5 Aftermarket Motorcycle Seat Comparisons

We compare five aftermarket motorcycle seats

Motorcycle Seat Comparisons
Motorcycle Seat ComparisonsJames Brown

Motorcycling is a pursuit best enjoyed on your hindquarters. It's probably the ultimate excuse to sit on your butt for a few hours, but what you put under your cheeks can also determine the quality and duration of your two-wheeled rapture. Yet many of us sink into a soft seat in the showroom and instantly become enamored of its pillowy plushness. We'll hastily purchase the luxurious pad and then, 50 miles down the road, wonder why our keister's numb, our back's in knots and our legs have lost all feeling. So what happened?

seat comparison
One size probably won't fit them all.James Brown

Foam Alone

The assumption that softer is better is a big mistake. Though the cheaper foam may feel cushy initially, it has no resiliency and will eventually bottom out. At that point you'll find yourself virtually sitting on metal -- the seat pan underneath the foam.

A saddle is part of your motorcycle's suspension system (you are suspended on it), and its size and shape impacts your ride greatly; foam density and quality are an important part of the equation. There are varying grades of foam. Idealy your seat should have high-density foam in the middle and bottom portions and a thinner layer of soft foam closest to your glutes. Good-quality foam is heavier and springier. It still bounces back when compressed, while the cheaper stuff will collapse under pressure. Top-shelf, closed-cell foam offers superior support on the road, but be prepared to pay superior prices for an aftermarket motorcycle seat constructed of it.

motorcycle stock seat
The stock Star saddle.James Brown

Measure Twice, Buy Once

An old tractor seat best describes the typical cruiser saddle shape. On a motorcycle, the interior foam is sandwiched by a seat pan at the bottom and a top cover made of vinyl or, occasionally, leather. A typical seat has a base plate, and high-end touring models incorporate internal supports. Some utilize rubber bumpers to reduce vibration. The rider's portion of a saddle should be fairly wide and curved, and some seat makers insist the lowest part of the saddle be as far back as possible for good comfort. Cruiser designs usually employ a bucket in the middle and many frames are shaped like a U. When saddle shopping, consider your physical stature. Most riders between 5-foot-8 and 6 feet tall and 150 to 200 pounds can choose so-called "off-the-shelf" aftermarket seats with solid results. But think about your inseam and posture too. If you're a big slouch, your tailbone will receive more pressure and filter pain up your lower back. If you sit bolt upright, you could be prone to upper spine aches. Consider the space between the saddle well and the rise at the back of the bucket where your back will be supported. Is it at a good angle? If not, it will encourage bad posture and more pain. And remember your passenger. Many cruisers ride two-up, and if your passenger slides around during braking, your rosy ride can go haywire in a hurry.

Examine your body's geometry on the bike prior to any modification. Hand and foot adjustments can greatly alter seat comfort. Identify pressure points by sitting on the bike (have a friend hold it up) feet on the pegs, and noting where your butt hits the saddle. Are your inner thighs pinched? Can you reach the handlebar comfortably? Write down these observations to use when you seek an aftermarket solution.

Replacing your bike's stock saddle can improve your reach to the asphalt and create better geometry with floorboards and handlebars. A new seat can enhance back support, a bike's looks and a passenger's comfort too, but don't assume a change is always in order. Before you swap a saddle, take it for a long ride to make sure it really is a pain in the butt. And before you change a saddle to improve appearance, make sure aren't doing something that will make your bike literally a pain in the butt and something you no longer like to ride.

Have Your Cake And Sit On It

Saddle comfort issues are complicated for the saddlemaker too. Tom Seymour of Travelcade/Saddlemen notes that a careful balance has to be maintained when crafting a cruiser seat. The conflicting desires of style and comfort must be incorporated into the design. Seymour says one end of the spectrum is represented by cruiser riders most concerned with visuals. "They'd be happy with a handkerchief over a handrail, comfort be damned," he says. The utilitarian touring crowd tends to occupy the other camp, where function is paramount and looks secondary.

Seymour emphasizes that a saddle shouldn't be too thin. "Then you have no compliance and you'll bottom out (pun intended). It has to equalize pressure and redistribute weight so there are no 'hot spots' that reflect pain back to your booty." Better seats usually require a break-in of the initially stiff foam before they mold themselves to your contours.

