The Buyer's Guide To Aftermarket Motorcycle Seats
October 19, 2012
The type of seat you purchase usually depends on the type of riding you do or a certain look you are trying to achieve. Ask yourself the following questions:
-- Do you mostly ride around town or do you take long trips?
-- Can you easily place your feet on the ground sitting on the stock seat?
-- What percentage of the time do you carry a passenger?
-- Is your bike stored outside during the riding season or is it always under cover?
-- Are you looking for a comfortable, touring seat or a one-of-a-kind custom seat for your show bike?
Motorcycle seats are made up of three essential parts: the baseplate, the foam and the cover (sometimes these are also referred to as the pan, the cushion and the top).
Before describing these three layers of a seat, you should know that some aftermarket or custom seat makers may use one or more parts of the original (stock) seat rather than actually provide you with all-new components. The following describes these three basic seat components:
Seats are constructed on a single baseplate (both the driver's seat and the passenger's seat are built on the same, single baseplate) or a two-piece baseplate (two distinct seats). Both of the pieces on a two-piece baseplate can be attached for two-up riding or separated to ride as a solo seat.
Most stock seats and a number of less expensive aftermarket seats are built on plastic baseplates which are cheap to build but are far less sturdy than other materials. Higher quality baseplates used by aftermarket manufacturers are constructed of either marine-grade fiberglass, finished with a high-gloss gel-coat, or black, epoxy powder-coated 16-gauge steel.
One of the best ways to assess the quality of a motorcycle seat is to turn it over and examine the baseplate area or "underbelly." When you pick up a premium seat, feel the weight and balance. That alone should show you how substantial a custom seat is compared to most stock seats.
Whether your new custom seat is built on a fiberglass or steel baseplate, be sure to look for the following features:
-- All exposed brackets (visible when the seat is mounted on the bike) should be chrome plated.
-- Polyurethane rubber bumpers should be strategically located and riveted to the baseplate to protect the paint and minimize vibration. (Bumpers made of polyurethane are ozone protected and will not crack with age.)
-- The edge of the cover material should be hemmed, not just cut off and left ragged.
-- The cover should be riveted to the baseplate at close intervals around the edges. (Most stock seat covers are merely stapled on.)
-- Although not readily visible, if you were able to lift up the cover, you would notice that a steel-reinforced, impact-absorbing vinyl-edge trim had been secured to the edges of the baseplate to protect the seat cover material from wearing.
-- A label specifying what make/model/year of bike the seat is designed to fit should be visible as well as the manufacturer's name, warranty and contact information.
-- Finally, complete mounting information should be attached to a replacement seat.
The most important component of motorcycle seat comfort is the foam - and that includes both the shape and the quality of the foam itself. This is truly a case of "it's what's inside that counts."
Once the foam shape is created, a heavy-duty fiberglass (non-shrinking, isothalic resin) mold of this shape is created in which to "cast" the foam. The liquid foam solution is poured into the mold, which is then securely closed up. Within minutes, the chemicals react and the liquid is solidified within the mold in a process reminiscent of a giant waffle maker.
The chemical compound of the liquid foam is as significant as the shape. The molecular structure of foam can be described as either open-cell or closed-cell. Think of the difference between types of foam, sponges or cushions on couches. Some foam is really soft and can be easily squeezed and almost flattened (open cell construction) while other foam is really firm and can barely be compressed (closed cell).
A soft seat provides no support and is just as bad as riding on the bare baseplate. On the other hand, a really hard seat can make you feel like you're sitting on a piece of plywood. Either way, your bottom will be in agony at the end of a day's ride.
First-rate foam usually feels firmer than stock but it shouldn't feel hard; it should offer "gentle" support. A good test is to stand next to the seat and press down on the foam. It should depress by about a third.
Most important, there should be no extended "break-in" period before you are comfortable. (Have you ever bought a sofa and been told you'd have to wait a month or so before it was comfortable?) A new motorcycle seat should compress and mold itself to your body shape within the first 15 minutes. The first ride should be as comfortable as the 100th and the foam should retain its shape and support for years.
Most stock seats are covered with molded vinyl. The good news is that this prevents water from seeping inside. The bad news is that stock covers don't provide a perfect fit when it comes to the contours of the foam mold or cushion. That means any discrepancies will result in wrinkles or bulges.
The best aftermarket seat covers are individually hand-sewn, not mass-produced. Keep in mind that, unlike the molded vinyl cover on a stock seat, the process of stitching the covers of aftermarket seats creates tiny holes. While these can be filled with a waxy substance, water can still seep through. On a quality seat, water will not deteriorate the foam; it will just drip out through a hole designed for that specific purpose in the baseplate.
The most popular seat cover materials are leather or vinyl and there is a range of quality within each of these categories. Riders should choose the material that best meets their needs, preferences and budget.
Whether made of leather or vinyl, look for the following features on the cover of a quality seat:
-- All seams should be sewn twice for strength.
-- The bottom edge under the seat that is attached to the baseplate should be hemmed.
-- The edges of seats with skirts should be finished with braid.
-- Pillow top seats should be tufted with covered buttons, which are double-tied with four cords, not two, so as to not lose their buttons.
-- The cover and stitch pattern for each model and style should complement and enhance the shape of the seat and the flow of the motorcycle.
-- Stitching should be evenly spaced, uniform and tight.
The importance of the strength and safety of the construction of a backrest for the driver cannot be over-emphasized. This is certainly not an area where you want to save money by skimping on quality.
The best quality driver backrests should be fully adjustable and easily removed without tools. They should pivot to match the angle of your back and easily adjust forward and backward, with several height adjustment positions. Additionally, the backrest should remove easily without tools and fold flat.
The decision to add a backrest for the passenger, along with many other motorcycle accessories, is usually based on safety and/or comfort of the passenger. Although the most important function of a sissy bar pad is to prevent the passenger from falling off the back of the bike, it should also enhance the passenger's comfort..
Upsides to aftermarket seats VS OEM
If you simply want to change your seat style or you need to replace a worn-out seat - and improved comfort is not an issue - buying a seat from your OEM might just be the ticket. Truth is, most motorcycle manufacturers (OEMs) concentrate most of their time and money researching the bike engine and aerodynamic design of their bikes, rather than putting a lot of effort into their seats.
Aftermarket seat companies, and many other aftermarket motorcycle parts, place all of their focus and effort into providing an array of seat styles and features because that's usually their primary business. These aftermarket manufacturers sell their brand of seats directly to OEMs, offer them through a distribution channel to dealers or directly to dealers, or they market the seats directly to the riding public.
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