The Road to Comfort and the ATOMIC Theory
"For all the happiness mankind can gain, is not in pleasure but in rest from pain."
-- John Dryden 1631-1700
Do you find yourself speeding from one rest stop to the next? After 250 miles of a two-day ride, do the words "Lincoln Continental" make your mouth water? Obviously, long-distance motorcycle riding should not be that brutal. On the other hand, most would agree that some degree of discomfort on long rides is not only to be expected, it is actually a unique part of the experience. Hence, the joy of arriving. It is important to realize that total comfort on extended rides (3-6 hours) may never be obtained. Let's face it, even in an automobile, with its large spring-suspended foam seat, discomfort can set in within only a few hours. By contrast, a motorcycle seat, with its small seating surface, severely limits movement and has a less dynamic solid foam suspension. That's the bad news. The good news is that diligent comfort seekers, armed with the right information, can be rewarded handsomely.
To be successful, you must first put discomfort in perspective. How much discomfort is too much discomfort, and can something be done to extend comfortable riding time? Since there isn't one solution that works for everyone, a clear understanding of the contributing factors is essential.
Introducing the ATOMIC Theory - the Advanced Theory Of Maximum Integrated Comfort. Its purpose is to help explain the various causes of riding discomfort, define limitations, and recommend possible solutions.
According to the ATOMIC Theory, three major factors contribute to the level of comfort that can be obtained on any given motorcycle:
- Forced ergonomic position
- Size and shape of the seating platform
- Type of padding suspension
Examining each of these factors can provide valuable clues for potential improvements in comfort.Forced Ergonomic Position. First, let's look at the riding position itself. The physical relationship between the foot pegs, handlebars, and the seat on any given motorcycle forces the rider into a specific seating position known as the forced ergonomic position. This position can virtually define all motorcycle types, and can have a profound effect on seating comfort.
For instance, the cruiser, with its high, back-swept handlebars, forward pegs, and low slung seat, forces the rider into a reclined position. Reclined doesn't necessarily mean comfortable. This reclined position causes all of the driver's body weight to be focused on the base of the spine. And, unlike some other motorcycle configurations, cruisers typically have a bucket-shape or "locked-in" seat which prohibit the driver from changing positions on long rides (moving front to back). Additionally, some cruisers suffer from a foam that is too soft and bottoms out. High quality foam and proper foam shape are critical for improving comfort on these bikes. Also, installing handlebars that force the driver to sit more upright or even lean forward can also reduce this pressure.
Many cruisers can be dramatically improved by installing a high-quality, closed-cell foam configured with a wider more supportive shape, or purchasing an aftermarket seat with these attributes built in. This can relieve the pressure at the base of the spine and result in a more even distribution of pressure over a greater area. In fact, this is the principle design approach used by quality aftermarket seat manufacturers to improve comfort.
Standard and touring motorcycles are defined by a neutral or upright seating position. While less severe than the cruiser, the weight is still concentrated on the driver's rear-end. Except for most touring models, these bikes often have relatively flat seats, allowing the driver to freely change positions front to back. Of course, good foam suspension is important and, like on the cruiser, foam that is too soft and bottoms out can be a problem. Modifying seat contours to better suit the driver and/or modifying the handlebars may also be beneficial.
Many find the sport touring configuration to be the best long-distance ride you can buy. These models force the driver to lean forward a little more, distributing some of the pressure from the rear-end to the arms and legs. In addition, some of these models feature a long, flat seat, allowing plenty of room to shift positions on long rides (front to back movement). Ergonomics are typically excellent on these models but, as with all models, foam that is too soft, lacks good suspension and a proper supportive shape can shorten comfortable riding time. A quality aftermarket seat, or making custom changes to an existing seat can result in dramatic improvements.
Helpful hints to improve long-distance comfort:
- Consider the overall ergonomics of the motorcycle you select and that is in sync with your comfort objectives.
- Try to select a motorcycle and seat that allow for some front to back movement. Some OEM seats can be modified to increase this range of movement.
- Many OEM "standard" and "sport" style motorcycles are designed with a forward slope that can constantly push the rider forward into the tank and limit front to back position changes. This can often be corrected through custom foam alterations if needed.
- Consider a seat upgrade, either a replacement seat or stock seat modifications that addresses poor padding and/or poor shape.
