There’s an old saying in the seat business, “anything is comfortable for 15 minutes”. The companies that make and sell motorcycles are very aware of that. An engineer for an extremely large OEM told me once that no one ever walked into a dealership and didn’t buy a bike because of the seat. That thinking is why so many of you ask me all the time why the factory seat on your bike is so uncomfortable after 45 minutes.
We do need to be fair for a moment. The OEM’s have no idea how tall or how big the buyer of a new bike will be, and they definitely have no idea when a used bike is sold. The complexity of a system to have something resembling a custom sized seat available for the 40 million motorcycles sold every year is beyond any reasonable scope. So, they pick a size and make seats.
Before we dive into what makes the most comfortable motorcycle seat, we must establish what are reasonable expectations for a rider to have of their seat. You should be able to ride at least 4 hours in one stretch without discomfort or agitation. The primary point of discomfort for most people is the butt bones. This is true for about 80% of people. You should be able to repeat this 4 hour stretch at least twice a day. When riding consecutive days, such as on a road trip, there should not be any limit to the number of consecutive days you ride without discomfort. Each morning should feel as good as the first day of the trip when you get on the bike. If you are riding a full-size motorcycle and cannot meet these expectations, you should examine the possibility of a new seat. If you are riding a smaller size or primarily off-road bike, these conditions may not be practical.
Three main features go into making a motorcycle seat that gives proper comfort. Rarely do factory seats do a good job with any of these due to the infinite variations in the physical properties of each rider. Almost all aftermarket seats do a better job of at least one of the three. Typically, the more expensive a seat is, the better job it does at all three of these key features. While this is not universally true, it is a general rule of thumb you can use to help compare 2 different seats for comfort.
The first feature is the location of the rider on the bike to give optimum rider posture. Your relation to the grips, foot controls and the ground are of critical importance to your comfort. If you are reaching too far, if you can’t get your feet to the ground, or any other scenario that doesn’t let you sit in a natural position on the bike, your comfort is compromised over the length of your day of riding. A rider may need to be raised or lowered, may need to move forward or back, or combinations of these. When you are not in the right location, you will have early onset fatigue which will lead to discomfort and ultimately compromise your ability to handle the bike properly. This is the number one reason people start riding and don’t keep riding. It is the single biggest factor you control that makes riding not fun.
The second feature is the shape of the foam. Almost every factory foam over the last 20 years has been getting flatter and flatter. There are 2 reasons for this. First is it makes the seat look smaller and sleeker, which catches your eye and is more flattering to the bike. Yes, I just said it makes the bike look slimmer. “Does this seat make my bike look fat?” is not a question the OEM’s want to hear you ask. The other reason for a flat foam is to make it more friendly to automated manufacturing methods. The shape of most factory seats today is primarily driven by cost reductions to increase the use of robotics in molding operations. A flat seat has the dubious honor of focusing the bulk of your weight on your butt bones. And that is why you need to start doing the butt cheek shuffle 45 minutes into your ride. A human butt is not flat. It is curved or even really curved, depending on the individual. The shape of the foam needs to resemble the mirror image of the shape of your butt. The objective is to distribute as much of your weight across as much area of your butt as possible. A flat seat uses the minimum area. There needs to be some radius and curve in the shape of your seat for maximum comfort. And it needs to be sized and shaped for you. There are several locations in the foam that need to be sized and shaped for you to avoid those annoying pains and stress points.
The third piece of this mystery is the density of the foam. This density needs to be matched to you and your bike. If you have 3 bikes that have a wide range of weight and riding intent, you will need 3 different foam densities. The purpose of the foam is to support you and insulate you from the frame of the bike. It is as complex as the suspension on your bike. A seat maker that does not give you the ability to customize the density of the foam is compromising your comfort. Unfortunately, this is the biggest shortcut taken in most aftermarket seats. For cost reasons, one size fits all foam is used for each seat. If you are lucky enough to be the right weight for the bike this seat goes on, you won’t notice. But if not, it will de-rate your riding enjoyment.
When you are thinking about your seat, and you can’t ride all day with just a couple of quick breaks, you probably should consider a new seat. When you are looking at a new seat, before you spend your hard-earned money, always ask:
- How will you locate me at the right place on the bike?
- How will you ensure the shape is optimal for me?
- How do you get the foam density right for me on this bike?
If you don’t get good answers to all 3 of those questions, keep looking.