Then I’ll begin.
Sportsbikes. Wonderful things – in most cases pretty much the pinnacle of road bike engineering, with astronomical power, more computing power than the average PC and bleeding-edge aerodynamics.
There’s something missing in there though. Comfort. Because you’ve bought your trackday missile to go fast and look really cool, right? And you can do both of those, of course, but after you’ve done it for a couple of hours don’t you find your delicate little rear starts to feel a trifle abused? And if you’re of a certain age, say the age that recognises the quote at the beginning, it all gets worse because…actually you know I’m not going to go there. It just gets worse, that’s all.
I suspect that privately more than half the mature riders on GS’s and the like might admit that a sore bum was one of the reasons they went in that direction.
The thing is, surprisingly there’s quite a lot of science behind sitting comfortably. There’s the way that our bodies are put together and the way that our weight is distributed. Plus, of course, air circulation allowing heat to dissipate. Or not. Then there’s the amount of, um, padding you may or may not have over your bones, the angle you sit at, the amount you move around, the variables are endless. Well, not actually endless but certainly there are lots of them.
Obviously there are solutions to this. You could buy a new seat. That’s expensive, not always practical and may not solve the problem anyway. You could completely change your bike. See above, really. Or you could give up riding and become another sad and bitter former rider, knuckles whitening with stress every time a bike filters past you in traffic or you see someone riding really well on an open road or…yeah, let’s not go there either.
Looks like we need to look at something better. Happily there’s an answer in the slightly odd, squashy shape of a ComfortAir Cushion. Imagine a traditional Whoopee Cushion with a proper valve rather than the raspberry flaps and a grippier surface. It’s probably where they got the original idea, but it’s been refined rather, obviously. What you get is a roughly saddle shaped device that has some really good quality retaining straps on the bottom and a sort of sharkskin effect finish on the top. There’s a fine zipper that runs around the back of it and tucks away inside a neat pouch so when closed there’s nothing sticking out. Open the zipper and a complex shaped rubber bladder is revealed with a valve at the back. If you look closely you’ll see that the edge of the outer cover is a sort of heavy mesh, allowing air to pass through.
If you unscrew the end of the valve and blow into it the bladder will inflate with 10 distinct cells appearing (there may be more or less with different seats – I just tried the sports/adventure version). The gaps between the cells allow air to pass through and reduce heat buildup. I found the best way to make it work was to inflate the bladder, fit it to the bike using the straps, make sure it’s properly secure and then undo the valve and wait for it to deflate to atmospheric pressure. Then close the valve and do up the zip. The result is a thin layer of cushioning – not enough to make it feel weird or unstable, but enough to do the job.
ComfortAir are actually quite well established as a company, providing things like cushions for wheelchair users, long distance truck drivers and the like. So they have form for producing products for a pretty demanding customer base. And yes, we're just as demanding!
This is actually quite a new product, and as such I'm going to break from MBT tradition and pretty much directly quote their press release here, because it's worth it.
"A survey of motorcycle riders by ComfortAir showed that most start to experience serious discomfort between 50-100 miles into a ride. To get a better understanding of why that is, the team commissioned a specialist lab with pressure-mapping facilities to carry out controlled testing.
The tests involved a rider sitting on a static bike fitted with a standard seat for ten-minutes, then for the same period with a ComfortAir Cushion fitted. A detailed pressure map was taken of each session to get an accurate reading of weight distribution.
You can see what they did and how the pressure maps look here (Opens YouTube in a new window)
The testing uncovered three key reasons why riding a motorcycle can become a pain in the backside:
- Most bikes place the rider's body in an unnatural position, resulting in pressure being applied to the lower torso. A sportbike position results in more pressure to the front area of the seat, a cruiser's feet-forward position exerts more towards the rear. Even an ‘upright’ naked or adventure bike position places the feet below the torso, lifting the knees up and putting increased pressure on the buttocks.
