Here is the second of our regular series on customising. You could say we’re, err, starting from the bottom…
The seat’s probably the last thing you look at when you’re buying a bike, but a little thought can pay long-term dividends — and help you look cool!
Consider: you’re nearing the end of a long and now wet day in the saddle. You’ve given yourself a tough schedule to meet, but now a cold, blustery wind is heralding the day’s end. You’ve just 200km left to cover, running into rain and garthering darkness. You’re tired but triumphant — and you’re shifting yourself forward and back every 30 seconds on that damn vinyl-covered brick in a more and more desperate bid to ease your numb and seemingly bruised backside.
If you’ve been out there and done it, you’ll know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, sit down and read this and avoiding making the same mistake the rest of us have made.
Vinyl-covered bricks can be tolerable if you’re only commuting 10km to work or think a decent ride is spending Sunday morning grinding away your footpegs in the Dandenongs. If you’re actually going somewhere, it’s worth thinking about your bike’s rider and pillion accommodation.
During a recent odyssey across the USA, my riding partner and I marvelled at the remarkable comforts offered by the Harleys and GoldWings we encountered. Most of these were barely customised in the aesthetic sense of the term, but there was plenty of opulent variety to be seen in the seating department — air seats, gel seats, some outrageously supple-looking takes on the king and queen theme.
Practical people, the Yanks, but there’s no good reason why you and I can’t make the same generous arrangements and add a little style into the bargain.
Modify or change?
Butts come in a wondrous variety of shapes and sizes and the people attached to them differ likewise, so don’t run off with the idea that there’s a universal cure for numb bum. The solution must take into account a number of variables, including what sort of bike you have, what manner of riding you do and whether you do it with a pillion tucked up behind you more often than not.
The first question you must ask yourself is whether you wish to modify your existing seat or acquire something completely new. If you only have yourself to please and need to watch the cash outlay, adapting what you already have might be the best solution. A strap-on sheepskin would undoubtedly help, though something weatherproof might be even better.
Several companies offer “cushions” or pads that’ll fit to your bike’s seat and help in the comfort stakes. These come in three basic varieties: air, foam and gel. All have their virtues — air cushions being lightest, for example — but gel often gets the nod as the pick of the bunch.
All three alternatives are available for a wide range of bikes. Airhawk, for example, offers half a dozen different designs and sizes, with prices around the $240 mark. Go to www.airhawkguy.com.au for more on this. If you think gel might ring your bell, go here www.amspecialtiesusa.com/gelpad.htm. The other option is, of course, a sheepskin cover.
OK, perhaps you’re not keen on the idea of strapping stuff to your seat and want to tailor your existing perch more closely to your individual requirements. Reupholstering can not only give you a more comfortable and supporting berth, it can allow you a little freedom of expression, too.
Two Wheel Trimming is a Queensland outfit that’ll modify your existing seat to your needs. You send your seat base to the factory with your own measurements, such as height and weight, and they’ll strip your perch to the base and rebuild it, adding good-quality layered foam sculpted to suit your needs and then finishing with the material of your choice. It’s a process that effectively gives you a new seat for a few hundred bucks. Check ’em out at www.twowheeltrimming.com.au.
Australian Cumfy Motorcycle Seats offers a similar service from its Melbourne headquarters, working with your seat base to deliver the product you want, again based on your height and weight. Gel pads can be added to some designs, seats can be cut down for shorter riders, and, of course there’s a range of covering fabrics and colours on offer. Want more info? Go to www.australiancumfymotorcycleseats.com.au.
Time for a change
If you’ve decided to go the whole hog and invest in a new seat, the possibilities are getting on for endless, whether you’re looking for an expression of personal style, a boost in practicality, or both.
Own a Harley? Five minutes on the net will find you plenty to drool over. Harley-Davidson itself offers custom seats for each of its major ranges, whether you’re a Sportster, Dyna, VRod, Softail or Tourer rider. There’s plenty of variety — there are air-adjustable seats, backrests for rider and passenger, even armrests for your favourite passenger.
Closer to home, you’ll find similar ranges of goodies at Magnum Motorcycles (www.magnummotorcycles.com.au), with seats available from Corbin, La Pera, Saddlemen, Mustang and Arlen Ness.
Saddlemen, for example, offers a range of seats built up with foam and SaddleGel for added comfort. The Tattoo Flame model incorporates a stitched pattern under the rider’s bum in a range of contrasting colours. If you decide to take a look around the Saddlemen website, allow yourself plenty of time: the Metric Cruiser catalogue alone contains more than 80 pages of products. Another source for Saddlemen information and seats is the useful www.justcruisers.com.au site, which also offers a huge range of other stuff.
Another well-established US brand is Corbin, well-known here for its range of broad, roomy berths for almost every bike under the sun. We fitted bone to a Triumph some years back and were very happy with the result. They’re distributed in Australia by VPW Motorcycles (03 8405 9200).
More specific products are made by outfits such as Russell Cycle Products (www.day-long.com) which, as its web address hints at, specialises in touring saddles and seats that’ll keep you sane over many a long day’s hack. Many of their generously upholstered products are two-piece king-and-queen affairs, offered for touring hardware from the four corners, with quality to match. A choice of quilting patterns, seat covers and rain covers is part of the deal.
Even more specialised, Cee Bailey’s, a US aircraft plastics outfit, makes a number of rider backrests for a range of popular cruisers under its Bakup brand name. Take a look at www.ceebaileys.com.
And there are people right here in Australia who will create just what you want. Out in country NSW is the well-known Metcruze, which makes a full range of cruiser seats from the plainest to the fanciest. See www.metcruze.com.au or drop Garry a line at email@example.com. Another local option is Concept Vehicle Operations in Melbourne, see their stuff at www.cvo.net.au.
Going to extremes
OK, we’ve looked at refurbished seats, replacements seats, backrests and some of the other mainstream products around. So let’s take a stroll through the tough end of town. This is where we find the tooled leather, the skulls, the western-style saddles, the exotic materials and the so-called Maltese crosses. Here you’ll find studs, crocodile and cobra skin patterns, monograms, flags, flames, wolves, eagles and much else besides. This is where you give your imagination a workout. Most of the tough stuff comes from the US — the sheer size of their market creates a demand for such specialised services much greater than ours.
Roberti Customs in Houston, Texas, www.roberticustoms.com, is as good a place to start as any. It offers the full range of terrors, with especially impressive lines in custom-stitching and tooled leather.
Extreme Motorcycle Seats, www.extrememotorcycleseats.com, reckons, “We make the best seats in the biz without trying to get rich on any of them.” The Phoenix, Arizona, outfit can supply your seat stitched or tooled with the design of your choice, with plenty of material options.
Naturally, such a strong emphasis on leather brings with it a range of supplementary products such as tool rolls, saddlebags and so on. It’s all out there — we even found red velour seat covers at www.diamondseats.com — so there’s no reason to suffer in bland, anonymous discomfort any longer. Express yourself!