How to Re-Upholster a Motorcycle Seat

How to Re-Upholster a Motorcycle Seat

A quick log of the fun and games involved in re-upholstering the motorcycle seat of my Ninja 650, including a couple of mistakes I made along the way.

I bought a Kawasaki Ninja 650 (in Australia called an ER-6F) that needed a lot of cosmetic work to get it looking nice. Part of this was repairing a hole in the motorcycle seat.

I learned a lot along the way, and decided to keep some notes here for posterity as well as for anyone else doing it.

These instructions would be suitable for re-covering any simple "surfboard" style motorcycle seat, even those with a few curves like the Ninja's seat.

Re-upholstering the motorcycle seat was quite an adventure! The main resources I used was this guide from Revzilla's Common Tread blog, though I did consult a few other YouTube videos in the process.

Tools you need to re-cover a motorcycle seat

The tools you need to re-upholster a motorcycle seat are:

  1. A staple fastener (a hardware store kind) ($20-30). They come with enough staples.
  2. Vinyl - about $20-30 for 2 metres/6 feet. You're looking for "marine vinyl", which means it'll be waterproof
  3. Pliers to remove the old staples
  4. A hair dryer! Or a hot air gun if you're fancy.

You do not need glue. I've seen some guides that suggest it. I think it's short-sighted because you might find it difficult to remove the vinyl if you have to repair it again, e.g. if you botch it (or later if it gets damaged again).

(Mind you, if you use a light craft adhesive, it should be easy to pull off — pro upholsterers can feel free to overrule me.)

All the tools for re-upholstering the Ninja 650 motorcycle seat: the seat, some pliers, a knife, and some marine vinyl.

This was the original Ninja 650 motorcycle seat. It had a huge hole in the seat that the previous owner had covered with duct tape. It also had a number of stains. I might have caused one or two of them when cleaning the motorcycle.

Original Ninja 650 motorcycle seat with patch and tools ready for re-upholstering
The original Ninja 650 motorcycle seat

I removed the first staples with pliers. I pulled the first ones out, then used the weight of the vinyl fabric to rip out the rest of the staples with my hands.

Re-upholsering ninja 650 seat starts with removing these staples
Staples being pulled out of the Ninja 650 seat

It took about 10 minutes to properly pull out all the staples and leave the motorcycle seat naked.

This is the naked Ninja 650 motorcycle seat — just the foam.

The naked Ninja 650 motorcycle seat - vinyl removed.
The naked Ninja 650 seat, with vinyl removed.

To re-upholster it, I followed procedures I found on a number of corners of the internet:

  1. I fastened the front and the back (mistake)
  2. I didn't use glue (some sites said to, some didn't, and the original didn't) — correct
  3. I tried to stretch the fabric over the sides, once the sides were fastened. (but I didn't stretch enough)

This didn't work.

This is after my first attempt to re-upholster it.

The failed re-upholstering of the motorcycle seat. Didn't stretch the vinyl enough.
Re-upholstering a motorcycle seat - a failure stage

The main mistake I made in this step was to not use a hair dryer.

Second time around — these steps worked

  • I kept it fastened just on one end. The end I had it fastened on was the more elevated one.
  • I pulled it taught around the sides.
  • Then, over the ridge, I started using the hair dryer to really loosen up the vinyl before pulling it tight. I pulled each side tight until I had zero creases running along the edge.
  • I set holding staples along the way, but not as many as I'd need long-term.
  • Finally, I stapled it around the top, and then re-stapled everywhere to keep the whole thing tight.

Here's the final product.

The final re-upholstered motorcycle seat — nearly perfect!
The final motorcycle seat with new vinyl stretched over it. Perfect! (well, nearly)

Looking much better. Not perfect — there's a slight ridge on the top left you can see. But a HUGE improvement.