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Off Road Race Seats and Harnesses

Posted in How To on January 1, 2010
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Whether you're building up a race truck, prerunner, or just improving the performance of your daily driver and weekend machine, quality seating and safety restraints may just end up on your to-do list. Once the suspension and go-fast goodies are all in place, it may be time to turn your attention to a few ergonomic concerns. Comfortable and secure seating can mean the difference between having fun in your wheeler or suffering, all too intimately, the bumps in the road.

A typical non-reclining suspension seat usually offers taller hip bolsters than a factory bucket. This makes them a bit harder to climb into, but once you're in place you're held more securely as compared to a stock seat. This helps when the vehicle is bouncing around.

Seat Upgrades
Factory stock seating varies considerably, from downright poor versions of bench seating to decent bucket seats that offer much better support and comfort for traversing rough terrain. Seats should be comfortable for long days on the trail or track, provide good support for your torso, and hold you securely in place so you can stay in control of your vehicle.

There are a number of aftermarket companies that sell performance seating options. The simplest of these are fiberglass or polyethylene-molded bucket seats that can be combined with vinyl covers. The benefits of these seats are low cost and great weather-resistance. When they get dirty, simply hose them down and you're good to go again. The downside of these seats is they typically offer the bare minimum in comfort, offering little or no padding to cushion your backside.

Here's a look at a Mastercraft's reclining seat, the Baja RS, next to a stock Toyota bucket. This style allows you the upgrade to a suspension seat while also retaining the ability to fold the seat forward or recline it backwards, which is handy for daily drivers and weekend runners.

There are also racing seats manufactured from aluminum and supplemented with padding and outer cover. However, these are built more for road racing and not for off-road, where the occupant endures much more violent impact and vertical shock forces.

Higher grade performance seating can be found in suspension style seats offered by a variety of aftermarket suppliers. Such seats are usually constructed from a tubular steel frame and support padding, using a laced cording structure inside a cloth or vinyl covering. While these are a more expensive option over the harder molded seats, suspension seats allow you to ride all day in isolated comfort, smoothing out some of the roughness in the terrain. Additionally, they transfer much less energy from the vehicle into your body.

Look under a suspension seat and you'll find more than molded foam over metal springs found on a stock seat. Mastercraft, for example, uses an open weave mesh material combined with rubber strapping that helps to dissipate body force energy when the vehicle encounters a bump. This leaves you less fatigued at the end of the day. A proper suspension seat will hold you more planted, causing you less struggle to keep your body in place. By contrast, an original vehicle seat has more of a tendency to simply bounce you back up off the seat without absorbing as much of your inertial energy.
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Seat Mounting
Stock seats often have their mounting hardware integrated into the bottom of the seat frame. This would include the bracketry used to mate the seat to the floor attachment points and sliders to allow fore/aft positioning of the seat. Aftermarket molded seating may or may not come with any type of mounting hardware, but it is usually available for additional cost. Suspension seats come with simple metal tab mounts, one for each corner. These tabs can be bolted to matching tabs that have been welded to your chassis or cage, or bolted to the floor of your vehicle.

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Harness Choice
While upping your comfort and posture in your rig, consider swapping over to full harnesses for safety restraints. Stock seatbelts may or may not provide you with all the comfort and security you desire. Aftermarket racing style harnesses come in a variety of configurations, the most common is the four or five-point harness.

Modern, stock three-point seat belts work well in many situations. However, you may find you prefer the security of a full four or five-point racing style harness. Here is a typical five-point harness assembly. This one includes the five straps, latching hardware and floor/bar mounting hardware as well.

A 2-inch or 3-inch lap belt forms two points of security. The 2-inch or 3-inch shoulder straps, one on each side, form two more points. The fifth point is an optional anti-submarine belt that runs from the lap belt buckle down between your legs. This prevents you from sliding too far forward during sudden forward deceleration or hard bottoming of the vehicle suspension.

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Harness Mounting
Along with different belt styles, there are different mounting methods for harnesses. A wrap-around end simply routes the end of the harness belt around a tube running behind your seat back. A metal adjuster plate is used to secure and adjust the harness length. Bolt-in mounts use a metal mounting piece through which the belt is run. This metal piece is then bolted to some point on the vehicle chassis. Snap-in mounts are similar to bolt-in mounts but can be removed quickly for use in another vehicle, or when not needed.

When choosing mounting locations, carefully consider proper anchor points. One critical one has to do with the positioning of the shoulder harness mount point as shown in this diagram. Essentially, the shoulder harness has the purpose of holding you back into the seat and not holding you down into the seat. Lap belt mounting should be such that the belts fit properly through the seat slots and do not bind. Consult the harness manufacturer or race sanctioning body for more specific mounting procedures. There are a number of considerations to take into account when setting up mounting points for harnesses. Illustration courtesy of Mastercraft Racing Seats.

Whether ripping across the desert, sloshing through the mud, or canyon crawling through rocks, good seats and safety restraints make the sport safer and more enjoyable. Adding performance seating can sooth the bumps and hooking up harnesses will keep you firmly tucked into those seats should you fail to keep the rubber side down. But, be cautious about installing and using this gear. If in doubt, consult with the manufacturer or an expert for your specific application. Play safe!

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