Friday Feature: SDG USA Carves A Mean Moto Saddle

Most people involved in the two-wheeled dirt world recognize the SDG logo on their multiple entries in the adult minibike arena. Those with a sharper eye and a need for the ultimate in motocross fit, feel, and function, however, also recognize the fellas at Speed Defies Gravity as being the leading aftermarket manufacturer of custom dirt bike seats. With 16 years experience working in the bicycle seat world, ultimately becoming amongst the leaders in that industry as well, SDG has successfully utilized their knowledge and expertise in seat materials and design methods to cross over into motocross. Because they are the people responsible for outfitting some of our sport’s top pros with seats, plus the fact that we at TWMX are big fans of their saddles, we thought it was about time to investigate their world a little further. To do so, we sat down with SDG’s Jeff Christman, the man largely behind their recent MX seat success, to get the scoop on their evolution.

SDG got its start largely in the bicycle industry, specifically with seats, right?

Yeah, SDG was founded about 16 years ago, and was primarily a bike seat company. Without the bicycle side of the business, we would have never gotten to the point we are at today with motocross. Actually, when the company was started, we also targeted the motocross industry with seat covers by bringing higher-tech materials to the table. But it was a time in the MX industry that still wasn’t quite ready to break free of all of the OEM materials that were being utilized. So we took the materials that we had, and because we were all bike enthusiasts, we went heavier in that direction. In mountain biking and dirt jumping, the bike’s seat is going to hit the ground, and at the time most of the saddles were made of poor materials. By using more durable “motocross materials, we were able to lock into a couple of patents, and the bike seat deal just boomed for us.

How big is the bicycle industry to your business today?

It’s still a very big part. We even do spec seats on production bikes for key companies like GT, Cannondale, Iron Horse, and some others. We’ve patented a new revolutionary system that actually uses a single carbon fiber “I-beam construction, rather than two metal rails. With that we can make a seat that’s half the weight, four times the strength, and ten times the adjustability. It’s the only one of its kind, so it’s an exciting time for us in the bicycle industry, as well.

With your expertise in the bicycle industry, you were able to make a pretty smooth transition back to MX…

Exactly. We’d already established the mold-making procedures, techniques for building better, stronger plastic products, carbon products, foam, etc. In the mountain bike industry, weight is always the biggest characteristic, so we’ve learned how to make foams better, last longer, weigh less, and just all around easier to make. So we found a want to expand our line and share our bicycle saddle expertise with the motocross industry. A few years back, we determined that simply changing a seat cover just wasn’t cutting it. You run into problems with broken-down foam, destroyed molds, bent brackets, etc. For the average guy who doesn’t have the tools or the know-how to put the entire seat assembly back together, we found the need to provide the complete unit. We wanted to make it affordable, and we wanted to offer features that weren’t being offered at the time, like different foam heights and densities, cover designs and textures, and so on. The bicycle industry helped us to do that.

How did you know exactly where to start with the moto seats?We started by doing a lot of R&D with teams and individual riders and have transitioned it into a product that is good right out of the box. We offer features like removable brackets and closed-cell foam, which allows for a life about four times that of “normal seat foam. We’ve basically addressed any ises that may be present with current OEM seats, and now offer seats for everybody, at prices that are roughly half the cost of replacing a stock seat.

Fine-tuning the fit of a motocross seat is actually a very nice tool for customizing the overall feel and responsiveness of the bike, right?

Absolutely! And it’s a piece of the bike that is so overlooked. Most people don’t recognize things like broken-down foam and distorted bases as things that can affect the rideability of their bikes. Not only that, but also looking at your body type and determining how you match up to the “prototype person who these production bikes are made for. Are you shorter? Are you taller? Heavier? It all makes a difference.

So by addressing the fit and comfort via the seat, one can make their bike more functional for themselves?

Exactly. It’s a fine-tuning adjustment that really improves the comfort of the ride. Most people make adjustments to things like ride height and the positioning of their handlebars, but there are other key things involved, like the seat, that allow one to tailor the bike for an even better fit.

How did you get plugged into the professional scene to start your development?