- Last, but not least - consider your riding wear. Pants (especially underwear) with seams in the wrong places can pinch, move or otherwise migrate sometimes causing significant discomfort. Many serious long-distance riders wear form fitting, seamless type underwear specifically designed for motorcycling or biking.
Of course, sport bikes live and breathe for the race track, or at least a good twisty mountain road. Their precision handling is due in part to positioning the driver's upper body and arms almost directly over the front wheel. The resulting forward-lean angle transfers much of the driver's rear-end pressure to the upper arms and wrists. Because the forward reach to the handle bars is combined with rear-set pegs, front to back movement can be limited. It is also common for these bikes to have a crowned, forward sloping seat having very centralized pressure. While this may be beneficial for short stints on the track, it can be extremely uncomfortable for commuting or longer rides.
Some of the most common changes on this model type involve improving foam quality, incorporating a more supportive foam shape (slightly cupped instead of crowned) and changing angles of the seating platform to eliminate the forward slope. These improvements can be achieved by changing to a quality aftermarket seat or customization of an existing seat.
Size and Shape of the Seating Platform. The second major factor involving comfort is the size and shape of the seating platform. Changing contours to better suit the driver can do wonders. For example, a motorcycle designed for a shorter driver can be modified for a taller driver by changing the seat contour to allow the driver to sit further back and extend his legs into a more accommodating position. In addition, many stock seats suffer from a forward slope, causing the driver (and sometimes passenger) to be constantly pushed forward. Simply leveling the seating platform(s) "front to back" can eliminate this annoying problem. This change can be made on a custom basis and is almost always included on a quality aftermarket seat.
Crown vs Dish: Most stock seats suffer from a "crowned" shape that centralizes pressure and creates discomfort. Widening and "dishing" (or "cupping") the seat platform allows for a better distribution of pressure over a greater area, and it can dramatically improve comfort. That's the reason this feature is employed in most quality aftermarket seats. This change can also be made to many stock seats on a custom basis. Widening is usually limited to only one inch beyond the existing width edge of the seat pan. While "dishing out" redistributes pressure from the center spine area to the outer buttocks, it is usually most effective on seats already 12" in width or more.
Type of Padding Suspension. Ideally, padding or foam suspension should behave like springs by absorbing shock and providing continuous support. All mass-produced stock motorcycle seats have injection-molded, open-cell polyfoam suspension. If this foam is too soft, it can lose its air suspension, become fully compressed, and bottom out. Its suspension value is lost. Road shocks and vibrations are then transferred directly to the driver's bum - ouch!
A good, high-quality foam installed into the seat can improve this situation. While this material may seem firmer, it doesn't become hard under a full load and continues to absorb road shocks and vibrations.
SUPER CELL ATOMIC FOAM
Super Cell Atomic Foam is our own unique and proprietary blend of resilience, firmness, and vibration-absorption qualities - making it well suited for maximum long distance comfort. In sheet form, it is designed to be installed into the upper 2" of a stock motorcycle seat. Its high-tech construction permanently traps air inside each cell, giving it a dynamic, spring-like suspension quality. For custom applications, Super Cell can be installed in either the original seat shape or customized to meet individual specifications.
|Super Cell Closed-Cell Foam:
- Will not bottom out under a full load.
- Gently conforms to your anatomy over time.
- Excellent shock absorption qualities.
- Does not retain heat (unlike gel products).
- Is extremely lightweight.
- Is available for do-it-yourself installation in sheet form.
There are as many possible changes to seat shape as there are types of people, and this can be a trial & error process. Custom foam alterations require careful thought, and experimentation may be necessary. (For more information on this, see our Foam Alteration Guide and our Custom Foam Alteration Policy.)
Before embarking on any custom modifications to an existing seat, Sargent always recommends exploring the availability of a ready-made, aftermarket replacement seat first, such as our World Sport Performance Seat line for sport and adventure touring models or Mustang brand seats for American and Metric cruisers (also available through Sargent). These seats have been designed for maximum comfort on specific models and are offered with a money back guarantee from Sargent.
Obviously, comfort can be a very complex issue with many variables. The ATOMIC Theory suggests that improved comfort can often be obtained by using a properly designed aftermarket seat, customizing an existing seat, changing handlebars or even choosing a bike better suited to your riding style.
The road to comfort is often an exploration. Remember, long rides should be an adventure. Frequent stops are good for the body and soul. Plan well, take your time, and enjoy the ride.
- Mark Todd, President, Sargent Cycle Products