The material covering the seat is also important. Its ability to breathe while resisting wear, tear and water are qualities to look for. Leather is coveted for its appearance, feel and breathability, but it's expensive and prone to water damage if not routinely maintained. And climbing on a soaked seat is no way to strat a long ride. The marine-grade vinyl found on many aftermarket seats can mimic the best qualities of leather while offering weather resistance and durability at a reasonable price.

Ready, Set, Go

Motorcycle Cruiser last compared cruiser saddles in 1996, so seemed like time to review what the aftermarket offers for this critical component. Four aftermarket seat makers were able to provide saddles to meet our test deadline. Three were companies offering off-the-shelf units for the stock 2002 Yamaha Road Star we chose as our test mule, and one was a custom seat builder. There are quite a few companies out there that fabricate custom saddles to your personal specs.

Participants were given the option of providing a rider backrest for back support, and three chose to do so. Diamond opted to design its passenger pillion nose section to act as a back support and we didn't penalize the seat for it. We then mounted each seat, managed to coax a passenger aboard, and went for a 100-mile ride. We also rode solo around town for a week and rated each saddle for ease of installation, fit, looks, comfort, support and passenger accommodations, with five stars representing the best score.

The stock seat on the Road Star really isn't too shabby around town; it's the longer trips that take their toll on your buns. This saddle fits its bike well, but looked rather bland and generic. The bucket sides didn't extend down to the sidecovers as low as we would have liked, but the bucket was spacious and initial comfort adequate. Back support was minimal, as the bucket wasn't very dished. The padding was rather thin toward the nose and sides, which made for an easy reach to the ground, but became hard on the inner thighs after a few miles. Passenger accommodations were tolerable, but were the narrowest of the bunch

MUSTANG

Mustang Motorcycle Seats provided us with the classically styled Wide Vintage Seat in a three-piece version, which included a solo seat, matching passenger section and a removable driver backrest. The set comes with its own bracket system and bolts on in minutes utilizing the stock Yamaha key latch mechanism. The passenger portion plugs in beneath the main saddle -- two screws allow for quick removal. The seat is built on a fiberglass baseplate. Unscrewing a single bolt at the rear permits a solo look quickly. The 17-inch wide saddle was instantly comfortable and stayed that way, even several hours down the road. It's wider and has a much deeper front bucket than the other seats. There was plenty of width for bigger riders, but the denser foam made the Vintage taller too, and shorter riders had a longer reach to the ground. The high contours and extra material was distracting at first, but made sense the longer we rode; bump absorption was superior. There was a good amount of room from the front to the back of the bucket, but its depth meant we were locked into one position. The saddle has a high-quality finish with stitched trim at the edges and middle of the seat.

motorcycle mustang seat
Mustang Motorcycle SeatJames Brown

Our passenger was thrilled with her roomy, well-padded accommodations, which provided good support with minimal slippage. The rider portion and pillion have a chunky profile however, because of the well-positioned padding. The removable backrest slides into a receptacle behind the rider. This was the only backrest was the that pivoted to our back's angle, which we found crucial for comfort. The Vintage is covered with high-quality, expanded vinyl for good weather resistance.

The Wide Vintage costs $609 as we sampled it; without the backrest it's $409. Mustang also offers bibs, tank covers and sissy bar pads to match its seats. See the firm's website at www.mustangseats.com or call (800)243-1392 for more details.

SADDLEMEN/TRAVELCADE

Saddelmen Motorcycle Seat
Saddelmen Motorcycle SeatJames Brown

Saddlemen/Travelcade sent us its Explorer, a one-piece unit with an optional rider's backrest included. Installation required that the stock brackets, bumpers and latch from the original seat be carefully realigned onto the new saddle. Saddlemen uses a unique silicone gel in combination with multiple-density polyurethane foam to provide cushioning and vibration absorption. A thinner layer of foam covers the forward section of the saddle, making it slimmer and lower than the Mustang seat. The saddle is comfortable right away, though it feels much firmer than a foam saddle. It softened up after a few minutes as the gel moved around, but it never felt as cushy as the other three. There were no complaints about this sensation from our testers, though. Being short-legged, I appreciated the Explorer for its low altitude and shape, which allowed for a straight stab to the asphalt. The bucket has a steep rise in back, offering the best back support of the bunch. The bucket was also quite short from front to back and cupped my scrawny butt like a glove, but wider riders complained of being too cramped. The seat also didn't extend down to the sidecovers, though it had much more visual appeal than the stocker.

