Cruising around all day on a motorcycle looks exciting. And most of the time, it is. But it’s not all wind in your hair and adrenaline in your veins. If you’ve ever taken a long-distance ride on a stock motorcycle seat, you’re probably familiar with the squirming, the chafing, the bruised tailbones and the general aches and pains that often result.
How much money did you spend on your bike? Shouldn’t you be comfortable? Isn’t this supposed to be fun? There’s a simple solution to these common problems: get a better seat, or at least add some technology between you and the road.
Whether you’re going all in with a custom motorcycle seat or merely improving the seat you have with a pad or a cushion, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with different choices available. To help you make a decision, let’s take a look at some of the most common options on the market today, along with the pros and cons of each.
Foam Motorcycle Seats and Seat Pads
Even the most basic motorcycle seats use foam as cushioning. In fact, most motorcycle seats consist of a hard, rigid seat pan covered with foam. Foam motorcycle seat pads can be used to add an extra layer of comfort between your body and the bike.
How foam motorcycle seats work: Foam makes you more comfortable because it compresses to conform to your body, and it contains tiny pockets of air to distribute your weight more evenly across the seat. There are various types of foam on the market. Open-cell foam is soft, squishy and absorbent, while closed-cell foam is water-resistant and firm. Memory foam is a type of open-cell foam that conforms to your body quickly and then springs back into its original shape once you move, but it’s temperature sensitive, meaning its get hard when it’s get cold and loses its shape when its gets hard
What’s the right foam for a motorcycle seat? Ideally, it’s like Baby Bear’s bed: not too hard, and not too soft.
The pros: Basic foam motorcycle seats and seat pads are budget-friendly. As far as comfort is concerned, foam is compressible to help spread your weight around.
The cons: Soft foam can be too compressible, so your body still ends up pressed against the hard seat pan, feeling every bump in the road underneath. On the other hand, foam that’s too stiff feels hard to sit on and leaves you sore. Overlay seat pads can also add noticeable height to your motorcycle seat, which isn’t always desirable.
Gel Motorcycle Seat Pads
Gel motorcycle seat pads contain a polymer gel to cushion your body and relieve pressure points.
Pros: Gel pads will relieve some of the pressure and some of the vibration on your rear. Compared to foam, they have a different feel that some riders prefer.
Cons: Gel pads can be heavy, which is a concern if you like to travel with them. They can also hold in heat, which not what you want during the summer. They work better when integrated into the seat instead of placed on top of it. That means a more expensive installation, especially since gel costs more than foam anyway. Finally, some riders find that gel pads don’t offer enough support or cushioning for the money invested.
Airhawk Motorcycle Seat Cushions
How it works: Airhawk motorcycle seat cushions have a cult following among bikers and for a good reason. They use technology initially developed by Robert H. Graebe to prevent pressure ulcers in patients who use wheelchairs: a system of adjustable air cells for customized comfort. If it can keep patients comfortable when they’re stuck in a wheelchair for hours at a time, imagine what it can do for you on your next long ride!
Pros: Airhawk’s Air Cell Technology distributes your weight evenly on the seat and equalizes pressure, preventing painful hot spots from forming. You’re sitting on air, so it’s almost literally like sitting on a cloud.
Even better, it is clinically proven to control vibration and absorbs shock better than any other product on the market, so you’re no longer at the mercy of the pavement when you ride. In fact, thanks to the unique properties of Airhawk, most riders can double their ride times without feeling any discomfort guaranteed .
Cons: Not much. Takes a little experimentation to find the right amount of air for you.
IST (Independent Suspension Technology) is a patented method of motorcycle seat construction developed by Danny Grays inside research and development team. Dany Gray has decades of experience building aftermarket and custom motorcycle seats, and it shows in this thoughtful design.
How it works: Unlike the other items on this list, IST isn’t a material. Instead, it’s a new way to build motorcycle seats. Remember, standard motorcycle seats are made of a hard seat pan covered with a foam cushion. The problem with this is that no matter what you construct the rest of the seat out of, there’s still a hardpan underneath. A hard pan that vibrates with the motion of the bike and bounces up against your sit bones with every bump in the road. A hard pan that results in pressure points, road shock, pinched nerves and other discomforts.
Seats made with IST, on the other hand, have cutouts in the pan, right underneath where your sit bones will be. The cutouts are covered with a flexible membrane, which is then covered by a foam cushion and a cover.
Pros: Instead of resting against a hard seat pan covered in foam, your sit bones are resting against the equivalent of a trampoline. IST protects against road shock, painful pressure points, bottoming out and more. It also improves air circulation, keeping you cool and preventing skin irritations from erupting in some rather unfortunate parts of your anatomy.
Cons: IST is one of the most effective ways to make your bike more comfortable. However, it’s only available in Danny Gray’s aftermarket and custom seats. So, it’s more expensive than buying a seat pad to use with your existing seat.
IST and Airhawk – a killer combination
Did you know that the same company now owns Danny Gray and Airhawk? So, Danny Gray seats with IST also incorporate Airhawk technology. That means riders get the best of both worlds: IST to keep your rear from bouncing against a hard seat pan, and Airhawk’s Air Cell Technology to distribute your weight evenly and prevent painful pressure points. It’s a match made in heaven!