Angelina’s B72. I needed a new saddle for either the Singular Gryphon (more on that later), or the Ross (as it gets the Singular’s gears), and I liked the idea of narrower (for the Gryphon), and lighter (for the Ross).
The price was right, but with one drawback. The leather was ripped at the nose, cutting underneath one of the rivets. The seller said it was “ride-able as is,” but at 240 lbs, I figured it would last me about a week. Simply squeezing the ‘roof’ of the saddle towards the rails made the stretched leather pull away from the nose rivets. My first thought was to glue Tyvek to the back of the leather as a reinforcement. Tough, and free in the form of Fed Ex envelopes, I figured it would at least buy me time. Guess who doesn’t have free Tyvek Fed Ex envelopes anymore?
I raided my wife’s sewing supplies, and got a square of mattress ticking material. Tough, cool-looking, and free. Those are like my favorite qualities in a material! I cut it to go around the post of the rivet, removed the cantle from the nose of the saddle, and glued the fabric to the back of the leather.
The backing definitely helped keep the leather rip from spreading under pressure, but it didn’t seem strong enough to do the job on its own. I added some Crazy Glue to the torn edges of the leather and squeezed them together while I moved on to Plan C.
Plan A was actually to buy a new leather top and some rivets and just replace the leather entirely, but apparently I just dreamed that possibility. When I went looking in the usual places, no new Brooks leather tops were to be found! The titanium undercarriage alone costs about as much as a whole new saddle, though.
So my brainwave here was to add some rivets to reinforce the leather at the nose, and spread the stresses. I had some rivets from my last project, in a couple types and sizes. I would have liked to use some real Brooks rivets from Wallbike, but I was seeing a funky server notice on their domain, and was afraid to order from the site.
I went to Orchard Supply Hardware in my town, and asked the lady by the gazebos and chaises longueses where the rivets were. “We have some kits. Like rivet guns? Pop rivets?” “No, I just need some rivets to hammer in by hand. Do you have a section with fasteners and things? Little drawers with different sizes of nuts and bolts?” “No, we don’t have anything like that.” (dumbfounded) “Would you like to see the kits?” (I thought you were a hardware store!) “Uh, no thanks.”
So I pawed through my own little drawers of fasteners, and came up with a handful of different rivets I’d bought as spares. The best bet seemed to be a pair of split steel ones. They were longer than the others, and it seemed like it would be easier to peen them over (Angelina – “‘Peen?’ Is that a word?”) in the awkward space inside the nose of the saddle.
So I needed to drill two holes through the leather and titanium. There’s plenty of extra material behind the existing rivets, and I had a Dremel with an 1/8″ bit. I marked each spot, and drilled neat holes in the leather… and made tiny dents in the titanium. Lots of nasty dentist-drill whining, lots of holding the Dremel exactly perpendicular, and very little progress. After about 10 minutes and a noise complaint from the child, I put the project aside and emailed a cycling work friend who is a mechanical engineer.
He said that with titanium, you want low speed, lots of torque, and probably a drill press. So… the opposite of a Dremel. He probably just Googled it, but it was helpful. I got out the de Walt 12v drill, set it to “1,” and used a different 1/8″ bit to drill the holes, never pushing the trigger more than halfway, keeping it slow. It was work, but at least it made progress. For the second hole, I put a cork inside the nose to protect the bit when it finally popped through.
I used a small hammer with a smooth striking face to drive the rivets into the holes, then popped them out to wallow the hole out a little wider), then tapped them back through. I wanted the rivets snug in the holes but they didn’t go as flush as I would have liked.
I separated the ‘legs’ of each rivet with a sharp steak knife (the least used knife in a vegetarian household), and used a nail set and the hammer to beat them flat against the inside of the nose. I have a large antique monkey wrench I used as a makeshift anvil.
It actually worked! I put the head of the wrench inside the nose, and did the final beating-down of the rivet with the hammer, and then went around and touched up the original rivets that were coming away from the leather a bit.
“Bam bam bam!” Much nicer. “Oh, that was easy.” Next time, I’ll definitely get the official Brooks copper rivets.
I put a little Sharpie on each rivet head (lasted 30 seconds of riding), and also on the ragged edge of the fabric I used as the backing reinforcement (lasted much longer).
So this makes two Brooks saddles I’ve rehabilitated with rivets and the Internet! After three rides, I can say that it’s a very comfortable saddle, maybe more so than my B17.