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Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure

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Motorcycle TourMagazine

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About Postcards from the Hedge

Always on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, Bill Heald’s Postcards from the Hedge provides readers with an exceptional look into all things motorcycle. From racing to design to day-to-day riding, Heald has a grasp on it all.

Name: Bill Heald

Current Rides: Honda VFR and V45 Magna, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Triumph Street Triple R

Favorite quote:

The Wand chooses the Wizard Mr. Potter. It is not always clear why.

- Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The Bottom of the Top

Being comfortable when you are busy operating a machine is not just a way to make life easier, it is actually very important in terms of both competent control and safety. This applies to pretty much every kind of conveyance, and I learned this as a lad when I was taking flight instruction in gliders. I had the weird habit of contorting my body into odd conformations when flying the plane, until one of my instructors gave me this sage advice: “Stop that.” I was releasing tension by doing gymnastics in the seat, and when I spent time getting really comfortable and secure before takeoff I ended up flying much better, and could do more complex maneuvers with far greater ease.

When it comes to motorcycles, how you seat the bike is even more important than the above example. This becomes a complex task, for how your body is positioned varies pretty dramatically from bike to bike thanks to all the different genres of machines that are out there. Ergonomics vary wildly from dual-sports to cruisers for example, and in addition to getting the right bike for the job it’s important to get what works for your physique (especially if you’re spending long days in the saddle). If you find yourself reviewing bikes for publications, it’s notHedgeSeats unusual to jump from a Ducati race replica to a Fat Boy in the same afternoon, and you quickly learn what your back and backside find more appealing. Do you like leaning forward like a sprinter, or sitting on the couch with the remote in one hand and a beer in the other? Stalwart touring types can ride anything all day, especially when the mileage on their personal physiques is fairly low. I envy these men and women. I used to be one. But even these tarmac jockeys ultimately need something accommodating to sit on.

Regardless of your choice of seating position, the seat you sit on can be critical, and, fortunately, a component you can do something about if it’s not ideal. When it comes to where the body hits the appliance, we’ve seen some serious advancements in the last few years. Just look at how the soft science of memory foam has exploded all over the place, especially when it comes to beds and pillows. The stuff has been around for donkey’s years, but like so many other things modern technology has really advanced the breed not only in the quality of the foams themselves

but production techniques and durability as well. Motorcycle seats have used foam as the cushioning element for nearly as long as helmets have used polystyrene for energy absorption, but it hasn’t always resulted in a good seat. So much of the quality of the saddle has been dependent on the cost of the bike as a whole, for quite often if you buy an inexpensive bike you get an inexpensive seat. But this is, what, the 21st Century? We have more and better choices than we’ve ever had, often from the OEM manufacturers themselves. But here’s the rub: how can you select the perfect seat for your needs? If your stock seat is heated, what about your aftermarket one? In terms of comfort, the choices can vary dramatically from different types of foam, gels, and mixes of several different materials, plus outer covers sheathed in rare hides (velociraptor is a popular choice for some seats, based on the price they’re asking). Designs often can change the contours of the seat itself, too, making it higher or lower when standing which can be critical for riders with more modest inseams.

From the motorcycle makers to a wealth of aftermarket craftspeople, you have a wide number of selections depending on what you’re riding, and the tough part is how you go about picking the best candidate. Like most accessories, you can’t really take a long test ride to find what suits you best (although some makers have generous return policies). Many of the aftermarket saddles are built to order and offer excellent choices in terms of customization, and as such you need to have a good idea in advance what type of saddle will likely be ideal. Tough, I know. But unless your stock seat is perfect (which does happen), you need to carefully isolate what you don’t like about the seat you’re replacing and make sure the new candidate takes care of the problem. This takes some careful evaluation, and this is a place where good communication with the saddle maker is critical because they’ve seen a lot of backsides (?!) and physical types, and it is their profession to know how to help pick the right seat for your needs. Choose wisely, as they say, and be sure to consider what kind of life the seat will have (especially in terms of weather exposure) to select the right exterior material. There are little rain covers for some saddles of course, but I had one of those once and it didn’t work out too well. It’s somewhere in a ditch in a state with two names, I think. It’s all a blur now.

I bring all this up because the right seat is one of those improvements that can make a huge difference to your ride, and something you can appreciate every time you jump on the bike. All the amazing advancements in foams and other fillers may remove hot spots from your sitting position, but if you don’t take the time and effort of checking every detail you may just introduce a new type of irritation. All these choices also can let you express yourself as well, although this type of customization can be dangerous. I have seen what happens if it’s taken too far, and the sight of a particular TourGlide with all the studs, feathers, fringes and strange little cowbells haunts me to this day. To all things, including custom saddles, moderation is indicated.

BillHeald2012
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