Lycett sprung saddle makeover, part 1

Lycett sprung saddle makeover, part 1

I picked up this Lycett saddle on eBay for US$3 and shipping, originally intending to take it apart and switch out the springs in my original saddle.

From the Flikr Lycett Saddles group page:

The Lycett Saddle Company was founded in the early 20th century when Edward Lycett was granted a patent for a saddle spring making machine in 1908 and started producing saddles at his factory at 164 Deritend, Birmingham – at the southern edge of the city centre. The company was taken over by Brooks in the 1920s who went on to produce cheaper versions of their Brooks saddles under the Lycett brand.

So, this is a Brooks-made seat, appropriate for a Raleigh-made bicycle, with two-toned vinyl in the same style as the one I need to fix, so of the appropriate period (If anyone knows when Brooks stopped making Lycett-branded saddles, please speak up and let me know!). What I didn’t realize when I bought it was that the photos show rusty springs and horsehair, not a rusted-out metal seat bottom. This means this is actually a better-quality seat than the solid-metal-pan one I’m trying to repair. Here are the before photos, screen-captured from the listing on eBay:


Makeover Step One: I opened the rusty clips holding the vinyl-and-horsehair cover in place (easy peasy – I just bent them with a screwdriver) and removed the damaged upholstery. (It stank, too. Ew.) This has been set aside for use in Step Four.

Makeover Step Two: Next I cleaned the seat’s bones as best I could. First, I sprayed the seat with a liberal application of Rust-Cure 3000. This stuff has an oily consistency, and contains a penetrating oil, which makes it a first-class gunge remover. It also has a mild reducing agent in it – you can actually see it making little bubbles of gas as it reduces any exposed rusty metal. The can says it’s completely nontoxic as well, and it’s gentle enough that I could touch it in a careless moment with my bare hands without getting hurt (not recommending that, just saying). I’ve been using it sparingly with a soft rag on any parts of my bicycle that could be scratched by more abrasive methods of rust removal, and have found it works well for clearing away grease and road grime and some of the rust while maintaining a nice patina and not damaging the paint and chrome.  I sprayed the seat so the whole surface had a 1-2mm coating (probably overkill), let it sit for about ten minutes, then wiped it off with paper towel. The seat came clean, but still had surface rust. Most impressively, the small springs on the seat’s surface, which had originally looked like they were rusted solid, were now clean enough to assess that they were still strong and useable and had considerable give.

Makeover Step Three: lemon juice and aluminum foil (as per the Green Cleaning article I’ve mentioned before) to remove the rest of the rust. I actually changed the method a bit, grabbing a 4L plastic ice cream pail, crumpling a couple of balls of aluminum foil, half-filling it with water with a generous amount of lemon juice in it (um, probably a half-cup or so – I just poured in glug, glug, glug), then putting in the seat to soak. While half the seat was submerged, the other half was exposed to air, so I worked the exposed half with foil moistened in the diluted lemon juice. When I felt like I was no longer making a difference on the part I was working on, I switched the seat’s position so that I could work on the part that had been submerged. I repeated this process three or four times. My goal was to get the seat back to useable condition, not like-new, since it’ll be covered. Once I felt it was there, I gave the seat a rinse with plain water, then dried it with a rag. Foil balls went into the garbage, and now slightly brownish lemon water was poured down the sink. (The chemical reaction in this case should have left the iron on the seat, reducing it and oxidizing the aluminum; the brown colour in the water is partly aluminum oxide, which rinses easily off the foil, and partly tiny bits of iron oxide knocked off the seat by rubbing with the aluminum foil. The citric acid in lemon juice could be replaced by the acetic acid in vinegar or the acid in a carbonated soft drink.)

Here are my after photos. As you can see, the rusty springs are still blackish – I think because their surface is still mostly iron oxide – but now to the point where I can reupholster them. If I’d let the reaction sit overnight, I might have been able to get them shiny, at least temporarily. 

Kitchen chemistry FTW!

Step Four will involve using the horsehair-and-vinyl cover removed in Step 1 as a pattern to create a new cover. I happen to have a discontinued upholstery sample of good-quality white leather (found at the ReUse Centre) that’s big enough, so I’ll use that. Hopefully I’ll be able to source a small remnant of horsehair padding from a local upholsterer (the only kind I can find online is loose, not batting). If not, I think I’ll use felted wool for the padding, since it shouldn’t stay wet like cotton batting would, and lack of moisture retention would be why the makers had used horsehair in the first place. I’ll also have to look into what conditioner I can use for the leather that won’t mess with the white colour.

Watch for Part 2 of this post – and meanwhile I’d be delighted with any advice you can add, or leads on other people who’ve posted similar projects!

3 thoughts on “Lycett sprung saddle makeover, part 1

  1. Chas – Thanks. What a beauty of a bike you have!

    I just took a second look at both my saddles (the nameless vinyl one with bent springs, and the Lycett seen above), and the way the springs on both are screwed into place, there’s very little room for play. I don’t think the springs can be moved side-to-side, but – you *might* be able to twist yours around their axis to straighten out the lean they’ve developed, though – they look like they’re not too far gone in your photo.

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