There are some weird mental gymnastics riders can perform to convince themselves they love a bike that’s not very good. I’ve done it myself with my love for a BMW R 1150 GS which I later sold to a guy with half a brain (long story, but true).
The 1150 was old when I bought it, but I wanted one anyway. It was an unattractive bike that looked rather like it had lost a slap fight to a prison inmate. The brakes were terrible and the shock was not great, the clutch was frail and the rear wheel bearings let go on the freeway once.
But I loved that bike and I kind of wished I’d kept it because it was ridiculously comfortable and made me want to ride when I looked at it. It wasn’t a great bike, but it was the right bike for me.
My dad, Barry, loved his Yamaha YDS5E. It never ran well no matter how many times a mechanic touched his healing hands on it, but dad still remembers it fondly. It wasn’t a great bike, but it was the right bike for him.
There is something intangible at play here. Something deeper than a spec sheet or a strong online opinion.
And when I spoke to dad on this topic, we both agreed that the bikes we remember well were almost always the most comfortable. The horsepower figures have faded or been eclipsed into insignificance and the suspension travel long forgotten.
But remembering the ridiculous number of bikes he’s owned over the decades from cruisers to dirtbikes, two-stroke GP replicas and four-cylinder monsters, he’d have his V-Strom 650 XT back in a heartbeat because he could spend all day, all week on it.
THE POSTERIOR FACTOR
Among the many reasons a rider may turn a dark stare at their bike, comfort is one that’s all too often overlooked.
There are two pieces of kit between your arse and the brutality of the terrain that can make or break your day; the seat and the suspension.
Much of your bike’s comfort factor is derived from those two components. The ergonomic triangle (seat, handlebars, footpegs) also plays a big part, but it’s quite easily adjusted at the bars or triple clamp if improvements are needed, often without spending a cent.
If you have an uncomfortable seat, you’ll have difficulty ignoring it for long. And once it’s in your head then it will dominate your thoughts till you can extricate your arse from the situation even for the briefest of moments.
Once you start thinking about when you can stop next just to get a break from the pain, your ride has gone to shit and it won’t improve.
Any time you’re thinking predominantly about the poor state of your own arse you’re probably not having a good day.
Suspension adds to the drama largely through jarring hits passed on by an under-sprung shock which is an all-too-common design frustration that can only be relieved to an extent via clickers and preload adjustment (if you have adjustable suspension), before you need to open your wallet for mechanical surgery.
Being comfortable in the most baseline way is fundamental to your enjoyment of your bike.
You can sit on your bike across a week of riding for more hours than you’ll sit on your couch at home in that same time span.
You wouldn’t accept a couch that hurts your arse within the first hour? You’d never make it through one half of a footy game and day/night cricket would be completely out of the question. Nobody wants to live like that.
The problem with comfort is that it isn’t sexy to marketing departments. A seat is never going to get your attention like a state-of-the-art electronics package or a wild graphics kit that looks like it was designed by a sentient bag of cocaine.
Even the word, ‘comfort’ is boring.
But stuff a brilliantly sharp chassis with an engine that goes off like a nuclear detonation, add an electronics package so intelligent it knows what you’re going to do wrong before you even get on the bike, throw on an exhaust that sounds like Satan himself has risen from the depths and you can ruin it all with pathetic suspension and a bad seat.
So how can you gauge the comfort level of a bike you’re thinking of buying?
Checking reviews is often fruitful if it’s the seat that’s the problem. There isn’t a human alive with functioning arse nerves that would call the CRF450RL seat comfortable. Or the DR650 for that matter.
But nothing beats riding the bike for an extended period. If you know someone who has one maybe do a swap on a ride?
If you take a test bike out from a dealer, be super critical during the short time you have on the bike. There’s a lot to take in but in general, don’t worry about the electronics as much as feel for the ergonomics and the seat.
You might touch your electronics 10 times during a ride day, but your butt and that seat will spend hours in close contact.
By all means rip the throttle to get an appreciation for the engine in different gears, but don’t overlook the gearbox and the feel of the quickshifter if there is one present.
You’ll shift gears hundreds if not thousands of times during a ride and the difference between a clunky shift and a beautifully clean shift (see the V-Strom 800DE) is like comparing chuck steak to a rib-eye. Once you’ve had the good stuff it’s hard to accept anything less.
But don’t forget to hone in on that seat. Not just the foam but the cut as well. Does it allow you to move the way you like, remembering how much more that movement is needed offroad? If there’s a raised pillion seat, do you still have a range of movement and are your dingleberries being smashed against the tank?
Can you feel hard edges under your butt cheeks or thighs?
A hard seat foam can settle over time but generally, it’s not by a hell of a lot. If it feels like a plank after 20 minutes, then that’s a red flag.
No two arses are the same and everyone wants a different feel. The only way to know you’re not buying tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of excruciating painful motorcycle is to prioritise the one factor far too many overlook till it’s too late.
Your arse serves you faithfully, even through the years of wooden school seats and all that Mexican food you eat and the dodgy 2 am kebabs after a night on the beers. Show it the respect it deserves.
And yes, there are aftermarket seats you can buy and fit as well as foam replacement services and re-covering etc. But as adventure bike prices rise dramatically, I am becoming less tolerant of the simplest details not being thought through and delivered.
We are paying high prices and adventure bike design demands comfort to be a predominant concern for the engineering nerds. Give me that before you offer me 7 levels of wheelie control or the 135th horsepower.