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Saddlebags serve a valuable purpose; they carry and protect your gear on a ride. They take exposure to rain and sun, handling and the weight of what they carry. Leather looks good on the bike and provides a durable material to pack gear for the life of the bike. Using leather care products will help you keep them clean and will protect and soften them. Saddlebags that start out or become too stiff need to be conditioned and to be worked to restore suppleness.
To keep the saddlebags in good condition, buy products designed specifically to care for leather. Several companies specialize in sets of products. A basic leather care kit includes leather cleaner, leather conditioner and a leather protector that repels moisture. Saddle soap is a multi-purpose product. Leather care products are available where leather boots and clothing are sold. Keep your leather saddlebags for a lifetime by practicing some basic care. Dry them promptly when they get wet. (Always clean them first to remove any dirt, mud or salt water). Fill the bags with wadded paper to absorb the dampness as they dry. Avoid heat. Never dry leather near a heater. Stuff the saddlebags with wads of newspaper or clothes to prevent creases from forming when they are not in use.
Leather cleaner removes dirt, perspiration, salt and other impurities from the hide without stripping leather dye or natural oils. Wipe any debris or mud off the bags. Use a small amount of cleaner on a clean cloth and be careful on stitching. Never allow products to soak into the thread.
Condition the saddlebags regularly to increase or restore leather suppleness. The Rocky Top Leather website recommends the use of leather conditioners because they restore oils to the leather and keep it flexible. Use the conditioner sparingly. Soaking the leather damages it. For best results condition leather in warm weather or at room temperature. Use a soft clean rag, such as an old T-shirt. Put a small amount on the cloth and rub evenly over the surface of the saddlebag. Rub in a circular pattern all over the surface of the bag. Work the leather with your hands, gently massaging the leather back and forth with a firm grip. Do not stretch or yank. Rub the surface all over again, massaging it with the cloth. Work the leather again between your hands. Repeat on the other saddlebag. For dry saddlebags (old, cracked, damaged by heat or water), repeat the conditioning. For maximum protection, rub the saddlebags down with a high-quality leather protector, such as beeswax, to repel moisture.
Gryphon Adams began publishing in 1985. He contributed to the "San Francisco Chronicle" and "Dark Voices." Adams writes about a variety of topics, including teaching, floral design, landscaping and home furnishings. Adams is a certified health educator and a massage practitioner. He received his Master of Fine Arts at San Francisco State University.