The word spread a little bit and some mechanics actually contacted me for help. We ended up with some top factory riders and teams, along with a number of privateer teams that helped us essentially R&D all of our seats. We now provide a full-service program, which includes base, brackets, foam, and covers already assembled, so that the race mechanics can spend their time on the machine, and allow us to be the seat experts. Currently we work with factory KTM, Moto XXX, Robbie Reynard’s team, and countless other pros like Joe Oehlhof who run our complete systems. In addition, a number of other teams out there who are obligated through their graphic deals to run different covers actually utilize our frames and foam. Working with professionals has helped us develop all of the products that we bring into market for the average consumer, and it helps us develop better products in the end, as well.

Do most of your pros run custom, one-off seats, or do you take all designs into production?

There are a couple, but we’ve been able to eliminate that through our extensive R&D and the fact that we work with so many teams. Custom-shaped seats are only geared toward the team stuff to help us develop the products that will better serve the consumer. Once we have them fine-tuned and the demand is there, we go to production, but it can take some time. The reason the step took so long to come to market is the fact that there were so many variations before we knew what really worked.

What’s the timeline and process like for developing a new seat, getting it manufactured, and making it available to the public?

Like I said, it can be a pretty long process. There are hand-carved stages, fitment stages, 3D scanning to build plastic molds for fitment, blueprinting to build complete 3D high-compression steel molds, and then prototypes are made and tested with our team riders. Once we determine that there are no weaknesses in the seats, or that no other variations can be made better, the mold gets stamped for that particular model, and then it goes into a small production run. Those are then tested for fitment and quality, and once approved, we can go to production. If everything goes smoothly, we can get it all done in 120 to 160 days.

It may be an intensive process, but you guys usually hit the nail on the head. Our own Swap used to experiment with fancy seat variations in his garage, but we think he’s finally settled into using your stuff primarily…

(Laughs) Yeah, he came around. Gone are the days of duct tape and spare tires under Swap’s seat covers, so they no longer look like a solo seat off of a street bike.

How many different seats do you guys produce now for each model?

For about 80% of the models, you can buy them in at least a standard and a tall. On about 10% of the models you can get them in a standard, a tall, a low, and a step, so I think there are about 84 different models now, ranging from $103.99 to $129.99.

Are most of the Steps for 450s?

Yeah. With a 450’s power characteristics and the way you have to ride them, the step works very well. Not only does the step give you the ability to hold that horsepower and hold your body in position, but it’s also a fundamental training piece in a sense. If you feel the step, then you’re probably not riding in the correct position to begin with. That’s another one of those things that we’ve learned from our pros. And more importantly than that, we’re finding that riders are staying fresher throughout the course of a moto, because the step can actually help you save energy if utilized properly.

With the bulk of the motocross seat variations already covered, what’s next?

I am always open to new things. We’ve already tested a number of different—some wacky—designs that have been thrown out the window, but you never know when one may work. In fact, I was one of the biggest skeptics when we started playing with the step seats, but look at ’em now! We’re open-minded, and we work with some great people who help us test. I’d say that the potential for new and more functional seats in the future is definitely out there.

Contact SDG at 800-RIDESDG, or visit their Web site at www.sdgusa.com e models, you can buy them in at least a standard and a tall. On about 10% of the models you can get them in a standard, a tall, a low, and a step, so I think there are about 84 different models now, ranging from $103.99 to $129.99.

Are most of the Steps for 450s?

Yeah. With a 450’s power characteristics and the way you have to ride them, the step works very well. Not only does the step give you the ability to hold that horsepower and hold your body in position, but it’s also a fundamental training piece in a sense. If you feel the step, then you’re probably not riding in the correct position to begin with. That’s another one of those things that we’ve learned from our pros. And more importantly than that, we’re finding that riders are staying fresher throughout the course of a moto, because the step can actually help you save energy if utilized properly.

With the bulk of the motocross seat variations already covered, what’s next?

I am always open to new things. We’ve already tested a number of different—some wacky—designs that have been thrown out the window, but you never know when one may work. In fact, I was one of the biggest skeptics when we started playing with the step seats, but look at ’em now! We’re open-minded, and we work with some great people who help us test. I’d say that the potential for new and more functional seats in the future is definitely out there.

Contact SDG at 800-RIDESDG, or visit their Web site at www.sdgusa.com