I’d been pondering about my oem saddlebags. They were super rough and stiff. They had been lying on their backs for scores of years and were flat as a pancake to boot. How do I soften them up was the biggest 1rst challenge. I spoke with many a leather expert, both local and abroad. As for softening them, I decided to try a product named “Leather Therapy Restorer And Conditioner”. An 16 ounce bottle runs from $20.00 and up. I bought three them and used all three on the two saddlebags. They recommend using their cleaner first but these bags were so hardened I was really afraid they would break, literally speaking, they felt like wood and obviously would have actually broken into chunks of dryied up leather if I were to have started with the cleaner. So I gently applied the “Leather Therapy And Conditioner” on the outside surface of both saddlebags, applying the liquid over and over as each application of it dried. This took several weeks. The leather softened to a point where I could actually put my hands inside of them. Next I used 4 spare inner tubes I had on hand, gently inserted them into both saddlebags, along with topping off the inner tubes with balled up newspapers to fill the voids around the inner tubes. Making certain the valve stems were facing up, I inflated the inner tubes enough to shape the saddlebags where they should be. The product I mentioned did its job as it said it would. The leather was now soft and flexible. One saddlebag which already had a couple of splits at the bend of the cover flap did not split any further. The other saddlebag had no splits. Both saddlebags needed some straps replaced. Some were completely missing up to the rivets. It took me a almost a year to find a few missing oem buckles. I discovered while I was doing the leather softening procedure, one of my saddlebags was actually a WLC saddlebag. I knew this as soon as I was able to insert a pair of the inner tubes into the bag. The bag has the sewn in leather pouch as WLC models had. WLA models did not have this pouch in their saddlebags. To beat all, my WLA saddlebag is in worse condition and much filthier to a point of a color of solid black. There is so much built up grime on it the pebble grain in many areas is completely filled in and has a glazed look to it. The WLC saddlebag is in much better condition than the WLA saddlebag. It is also black in most areas but nowhere near the condition of the WLA saddlebag. The WLC saddlebag had a frame strap replaced and they used the wrong width of leather, wrong buckle, and wrong rivets. The WLA saddlebag was missing two luggage rack mounting studs. Both saddlebags are pebble grain leather. I have not yet thought of a way to make two match each other in color and am still pondering that. I will use the WLC saddlebag until I find another decent WLA one. Maybe there is someone out there in need of a WLC one ? Maybe they need it so bad they are willing to trade for a pair of good oem WLA saddlebags ? I know….wish in one hand and shit in the other to see which hand gets full faster. Pics of unrestored saddlebags below. Sorry no pics when they were pancake flat hardwood.
Several people suggested I go with the new reproduction saddlebags. I will not for one main reason. The reproduction ones look brand new. Even the so called made to look aged ones look brand new. I want mine to look their age. Though the finishes on my bike look fresh, I still left blemishes in areas all around the bike to maintain the age look. Fresh paint and finishes will patina quickly. Second…reproduction is the easy way out. I am not building a model. I am putting together the real deal. And thirdly…the reproduction saddlebags, though are high quality in leather and craftsmanship, they definitely do not look authentic in many details. I decided I would rather do my best to repair my oem saddlebags and find a way to match coloring. I’m ok with some damages, which only authenticate the age of the saddlebags. However, some straps must be replaced so the saddlebags are actually functional.
I had already started repairs to the saddlebags at about this time. I have not yet completed those repairs. Below is where I am with them at this present time.
I mentioned I had already acquired the missing oem buckles. Since I had the buckles I figured I might as well make the replacement straps for those missing or for those which were about to break. I was able to acquire the correct rivets from an old horse saddle makers daughter who had stock from clear back to the 1920’s. She had continued her father’s trade after his passing to this day. I also purchased the leather from her. She was kind enough to cut my newly purchased leather to the widths and lengths I needed them to be. I did the hole punching, slot making, and dyeing myself. I said dyeing but I did not actually dye the leather because my research had shown me dyeing does not remain and will bleed off onto your hands for years. Not only that, dyeing does not penetrate clear though the leather. I asked one elderly retired leather craftsman, if dyeing is not so reliable and durable, then what is ? Below is what he told me to do.
He said….go purchase a gallon of white vinegar and a box of baking soda. Scrounge around your garage for rusty crusty bolts, nuts, screws, and washers. Use an old coffee can or pot and put all the rusty crusty hardware into it. Pour the white vinegar in so the vinegar completely covers the rusty crusty hardware. Put the can aside for about three days to allow the white vinegar to do its job. The white vinegar will have turned brown. Using a cloth over another container, strain the brown looking liquid into this other container. Insert your leather into the brown solution and let soak for about 2 minutes. Pull your leather from the brown solution and let it lay for about 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes have passed, soak your leather in a mixture of baking soda and water in order to neutralize the brown solution. Neutralize in the baking soda water roughly 5 minutes. Pull your leather from the neutralizer and rinse with clean water. Wipe dry to remove coloring residue. The coloring is now permanent and will not bleed off over time. Lay your leather off to the side to dry out. Condition your leather once dried.
Anyhow, I did exactly what he said to do and I was super impressed with the results. His formula worked perfectly. The color change did not take place while the leather was actually submerged in the brown solution. It took place after removing it from the brown solution and right before my very eyes !! Not only that, when I punched out the holes and slots, the coloring was clear through the leather. The coloring is also a flat looking almost black tone.
Before using the formula
After using the formula
More after using the formula