Why are motorcycles with factory produced, comfortable, supportive saddles such rare things? Too skinny, too soft, too hard, too lacking in support and so on. Why is that? The realist in me says that it’s impossible for a manufacturer to produce a do all saddle for each of us in one go. After all, we are all different sizes, shapes and weights. The cynic in me says that manufacturers are aiming for aftersales. The optimistic side to me says there is no logic to that thought, so let’s just accept that saddles are nearly always uncomfortable, and let’s move on.
Of course, you could get a custom made saddle which is designed to fit your bike, your backside and for the type of riding you do most! A great idea, if you have the cash. Some people suggest having a gel pad inserted into your saddle. Or you could buy something like an Airhawk, which seems to constantly get good reviews and you can swop it from bike to bike. They all cost you a chunk of money though, and in the end they only do one thing for you. They give you a more comfortable ride.
In the best motorcycling tradition, I’m writing about a solution that fits in with the Overlanders ‘must have 2 uses at least’ rule. Those of you who like mechanicing for yourselves will understand the pleasure I get when I say that the backside ache solution is something you can make for yourself. I’m talking sheepskin saddle covers. I really like kit which is flexible, so I opt for a sheepie. They literally cost a few dollars, but do they really work?
Yes they do and they have lots of advantages, besides being cheap to make. This means I can turn my saved loot into fuel which equals more miles to ride in comfort. So what makes this vicious circle in reverse so good?Sheepskins are cooler than a vinyl or leather saddle to sit on when it’s hot. I rode in California and Arizona where the temperatures were getting up to 125F! After a while I didn’t have a sheepskin with me – someone liked the look of it so much, they nicked it! Afterwards, sitting down on a black saddle that’d been baking in the sunshine every time I left the bike parked up, well, phew!
So what makes a sheepskin so much better? Usually they are pale in colour which helps them to reflect a large amount of heat away. The fact that they aren’t a smooth surface also means that there is shade in between the strands of wool, and the aeration between those strands means that any heat dissipates fast. This also works with wicking sweat away. The perfect bloke aid, sweaty gonads are instantly a thing of the past!
Rather perversely, as we’ve just been talking about the cooling aspects, they are warmer to sit on when it’s cold. Being wool they retain more of your body warmth than leather or vinyl will. As a last straw on a really cold ride, you could always stuff it up the front of your bike jacket! Conversely, if you have a fairing, consider putting it up the back of your jacket. Wind tunnel experiments show that though faring users have warmer fronts, the air rises over screens, helmets and then drops down the rider’s back. You may end up looking pregnant or like the hunchback of Notre Dame but who cares if it’s really cold and you stay warm?
The next bonus point is that when they are a little older they act as a great backside massager. The soft, tousled fluffy look goes with use and you’ll find that the slightly matted surface you are left with, has firmer bumpy nodules of wool. This means that as you move, when you change gear etc, not only does your backside get a massage, but your pressure points are always changing.
Pressure points? A normal saddle is a flat (ish) surface and most don’t shape themselves individually around your backside. This means that you tend to have a couple of key points which take most of your upper body weight pressure. The only way to change that usually is to wriggle a lot. What a distraction! But by using a sheepskin alone you have already solved half of that problem. If you add a wedge of foam to your sheepskin then all of a sudden you are enhancing its natural desire to wrap itself around your backside.
Making one? So easy! Head for your local upholstery company and have a word about foam wedges. Many sell these to go under people’s sagging sofa seats. I go for the medium firm option. Too firm and you are sliding forward all the time and are reducing the wrap around effect. Get hold of some contact adhesive, a metre of webbing and a couple of pairs of plastic rucksack type clips. Attach the males to each end of one half of the webbing (approx. 2/3 of the width of your foam wedge. Glue that section of webbing to the wedge about half way along, and then glue the sheepskin over the top of that, so you trap the webbing strap. You are aiming to have the thin edge of the wedge at the front of your saddle.
Take the other half of the webbing strap and sew on the female parts of the clips to the ends. This then passes under your saddle. All you have to do then is to clip the foam backed sheepskin to it; saddle in between of course! You are now fixed and ready to ride.
The beauties of these wedges is that they are versatile. When you are riding off road or in stop-start traffic, shimmy the sheepskin back so you are on the thinner bit of foam. This allows you to keep control on the sections when you do sit down and makes sure nothing is in the way when you are standing up or putting your feet down.
When you are open road cruising, shimmy it forward so you are sitting on the thicker section of the foam. That gives you more wrap-around support to help those pressure points. They are actually great at widening out skinny trail bike saddles.
A sheepskin wedge combo can also help your ergonomics! Riding position I mean. If you can ride with your knees below your hips and your back straight, you get less tired and actually have more control over your bike.
If you can, hunt out a sheepskin that’s been cured but not had the lanolin removed from the wool. Though this makes the sheepskin smell, well, a little more like sheep, lanolin works as a sort of water proofer, which means they never really get wet. However, they dry out pretty quickly anyway so don’t worry if you can’t find one with lanolin. Either way, at the end of a damp ride give ’em a tousle and the air circulates quickly through the wool. If it’s that wet you are going to be riding with waterproofs on so it’s not a worry.The science of sheepskins gets even better. Yet another bonus of a sheepie is that you can use it as a comfortable seat at the end of the day. Just unclip it and find the nearest log or even sit on the ground with it. I usually take one of my panniers off, sit my sheepskin on top, and using the bike as my backrest I have a really comfortable seat for the evening. It’s the old 2 uses rule at work and of course without a separate seat to carry there’s less luggage to strap on your bike! To save space in my luggage I usually sleep on a ¾ length sleeping mat and my sheepskin covers the missing ¼ very nicely. So actually, a sheepskin saddle cover has 13 uses. I’ll bet you won’t find another bit of kit that’s so versatile.
Sold on the idea? They aren’t for everyone of course but they do a great job. My last one had around 150,000 miles on it …