I love my Kawasaki S1000SX and, after more than 42,000 miles in the saddle, I can assure you that there are more comfortable saddles out there. In fact, one 450-mile day in America was enough to make me wince at the thought of sitting on it again... So I added an Airhawk and - over the next three days - did more than 1500 miles, including one epic 750-mile stint.
So you could say I'm fundamentally at ease with air cushions - like this pair, supplied for me to test and give an impartial review. There's a range of sizes available - I have the £79 tourer option (also available are the adventure/sports option, £69; and the cuiser option, £79) and a dedicated pillion-sized one (£65).
My first impression when getting it out of the box is that there's been no reinvention of the wheel going on here. If you're familiar with an Airhawk, you'll be instantly familiar with the heart of this product. Indeed, it's not so much that the air-cushion bits are similar and more that - when I put them side-by-side – they're essentially identical. The Airhawk that's done more than 20,000 miles is a bit faded in comparison, but beyond that...
If you're not familiar, let me explain. The air bit is a rubbery insert that goes inside a cover (I'll get to that bit). There's a twisty valve that you blow into, thus inflating the pockets, then you twist it again to stop the air escaping. Simple.
You can adjust the amount of air you have inside. If there's not very much in there it won't do much for the comfort, as the air is squeezed out to the edges, bulging under the thighs while your arse remains, essentially, on the original saddle.
Get it about half inflated and you have a nicely cushioned, slightly squidgy ride. It's not to everyone's taste (one friend tried my Airhawk like this and described it as feeling like wearing a full nappy – how does he know?) but I find it quite comfy. It does isolate you from the ride a bit, which isn't a problem most of the time but I confess I did once think a set of new tyres were worryingly lacking in feel and prone to movement – until I removed the seat pad and found the movement was all there...
I generally blow the seat pad up so it's fairly full – not quite SpaceHopper taut and bouncy, but certainly firm. This isn't strictly how it's intended to be used, but I find it's still softer than the SX saddle and, more importantly, raises the seat height by about an inch, giving my knees an easier time on long journey.
So far the ComfortAir looks and operates exactly as the Airhawk – and though I haven't done any 750 mile days on the new one (yet) I have used it enough to be confident that the valve is equally reliable. I've been using it just over a month and have not needed to add extra air. So the base performance seems to be roughly equivalent.
What's different here is the exterior. There are two changes. For a start, the top of the ComfortAir is a tough pseudo-saddle type material, whereas the Airhawk is essentially a fine cloth that I've pretty much worn thin in places. I don't know if this man-made material will ultimately prove to be tougher over 20,000 miles, but I suspect it will.
Another plus is that where the cloth Airhawk cover both absorbs water and lets it pool between the air pockets within, ready for you to sit in when you get on the bike after it's rained, you can wipe the ComfortAir down and it doesn't seem to conceal anything like the ball-cooling reservoir of rain (though a little may get in through the cloth sides).
Then there's the big advantage over the original: the way it fixes. The Airhawk uses a system of thin straps that are supposed to come out from beneath the seat and secure, with delicate hooks, onto the seat pad. They're a pain in the arse, constantly coming undone and not really sercuing the pad to the bike when you're not on it: they can work loose when you ride and even a strong wind can left the Airhawk off the bike, never mind anyone with itchy fingers. The ComfortAir has the straps built into the base of the cover so, once it's done up, it ain't going anywhere...
I did initially think the straps were a bit thick – you can see they have sleeves on. However, I found that you can remove the sleeves if you need to – though presumably they're there to protect the bodywork – but it turned out not to be an issue and it fitted on to the SX without drama.
Absolutely the best thing, though, is the pillion version. As the SX is sufficiently tough for passengers, when using that (rather than the built-for-two CrossTourer) my girlfriend Ali has been using my old Airhawk, kicking it across the road when getting off – and half the time when getting on, too. No such issues with the ComfortAir, which clearly has been designed for the job and does it very well. It makes the back seat of the SX a much more comfortable place to perch.
So should you get one of these? Not if you aren't doing large mileages or if you have a comfortable saddle. But if you're suffering from numb-bum on a regular basis, if your knees are starting to ache after a few hours on the bike, or if your passenger can't do more than 60 miles without a break because it's so uncomfortable, then yes you should consider a seat pad. The alternative is getting a saddle recovered/reupholstered, which costs more, does less to improve the comfort and, as it's not stock, may put off buyers when you come to sell the bike – plus you'll have lost the comfortable element, but you can move a seat pad from bike to bike. I know hardcore round-the-worlders favour sheepskins, but that's not for me...
For me, there's no question about whether to get the market-leading Airhawk or this new challenger brand: the ComfortAir wins, hands down. The small changes to the design make it much easier to live with. It'll be staying on the SX for the foreseeable future.
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