John Longo, the Motorcycle Seat Doctor

Feb 13, 2013 View Comments by

John Longo SeatOEM seats are often cheaply made and can become uncomfortable during a long day in the saddle. This shortcoming in meeting touring riders’ needs has created a robust aftermarket for motorcycle seat makers. I’ve owned some of them and they usually are better-designed, made from higher-quality materials, and provide more long-distance comfort than an OEM seat.

For long-distance riders, comfort is obviously of paramount importance. Aftermarket seats, because they’re not tailored to the specific skeletal structure of the rider, often don’t address all of the issues that make a seat uncomfortable. John Longo’s approach—making and fitting a seat on a particular bike to fit a specific rider—yields huge gains in comfort. During the final phase of our recent series of articles on the BMW F 650 GS project bike, we observed John’s process. Without divulging any of John’s trade secrets, here are his 10 crucial seat-making steps.

Step 1—Remove Old Seat Cover: Most seat covers are stapled on the underside of the seat. The cover on this particular seat was also glued to the foam, which severely limits the seat’s ability to adjust to the contours of the rider’s derrière.

Step 2—Assess Needed Changes: Determining the changes needed to a seat is critical in achieving the best possible fit to the rider. For example, the distance between the top of the seat and the foot pegs was too cramped for my 32-inch inseam, causing my ankles to assume an acute angle. This was not only uncomfortable, but it made gear selection and applying the rear brake awkward. The solution was to increase seat height by adding foam.

The second major problem was that the step-up to the seat’s rear passenger section was too far forward for my arm length, which added to the discomfort. The solution here was to move the seat step-up toward the rear.

Step 3—Add/Trim Foam: John uses a compressed-air glue gun to attach additional foam, which is then trimmed with a special electric foam cutter. But not just any type of foam is added. For example, if the goal is to increase seat height, a denser grade of foam is used. Depending on the comfort objective at any particular location on the seat, John will select from six to eight different foam densities. It’s also important to use a high quality foam that won’t break-down over time. Once the foam has been added in bulk, it’s trimmed to be consistent with the desired contour of the seat.

Step 4—Assess and Reassess Fit: While John holds the bike steady, I stand up on the pegs and then sit down. When doing this, a rider naturally places himself or herself at the appropriate distance from the handlebars. From this position, John evaluates whether enough foam has been added and whether the step-up has been moved far enough back. He also has me place my feet on the floor to make sure I can still flat-foot the bike. The process of adding and trimming foam and reassessing fit usually takes three or four iterations to get it right.

After completing all the trimming, John removes a narrow slice of foam from the middle of the seat. This allows the foam to expand both inside and out and provide more uniform support to the rider. Horse saddles with this split design have been around for hundreds of years. One example is the McClellan cavalry saddle, which entered service with the U.S. Army just before the Civil War.

Step 5—Remove Rough Edges: A pneumatic sander removes all of the rough edges resulting from the addition and cutting of foam. A small disconformity can cause discomfort for a rider. Many years of experience and a keen eye guide John’s hand in shaping the seat’s almost-finished contour.

Step 6—Attach Thin Foam Overlay: A thin layer of foam is attached to the entire seat, producing a single, smooth, contoured surface. At this stage, seat comfort is virtually the same as it will be once the outer cover is installed. The seat is then reattached to the motorcycle for further evaluation.

Step 7—Test Ride Bike for Comfort: John recommends that a customer ride his or her bike for an extended period of time to make sure there are no “hot spots” in the seat, which cause discomfort. If some are discovered, the thin foam layer is removed and further adjustments are made to the seat’s contours to ensure maximum comfort.

Step 8—Select Seat Cover/Design: Only after a perfect fit has been achieved is the seat cover material selected from a broad array of high-grade fabrics or leather. It’s at this stage that any special customized design elements are selected. Because of John’s substantial artistic and sewing talents, he often employs considerable creativity in meeting a customer’s aesthetic desires.

Step 9—Make Seat Cover: The key to making the cover fit together properly on the seat is to put the seams in the correct location so the cover will naturally lie flat. When making a seat for comfort (as opposed to making one for a show bike that won’t be ridden long distances), it’s usually not a good idea to have piping underneath a rider’s leg or some other body part. Such raised surfaces can restrict blood flow and, over time, increase rider fatigue. Consequently, all stitching is at or below the seat’s surface but nevertheless can be done in a way that produces a very attractive result.

Step 10—Install New Cover on Seat: This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, or in this case where the cover meets the seat. If the cover doesn’t fit like the proverbial glove, John makes the necessary adjustments before stapling it in place.

Because they are now sitting in a proper and more comfortable position on their bike, riders often find they have better control and want to ride more and farther. Best of all, the price of a John Longo motorcycle seat is usually comparable to most of the aftermarket brands, which are not customized to fit a rider’s unique body structure.

Find John Longo Motorcycle Seats at 315C Howard Ave, Rockville, MD, (301) 762-4373, www.johnlongo.net.

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