Published in Keystone Motorcycle Press, November 2021
Tush, Rear End. Derrière. Bottom. Behind. Arse. Jacksy. Backside. Butt. Like the Eskimos’ extensive list of words for what we simply call snow, motorcyclists probably have dozens of words for that part of their anatomy which makes the most contact with their machines. And well they should, as it is a continuing point of painful focus.
It’s been over 50 years since I made my first motorcycle ride and I’ve been through a lot of machines and a lot of motorcycle seats, most factory, but several custom. And I have yet to find one that wasn’t, after even a modestly long ride, a total pain in the you-choose-the-word. About six years ago I finally decided to do something about it and asked the folks at AirHawk to send me a seat cushion to test. Well, this is the write up on that test. You may be thinking, “Wow, that’s really a long-term test,” but it would be disingenuous of me to allow that thought to linger. Truth is there are two reasons it’s taken me so many riding seasons to come to a fair evaluation of this product: Embarrassment and ignorance.
Let’s take them one at a time. The product they sent me was their Medium Cruiser model. While AirHawk has greatly expanded its selection, at the time of my request this was really the only form-factor they offered. Frankly, when plopped on my sport tourer, it made it look like it had been fitted with a tractor seat.
When I was a pre-driving teenager, my old man had a bad back and fashioned this support for his car seat out of wooden slats strung together with clothesline. It looked like something out of the Spanish Inquisition and, coupled with the clear plastic seat covers he’d put in his Chevy, was a huge source of humiliation to me when he’d give friends a ride. That’s kind of how I felt showing up somewhere on my bike and dismounting with this enormous puffy pad on my otherwise sleek machine. It looked like I was one hemorrhoid attack away from total anal detonation. I kept thinking people would see me dismount and toggle-view between this thing and my butt.
And, there was another issue: I’m probably revealing things here that should only be shared with my therapist (if I could afford a therapist), but the skinny straps provided to secure this monstrosity to my seat had those kind of flattened S-hook thingies that your mom used to have on her unmentionables, and were later struggled with in dark places in cars as you tried to unhook your girlfriend’s bra. It just wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to associate with a macho pastime like biking.
Now, to the ignorance part: Despite my aesthetic and psychological objections to “my” AirHawk, I felt obligated to persevere; so I gave it a number of tries. In so doing I violated its two most important usage instructions: DON’T over inflate it and DO use it from the beginning of your ride. Because of my shame, I would hide this thing in a saddlebag and not deploy it until halfway through my ride when my bottom had already started to protest. Then I’d stop and install it, making sure there was plenty of air in it to help ease my pain. It did, slightly, but the pain remained and the effect of having those big bubbles separating you from the bike was truly unsettling.
After several attempts like this I abandoned the AirHawk in favor of wearing bicycling shorts, with padding, under my riding pants. The pain generally remained, and making a pit stop was greatly complicated, but at least I was more firmly attached to the bike and could get off it in public without chagrin.
Fast forward a couple of years, and one day, as I was leaving for a ride, I spotted the AirHawk box on the gear shelf above my bike. Maybe I should give this another try. After all, the customer reviews I’d read about this product had all been highly favorable. Was it just me?
So I fiddled with the inflation. This thing is supposed to be just barely inflated, and that solved the disconnection from the bike issue. I also deep-sixed those girly straps, finding that the non-slip bottom of the cover (there is an inner, interconnected, multi-cell bladder and a removable, washable cover) along with the limpness provided by the minimal inflation allowed the AirHawk to stay put of its own accord. Finally, I slapped it on before I started out.
Wow! It worked. And it’s kept on working. Now, on one of my typical 150-mile jaunts, without those bulky bicycle shorts, I am no longer in agony by the 100-mile mark. In fact, while not totally without some dark-side discomfort, by the end of the ride, I’m still feeling pretty good.
I contacted AirHawk before writing this review. One wouldn’t want to just ASSume that the product I’m endorsing is the same product they are still making. Turns out, it isn’t. They ASSured me that while the principle and the performance, along with those two important usage rules, remain the same, they’ve upped the ante on materials. And, as mentioned, they’ve increased the number of shapes and sizes available.
You can visit their web site at http://www.airhawk.net to find options for your particular bike, pricing (generally about $100), dealer locations and even direct ordering. If you’re a victim of butt-itis, I’ll bet an AirHawk can help ease your suffering. And, if you’re really clever, you may want to leave this review in a prominent place to be seen by your non-riding significant other. An AirHawk would make a butt-eautiful Christmas present.