It's a Saddle, Not a Couch
Riding with a Bobber Seat
August 13, 2017
The question I get asked more than any other about my bike doesn't have to do with the paint job, the 110 cu (1800+ cc) motor, or the Firestone clone tyres (Avon's). Instead, the most common point of interest relates to the seat in some way, anything from "is that comfortable?" or "how do you do that?" to "fuuuuuck, no ..."
Despite what one might imagine simply by looking at it, it's very comfortable: I ride with it regularly on bad roads, over potholes, gravel washboards, and dirt. I sometimes catch air (usually one wheel at a time – once I got both – and this invariably leads my butt leaving the seat by a few inches). In all cases, the cushion provided by the springs has made for a soft landing and a generally good riding experience.
Now, without question, after riding a couple hundred miles, my butt and thighs really need a break. I'll take 20-30 minutes when I gas up to stretch out. Sometimes, on a bad ride (no scenery change, drowsiness, general low-energy) it takes me a few moments to throw a leg over and get out of the saddle.
Here's the thing, though – as the title of this post says: this is not actually a "seat" in the standard, stock Harley-Davidson sense of the word (certainly not from the perspective of touring riders). This is a saddle in the full-on cowboy, rough-rider sense of the word. In fact, the product page uses that word explicitly. I've you've ever ridden a horse all day, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. If you loved that, you'll love this seat ... even when it hurts :-)
More thoughts below, but here are more pics:
A Philosophy of Experience
Admittedly, I do have a slightly non-standard riding aesthetic: I like it gritty and real. I want to feel the roads, with all their imperfections. I want to smell not only the ponderosa pines and open prairie in bloom, but also the horse and cow manure of passing farms. One isn't good, nor is the other bad – they're just all part of the ride, part of the experience. I'm riding because I love it, because in the modern world it's tough to find authentic, unfiltered, untamed experiences. The bobber saddle definitely provides an untamed, unfiltered experience of the road, in all its glory and imperfections.
This approach has born up well in the last 15,000 miles or so – across all types of land and in all sorts of weather (including light snowfall). The worst dirt roads I've ridden in any vehicle, I've tackled on the bobber seat, not only with no regrets, but with lots of good times and a few good stories :-)
Customizing the Seat
Well, there's not much more to it than leather, steel, and springs. Which means we can tweak two out of three. Meatloaf always said that wasn't bad.
If you're familiar with the H-D saddle, you'll remember it's black ... and the one pictured above looks a little different. I've applied countless layers of two different kinds of leather conditioner and brown heavy-duty dye. I've used brown leather on the rest of the bike and have dyed my chaps and jacket to match those, so it was a natural next step for the seat. I've known guys who chose to reupholster their saddles to get the color of brown they wanted, but the dying route has given me just what I was looking for and at a fraction of the cost (although there was increased initial maintenance and care required).
Incidentally, I never had any dye come off on my pants, even in extreme weather conditions. I think this is largely due to the quality of the dye and leather protection, but also to the manner of application:
- Before dying sessions, I would thoroughly clean the seat.
- Let the dye completely dry for several hours in a 90+F garage,
- Do several rounds of leather protection:
- Bickmore conditioner first (it's much wetter)
- Let it soak in
- Give it a good rub
- Let it dry a bit
- Apply a generous amount of the Red Wing conditioner (thick layer coating the entire surface)
- Let the leather absorb it
- Rub it in for 10 to 15 minutes with an old rag).
After a long ride, I'll use some saddle soap to clean it up a bit. It hasn't needed any more dye this year, and I've only conditioned it once (right before the riding season started). I have had to re-dye my chaps and jacket, though that's expected, since they bear the brunt of the action (no windshield).
The other thing I did to customise the saddle was simply give the springs a coat metallic aged bronze spray paint: can't get more budget than that. Surprisingly, after 4000 miles of riding with that coat, there's only a few dings in the paint, and I only noticed that this week after doing a very close inspection. 🛣
Preferred Leather Products
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