Motorcycle Seats: Have a seat, have a great seat! Part I
I have found out that the seat can really make a significant difference in your riding enjoyment and in this post, I am going to tell you all about your options. The two biggest considerations are A) seat height and B) seat comfort. These are not separate issues but intimately combined. The seat can make or break your ride. A low seat that gets your feet flat on the ground at a stoplight may be extremely uncomfortable after a hundred miles on the highway. Conversely, a comfortable long-distance highway seat may leave you on your tiptoes at that same stoplight.
This post is about seat height. Seat comfort is coming up in a later post.
What's Good for You?
What's good for me may not be good for you and visa versa. You may be a happy camper with the stock setup on your bike and not even be interested in reading about all this seat stuff. If so, well that's great. Get on your motorcycle and have fun.
Seats play a key role in enjoying your ride. To me, it's part of the big three: Handlebars, mid or forward foot controls, and the seat. They all work together to get you into the right riding posture and minimize fatigue on long rides.
It's worth it to read on and make sure that you have not overlooked anything. Make sure that you are not missing some simple steps that may make a significant difference in your ride.
Well, we all come in assorted sizes and shapes. Some of us are tall with short legs, short with long legs, and so on. Riders with long legs are usually OK with stock seats as far as being flat-footed at the stoplight. Riders with short legs usually learn to "make-do" with what they have and just go for it. I am of average height (5' 9") with a 32" inseam on my Levis. I like to be low on the bike and I have 10" risers and forward foot controls. I like to ride upright, even a little lean back, arms straight out in front of me, and my feet towards the front of the bike. This is typical for cruisers.
I had a Suzuki Intruder 1400 (Harley-looking cruiser) and I fit pretty well into the stock handlebars, upgraded Mustang seat, and forward controls. I put about twenty thousand miles on it just like that and rarely even thought about changing anything. I was satisfied.
I took the time with my later bike to get everything right and I must tell you it really made a difference. Those twenty thousand just OK miles on the Suzuki Intruder would have been twenty thousand very much more enjoyable miles.
There is a winning combination for you too. It may even be the stock combination but until you swing a leg up and over the seat, you will never know. Yep, you must try sitting on several different seats to figure out what seat is the best for you.
I am writing this post directly towards cruisers. Myself, I want to just sit down on a motorcycle and go for a ride. I do not want to climb up, suit up, bend over, plugin, or do whatever else you must do to go ride a Sport bike, road bike, or any other non-cruiser, style motorcycle.
Sometimes I just want to ride down to the local supermarket to get some hamburger and soda. Sometimes I am commuting to work, fighting the rush hour traffic. And sometimes, I am with my sweetie taking a Saturday ride through the city (we like to call it "Our Urban Tour") or just heading off into the mountains with no destination in mind.
So, my riding style calls for an all-around seat, with a passenger pillion (2-Up). A seat that is comfortable on a long ride but not a Barcalounger for riding around town.
Seat height is a product of the motorcycle design (frame) and the actual seat itself. For example, I have always been interested in a BMW road bike but for me, the seat height has been the contract breaker. The BMW frame makes for a tall seat and for me personally (I am 5' 9"), it is just too tall. I like to have my feet flat on the ground when I am sitting at a light.
Feet Flat On The ground
Having my feet flat on the ground not only feels right, but it allows me more control when I am maneuvering the motorcycle around into a tight parking spot. "Walking" the motorcycle is always a challenge and when your feet are not really reaching the ground in the first place, it can result in a motorcycle lying on its side. For me, anything under 5 mph is the most difficult maneuver, and the better foot control, the better maneuverability.
In the BMW example, no matter how low of a seat you put on the motorcycle, the frame height is going to keep me on my tiptoes. However, I see 5' 6" motorcycle cops maneuvering the same BMW around like it is a piece of cake. The BMW's smaller tires and center of balance makes up for the tall seat. And the BMW enthusiasts will tell you that the seat height is exactly where you want if for a true road bike ride.
But this post is not about BMWs, it is about Harley's so let's get some Harley specifications here.
|Motorcycle||Seat Height (Inches)|
|2006 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe FLSTN/I||24.5|
|2006 Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider FXDLI||25.2|
|2006 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy FLSTF/I||25.4|
|2006 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic FLSTC/I||25.5|
|2006 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob FXDBI||25.8|
|2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL1200L||26.25|
The Softail comes with the lowest stock seat height, then, getting taller, is the Dyna and finally, the tallest of them all is the Sportster. All of these can be changed so if your heart is set on a Street Bob (Dyna) but the seat is too tall for your tastes, don't get discouraged, you can make it fit you.