- That pressure restricts blood flow to the muscle, reducing oxygen and nutrient delivery to the tissue and causing the muscle to become fatigued and sore. The pressure can also compress nerves, leading to pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the affected area.
- The increasing pressure can also cause a build-up of heat and perspiration. As the body sweats the loss of electrolytes and minerals speeds up, leading to further muscle pain and cramps.
ComfortAir’s Wayne Harrison said: “The test results really underline why it is that once you start to feel uncomfortable on a motorcycle, it’s difficult to improve the situation. Each factor contributes to and exacerbates the problem.”
He went on to explain; “Interestingly, the research also showed that people seem to display ‘buttock bias’ - putting more weight on one buttock rather than evenly across both. This causes a slight misalignment of the spine, which is enough to put the rider in an uneven position and cause pain to spread to the lower back and shoulders.”
The pressure mapping showed that ComfortAir seats were effective in counteracting all the three main causes of discomfort.
Developed using air floatation technology originally designed to help people who are bed or wheelchair bound, ComfortAir Seat Cushions use pockets of air to evenly distribute the rider’s weight, eliminating painful pressure points on the pelvis and spine.
The strategically shaped network of interconnected air cells instantly shifts pressure from one area of the seat to another, resulting in a comfortable cushion of air which protects against shocks and dampens vibration, helps blood circulation and stops the awful ‘numb-bum’ feeling often suffered by long-distance riders.
Space between the air cells is shaped to encourage airflow - in through the front of the seat cushion, and out of the rear and sides - cooling the cells and reducing the risk of ‘hot-spots’.
Once in place the Cushion can be easily inflated and deflated, allowing the rider to find the right level of flotation for day-long comfort. "
OK, so back out of the press release and into more familiar territory. It took me about 15 minutes to fit the cushion. Five minutes of that was removing and replacing the seat on our S1000RR long term test bike. The straps are quite firm to adjust, but that means that they are also going to be unlikely to come undone. There's enough elasticity in them to allow them to be tightened enough and then slipped over the seat. I found it easier to take the bladder out and get the cover in place and then put the bladder in. Inflating it a bit helped. Reattaching the seat I then opened the valve and went for a cuppa.
Suitably refreshed, I tightened the valve, zipped the cover up and tucked the zip into the special pouch. A nice piece of design, that - stops the end of the zip flapping around or chafing. As luck would have it, I needed to take a hundred-ish mile ride so I had the chance to try the cushion out just about straight away.
Now I'll put my cards on the table. I've been riding sportsbikes almost exclusively (in fact completely exclusively except when testing for MBT) since about 1980. My entire body has evolved to accomodate the requirements of low bars and high pegs. But that also means that I've reached, and am well into, that age where things start to get uncomfortable sooner and for longer. Sad but true. I'm also deeply cynical about anything which promises miraculous comfort improvements.
Two minutes down the road and I was thinking my cynicism was justified as I couldn't honestly notice anything different. An hour later it dawned on me that actually this meant the cushion was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. Because while it made no difference whatsoever to the feel of the bike, my nether regions weren't showing any sign of getting sore. Not only that, but as I found myself navigating the cart tracks that masquerade as main roads around here I realised that the cushion gave me some additional suspension, saving some bone jarring on the worst potholes (you can't miss them all) and speed bumps.
Riding a bit more enthusiastically out of town, the cushion had zero impact on my abilty to move around on the bike. Basically, like allthe very best products, it was un-noticeably effective.
So the bottom line is this. If you ride a decent distance and get a sore bum then you need one of these. If you're a little older and get sore sooner, you need one of these. Even if you don't go far but spend a long time in the saddle, this will make your day better.
You can get the Comfort Cushion direct from ComfortAir and it'll set you back £69. Which is cheaper than osteopathy, a new seat or the therapy you'll need if you give up biking. It's a brilliant thing that makes me less cynical. Which in itself is a miracle...