How Harley-Davidson Designs Motorcycle Seats

Keeping keisters comfortable courtesy "human factors engineers."

Motorcyclist sitting in Harley-Davidson seat.
Harley-Davidson takes the science of seat design seriously.Jeff Allen

Riding a motorcycle can be uncomfortable. Bouncing down the road with your weight concentrated on a tiny plot of posterior real estate can cause unmentionable ailments—ailments very much at odds with the romantic image of motorcycling we'd prefer to project. It's a problem common to many types and brands of machines. However, if you're a devoted Harley-Davidson rider—even one who sticks with the stock foam saddle—you might be surprised to hear that's the case.

The reason for Harley-induced hindquarter happiness lies in what we might refer to as H-D’s “butt guys.” The company calls them human-factors engineers, and they spend 90 percent of their time making the Motor Company’s seats as comfortable as they are stylish. This intrepid team is the reason you can sit astride any Harley and feel like an actual human rear spent some time in the seat before the machine reached the hands (and cans) of the public.

In fact, many actual human butts do the preparatory sitting. To gather objective and subjective feedback on comfort and rider-triangle fit, Harley pulls around 50 employees with varying body types from across the organization. Prototype evaluation begins in the dressing room, where engineers gather subjects’ “personal data” with a measuring tape. Data collection continues on the test track, where riders spend countless miles in the saddle.

Greg Falkner, manager of portfolios for features and customization, says: “It really starts with the customer: who they are, where they’re at, and how they’re going to ride the bike. That helps us formulate some of those trade-offs [between comfort targets and style]. It becomes this dance back and forth between the artists and the engineers.”

Between the styling department, vehicle design team, seat technical experts, and human-factors engineers, “thousands of durability and evaluation miles” have gone into each seat.

“You can make a seat really comfortable with all the technology in the world,” Falkner notes, “but you can also do something really good if you take the time and look at the finer details.” The whole process makes keeping butts in saddles look more difficult than just getting them there. Which is saying something. One thing’s for sure: Riders benefit when attention is paid to the softer side. After all, someone’s gotta keep the romantic image of motorcycling intact.