Sitting On Top of the Motorcycle or being Part of the Motorcycle
There is another seat height consideration that is especially important to me. When I was on my Sportster with the stock seat, I always felt like I was sitting on top of the motorcycle. Well, of course, what else would it feel like Frank?
I mean, I felt like I was literally, on top of the motorcycle like a big piece of luggage tied to the seat. Then I replaced the stock seat with a lower profile seat, lowering the seat height by about 1 1/2" and I felt like I was more in tune with the motorcycle. I was more "connected". I was a happy camper and forgot about seats until a couple of years later when I bought a Dyna Wide Glide.
When I bought the Wide Glide, I started out looking at the Street Bob. I felt good on the Street Bob, stock, with no modifications, it was exactly right. I loved it, however, I could not get the extended front fork with the street Bob which I just had to have. It was only available on the Wide Glide.
I bought the Wide Glide, replaced the stock seat with a Mustang low profile seat and lowered the bike 1" (replaced the stock shocks but that's another story). Now, I had it all. My feet were flat on the ground at the stoplight, I felt like I had control and maneuverability but most of all, I was no longer a piece of baggage strapped to the top of the seat. I was into the motorcycle itself. I felt like I was part of the bike. I had found the right combination of frame height and seat that made me and the motorcycle a team.
Low Profile Seat
At this point, you should have figured out how tall your current seat is and how much you want to lower it. Bolt-on seats (exact replacement for the stock seat) will drop the seat height 1 to 1 1/2 inches without getting into the comfort zone. More than 1 1/2 inches and you will be riding on a hard seat, and you rear-end will never let you forget it. You just zip around town for thirty minutes at a time and a hard seat is OK but if you are heading out for a hundred-mile highway ride, a hard seat will be extremely uncomfortable.
Modifying Your Stock Seat
I did that. I modified the seat on my nifty, thrifty Honda Fifty about thirty years ago. I found a block of foam rubber, a chunk of Naugahyde and viola, my new modified seat. Just sitting on it would depress the foam so much you could feel the bolts in your rear end. Hitting a bump in the road at speed was brutal. I rode that seat to school for a year. I am older and wiser (a little more delicate) now.
When researching this post, I have seen websites illustrating how to cut down your stock seat. Basically, you remove the cover, use a heat knife to cut down the foam, and then replace the cover. It looks to me like the critical thing is accurate measurements on the foam to be cut down. If you, do it right, for an exceptionally low investment, you can turn your existing stock seat into a low-profile seat. Will it be comfortable? Who knows, but if you are committed to getting a low-profile seat on your motorcycle, why not try to modify the stock seat and see what happens. If it gets screwed up, you were going to buy a replacement seat anyway. If it comes out good, you just saved $300 or $400 bucks.
Getting your seat lower is one thing but do not forget about the width of the seat. Specifically, the front half of the seat is against the insides of your legs when you are stopped and standing up over the seat. If this part of the seat is too wide, your legs are spread apart and can't reach as far down towards the ground as you want them to reach. By narrowing this part of the seat, your legs can come together and extend their downward length to the ground. If you do this right, you will leave the rear part of the seat which holds your rear end alone so while you are riding you never even notice the narrower part of the seat.
This is a highly effective way of getting your feet flat on the ground even is the seat is not as low as you would like it to be.
Start at the beginning. If you have a Harley, check out what the Harley dealer has to offer. If there is an HD seat that looks good to you, check your local HD shops for your model which has that seat on it. Sit down and see what it's all about. Some dealers will put the new seat on a floor model so you can test it out in the showroom. It's quite easy to remove a late-model HD seat and pull one off the wall and put it on.
Currently, HD has a rather good selection of genuine HD seats. Lots of goodies tailored for all kinds of riders. If you live in an area with more than one HD shop, take the Saturday tour and check them all out. Talk to the dealers and ask them how they like this or that seat. Do they ride on it? What seat do they use and so on? If you ask enough, you will start to hear trends pointing towards one seat and away from another.
Once you have found the seat of your dreams, look online and see what's out there. Riders are changing seats all of the time and at any given moment, the seat of your dreams has just been replaced by the seat of someone else's dreams and is now sitting in their garage. You may be pleasantly surprised to get a new HD seat for 1/3 of the dealer's price. Like my dad used to tell me, "Shop around son".
I hear people saying that the stock Harley seats just are no good. Uncomfortable, they don't weather very well and so on. The theory is that HD puts a low-quality seat on hoping that you will spend the cash to upgrade to a more profitable seat. Profitable to HD that is. I also hear folks saying they have put 50K miles on the stock HD seat with no problem. Personally, I only have had my rear end in an HD seat for a few hundred miles, so I just don't know. You make the call.
