What a sight. Grown men dismount their motorcycles and can barely stand up straight. They hobble about as they work through the body pain that inevitably follows a long bike rally.
The problem is not the motorbike. The usual suspect is the seat: substandard design, structure and materials cause back pain, saddle sores and the proverbial butt burn from slipping forward.
Dave Kenney knows the sight and the pain all too well. He would mount his Yamaha Stratoliner to go for a ride and within an hour need to get off because his tailbone hurt so bad. After a rest, he’d get back on the bike, but this time he could ride for only 45 minutes before the pain returned. Each time he re-mounted he was rewarded with diminished returns. "I was one of those guys you’d see walking around funny."
But not anymore. These days when Kenney, director of maintenance for an aircraft repair facility in Maryland, gets on his bike his only complaint is the size of the gas tank. "I wish the gas tank was bigger. With this new seat I can get on and ride for hours with no pain."
Kenney found a cure for the common problem of post-tour body aches when he joined an online motorcycle forum. Every time he signed on some other ‘Wild Hog’ was raving about the Ultimate Seat. Finally, curiosity and lower back pain got the better of him. He decided to test the raves against reality. He bought the four-piece set, which includes a driver’s seat, passenger seat and two back rests. What the heck, he also sprung for the rain covers. No more "numb bum" for Kenney and his wife Sharon.
"There’s no comparison with the other seats I’ve tried. It sounds ridiculous, but there’s no pain and none of this having to walk around stretching my back. I basically ride until I need fuel," says the 50-something biker who joined the ranks of Easy Riders in 1972.
Biker Back Solution
Not long ago Ultimate Seats founder Des Hockley was just like all his customers: a biker with a back ache. He was on intimate terms with "butt burn," a common problem that is caused by flat or forward-angled seats. The design causes the rider to slip forward. As a result, riders constantly feel the need to pull themselves back into the saddle, and this puts pressure on muscles and skin.
Hockley also experienced the lower back problems that are caused by incorrect seat shapes and lack of back support. Lower back pain is insidious because it often radiates into severe neck and shoulder pain as the upper body attempts to compensate for poor posture. All forced upon riders by lousy seats.
In 2002 Hockley decided to take action after testing several of the most popular aftermarket seats with somewhat unsatisfying results. His experiment began by modifying stock seats. He eventually built his own seat after coming up with parameters that he pronounced "perfectly comfortable."
"At that stage all my buddies tried my seat and everyone wanted one for their bikes. So I started making a few for friends and then it just multiplied from there," says the man who would be free of saddle sores.
Ultimate Seats now designs many saddles for a variety of touring bikes. But it started by focusing on the Honda Valkyrie. Tom Wright calls the Honda "The best touring bike I’ve ever owned." Although the bike is now out of production, Wright and his wife Sondra still rides his – with the four-piece Ultimate Seat he bought in 2002.
"Comfort is safety, because if you’re not at ease you’re not safe. When I sat on somebody else’s bike with the Ultimate Seat, the comfort was so much better than everything else I’d used, I knew I had to buy one," says the 64-year-old Atlanta resident, who has been a motorcycle owner for 30 years. "I can unequivocally say they are worth every dime. A heated seat is the only thing I can think of that could improve the product for people in northern parts of the country."
Wright estimates he has put 25,000 miles on his Honda since buying the seat. One of his favorite long rallies began in downtown Chicago, covered every mile of the infamous and historic Route 66 and ended in Santa Monica, CA. "We had all kinds of bikes in the rally – Honda Gold Wings, Harleys, Yamahas, even a Triumph. I was the only one with this seat. When we’d stop after a five-hour day, the actions of the other riders made me believe that my level of tired was much less than theirs."
Butt Memory Takes Shape
Hockley’s company has developed "memory" foam for its products that has an optimal compression rate for the comfort of the rider. Whereas most standard seats have only a half-inch of compression, Hockley’s products allow for a half-inch followed by some additional compression during the ride. This allows the seat to truly take the shape of the rider’s butt. The seats also come with a unique filling material.
When creating a comfortable motorcycle seat, Hockley says the shape is very important. Most stock seats are either flat or slope forwards. The Ultimate products are sloped back, creating an optimal "move angle" for the rider with adequate side clearance for the rider’s inner thighs. Equally important: with Hockley’s invention, the rider sits in the seat, not on it; and back support is included for both rider and passenger.
The back support is part of what saved Kenney’s 6′ 7" physique from agony. "With a stock seat, the curvature of the bike would curve my tailbone under me. Since I was quite far back on the seat, I was basically sitting on my tailbone."
When ordering his package, Kenney told customer service that it was also imperative that his body not move forward on the seat. The sales person recommended a mount bracket that was best suited for his height. He was impressed. "They made sure nothing they sold me was going to push me forward in the seat. It was like they measured me for the seat."
Kenney can’t understand why major motorcycle manufacturers can’t figure out how to make a better seat. If they want feedback, all they need to do is join his and other online biker forums. "You’ve got several hundred customers with the same product, talking back and forth, giving each other tips. It’s incredible the kind of stuff you learn."
Wright agrees. "I hope Des gets the recognition he deserves. He truly has a great product. I’d put it up against anything I’ve seen out there. I know that a lot of fellow Valkyrie and Gold Wing riders love the seats."