Motorcycle Seats: Have a seat, have a great seat! Part II
In the first part of this post, I talked about the mechanics of the seat. Now let's look at the comfort, which is an important part of the seat discussion (Oh you think, Frank?). Soft is not necessarily comfortable. It's a great-looking seat and it feels unbelievably soft and comfortable sitting there in the shop. Two hundred miles later, your rear end is talking to you and it's not saying what you want to hear. "Come on Frank, give me a break! This seat is killing me!" I used to wonder how these championship bicycle riders could put in ten or twelve hours on that skinny little hard bicycle seat. Now I know, the seat is built to match the body, not the rider's perception of what a seat should look like. I discovered this after putting in my first two-hundred-mile day on my Mustang replacement seat.
Out of the box, the Mustang seat looks very cool. Heavy-duty leather (actually vinyl), tight seams, fit perfectly, and really set off the look of the bike. However, it felt hard to touch. I could depress the seat with my fingers, but it was not the soft, inviting, pillow I had envisioned.
Excerpted from Mustang web site: For a seat to be comfortable, "it's what's inside that counts". The most critical component of comfort is the seat foam--both the quality of the foam itself and its design. Each Mustang foam is formulated and cast to be soft enough for comfort and resilient enough to stand up to those "thousand-mile" days.
...Our quality foam usually feels firmer than stock but is less firm than other aftermarket seats. It will compress enough to mold itself to your body shape within about 15 minutes of riding time--every time you ride. You do not need a "break-in" period to be comfortable. Your 100th ride will be equal to your 10,000th mile.
It fit well when I sat down. It felt secure and comfortable. It wasn't hard like metal, but it was stiff. The stock seat had a diamond tuff design (Suzuki Intruder 1400) and was soft compared to this Mustang seat. Oh well, I looked cool, and I have already paid for it so I might as well give it a chance.
Two hundred miles later I was back home after taking a ride up to Reno and back when I realized that I had not thought about my new seat since I left Reno, two hundred miles ago.
That was when I understood the hard bicycle seat. I had not thought about my new seat because it was doing its job and doing it so well that it was transparent to the ride.
Short Ride or Long Ride?
To me, this is like proving a negative. If the seat is good for a long ride, it probably is good for a short ride. The negative part is if it is good for a short ride, who knows if it is any good for a long ride.
Now I am eliminating all the custom choppers, Big Dogs, hardtails and the like because those are special bikes that only see the odometer turning three digits in one sitting on TV shows and extreme riders. I am talking about the average Harley rider who may do four hundred miles in one day a couple of times a year. OK, twenty times a year. OK, every weekend. You get the picture.
I want an all-around seat that is comfortable going to the corner store or roundtrip to San Francisco (I live in Sacramento). I want it to look cool. That's right, I want it to look cool. No dork seats allowed. I also want it to hold up under the weather, especially the neighborhood car wash. No fading, no tearing, and did I say, it must look cool. I want the functionality of a combat motorcycle seat, imagine Hummer made the seat, but the sleek, cool look of a custom alligator low profile, street seat.
And there's the rub. The cooler it looks, the more uncomfortable it is. You just cannot have it both ways, there's always a compromise.
Now I am going to make things more complicated by adding in the requirement that I want to take my sweetie with me now and then. So here comes the pillion.
Pillion: A pad or cushion for an extra rider behind the saddle on a horse or motorcycle.
Not only do I want a pillion, but I want one that is comfortable. I have a saying in my family, "When momma is happy, everybody is happy" and that really holds true when momma is riding on the back of the motorcycle.
We were both in the local Harley shop checking out this very cool 2004 Wide Glide, lowered, built out, nice paint, lotsa chrome and a beautiful Corbin seat. It was a low-profile seat, tan leather (matching the paint) with a "courtesy" pillion or passenger seat. The pillion was about 4 or 5 inches wide and tapered down in the rear matching the contour of the fender and looked almost invisible, keeping the cool look of the bike. I sat on it and asked her to get on and try it out. She did, briefly, then she got off. I didn't even ask, the look on her face said it all. Scratch that idea Frank and move on to the real passenger seat. That doesn't mean that this Corbin low profile seat is not a great seat for you, it just is not a great seat for the two of us.
There are additional passenger considerations when selecting your seat. The passenger does not have the feet flat on the ground issue, so the height of the passenger pillion is open. Think about the passenger's height (if you plan to have the same passenger most of the time). You are going to be sitting lower than the passenger. The passenger (again, depending on height) will be looking into the back of your helmet or over the top of your helmet. Looking into the back of your helmet is boring but it does block a lot of wind. Looking over your helmet has a better view but gets the same wind blast as the driver (you). Get a tall pillion to allow the passenger to look over the helmet if that is your goal.
