The value of customizing a motorcycle seat - Victory Forums - Victory Motorcycle Forum
 
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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 10-18-2013, 11:52 AM Thread Starter
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Location: Austin, Texas
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Default The value of customizing a motorcycle seat

I have been planning to sell my Honda VTX 1800 to satisfy an urge to do a project based on a Victory Vegas 8 Ball, but it looks to me now like I should wait until The Spring (when the market generally improves quite a bit) to make the trade. So, I decided to pursue the last item of perfection on my VTX: a mild customization of my existing Danny Gray “ShortHop” seat.

The ShortHop seat, as the name implies, is targeted at riders who want a very sleek look coupled with a very low seat-to-ground height, and is ideal for riders who go cruising but not touring. It sacrifices a bit of longer-ride comfort to achieve both the sleek look and low seat height, so for touring, you’d probably want a plusher, but not as sleek, seat.

The seat has worked really well for me, but there are a couple of improvements I wanted:

- I wanted a bit more protection against the really ugly road bumps (e.g. abrupt ridges, deep potholes), as the really awful ones send a jolt into my spine

- Since I have only a 30” inseam, and am under 5’9” in height, the “pocket” location in the Danny Gray Shorthop places me just maybe an inch further rearward than I would like. Moving me forward would improve the ergonomics with my Baron Xtreme dragbar and my Supreme Legacy forward controls, and enable me to also better resist the wind at higher speeds

- I could afford to add a bit of seat height if I needed to in order to achieve these objectives, as the Danny Gray seat sits low enough that even with my 30” inseam, I can very comfortably plant my feet on the ground with height to spare

- The VTX is tail heavy without a rider on it, and even more so with a rider on it, so moving the riding position forward a bit would be a plus from a handling perspective

“Steelhorse Bob” here in metro Austin, Texas recently ran an ad on Craigslist, offering custom seats and seat customization. Since he was only about an hour away from where I live, I rode over there yesterday, and explained my objectives.

Bob has been making and modifying motorcycle (and car and boat) seats for over 30 years, so he has a very experienced eye. He had me sit on my bike, on level ground, and noted my relationship to the bike’s controls and the current seat shape. He very quickly suggested that I consider having him install a “gel insert” to help take the “ouch” out of the most ugly bumps, and to make normal riding even more pleasant. But more significantly, he said he could see as a careful observer, that the seat pocket on the ShortHop was both too large for me and too far back, and did not provide any support to my lower back. So, he felt that inserting a wedge of stiff foam into the seat, that would move me forward, would help quite a bit. He shot me an acceptable price for this kind of specialized customization, and here’s the kicker: if I agreed, he could do the job right then, while I waited, within about an hour and a half. I went for it!

Bob said I could watch the whole process, so I asked him if I could photograph the process steps, and post about it on my favorite motorcycle forums. Despite the fact that there may be some methods that he has developed himself for his use, he was willing to share. In fact, he told me he briefly participated in a disabled veterans program where the Federal Government paid him to train returning disabled vets how to do this work, so that they would have a skill and could make a good living! That program unfortunately got cut by the current administration.

So, armed only with my iPhone camera, I tried to capture the entire process, so that those of you who are interested can follow along and see the “inside” story on a customized seat. Here we go:

First, in the following photo, Bob is shaping separate pieces of half-inch thick gel into a gel insert that he will insert into my existing seat foam:



Normally, Bob would use a one piece gel insert, but he had run out of gel inserts due to demand, and getting more would take a few days, and we really wanted to do my seat today. He assured me that this gel gets glued into place anyway, and would reliably act as “one piece” despite being composed of multiple pieces.

This gel is fairly high test: It is a “semi-solid” so it will not “leak” if pierced, separate pieces like to “attach” to each other, and of course, it makes sitting far more comfortable. In fact, Bob tells me this same foam is used in hospitals under patients with bed sore tendency, in order to prevent bed sores.


Here, Bob is removing the seat cover from my seat, by first peeling back the bottom cover, and then drilling out the top (vinyl and leather) cover rivets, using a special tool that holds the rivet head steady against rotating while he drills the rivet out:





Once he had the top seat cover off, he was able to verify what he had told me earlier: my Danny Gray seat has a real leather seating area, in the area where the rider sits. I did not know this – I thought the entire seat was vinyl. I do not recall the Danny Gray website saying it has a leather rider seating area.

