Most of us get it. No one wants it. If butt burn had a personality, it would have a major inferiority complex from suffering repetitive rejection. I honestly cannot remember anyone writing about it. The guys who make custom seats can’t really say their saddle offers the least butt burn. They hint at it. They want to claim that on a scale of 1 to 10, [10 being the most butt burn], theirs has proven to be closest to 1 … but there is no scientific measurement for it. After you’ve spent 5-10 C-notes on a new tushy-pad, if it’s even a little bit better than the last one you had, you’re going to say it’s great.
What’s a die-hard rider to do?
Not all of us yearn to be Iron Butt contestants or log 500-plus-mile days. When I was 20 or 30, that came as a surprise to me, but I think it’s safe to say that anyone who wants to ride further than the nearest Dairy Queen, would like to settle into a really nice seat. I am reminded by several long-time Harley riding friends of mine that the Motor Company has the best seat in the business. “Best” doesn’t mean that the burn never visits behind the gas tank. I’ve been riding for over 50 years and so have many people I know. Between us, we’ve got at least 1,000 years of experience and thoughts on this. In spite of the fact that we are not orthopedic surgeons or physical therapists, we’ve had some useful ideas on this over the years. Butt burn comes with the motorcycle: they don’t charge extra for it. However, there are a lot of really useful tips on how to make its visit stay away longer. Butt burn can even be a kind of perverse friend, by reminding you when to take a break. So here’s what I think:
- TAKE A BREAK. That’s right. Get off the bike. Drink some water—you can hardly ever drink enough. Get some gas. Get some food. Shoot the bull with your riding friends or passenger. Take some pictures. Hike to a waterfall. Enjoy the parts of the ride that are not on the saddle. To some people—like me—this is an acquired taste. There are great things on the ride that occur when the wheels are not going around. I have often had to be reminded of that over the years.
- WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR FOR THE RIGHT WEATHER. If it’s hot—wear a mesh jacket and cooling vest. If it’s wet—wear something so you don’t get soaked. If it’s cold—well on and on—you know the drill. And don’t wear underwear that has a seam across the back of the leg intersecting the buttocks and the thigh. Don’t wear the “jockey shorts”. Model your pants and underwear after what the bicyclists wear. That is, one long, seamless area covering the butt. Cotton is good. The latest wicking, hi-tech fabrics are good. Nylon and normal synthetics are decidedly NOT good. Keeping your body at an overall comfortable temperature. This works in tandem with that Butt that is in the middle sector of your body. Your butt is a hot spot anyway—don’t make it worse.
- THINK BEFORE YOU CHOOSE A BIKE, or if you are in the market for a new one, consider some posture aspects. After you’ve bought the bike, there’s not much you can do to change the position and posture of your body on the bike. However, you can do something about it BEFORE you buy the bike. Take a hint. Take a close look at that ergonomic office chair that they’ve sold for years. Does this posture look familiar to you? That’s just about the same as a traditional motorcycle riding posture. But it’s NOT normally a cruiser bike posture. On this chair or in this position, you are putting most of the weight on the bottom/back of your upper leg—not your tail bone. You’re not sitting IN the bucket. You’re straddling the seat. And in the end, in spite of knowing this, you may choose a bike just because you fall in love with the sight of it. Don’t say I didn’t mention alternatives.
A modified change from this, slightly leaning forward as on a sport-touring bike, maintains the same weight on the bottom, back and inside of your thighs. This spreads the weight out much more than the little round areas in the middle of your buttocks, where the gluteus maximus muscles connect to the back of the hip bone. There is a pronounced pressure point on the top of the back of each leg where the leg-bicep femoris long head muscle, connects to the back of the femur under the gluteus maximus. Google it if you need to figure out how it all connects.
If you ride on those points of the leg all day, the “daggers” will soon start poking you in the butt. After a while you’ll think you’re a victim of a terrorist stabbing attack. There’s a lot more surface area around the back of the leg on the femur. Of course, if you have a bike that puts you even more forward into the sport bike position, then some of us run into wrist pain from putting upper body weight on the wrists or back pain from an arched back. Fortunately, that stuff doesn’t bother me—but I use a tank bag and that carries my chest weight when I choose—thus little pressure on the wrists. Lots of people don’t like tank bags. Sorry—they ruin the looks of your ride in some ways—but there is a comfort advantage.
Also whether in cruiser, sport touring or aggressive crotch rocket position, each time your upper leg is closer to a 90° or smaller angle to your upper torso, you’re going to be stretching that bicep femoris long head muscle—thus subjecting it to increased pressure. So sit on a bike before you buy it and see if you can approximate the posture in the example picture. In the example above, the upper leg is positioned very nicely at about 120°–150° degrees. Also, if your bike DOES allow you to change positions a bit, it can help to sit up or lean back a little on the gluteus maximus for a break.
- CUSTOM SEATS: So that gets us to the features offered by different custom seats. As you may have discussed with your friends: the manufacturers make a “world bike,” one that is supposed to suit everyone. But that concept is like marriage. We are all different and what works for one person, doesn’t work for another. We [probably] all know that as well. The custom seat offers the possibility of different foam density layers and shapes to accommodate people of different weights and different shaped butts. That’s a very good thing if the maker of your seat works with you patiently and properly to get the right fit. This frequently takes some in-person trial and error sessions—if your saddle maker is professional enough to work with you on this. It is a hit-and-miss thing to believe the custom seat is going to be perfect on the first go-around; possible, but iffy. When the late Bill Mayer Sr. was alive, he got it right the first time for my 1996 R1100RT. Buying a custom seat just might be a real world changer, but these other comments are still relevant.
The one thing that almost never works for me is a vinyl seat cover. Yeah, even the exclusive German carmakers will try to sell you on the newest material, saying, “Have you FELT this stuff?” It really is better than the vinyl of yesteryear. But why do you think they sell air-cooled seats now? Yes, BUTT BURN exists even in the priciest four-wheelers. I can tell you that no matter how expensive the car I’ve ridden in, I get a pretty stiff back and butt between stops—which I do NOT get on motorcycles.
My 2016 BMW R 1200 RS stock seat seems to work well for me, but I have close friends who say it does NOT work for them at all. Part of it for me is that I lean slightly forward—as described above—and I take those breaks at 100-125 miles. As I have gotten older I look back and wonder how I felt many years ago. My recollection is that when I was 25, I really didn’t want to ride more than 125 miles without a break of some sort.
I also wear the right underwear—also as described above. I prefer a leather cover for the seat, but leather is damaged if it repeatedly gets wet and it holds water longer than vinyl, so you need to be diligent about putting a cover over it for the night. Use a little common sense and put all these ideas together. I think they will help. The only thing about taking a break every 100 miles, is that it’s pretty hard to put in a 700-mile day in daylight. But I think it is unquestioned that you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more if you set your mind to it and look forward to it.
Often I need to take my own advice. And then there are some people, of course, who just don’t care to ride very far. That’s another story.