May 12 2010 by Jason Fogelson
I like long motorcycle rides. Really long motorcycle rides, measured in days, not in miles. The limiting factor on my rides is not fuel. It's not distance. It's not money.
The limiting factor on my rides is comfort.
If I'm comfortable, I can ride forever. If I'm uncomfortable, I'm ready to quit before my garage disappears from my mirrors.
The single most important feature that controls comfort on a motorcycle is the seat.
Luckily, the seat on most motorcycles can be easily modified, exchanged, upgraded and made more comfortable. Before changing anything, I like to do a good ergonomic assessment of my bike. Where does the seat work for me? Where does it not fit me? Are my handlebars adjusted for the best riding position? Are my foot pegs and foot controls in the right spots? After I've experimented with the native adjustments on my bike, I assess the seat.
I take a close look at my seat. Is it in good repair? Is it a good fit for my bike? If the answer to these two questions is "no," I might decide to replace the seat with a new one from my bike's manufacturer. A quick glance at the Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories Catalog reveals that the Motor Company makes dozens of replacement seats for its bikes, in different sizes, styles, coverings and prices. All you have to decide is whether you want a seat for solo riding or for riding with a passenger, or a two-piece seat that you can change out for either activity. I tend to like a classic touring seat, which is shaped kind of like an old tractor seat -- narrow at the front, wide and dished toward the rear. Over the course of a few hundred miles, the narrower thigh space is more comfortable for me. Some riders prefer a long flat seat, giving more room for adjustment fore and aft. Think about your riding style, and get a seat that matches.
Maybe all your seat needs is a little more cushioning. It's easy to add a seat pad to your motorcycle seat, and -- surprise, surprise -- there are lots of options. Some riders like sheepskin, either real or synthetic. Some riders like the beaded seat covers like the ones favored by New York City cab drivers. Other riders add a gel-filled pad to their seat, and still others choose an air-filled cushion. If you choose a seat pad, be careful that it doesn't make for too long of a reach to the ground at a stop.
My current seat started out as an aftermarket seat, from a manufacturer other than Harley-Davidson. A few days after I installed the seat, I managed to burn a big hole through its vinyl cover while installing a windshield. (Did you know that a Lexan windshield could focus the sun's rays like a magnifying glass in the heat of the day?) Rather than trash the whole seat, I brought it to a specialty shop and had the seat recovered in heavy-duty leather, and I had polymer gel inserted in the seat and in the pillion cushion. The result was a custom seat that has delivered comfort for thousands and thousands of miles.
Comfort is still important to me, but I can't replace the seat on every bike I ride. I've found that a gel cushion works really well, especially when I'm renting a bike in a remote location. It has the added advantage of working as a seat cushion on my economy air flight -- have you noticed how uncomfortable plane seats have gotten?