Russell Day-Long Custom Saddle
By Gerald Massey
Though for years my Iron Butt friends have sworn by the Day-Long custom saddles; being something of a non-conformist (i.e. hard-headed) I had never gone down that path. I am not new to custom or semi-custom seats, having had a full drive-in custom seat built for my prior 1000 VStrom by Rich’s up on the Olympic Penninsula, and three semi-custom seats from KonTour in Tucson, AZ. In fact it was a KonTour that I replaced on the Tenere. Though I was very pleased with the KonTour seat on prior bikes and my current KLR, it has never really worked well on the Tenere. After 300-400 miles or less I would end up needing to break out the AirHawk pad which would be good for another 150 miles or so before I would be back to standing, squirming and complaining. So I decided to become a conformist and scheduled a ride-in appointment at Russell Day-Long (RDL) in Shasta Lake, CA.
My appointment was at 8:00 AM on a Friday morning so I rode down the day prior and spent the night at a delightful little place (Fawndale Lodge & RV Park) that was recommended by the folks at RDL. It was a great choice with extraordinary hospitality, covered bike parking, about 5 minutes from the RDL shop, with a McDonald’s for breakfast along the way.
I was promptly greeted and treated like an honored guest. The process began with my being photographed on the bike, with the current seat, at various angles. Then we discussed several issues that I wanted addressed in the new seat, the most notable being a flat seating surface and maximized reach to the ground. We also discussed and selected the seat covering material and the sewing pattern. As I am clearly all about function with little care for form, and I live in the rain forest, I went with vinyl and a minimalist sewing pattern. At that point the prior saddle was removed and taken into the shop and I was about to settle into a seat with my iPad planning to start the waiting process. But no… they came out of the shop with an OEM Tenere seat and started telling me all of the cool places nearby to ride, get coffee etc. I was asked to be back in about 2 hours for the initial test seating.
When I returned they were ready for me and I went through a test of the seating form, noting a number of adjustments to be made. The seat was taken back into the shop, modified further, and we were testing again in about 15 minutes. One final adjustment to improve reach, one more test, and it was all good. At that point I had another 2-3 hours break so I headed down to Redding to try another RDL recommendation for lunch, The Burger Habit in Redding. Like the lodging, it was another great choice!
Around 2:30 the final product was ready, installed, tested and approved. We settled up and by 3:00 I was on the road to my next stop in Reno, NV. I had ridden approximately 460 miles the prior day on my KonTour saddle, introducing the AirHawk at about the 300 mile mark, but was still squirming and ready to be off the bike by the time I arrived in Shasta Lake. The initial run on the new RDL, to Reno, was about 200 miles and it was very clear to me that it was an entirely different animal than my prior seat(s). I rode another 900 miles or so in the two days that followed, for a total of 1,110 miles on the new seat before getting home. I never once squirmed or felt the least bit sore the whole time, and the AirHawk stayed locked in a side case. Obviously it will take more than 1,100 miles to fully determine whether or not the seat is all that it is cracked up to be, but at this point my confidence is very high that it will be. The key to this seat is clearly that patented design of the seat and spring system.
I was fascinated to learn that the original Day-Long design was developed and patented by Bill Mayer, Sr. in the early 1970s. Reportedly Bill couldn’t understand why every motorcycle seat quickly became uncomfortable, yet he could ride on his tractor all day long without issue. Not surprisingly the RDL base form looks exactly like a tractor seat, and the patented spring system is what distributes the weight evenly. So Bill Mayer Saddles (BMS) began producing the Day-Long saddle in Fall River Mills, CA in 1975. Around 1985 Bill Mayer Sr. sold the company, including the patent, to Don Russell and his wife Donna who continued to produce what was then called the Russell Day-Long saddle in Fall River Mills. Don passed away in 1998 and Donna continued to operate the business until 2002 when she sold the business to the Bradford family that owns and operates the business today. It turns out the Bradfords had long been in the business of producing custom shades, primarily for the abundance of houseboats and party boats that operate on nearby Lake Shasta, for many years. So they moved the business from Fall River Mills to the current location in Shasta Lake. Though there are a number of seat builders employed by RDL today it just so happened that I was fortunate enough to have Mike Bradford build my seat. He and his parents, all involved in the business, make up the Bradford family as referenced above. As I toured the facility Mike explained that it requires a minimum of 5 years’ experience to be approved as an RDL seat builder. He has been doing so personally for 11 years.
Every RDL seat starts life as a form, in one of two sizes depending on whether it is to be for a rider or pillion. Once outsourced to a SoCal provider, the Bradford family had the forms machined and purchased their own manufacturing equipment to improve quality control throughout the process. It is a very impressive operation and the business guy in me kept thinking about how many seats one would have to sell to see an ROI on the extensive custom equipment. And of course the final product is covered in any one of a variety of surfaces from fine leather to suede, vinyl or their newest choice called Sunbrella, a direct tie to their legacy awning and canopy business.
Finally a comment on pricing. RDL pricing is fully transparent, and you can determine exactly what your custom design will cost right on their website. There were no surprises. While not entirely apples to apples, the RDL was nowhere near the most expensive seat I have purchased. As I stuck with the basic vinyl and I don’t have a pillion, the cost of my seat was less than $400. I paid nearly that much for a prior Sargent, more than that for the semi-custom KonTour, and more than double that for my prior custom VStrom seat from Rich’s. There is an additional $80 fee for the ride-in appointment as opposed to mail-in, and for an extra $40 I purchased a custom-fitted rain cover (seat only) that they made in the sewing shop as I was waiting. Though I remain stridently non-conformist, I will admit to asking myself many times over the past few days — why, why, why didn’t you try this years ago? To which I have no good answer. Better late than never I guess!
Russell Cycle Products Inc. 4917 Shasta Dam Blvd. Shasta Lake, CA 96019
(800) 432-9566 (530) 275-5829 || www.day-long.com