Aftermarket Motorcycle Seat Buyer's Guide
We scoured the web to get everything that goes into making a high-quality aftermarket motorcycle seat, and put it in one place! Before you invest in your new seat, get all the details here in this Buyer's Guide. Your butt deserves better!
There really are seats for every style imaginable! But we break down the basics in what goes into making them.
What To Look For When Buying An Aftermarket Seat
A new motorcycle seat not only radically modifies the look of your bike, but totally changes your riding experience as well. With all the options available to you, the most important thing to determine is your goal; based on your personal style, riding habits, and budget, what do you want to accomplish with your new seat? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to refine your search during the process:
- Are you mainly looking to make a style statement, or looking for overall functionality and comfort?
- What kind of riding do you mainly do? How many miles do you ride, and how much at a time?
- Do you need the support of a deeper/wider seat, or does the stock profile work well for you?
- Do you ever ride with a passenger? If so, how often?
- Can you easily place your feet on the ground sitting on the stock seat?
- Are you crowded too far forward, or stretched too far backward, with the current seat configuration?
- Does your bike ever see wet or harsh weather? Is it stored inside or outside?
Seat Cover, or Complete Seat?
A new seat cover changes the look of the bike while keeping everything else the same. Some assembly is required!
If your stock seat is still in good condition, and the configuration works for you (you’re positioned well on the bike, and not uncomfortable throughout your rides), you might be better off changing just the seat cover rather than the whole seat.
By keeping the stock hardware and swapping out only the “skin” of the seat, you'll save money while changing the look and keeping the same riding position. These kits are simple to install, by just removing the stock cover (they’re usually stapled on) and stapling the new one into place.
If you’re only looking for an improvement to the comfort of a firm seat, and the appearance isn’t your main priority, you may want to explore getting just a seat pad. This the best option for someone on a budget who doesn’t want to modify the stock hardware. Seat pads, made of air cushions, foam, or gel, simply lay over the top of your existing seat for extra comfort on long rides.
Read through this guide to see all the benefits of a complete seat, and then check out some of our seat cover kits or seat pads if you think this will be right for you instead.
Complete Aftermarket Seats
Getting a new seat can radically change the look of your bike, the support it gives, your riding position, and your overall comfort level. This innovative design is the Explorer G-Tech seat from Saddlemen
For the large number of riders who do not find their stock seat comfortable and insists on the highest quality upgrades for their bike, the best solution is a completely new aftermarket seat, and there are a lot of big benefits to investing in one. There are several aftermarket seat manufacturers that design and build great-looking, high-quality seats completely in house, such as Mustang, Saddlemen, Roland Sands Design, Le Pera, Drag Specialties, and more.
In this section we’ll go into the process involved in building an aftermarket seat so you can see the materials, craftsmanship, and quality that you’re really investing in, and what distinguishes them from the seat that came on your bike from the manufacturer.
Anatomy of a Motorcycle Seat
Motorcycle seats are made up of three essential parts: the baseplate (also called a pan), the foam (also called a cushion), and the cover. The following describes these three basic seat components:
Mustang is known for high-quality, handmade seats; here, a technician crafts a steel baseplate.
The baseplate is the foundation of the design of a motorcycle seat. Ideally, the baseplate is designed to mount the motorcycle using the exact same mounting holes or brackets as the stock seat.
Most stock seats (and some less expensive aftermarket seats) are built on plastic baseplates, which are cheap to build but less sturdy than other materials. Higher quality baseplates used by aftermarket manufacturers are made of stronger materials, like gel-coated marine-grade fiberglass or powder-coated steel.
Seats are either constructed on a single baseplate or a two-piece baseplate. On a two-piece baseplate, the passenger portion can be attached for two-up riding, or separated to ride solo.
These photos show the process from stamped steel blanks to finished, powder coated baseplates at Le Pera.
Whether your new custom seat is built on a fiberglass or steel baseplate, be sure to look for the following features:
- Any exposed brackets should be finished (i.e. chrome plated or powder coated)
- Polyurethane or rubber bumpers should be strategically located on the baseplate to protect the paint and reduce vibration
- The edge of the cover material should be hemmed/stitched
- The cover should be riveted to the baseplate at close intervals around the edges. (Most stock seat covers are merely stapled on.)
- Although not readily visible, look for seats with impact-absorbing vinyl-edge secured to the edges of the baseplate, to protect the seat cover material from wearing
- A label specifying what make/model/year of bike the seat is made for along with the manufacturer's contact information.
- Complete installation information
The most important component of a motorcycle seat, but probably the most overlooked, is the foam inside it. And not just the shape of the foam; more importantly, its characteristics, composition and overall quality.
At high-end seat manufacturers, an experienced seat designer will usually hand-sculpt the initial shape of the foam for each type of bike and seat style. Once the foam shape is created, a heavy-duty fiberglass mold is created so the shape can be mass produced. A liquid foam solution is poured into the mold and chemical solidifying agents are added, and within minutes the foam seat cushion is created.
Craftsmen at Mustang show the process of molding and trimming polyurethane seat foam.
For a motorcycle seat to be comfortable, the foam compound must be carefully formulated to be soft enough for comfort, but resilient enough to stand up to the punishment of long-distance rides. Most high-end seat manufacturers use their own proprietary formulas of controlled-density polyurethane or polyethylene foam.
