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Rich's Custom Motorcycle Seats

Saddle Sore No More

When you go to a tailor and have a suit fit for you, that's your suit, looks good on you and won't fit many others.  

If you're serious about riding horses you'll also have a custom saddle made, tailored just to your butt.  If you take your motorcycling seriously you might consider doing the same.

Rich O'Connor has been in the business of building custom fit motorcycle seats for over 10 years and has been doing upholstery work for more than a quarter century.  In 2000 O'Connor did 1,080 motorcycle seats, each individually meant for the rider requesting the work.  "When I make a pattern I throw it away when I'm done, it won't fit anyone else" says O'Connor from his shop in Kingston, Washington during a recent fitting session.

There's a practical reason for having your seat redone at a shop like Rich's.  It's not because you need the latest ostrich skin covering, or you want to switch from vinyl to leather.  Though those might be elements you'll incorporate in your final seat, the real purpose for getting your seat redone at Rich's is to get a seat that mimics your shape.  One that contours your body from your waist down to your knees.

(left) Riding a motorcycle in traffic and not being able to touch your feet to the ground can be unsafe.  Having two inches taken out of your seat can solve the problem.  

People who have trouble touching the ground with their feet, or experience some sort of pain during long rides such as sciatica and other bone/nerve related ailments do themselves a favor each time they go into Rich's and have a seat custom designed for them.

(right) The seat on the left is a stock seat for a BMW K75.  The one on the right fits the same bike, but is tailored to the contours of the person who uses it.

The Fitting Session

You begin with a fitting session.  The session lasts around three hours and consists of  O'Connor, having you initially sit on your bike while observing your posture and running through a series of questions about your riding habits, style, desires and needs.

The seat is then removed and the original covering is removed to reveal the manufacturer's original core.  "Motorcycle manufacturers design seats to be used by a wide variety of riders ranging widely in weight and size" point's out O'Connor - "They're not in the business of making seats that fit each individual rider, they're in the business of selling motorcycles, that's what they do."

With the original cover peeled away the seat is placed back on the bike and again the rider sits down.  This time O'Connor circles the bike with a felt marker and begins to mark the foam with measurements which will guide his cuts later.  "Short riders need to be able to get the balls of their feet on the ground so they can have full control of the bike when stopping" he notes.  "I can take about two inches out of most seats and replace them with a gel pad 5/8" thick, giving them the same comfort while allowing them to safely touch the ground."

Now O'Connor takes a light saw, similar to the meat cutter dad might use at Thanksgiving, and begins to cut away at the lines.  Like an artist with a brush in his hand, O'Connor sculpts away.

The next step is to build up the back and sides of the operator area (note the blue foam at left).  This provides lumbar support which is almost unheard of on motorcycle seats.  "But this isn't anything new, it goes back 1000 years ago when saddles were made for riding horses and each was custom fit to the rider" says O'Connor.  "The important thing about coming up with a good seat is being able to distribute the body's weight evenly around as much of the  sitting area as possible."

With the seat built up the rider once again sits on the bike and is observed.  Final changes are done to the foam and sometimes even the seat pan.

The next step is for the rider to select the covering.  Will it be vinyl or leather?  The advantages to vinyl is that requires little care and is less expensive.  The drawbacks are that it leaks at the seams in heavy rain and won't last as long.  

Leather is much the opposite, costing a bit more, needing regular care, but lasting longer and staying dryer as the seems swell and keep water out in the rain.

The Results

Once your seat is done you might notice an incredible change in the way the motorcycle feels and rides and it's likely your confidence rating with the bike with escalate substantially as it did with our test bike.

So can the boyfriend ride the girlfriend's motorcycle when it's done?  Women's seats are considerably different in shape than those for men.  With men's seats space for larger thighs, the presence of testicles and typically larger height are all considerations.  Women's seats can often be slimmer at the front and wider at the rear.  The point in all this is if you have a bike that both of you like to ride, it's worth considering getting a second seat and having each one custom fit.  Imagine a 5'8" 160 pound guy trying to weasel his way into his 5'2" 120 girlfriends custom seat.  Now that's a tight squeeze. 

Another situation O'Connor encounters frequently are men who like to ride with their wallets in their back pocket and want their seat fitted with this in mind - "but I won't do it" he notes.  This habit has been linked time and again to sciatic nerve and other back related ailments.

O'Connor (at left), a rider himself, puts his own work to the test having made seats for about a half dozen motorcycles he owns ranging from American to Japanese and European brands.  He rides an average of 20,000 miles a year, is a member of the Iron Butt Association and plans to do the Coast to Coast ride this year.  His latest toy is a BMW K1200LT, but before he took it for an official spin to Idaho just three days after he got it you can guess what he did - put a custom seat on it.  His other commuting favorite is a BMW K75 and for style there's that 78 Harley with the ostrich upholstery.

"I read every article I can get my hands on about the human anatomy, spinal alignment and anything else that would relate to what I do here"  says O'Connor who enjoys what he does and emanates a passion for his art day after day - "I'd do this for free if I didn't have bills to pay."

Business has been good for O'Connor.  Cranking out over 1,000 seats a year with an average price tag between $350 and $450 can make for a good economic curve, but there is one problem for the 40 something saddle meister "-it cuts into my riding time."  

Individuals from Washington, Oregon and Idaho are his bread and butter, but he also has people travel in from out of state to have seats done - "We recently had a woman fly in from the Midwest, we borrowed a bike from a local dealer for fitting and she brought her own seat in to have it done."  O'Connor also does work for dealers like Eastside and Downtown Harley as well as Patrick Ewing (The Seattle Sonics) and Kenny Bernstein (NHRA Champion).

For more information and to view an extensive gallery of work visit http://www.richscustomseats.com.

TM/Spring 01  


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