Friday, March 11, 2016

Thailand - Comfort seats for our bikes

A brilliant guy, the one not wearing flip flops that is...
Motorcycle seats are crap! So, I've said it. You don't have to agree with it yet, but read on and you'll see what I mean. Motorcycles have been made for well over 100 years. Looking at the technical advances made over the century, I think we can say they have been many and remarkable. What started once as a simple crude design in a wooden frame, has evolved to a screaming super reliable technical marvel (well most have anyway). From the 1930s to the 1960s there were also lots of smaller companies which made improvements for motorcycles or simply offered better products than OEM. Gradually most of these have died out. The remaining ones seem to concentrate on comfort in one form or other, which unfortunately with most motorcycles is still seriously lacking.

The best seat I've had on my Bonneville... ever!
The shape of the seat completely changed, narrow at the front
wider at the rear, new cover... perfect!
These days we pay obscene amounts of money on suspension upgrades, comfort seats, heated everything, carbon look and general bling. Part of this is of course because we love our bikes and therefore are prepared to spend more on it than say the boring car. But should we? Can it be considered 'normal' that already expensive motorcycles are sold with below standard seats and suspension? Would you accept your car salesman telling you that the car you are about to buy comes with crappy furniture... but for a grand more they will install a comfort seat? You'd walk off and go to the next brand, wouldn't you? So why don't we do the same at our local motorbike shop? Theoretically we should say 'Look, you are about to charge me $20,000 for a bike which according to its manufacturer has a non-comfortable seat. Why else would they have an accessory called a 'comfort' seat? I see that as selling a bike which you know isn't good, so replace the seat for the comfort one, but don't charge me any extra for it.'

The seat on my Bonneville has always been poor on comfort, something which has been mentioned in various Triumph forums too. Short trips were fine but longer trips quite painful. The built-in cushion in the Rukka pants works a treat and made it possible to make long rides, as did the gel pad we fitted some 25,000 km ago, but in the end can't compensate for a seat which was gradually getting worse and worse. I had thought several times about having it done up properly but to be honest, the fancy talk and corresponding high prices from the seat upholsterers I talked to made me reconsider. I'm not sure about you but once I see flash displays, polished-up coffee ladies and hear fancy talk... I'm wondering if I'm paying for hot air rather than cushion foam... 

In short: it never happened. By the time we had reached Thailand, I had spend 140,000 km on that 'thing' and seriously hated it. Time to have something done, I thought, and I'm glad I did! Thanks to The Riders Corner in Chiang Mai I found this brilliant guy who upholsters anything. There's no shop, no coffee lady, no display, no bill and no website... All the ingredients of a great business! A true one-man-band with an antique Singer sewing machine, a pair of scissors, various densities of foam and a pair of brilliant hands. I gave him my Bonneville seat, which was relatively speaking simple as all it needed was more comfort... Easier said than done but I'll explain later why it was easier. Biggest problem was the language. He doesn't speak a word of English... with sign language and a simple translation I 'explained' what it was I was after, he nodded and said 'tomorrow' which I took as it would be ready tomorrow...:-) Up until that point I was pretty confident all was clear... until I asked about the costs... which turned out to be less than US$6,- Surely something was wrong here... Removing a seat cover, replacing the foam, shaving it all to shape, raising the seating area and putting it all back together again for 6 dollars? At the same time, it would be hard for him to stuff it up and make it worse than it was now... so what the heck, just do it!

Going back one day later, I couldn't believe what I saw. He had done a superb job. It looked like a Bonneville seat should have been in the first place, perfectly moulded and just superbly done... for less than US$6... Sitting on the seat for just minutes made me realise it not only looks good but is also comfortable... for the first time in 6 years! So guess what? Mike took the even worse seat from his Yamaha and took it there too :-) That needed more work though. Just like the Bonnie, he's sitting on the hard plastic base as the foam is too soft. It had also sagged. The seating area needed widening as well but not the front part of the seat as that's where his legs are when standing on the pegs. We made a drawing of the seat, added what we would like to change, he nodded and we left it in his capable hands.

Again one day later we walked back and arrived just as he was about to start on the seat. Seeing him sitting there on the ground with foam, glue, scissors, a hacksaw blade and an angle grinder was so much better than coffee ladies and other crap. His wife was making dinner in the back, his kids and the cat came out to play too. You can literally see where your money is being spend on: his family. Seeing him at work was an eye-opener too. He made it all look so simple, because his hands are worth gold! He glued a multi-density foam over the old foam, shaped it to size, widened it with a different density foam and then made the basic shape with just a hacksaw blade. Final shaping was done with an angle grinder and then a second layer of foam was glued over it. He then took a non-slip material and made the new cover, all just by hand, no mould, no drawing. Just chalk, scissors and his eyes and hands...!

The end result of all this, as you can see in the photos and video, is a totally different seat. A seat which is now comfortable and worthy of being called a seat. Looking at it made me wonder, how can it be that this man in a tiny little workshop, which is basically the front room of his house as well, can make such a beautiful seat with nothing more than basic tools and his two hands... while a factory like Yamaha and Triumph cannot? I guess they rather sell you the comfort seat for US$400... So what was the outlay for completely changing the Yamaha seat, including a hand made new cover? Well, everyone who has paid lots of money for a comfort seat or having their seat modified by an upholsterer better look away now... He charged me 800 Baht... or 20 US dollars...! In case you'd like to find him and have your seat done up: he's in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where you want to go anyway, and can be found here N18.79315° E98.99350°

The end result, the strap is from the Wolfman tank bag and goes much further forward once the bag is on. A beautifully made seat and cover