The next thing is the pillion width. You can get a touring seat with 10 inches or more of width which will make your passenger happy but will look pretty goofy when you are riding alone. I think 8 inches is adequate and depending on your motorcycle rear fender width, 8 inches doesn't look too bad.
It is time to start thinking about a sissy bar. Your passenger will appreciate having something there to stop from sliding backward during acceleration. There are all kinds of sissy bars and some of them will conflict with some seats. The conflict is usually a large pillion pad pressed into the base of the sissy bar which looks sloppy and makes removing the seat an additional hassle.
As with all this seat information, there is no substitute for trying it out. Having said that, how do you try out a seat that is just a picture on some web page?
- Visit your local motorcycle shops, American and metric, and see if they have what you are looking for.
- Attend the local motorcycle shows and see if the seat vendors have it. Don't forget to walk around the motorcycle parking area and check out what everyone else is using for a seat. The parking area is a goldmine of ideas. Sometimes, I hardly spend any time inside the show as I am too absorbed out in the parking area.
- Check out the online forums, searching for exactly that seat. Someone else has experience with the seat and has posted some comments. If not, ask. You will be surprised by how helpful fellow riders are in these forums.
- Buy it online after reading and understanding the vendor's return policy. Worst case you may be out $15 shipping if you pay attention.
I seriously considered this approach and a lot of folks do switch out seats as often as the mood strikes them. The concept is to get a great solo seat for your commute or riding alone and then have a complete touring seat for riding 2-up. Not bad. The Harley seat can be replaced with a finger-tightened screw, and you are ready to go in a few minutes.
It gets a little more complicated when you add a luggage rack and/or a sissy bar. But that still only means that it is a little cramped getting your hand on the screw, add a few more minutes.
For me, I don't trust the hand-tightened screw, I want to get a wrench on it. This makes it even a little more complicated and adds a couple more minutes. Still reasonable if you want to change seats for a weekend or infrequent ride.
I am just lazy, but it all seems like a hassle, and I elected to get a seat that would be a compromise between comfort and coolness. Finding such a seat was not as easy as it sounds.
It is appropriate to mention that there is a product out there that is a temporary, suction cup pillion seat. Just stick it on and away you go. I do not have any first-hand experience with these, but I am sure that they fill a niche for some folks simply fine. You are single, and the opportunity arises to give someone from the opposite sex a ride. There you go, just stick it on and..., wait a minute, hold on, you must have the suction cup pillion with you if you want to use it, in a tool bag or gear bag strapped to your handlebars? And of course, in most states, you will need a helmet for your rider so maybe it also is in the gear bag (forget the tool bag, too small) or also strapped onto your handlebars.
Sounds like too much hassle for me. I don't even want to have an extra helmet sticking on the bike somewhere, no matter how unobtrusive it appears. I'll pass.
I am looking for a low-profile solo seat and a comfortable passenger pillion, so what's available out there? You will find numerous variations from numerous manufacturers. Plus, you can (for a price) have about anything you want to be built to your specifications. Remember, your HD is your canvas, and you are the artist.
In the first part of this post, I mentioned three manufacturers. There are a lot more out there, good luck.
- Mustang http://www.mustangseats.com/
- Corbin http://www.corbin.com/
- Saddlemen http://www.saddlemen.com/
What Seat Do I Have?
In the last five years, I have had three different Mustang seats. One (touring) on a new Sportster, two (again touring) on a Suzuki 1400 and currently, I ended up with the Mustang Custom Squareback™ on my HD Wide Glide. A low-cut seat for the driver and a squared-off passenger seat. Here is my thought process for arriving at this latest Mustang seat decision.
I started looking for a seat as soon as I bought my 2006 Wide Glide. My previous experience taught me that finding a low-profile seat that still afforded my wife some degree of pillion comfort was going to be a perplexing task.
I went to a local shop (Seat Works, Sacramento, CA) and made a deal with the owner. He was going to use the stock seat plate and build a new foam body, leather cover, making it low profile and increasing the pillion area. To make a long story short, I got hosed on the deal ($560) ending up with a seat that looked cool and started falling apart after three weeks of riding (cheap leather). I returned to the shop to find new occupants who had no clue how to reach the previous tenant. Oh well, live and learn.
Now I had a new motorcycle with a falling apart seat, and I searched the Internet for my dream seat. My seat problem was further compounded by the fact that in 2006, HD made the Wide Glide rear fender wider than previous years and the existing inventory of seats would not fit. Each manufacturer needs to retool for the net width.
Except Mustang who had seats in stock ready to ship the next day. I ordered the Squareback as it promised a low profile and large pillion pad. I received it right away, put it on, and have not looked back since then. That was about 15,000 miles ago. It was $300 and I consider that $300 to be well spent.