Sunday, January 15, 2012

comfort++ - a custom motorcycle seat!

It's been almost four years since I bought my motorcycle, a 2007 BMW F800ST which we got slightly used in early February of 2008.  In order to ride the bike safely and comfortably, I have been using the stock BMW "extra-low" seat, shown in the picture below.  While it is fine for my commutes, which are generally only 25-45 minutes at a time, longer rides are very uncomfortable because the padding available is quite limited due to the thinness of the seat, as you can see in this picture.

I've been looking at custom seats for quite some time, especially those from Rich's Custom Seats which is local to us in Kingston, but it was not until very recently that it was financially feasible to get one made. I called before Christmas and made the appointment for Saturday, January 14th - it's an all-day affair where I show up with my bike and leave with my custom seat at the end of the day.  So yesterday morning I got up way too early for a Saturday, hopped the ferry over to Kingston, and spent the day watching my new seat get made.

Since I can't ride an F800 (S or ST) without the extra-low seat, I took my original stock height seat with me to be converted to my new custom seat.  That way I still have the extra-low one available to swap out when I get a loaner bike if need be, as depending on how I wire the heating pad in the new seat it might be non-trivial to swap it around from bike to bike.  The first step along the way was for the craftsman working on my seat to strip off the cover and then Rich took a look at how it fit me - not well, as you can tell that from the picture below that I can't even get my feet down to the ground!  I can't even get the bike off the kickstand with a regular seat height...

The craftsman carved out a lot of the foam, added some better foam for shaping purposes, and there were two more short sessions with me on the bike to determine the fit that was required.

Once all of the measurements were complete and the seat fit was where it needed to be, the next step was to put in the gel pad and the heated insert.

After all of the modifications to the seat were complete, it was covered in a glued-down fabric, and was finally ready for the leather covering to be made.

While waiting between fittings, I looked through the leather options available with the help of another one of the craftsmen working there, and picked out a lovely purple leather.  It's a rich plummy sort of color, not quite the bright royal purple that is my favorite shade, but I think it looks great on the bike.

Yay for purple leather!

The shop has quite a few industrial sewing machines around, as a location that does custom upholstery would be expected to have, and it was very cool to see them being used.  This one was used by Rich himself (and is off-limits to everyone else!) to sew my seat cover from the purple leather shown above.  The craftsmen make patterns for each seat and then cut the pieces from the hide to match, but I won't describe it any further in case it is a trade secret.  It's pretty cool though!

Sewing the seat cover together - he used a dark grey thread to match my bike and French seams as the construction method.

Adding the vinyl edging for attaching the cover to the seat itself.  The vinyl has a cloth backing that helps the staples hang on to the seat much more strongly than if the leather was just stapled directly onto the seat backing.  No vinyl is visible on the finished seat.

View of the underside of the cover, showing the French seams and the pretty suede side of the leather - it wouldn't wear very well, but it sure would be pretty to have that as the outer surface!  They also had several options for piping available, but Rich steered me away from them since piping can add another way for water to wick into the inside of the seat (or be directed in an annoying way).  Given that I ride year-round in all weather, that would be bad!

I didn't watch the final seat construction, when the cover is stretched over the seat form and then stapled in place, but here is the finished seat in the shop!  I only took these two pictures at the shop because I wanted to make the next ferry back home in hopes of getting home before dark and before the snow got any worse.

When I got to the ferry I ended up riding over with a group of Harley riders from a motorcycle club, and that was pretty entertaining.  They were pretty enthused that I'd just gotten a custom seat from Rich and had to check it out while we were waiting on the ferry.

The snow during the day was not too bad on the roads, though there was some slush on the ramp between I-5 N and I-405 S, so I was doing fine until I got home.  I kept it very slow down the last street to my house, but our driveway had a good 2" of wet heavy slushy snow covering it.  I did not even try to back in the bike, but instead kept my feet down and let gravity move me a tiny bit at a time while riding the brakes - and I still almost dumped it twice as the wheels skidded.   Those are not good tracks to leave behind...though it's better than a sideways skid on the side of the fairing, I suppose!

Once the bike was safely inside the garage, I took a few more pictures showing the seat against the bike, and a close-up of some of the seaming.

I'm really happy with my seat so far, it was very comfortable for my short ride home from Kingston although my seating position is a little different that what I'm used to.  I am looking forward to getting a chance to do some longer fun rides this year - and hopefully now I won't want to cut them short like I did last year!

1 comment:

julie said...

Please give a couple of updates on pros and cons of the new seat when the snow lets up there.
I have a low suspension f800st with low (not extra low) seat. I can just flatfoot with 2.5inch heeled boots, so I don't have to get another saddle, but I am looking into it.