While "soft" is often synonymous with "comfortable," this isn't true of motorcycle seats. A soft seat doesn’t retain its shape and provides no support. Then again, an overly firm seat can feel like a piece of plywood. Both are uncomfortable, and both can also be harmful to your back. First-rate seat foam used in high quality seats usually feels firmer than stock, but it shouldn't feel hard; it should have some give for comfort, while remaining supportive.
In addition, there should be no extended break-in period before you are comfortable. A new motorcycle seat should compress and mold itself to your body shape within the first 15 minutes. The first ride should be as comfortable as the hundredth, and the foam should retain its shape and support for years.
Are Gel Cushions Better Than Foam?
One common question is about the use of gel in place of, or in addition to, foam. Gel displaces rather than compresses like foam; if you push down firmly on gel, it doesn't compress; rather, it changes its shape. Both mold to your shape and absorb shock, but in different ways.
Gel is usually more suitable for very high-pressure, thin applications in a limited area such as in bicycle seats or the soles of your shoes. To be fully supported and comfortable all day, high-quality foam is the go-to choice (although some manufacturers like Saddlemen incorporate gel inserts into the high pressure areas of foam seats.)
A craftsman at high-end manufacturer Le Pera wraps a seat in a handmade, custom stitched cover.
Most stock motorcycle seats are made with a covering of molded vinyl, which is usually stretched over the foam pad and simply stapled on. The benefit of this construction is that they are waterproof; the drawback is that they don’t have a perfect fit over the contours of the cushion, and wrinkles or bulges may appear as a result.
Like a tailored suit or custom upholstery in a car, well-designed covers on aftermarket seats are measured precisely, assembled meticulously, and sewn tightly to fit the contours of the cushion profile for a high-quality custom fit. The best aftermarket seats are individually assembled and stitched together by hand.
As far as materials used in seat cover construction, the most popular are leather (or suede) and vinyl, and there is a range of quality within each category.
- Leather: More expensive than vinyl, but has a richer feel and can be dyed and customized in unlimited ways. Consider what conditions your bike will see, where it will be stored, and the maintenance leather needs if you’re thinking about going with a leather seat. Leather is beautiful and durable, but be aware that the color and finish will change as it wears and ages.
- Vinyl: Many major aftermarket manufacturers build seats with a vinyl cover. Depending on the quality, vinyl can be surprisingly similar to leather (so similar, in fact, that premier auto makers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz now use vinyl instead of real leather in most of their vehicles.) High-quality vinyl has the appearance of leather, but with the durability and resistance to the elements of your stock seat. Maintenance shouldn't ever be an issue with a premium vinyl; just wipe it clean when you wash your bike.
Vinyl bears an incredible resemblance to leather, but needs no special care. This one is from Roland Sands Design.
Whether the seat you have your eye on has a cover made of leather or vinyl, look for the following features on the cover of a quality seat:
- Seams should use heavy duty stitching, or be double-stitched for strength
- The bottom edge under the seat that is attached to the baseplate should be hemmed
- Pillow top seats should be tufted with covered buttons, and secured with four cords instead of two for extra durability
- Stitching should be evenly spaced, uniform and tight
Motorcycle Seat Backrests
The Mustang "Wide Tripper" seat with driver backrest, in distressed brown. Note the hinge to swing the backrest down.
The more you ride, the more you realize that having a comfortable seat means comfort for your back as well as your butt. If you ride long distances or tend to have back problems, a touring-style seat with a supportive backrest is one of the best upgrades you can do.
The best option if you want a backrest is to buy a complete unit with the backrest integrated into it from the manufacturer. Ideally, the backrest should have heavy-duty supports built into it for sturdiness, be adjustable on the fly without tools, and should fold forward for ease of getting onto the bike.
In other cases, backrests will be sold separately, as an add-on to a complete seat. These usually simply slide or click into place on compatible units. They are great if you want the ability to roll with or without a backrest depending where you’re going, but you will lose some of the sturdiness and adjustability of an integrated unit.
Passenger backrests follow the same logic; there are fixed, adjustable, and detachable configurations available, depending on what you need. One added benefit to a passenger backrest - even if you generally don’t carry a passenger - is that they are also a great way to secure luggage to your bike.
Find Your Own Perfect Seat
Investing in a motorcycle seat is a big decision; as one of only three places where your body interfaces with the bike (hand controls, foot controls, and seat), trying to make a decision and find that "perfect seat" for you can be a little intimidating.
Hopefully, this information has given you some insight on what to look for in a motorcycle seat, and all the options the market has to offer. Most of these seats are not inexpensive, but with a look at what goes into making them, you can see why; a great deal of research, top-of-the-line materials, and high-quality craftsmanship goes into making these seats, and the majority of the process is done by hand.
The key thing about upgrading your seat is that you're investing in one of the few mods that will completely change your riding experience, drastically modify the look of your bike, and - most importantly - last many, many years.
The seats and brands featured in this article are just a tiny fraction of all the different looks, styles and brands we carry on our site. To browse our seats, make sure to visit our Online Motorcycle Seat Store, where you can narrow your search for exactly the seats that will be a direct fit to your bike using our Parts Picker Tool!
The "perfect motorcycle seat" is different for every one - that's the beauty of having choices!
Got any more questions? Call our helpful Customer Service department at 888-339-3888 for more information on these or any other products we carry!