Custom motorcycle seats: Forget about stock and after-market seats

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Motorcycle Seats

Taking the bad, the ugly and making it good

Working in the Rich's Custom Seats booth with Rich O'Conner at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show this past winter wasn't a revolutionary experience to me. I was asked to go up and work the booth because I have an in-depth understanding of Rich's skills as a saddle maker, having had 7 seats re-built for me over the last two decades. If you count current and x-girlfriends, that number goes to 10.

Photo: Stock seat vs. custom seat.

But being in the booth all weekend, made it clear - no matter how old you are - 27 or 77, regardless of your weight, whatever back, arm or leg issues you may or may not have, whether you're male or female - it's plain as day in talking with show-goers, about 95% of riders benefit from having a "custom" seat that is molded to 'their' shape and individual needs.

There are three kinds of motorcycle seats, so let's break it down:

Stock seats: These seats are the original seat that comes on the bike. Whoever designed it had no idea how tall or short you are, what you weigh, how long or short your arms are and so on. You are simply the potential buyer of the motorcycle. In fact, you may have put off buying a bike you really wanted because the seat didn't feel right (more on that in a moment). Bottom line - a large part of the riding population suffers stress somewhere in the body if they ride around on a stock seat a few hundred miles or more in a day. Thus, there's not much to look forward to if you're out on a multi-day ride.

And that's ugly.

After-market seats : So, the thinking is, if you buy an after-market seat, this may be the solution to making those problems go away. Typically not, as was affirmed by show goers I spoke with at the booth. As per the previous seat explanation - all the same applies here.

What's the problem? Basically, stock seats and after-market seats all have a flat seating surface. That causes the underside of the pelvis (the haunches) to rest on just two points, and all your upper body weight presses into those two places. And for many of us, that is a royal pain in the butt. Investing in an after-market seat doesn't solve that problem.

And that's bad for riders who already have and are not getting results.

In most cases these seats do nothing to solve other issues such as compensating for a short or long inseam (can't get flat-footed at a stop? Knees bent more than 90 degrees?), or reposition you so you have an optimal bend in your elbows (do you find yourself with your arms out straight when you ride? - this will cause stress to load up at the shoulders).

Custom seats: A true custom seat is one that is built specifically for you, just the way saddles have been built for horsemen and horsewomen across the centuries.

Let's talk shoes. The cheapest part of most shoes is the insole. Flat, cheap foam - just like a stock or after-market motorcycle seat. The best upgrade you can give to any pair of shoes is to toss that flat cheap foam and move to an insole that conforms to the shape of your foot. Bingo - same goes for a motorcycle seat.

With a custom seat, the foam is built up and out, then carved to hug your anatomy. Height is compensated allowing you to get your feet flat on the ground while stopped on the motorcycle. Positioning is set allowing you to reach the bars easily, getting a proper bend at the elbows, which allows you to control the steering with your arms and wrists, rather than your shoulders, thus reducing stress in the upper back. Additional positioning consideration gets you flat-footed while allowing your knees to bend no more than 90 degrees when they are on the pegs. Another big stress reducer.

All this is done using your original seat pan and you may be surprised to know the process costs the same or less than a lot of after-market seats out there. You will pay more if you move to a leather cover, have some fancy embroidery done or want an exotic covering.

But hey, it's your seat now, not a production insole, so if you want to customize it a little bit further, that's an option you have that you won't get otherwise.

Before you pass on the next bike you think you want because you thought you didn't "fit" well on it, think again. A custom saddle is often the solution to dialing you into your motorcycle for a happier, closer relationship that allows you longer hours on the road with a lot less pain and stress.

And after all, we ride these steeds to escape those later two factors.

TM/March 2020

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