Here, the seat foam has been exposed, ready for modification:





Here, the foam is being marked to show the boundaries of where a trench will be cut into it, to a half inch depth, to receive the gel insert:





Here, Bob has placed the seat into the “Foam Monster”:





The Monster is an enclosed chamber, with vacuum cleaner attached, that enables Bob to rout out the trench in the seat foam without getting foam all over the shop!


Here, Bob is routing out the trench. Prior to using the router, he cut a narrow “boundary trench” by HAND, with a sharp knife tool, just inside the marked trench boundaries, to ensure that his router does not accidentally enlarge the trench beyond the desired boundaries.





During the routing, I noticed that Bob wears cowboy spurs:





This is not a style affectation – he actually uses them as he rides a horse regularly at his ranch. The spurs are also a subtle reference to “Cowboy Church” in Liberty Hills, Texas, where Bob became a Believer some time back, after not stepping into a church for about 3 decades prior to that. That is itself a wonderful story that he told me while he worked. (He used to hang out with “The Bandidos” motorcycle club)

continued below . . .
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 10-18-2013, 11:53 AM Thread Starter
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Here’s the trench being readied to receive the gel insert:





Here, Bob has placed the gel insert into the trench:





Here, Bob is marking the dense foam insert prior to cutting it. This insert is made of a much more “firm” foam, and its purpose is to push me about an inch further forward, to improve my sitting position on the bike:





Here the dense foam has been shaped, and then covered by a half inch layer of foam that also covers the gel insert, and that half inch layer of foam has also been shaped to fit the lines of the seat properly:





The foam under the top cover also needs to be protected against water, so that it does not get saturated every time it rains! Otherwise, you’d have a wet butt for a LONG time after each rain storm! So, Bob replaces the clear waterproof layer that was damaged during removal of the top seat cover, back at the start of this entire process:





Here, Bob is re-riveting the original seat cover onto the reshaped seat, using the original rivet holes in the seat:





Finally, Bob is regluing the bottom cover back onto the seat:





Finally, here is what the finished customized seat looks like:





Note the stitch border area between the leather seating surface and the vinyl balance of the seat, at the rear of the rider’s seating area. This stitching is located in front of the minimalist passenger seating area. Originally, that stitching was perhaps a quarter inch in front of the passenger seating area. Now, it is about an inch and a quarter in front of the passenger seating area. So, my sitting position has been moved forward about an inch. Since the fuel tank prevents extending the seat any further forward at the front edge of the rider’s seating area, the “bucket” the rider sits in has therefore also been made slightly shorter.

So, how well does this reshaped seat work for me? Well, rather well!

As soon as I sat on it, I felt something that I had never felt before on any motorcycle seat: there was a nicely shaped “pocket” that I fit naturally into, and that actually supports my lower back, much like a back rest sometimes attempt to do, but does it even better, because it is UNDER and BEHIND me, not just behind me.

And, the pocket is now about one inch further forward than the original pocket, making my fit with the bars and foot controls better than it was.

The pocket is now also about an inch shorter front to back, so I feel more firmly located and attached to the bike. The fit feels much less “loose” than it did. This is hard to describe, but if you ever feel the same thing, you will know what I am talking about. It greatly improves the way I can handle the bike, probably because it has the same effect as reducing suspension play or chassis wobble.

As for the impacts from bumps, they are GREATLY attenuated by the gel insert. I am running my heavy duty Progressive Model 812 HD Double Cut 11.5 inch Shocks (part no. 812-4230CDC), which are stiff to begin with, in the middle of the 5-point adjustment range, and the ride is great. A lot easier on the spine.

I am actually rather amazed at how some customization, done in an hour and a half, has improved an already good seat into one that is, well, just a LOT better. I had previously customized the bike a lot (e.g. bars, foot controls, “tilt” lowering where I dropped the front of the bike more than the rear, elimination of the 1700 to 2200 rpm engine “shaking”) and had felt those beneficial changes immediately, but the magnitude of the improvements brought by this seat customization still surprised me.

Based on this experience I would advise other riders to at least consider whether a customized seat might have that kind of impact for them.

Jim G
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