Mike Corbin


Tops in bottoms

Mike’s got your seat covered

Quick, what do you think of when you hear the name “Hollister”?

If you’re historically minded, the answer will be The Wild One. Hollister is the small town below the Diablo Range in Southern California, where the alleged “biker invasion” took place which was immortalised — and heavily fictionalised — in the Marlon Brando movie.

If, on the other hand, your primary concern is comfort, then you’ll probably answer “Corbin”. His Corbin Seats and Accessories business has been here since 1997, but his connection with the town goes back a lot further — right back to The Wild One, in fact.

“It was probably the one big statement that came out early that affected those war babies,” said Mike. “Not so much the fighting, but they were just so free they could get on their motorcycles and ride as a group.”

The incident on which the 1953 film was based happened in Hollister in July 1947, during the Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally. Far from being an outlaw gathering, it was sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) but it attracted some 4000 people, several times more than had been expected. Hollister was overwhelmed by bikers who were forced to sleep on sidewalks and in parks. Things got a little out of control, law enforcement was called in, and the 1947 rally was the last one to occur for nearly five decades.

Mike, meanwhile, was a master electrician in the navy. When he got out he started building a business as an electrical engineer. But of course he had a bike, a Norton, and in 1965 he designed and built a special seat for it.

“I went to a rally one day and a guy asked me where I got the seat and I told him I made it. The man said he’d pay me $40 for the seat, which is like $400 today,” said Mike. The deal was done and Mike rode home sitting on his folded coat. When he told his assistant what had happened and that he’d have to make another seat, the assistant wanted one as well. Mike made two. The assistant rode to the Harley-Davidson dealer in Hartford, Connecticut, with the new seat on his bike and the owner asked him where it had come from. The H-D man ordered five.

“I got home later that day and my wife told me that the Harley guy from Hartford had called,” Mike said. “He said he’d sold four and put one on his shop bike, and that he wanted 10 more.”

By 1980 the business was so successful that Mike could move to California. “It was a better place to be as a motorcycle parts designer,” he said. “In California they’re into the latest thing.”

He became involved with the revival of the Hollister motorcycle rally in 1995. The man behind the idea was Sonny Barger, founder of the Oakland Chapter of the Hell’s Angels. “Sonny was the original luminary with a vision to see the Hollister Rally reborn,” said Mike.

Eventually, at the end of 1997, Mike moved the business to Hollister. “We thought, we’ll be a part of Hollister, we’ll be part of the rally. We liked the environment and we liked the town and the workforce, so it’s been great.”

Since then he’s been involved in a lot of other things as well — his single-seater commuter car the Sparrow, car- and bike-themed furniture, luggage, fairings and much else. He makes a superb set of hard panniers for the Hayabusa, which actually make the bike look better, for instance. But above all, he makes seats. Comfortable, stylish-looking seats made with Corbin’s own Fibertech bases and Comfort Cell foam. Covers are hand-sewn by a team of some 30 seamstresses.

When I rolled up on the Honda Fury, Mike’s eyebrows rose. “We don’t have a seat for those yet,” he said. “Come have lunch.”

Part of the Corbin factory on the outskirts of Hollister is a restaurant called Wizard’s Café, which serves excellent Mexican and American food. We lingered a little over our meal, then Mike gave our US advertising manager Stacey Swanson and me a factory tour, which was impressive indeed. Mike tries to make everything he needs himself, so the place has, among other things, a full-on metal workshop. It also has some 1500 colour-coded moulds for different seat bases.

When we walked out, the Fury was equipped with a Corbin seat.

“We’ll UPS the old seat back to Honda,” he said. “Tell them to send this one back to us when you return the bike.”

I put another 1000 miles on the bike with the Corbin seat, and they were easier miles than the first 1000! Somehow, the Corbin designers have worked out how to pamper your backside, not just support it.

And here’s the good news if you have a few cool mill burning a hole in your pocket (so to speak). Corbin-Pacific Inc, the company that owns all of this, is for sale. Yes, you could own the world’s “top motorcycle seat manufacturer”, as the company has been described more than once. You, too, could be tops in bottoms! List price is $US11.5 million, but don’t let that put you off.

I spoke to a friend in the bike business in California and he said: “Make Mike an offer. You could be surprised …”

And if you do buy Corbin Seats, please … keep Wizard’s Café going!