You may find a used seat that suits your needs. It is important to get a replacement seat for your stock seat that has been made to fit your exact model of motorcycle. So, unless you get lucky, eBay and Craig's list are not going to be a particularly good source. Close is not good enough. Sure, I can take a seat and bolt it on just like you can, but I will not be swapping it out very easily later. When I want to do something with the electronics or wiring harness (usually under the seat) I am again going to spend some time on the seat. If you do find a used seat, make sure it is the correct fit. And don't forget the "cool" factor, a Suzuki seat bolted on your Fat Boy will turn some heads and get a few chuckles too.
Even the motorcycles year has an impact. My 2006 Wide Glide has a different seat pan width that the year-earlier Wide Glide. HD changed the width of the rear fender in 2006 and the seat changed with the fender.
NOTE: HD seats have a single screw on the rear of the seat (thumb screw available) and a seat tongue under the front of the seat which makes seat removal a 3-minute job. Sissy bars and luggage racks can complicate it, if they are in the way. This is an excellent feature, and I do not want to lose it by bolting a non-standard seat with non-standard bolts and clamps.
You can save a bunch with a used seat if you are willing to do the legwork and if you can find one that fits your bike.
TIP: Is it genuine leather? Here's a simple test. Use your right-hand finger to press down on the web part of your left hand between your thumb and first finger. As you press, you will see your skin wrinkle up in a starburst shape outward from the pressing finger. OK, leather is skin also, so to test leather, press your finger into it and look for the same wrinkle pattern to emerge. If it appears, its leather if it does not appear, its Naugahyde.
There are about a zillion choices out there and figuring out what is best for you can be an expensive trial and error adventure. I am going to narrow down the choices for you. Between these three manufacturers, you can find about every seat style and configuration out there. As with most motorcycle parts, it is too expensive for dealers to stock more than a few samples, so you must do your legwork to get your hands on one. Motorcycle shows are a wonderful place to see (and touch) all of the stuff that you cannot find in your local stores.
I have found that there are three major manufacturers of seats that always seem to get high reviews from customers,
- Mustang http://www.mustangseats.com/
- Corbin http://www.corbin.com/
- Saddlemen http://www.saddlemen.com/
Here's what I like about these three.
MUSTANG: I have had three Mustang replacement seats on three different motorcycles, and I am 100% happy will all three. They do not sell any leather seats but composite vinyl that looks like leather. And it really does look like leather. My motorcycles have always been outside 24/7 and I have never had any fade or weather problems with these seats. They are high quality, and they look like they were made for the motorcycle. I mean really made for the motorcycle. Normal or low profile, they hold their shape and are extremely comfortable. On a long ride, I do not ever find myself thinking about the seat. I really like Mustang seats.
CORBIN: I have never owned a Corbin, but I have seen plenty of them and I am impressed. Corbin does use leather and has some trick stuff in addition to the complete line of seats. They have a flip-up "convertible" sissy bar type of passenger seat that is worth a look. They also have a heater option which is interesting.
SADDLEMEN: I use their tool bags, but I never have owned one of their seats. I have heard some good stuff about them from fellow riders. One friend ordered a custom seat with narrow sides and when he got the seat, he did not like it. Saddlemen took it back and reworked it until he was happy. He now swears by Saddlemen.
There are a whole bunch more and they range from very inexpensive to unbelievably expensive with alligator, lizard and snakeskin designs, gel seats, inflatable, backrests, and so on.
Lower the Motorcycle
If you have a Sportster and are currently at 26.25 inches with the stock seat, about the best you can do is get it down to 25 inches or 24.5 inches. Still too tall, well the next option is to lower the bike. If you are looking for a Sportster that is below 24.5 inches seat height, you should trade it in on another model which can go lower. Investing $300 or $400 in a seat and finding out that it is still too tall will be a big disappointment. Lowering a Sportster is not an easy effort for a newbie.
In fact, lowering any motorcycle is a complex undertaking and unless you know what you are doing you have a good chance of screwing up the handling ability of the motorcycle. Usually, you will replace the rear shocks with shorter shocks, shorten the front fork by replacing the fork springs, and then modifying your kickstand so your bike will stand up on its own of the lowering modifications. It's not cheap. To have an experienced motorcycle mechanic do the work, parts and labor can run close to $1000 or more before you are done.
TIP: Find a local motorcycle dealer (doesn't have to be HD) and ask them about lowering your bike. Make sure they have experience in this area, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
And again, once you start screwing around with the bike's length and ground clearance, you are running a risk of taking away the bike handling ability. This could be more than just annoying; it could be dangerous.
If you are happy with your current seat, don't do anything except go ride and enjoy. If you think a change may be in order, browse around the Internet and select the seat of your dreams. With the dream seat identified, go ahead and start chopping up your current seat until you get the height you want. If you are successful, end of the story, go riding. If you are unhappy with the result, buy the dream seat and see what happens.