Leather has always been the aspirational material for a motorcycle seat, but is it better than vinyl?
When we modified our 1980 Honda CX500, the first thing we did was get rid of the fat old vinyl seat and replace it with a slim leather seat, which certainly is a vast improvement.
We thought we’d pay a bit extra for the leather, but was it the best choice?
Each piece of leather has a unique grain and fades in varying shades. This gives it character that you just can’t get with vinyl. However, some modern faux-leather is pretty good and fools most riders into thinking it’s leather.
No comparison. Leather is more expensive. However, if you are after comfort, the foam underneath is more important and you shouldn’t save your pennies. Gel is good, but it heats up. Memory foam is the most expensive, but the best.
It really depends on the material used, but vinyl usually is softer, stretchier and some of the new materials actually “breathe” which makes them more comfortable. However, vinyl can create more friction with your backside and heat up more than leather on a long trip. In winter, leather is colder when you first sit on it and it stays cooler a little longer. Leather also gets softer with age, while vinyl can get harder as the years roll by. Some vinyl seats have grippy surfaces while leather usually gets shinier and more slippery with age. If you want a quick comfort comparison between leather and vinyl, try the Indian Scout with a leather seat and the new smaller Scout Sixty which has a more comfortable vinyl seat.
Modern leathers are treated a lot better and will last longer than they used to. However, they are still prone to fading and cracking a lot quicker than vinyl. Indian found that with its first Chief models, but have now changed to a more compressed leather that fades a lot slower. Leather will also shine up where you sit, thanks to your sweat and simple friction/rubbing. However, some riders like that aged charm that leather develops.
Leather requires a fair bit of care. You will have to treat it several times a year with special leather conditioner and you will have to remove the seat when you wash your bike. Getting stains out of leather is much more difficult than vinyl which you just wipe away. You should also cover your leather seat when you park in the sun or rain. However, even vinyl needs some care and treatment, just not as often.
Modern leather stands up well to the rain, but it can also get soaked and absorb the water. To dry it, leave it in the shade, not out in the sun as the faster drying can cause it to harden and crack. Most riders who have leather seats on their bike carry a rain cover to use while riding or when parked. Water has no effect on vinyl and you can leave the seat on when you wash your bike.
Some seat manufactures can make composite seats using leather and vinyl and other fabrics such as velour and mesh, if you like. I notice the new Indian Springfield hard bagger has a composite leather and vinyl seat with the vinyl where you backside makes contact. However, try to avoid joins and stitching where you sit as that can be the most uncomfortable part of the seat.