An Interview with Randi Obenauer of Aro Apolstery We’ve been big fans of Vancouver-based Randi Obenauer’s leather work and seat upholstery, Aro Upholstery from the moment we started seeing her amazing work pop up on the gram (@aro_upholstery). From incredible custom stitch work, to re-vamping brand new moto seats, to classing up an old dirt bikes she’s got a knack for figuring out just what kind of seat will set bikes apart. With collection of rides of her own including a 1977 CJ360T, a 2012 XT250 & a 1983 XR185, and plenty of experience working with all kinds of leathers & vinyls, she's an amazing resource and incredible craftsman to commission when you're ready to take the plunge & upgrade your seat. Randi let us pick her brain about things to consider when you want to get your seat re-done, what kinds of projects she's liked best over the years and what it's like living & riding in BC. Read on for plenty of great tips! All photos in the post care of: Randi Obenauer, pics of Randi by Wendy Dyk (@wendall) & pictures of bikes care of their owners (click image to be taken to their IG accounts)
TM: What came first for you the motorcycles, or the leather work? Randi: I have loved motorcycles since I was very little - I still remember my uncle doing a wheelie downtown Nanaimo with me as a passenger under the age of 6, haha! I graduated with a trade certificate in Upholstery in 2005, but it still took me a few years to get my licence and buy a bike, and now I own 4...
TM: What attracted you to leather work & seat making in particular? Randi: Upholstery school made me fall in love with leather and industrial sewing, which lead to the birth of Ora, my line of leather bags (oraleathergoods.com). I started focusing on and honing my upholstery skills on motorcycle seats around 4 years ago - they are the perfect medium for creativity in the realm of upholstery. I love the foam sculpting and the challenges that come with every custom rebuild or fresh blank custom seat pan. With both Ora and Aro, function is of major importance to me, it's not just about the aesthetics of custom work, I want to build durable, high quality, comfortable seats (and bags) that last and look beautiful and age well!
TM: Top three reasons for getting your seat re-done: Randi: Aesthetics and comfort are the two most common reasons, accommodating a passenger (or not) is probably next in line. I am not a very tall person, so I sympathize with anyone who wants a slimmer or lower seat to help feel comfortable on their bike. Although I strongly suggest examining your suspension and other factors before or in addition to making dramatic changes to your seat, foam reshaping can make a world of difference. I find that most of my clients first and foremost want a specific look, with comfort being secondary. I am very pushy about finding a middle ground...as a rider I know that you just can't disregard comfort entirely!
TM: Are some leathers better than others when it comes to certain kinds of moto seats? Ex: If you’re keeping something vintage, re-doing a sport bike, if someone brings in a dirt bike/dudal sport, etc… Randi: I do a lot of dirt bike seats with textured grippy non-slip vinyl. I also do a lot of leather dual sport seats. There’s always the debate over vinyl versus leather….I have yet to see a single cracked/split wide open old leather seat, but I see countless nasty old vinyl covers all the time. Both leather and vinyl quality have come a long way over the years. There are so many amazing automotive and marine grade vinyls in the most insane colours and textures. I offer automotive grade leathers, yet a lot of people want that “distressed” brown leather look, so I offer the most gorgeous alternative hides I can get my hands on - always keeping durability in mind. In ideal circumstances, no bike should sit out in the rain...but it does happen, especially out here in the rainforest. Vinyl will off course repel more water/dry faster, while I also believe leather is super durable and can take a lot of abuse, and I see a lot of beauty in the way leather patinas with time and exposure to the elements. Call me crazy but truthfully I prefer to work with leather; many people fear working with it because they see it as unforgiving. I’ve spent 10 years sewing leather and there is no material I would rather work with.
TM: Do you have a favorite kind of project? Something you wish you got to do more of? Randi: I love working with custom seat pans, I want to do less reshaping of stock big dumpy seats (no offence old Kawis and Hondas!) it's just so amazing to work from a blank slate and sculpt a shape and build fresh upholstery. I love working with leather and I love it when folks want to get creative with colours and stitch patterns. Classic black leather is always great too. It's rad when folks ask me for my input and I get to have some fun with designs, I would love to hear more people say “do whatever you want”!
TM: What would you say is the recipe for the most comfortable seats? Randi: There is such a prominent trend right now for lean seats….I can’t tell you how many times I hear “I don’t care if it's comfortable, I just want it lean” and I have to convince them every time that comfort is important - I ride too!! I do my best to achieve that lean look while offering as much comfort as possible, I work with foam in different densities and thicknesses, often combining layers to maximize comfort. Gel inserts are awesome, but they are a luxury item, they are expensive for me to supply and they are very very labour intensive to install properly, but they are worth the investment.
TM: Are there any projects you have yet to take on but are hoping will come through your door? I secretly want to do more seats that will be on bikes with Myk Roc paint jobs!! I am also looking forward to collaborating on something with Kenny of Moto Galored in Oregon. I also lovvvvvve reupholstering brand new/current year motorcycle seats, that always makes me smile.
TM: Where abouts in Vancouver do you work? Tell us a bit about your space! I share a space off Clark Drive in East Van with a handful of friends, surrounded by other artists as well as jam spaces and motorcycle shops. I mostly do quotes there these days, as my partner and I purchased our first home together last summer, in Powell River. We have a little country acreage with over 100 years of history, including a giant workshop that used to be the store building for a plant nursery that operated on the property from the early 70s to the late 90s. We bought the home intending to keep renting in Vancouver, and treat the Powell River place as more of a cabin. But I’m finding it harder and harder to spend time in Vancouver when I can be in Powell River with a giant workshop with lots of windows, a wood stove, a creek running through the yard, endless hiking trails outside the door, the beach is minutes away…. I’m working super hard to live the dream life up here and commute to the city a few times a month to meet clients. There's no way I could afford this much space/natural light/positive living in the city, and my dog is way happier here too haha! I love Vancouver and have no plans to sever my ties to the city, but this life is what I have been working so hard for.
TM: Alright, and lastly, for all us out-of-towner and West coast trip dreamers - what are three great spots to boot out to when ya just gotta get out of the city? Randi: Chuckanut Drive in Washington for sure. The Sea to Sky Highway is a fun easy ride right out of the city. And come on up to the Sunshine Coast - take both ferries and ride all the way to Lund, it's gorgeous up here.
A huge thanks to Randi for letting us feature her on the blog this week. And stay tuned cause we've teamed up with her and Aro Upholstery & will be giving away two prize packs the last week of Feb. that's guaranteed to make anyone happy!