On a poorly marked road off Oak Street in Happy Valley, Rick Mayer Cycle rebuilds motorcycle seats by hand for a world-wide market. While seemingly hidden on a local level, Mayer insists his business in the thick of the motorcycle world.
"Northern California is some of the best motorcycle country in the world," Mayer said, singling out Highway 299 and Highway 36.
The complaint motorcycle riders come to Mayer with is the unforgiving hardness of factory motorcycle seats. A Redding couple pushed a bright red motorcycle into Mayer Cycle last Tuesday.
"The seat's too hard on that thing. Ride it too long your butt turns blue," Richard Schjoth said of his wife's 2009 Yamaha Ninja 250.
Another customer looking for a custom saddle rode in from Richmond, Calif., on a 2007 Moto Guzzi Griso.
"I've known a few other people that have his seats, and my bike is not well known," Willy Evans said.
When creating a motorcycle saddle for a customer, Mayer interviews his customer about their riding style. Even for internet orders, he requests a photo of the rider sitting in a riding position.
"Are you an active rider or do you stay planted?" Mayer asked Evans.
"I'll move some, but the most dancing around I do is because I'm not comfortable," Evans said. "I can't ride more than a 100 miles before I have to get off and walk around."
Mayer reshaped Evans' saddle by cutting some of the foam away and adding new foam to other areas.
"It (the seat) was kind of square," Mayer said. "I created a pocket to mimic his figure ... and moved him back two inches."
"Every seat presents its own challenges," said Seth Laam, shop manager at Rick Mayer cycle since the shop's opening in 2000.
The ultimate goal of the new seat is to connect the bike to the rider, Mayer said. With more connection between the two, less input is needed from the riders legs, arms and hands, he added.
A dedicated rider himself, Mayer said he has logged 2.5 million miles of riding over 38 bikes since he was 16 years old. Not only drawing from his riding experience, Mayer said his father owned a similar motorcycle seat business in the 1960s. Mayer's detailed knowledge of optimal seating materials, however, comes more from his former employment as a registered nurse.
Some of the same materials used in wheelchairs and hospital beds, he said, go into his customers' new saddles.
While the shop's mainstay is the long-distance rider, Mayer emphasized that heavier people need better seating as well. Mayer also said that a custom saddle is advantageous to those with skeletal abnormalities, a hip replacement, or anyone with a predisposition to swelling.
Mayer compared his seats to a Tempurpedic mattress as opposed to a standard mattress.
"They have a similar way of handling weight," Mayer said. "Factory foam pushes back readily, inhibiting blood flow. Foam that deforms permits circulation."
Not only sending his customers off with a new saddle, usually for no less than $270, Evans said Mayer recommended special underwear for distance riding.
"I'll probably pick up a pair before I go," he said. "They're like bicycle shorts but without the padding."
The bike shorts don't have the ridge-like seams that ordinary underwear have, Evans added.
While the shop's business model does not stray far from motorcycle seats, Mayer did build the booth cushions at Mary's Pizza Shack in Anderson. Mayer did not, however, recommend special underwear be worn at dinner.
For more about motorcycle saddles from Rick Mayer Cycle, see his exhaustive Web site at www.RickMayerCycle.com.