Like the Mustang, the Saddlemen's passenger section was a bit wide. The pillion doesn't really complement the bikes lines well, but that extra heft resulted in a well-heeled, if firm, ride for our passenger. The seat has a fiberglass base plate and is covered with a proprietary stretch vinyl that moves with the foam and is lightly textured for a good grip. Saddlemen also offers a full line of luggage and saddlebags. This seat with the backrest, as tested, costs $499. Check out the firm's site for more details at www.saddlemen.com or call (800)397-7709.

CORBIN

Corbin Motorcycle Seat
Corbin Motorcycle SeatJames Brown

Corbin Pacific sent us its Dual Tour seat, with optional backrests front and rear. It's offered in the Yamaha catalog as an accessory seat replacement. The one-piece unit took a bit longer to mount than the Mustang and Saddlemen seats, requiring the stocker's rear retaining bracket to be repositioned to the Corbin's underbelly. It was easily the best-looking saddle of the lot, probably because it's the only one here topped with leather. Fine detail stitching on the seat surface and attractive piping along the edges didn't hurt either. Its bottom edge fit closer to the side panels and the nose butted up to the tank nicely. The shape of the Corbin worked well for most testers' behinds, and its slimmer profile yielded a good reach to the ground. The bucket rise at the back of the pan was less angled though, so back support was merely adequate. The bucket wasn't too wide either, so if youre a bit broad in the beam, it could be tight. Those of us with average butts concurred that it was fairly comfortable, even though it was the firmest of the group.

The Dual Tour seat accepts optional backrests, which can be placed behind both rider and passenger. We liked this twofer concept, and our passenger liked the security of the rest, but she started complaining about half an hour into the ride. The backrestwasn't easily adjustable and dug into her lower back after a spell.

This smart-looking Corbin will cost you too; the seat with both backrests goes for around $900. See www.corbin.com or call (800)538-7035 for the full line of Corbin goodies.

DIAMOND

Diamond Motorcycle Seat
Diamond Motorcycle SeatJames Brown

Diamond sent us its Renegade two-piece seat. This company handles seats that are custom designed and hand-built. Each seat is constructed according to the rider's height, weight and inseam, using hand-poured "memory" foam, which owner Mark Hart maintains is critical for long-range comfort. During the ordering process we simply told Hart we were 5-foot-seven and 150 pounds, and he sent us a seat crafted to those dimensions. Our taller tester reported slight crowding in the cockpit, but not to the extent we would have expected. The unit came as two separate pieces, each backed with a fiberglass baseplate. Mounting required that all the original brackets from the stock seat be remounted and repositioned separately on each Diamond. This process took the longest of all the seats tested. Once aligned and mounted up, the Renegade appeared to have the smallest bucket of all, but it's probably the most cupped, too, and resembles an overstuffed pillow. This results in a comfortable ride, but the back of the bucket wasn't very steep and offered only fair back support. This shape was fine around town because it allowed us to get our feet to the ground fast. Luckily the pillion was designed to offer support also, and extended out far enough to prop up the rider's back.

Though the Renegade had the narrowest rider dish of all the seats, its pillion was nicely formed and padded, and nearly as wide. Passenger accommodations were more than adequate for our fair fare, even though our passenger reported some slippage during braking, due to the smoother high-grade vinyl cover. The Renegade retails for $499 as tested; you can check out all the various styles at www.diamondseats.com or call (800)722-9995.

IN THE END

So which seat coddled our glutes best? As in 1996 with a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500, the Mustang was our pick for sheer comfort. It also stayed supportive for the longest stretch of road. It was hard to move around in because its bucket was so deep, and as a result, we preferred the Saddlemen around town, for that reason. The Saddlemen's back support was superior because of its steep bucket rise in back, but the Mustang had the best backrest. The Corbin provided the best combination of fit and aesthetics. It was sharp-looking with an eye-pleasing profile, especially at the pillion. But it hurt our asses after a while. It was simply too firm. The Diamond Renegade was downright luxurious, but took the longest to install. The padding felt progressively better each time we rode in it, though.

All these companies offer solid manufacturer support. You can also have your stock seat rebuilt, modified or custom order an entire saddle. If youre pressed for cash, check out CycleSaddles.com for used saddles, or consider seat pads for temporary relief. Our favorite comfort pad remains the Roho Airhawk.

For additional evaluations of, comparisons of, and shopping advice for motorcycle gear and accessories, see the Accessories and Gear section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.