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Cab Comfort: Part One

Professional truckers spend hours a day sitting in the same position, hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead. Are you doing all you can do to be comfortable? If you’re not, your body, your brain and your ability to do your job right will suffer for it.

In part one of this two-part article, we’ll scout some top seats and seat cushions and see what they offer. In part two, we’ll look at ways to make your cab surroundings contribute more to your well-being while you’re not driving.

Behind the wheel
When I started thinking about this assignment, my mind drifted back to 1984 and 1985. I participated in preparing a presentation to be made by The Maintenance Council to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Titled “Tomorrow’s Trucks: the Users’ Perspective,” it set forth the direction truck operators wanted truck builders to go. Until October 1985, when the presentation was made, truck manufacturers got little input from the users. That changed in just one day of presentations. My section was part of the Cab and Controls Study Group presentation, made by Jerry Kreaden, our study group chairman. Others were on electrical systems, wheels and tires, engines and related systems, brakes, drivetrains, trailers, in short, everything about a truck. 

Since then, there have been two more presentations, plus a series of formal responses and a few “white papers” on specific problems. More importantly, there is now an ongoing dialogue between makers and users, and the result is seen in the types of trucks we have today. There has been a great deal of progress in cab comfort in the 17 years since the users first made their desires known, but every year at every show, we find more entrepreneurs developing more and better products to enhance our comfort even more. 

When we’re in our cabs, what do we do most often? Sit and sleep, and/or sometimes recline. So let’s take a look at some products that can help us do those things more comfortably. 

Seats themselves are continually evolving, Bostrom’s Wide Ride has a 21-inch cushion width, instead of the usual 18. Armrest to armrest, the overall width is 25 inches. I believe in using two armrests, because they keep your body symmetrical and your spine straight. I’m convinced one reason drivers experience back pain is because they are tossed around and bounced when the spine is curved, low to a single arm rest and high to the window ledge. Good seating posture is critical to cab comfort. 

Another wide seat comes from Seats Inc. The Wide Elcamino has a 21-inch cushion and a two-way lumbar adjustment. Seats also offers the CL67LE Elcamino, with a 22-inch cushion and four-way air lumbar adjustment. And to enhance stability, they offer an extra-wide parallelogram base that is 13 and a half inches wide, five more than their standard base. 

Proper seat adjustment is a key element in seating comfort. Isringhausen continues to impress me with their wide range of controls. I’ll admit I bought one 10 years ago and still love it. Today, you can get Isri seats with powered adjustments. At ITS, the folks at Isri hinted at some new developments “not quite ready yet.” We’ll keep you posted when they release the new seat. 

Comfort Ride also spoke about suspension improvements. Their current air cylinder design makes it impossible to bottom-out or bump-stop, and they have massagers built into the seats. OOIDA members Bob and Suzanne Stempinski, Skokie, IL, own a pair with all the bells and whistles. I test drove their truck across Missouri when they got their Detroit 550, and I must say I was most impressed with their seats. I don’t know how Comfort Ride will improve on what they have, but progress is the American way, so I’m sure they will. 

National Seating recently made the Back Cycler optional in their seats. I got a free-standing test unit a few years ago, when Back Cycler was first introduced at the SAE World Congress. The spine compresses when we sit in one position, especially when subjected to the shock and vibration of truck travel. The Back Cycler was invented by Dr. Rowland Hazard, an orthopedics professor at the University of Vermont. It consists of a bladder, an air pressure regulator (with a compressor for light and medium-duty vehicles) and a timing and control mechanism. It takes the place of your ordinary lumbar support. When turned on, the Back Cycler inflates to the firmness you set with your controls. Back Cycler holds that lumbar pressure for 90 seconds, then deflates for 30 seconds before starting the cycle again. This forces the spine in and out, making it re-adjust itself and improving fluid circulation. (If I don’t get the physiology right, Dr. Hazard, forgive me.) I love my Back Cycler. With it, I can drive 300 miles at a stretch and feel as refreshed as when I started out. 

A different approach to the same problem — spinal movement — comes from Schukra, a “tier 2” supplier that specializes in adjustable lumbar supports for seat makers. While the Back Cycler can be ordered as a stand-alone item or built into the National’s premium seat, the Schukra unit must be placed under the upholstery. Fortunately, it’s an easy matter to replace the regular lumbar support with Schukra’s rolling massage unit. The support has rollers that bear against the seat fabric from the inside. When the motors slowly move the flexible support vertically, the spine is moved and stretched, imparting movement while you’re sitting still. Several seat makers already offer the Schukra unit as an option. 

Amobi, the Canadian seat maker, takes a different approach to seating comfort. Rather than using firm contoured foam blocks as their seat cushions (as most others do), Amobi uses a series of special foam-covered air bags in their Crest model. The seat back has three bags. There’s one in each side bolster, and the seat surface has four bags. A while ago, I interviewed several drivers who started using an Amobi on a chiropractor’s recommendation. The support system worked and the drivers are now virtually pain-free. That’s a huge improvement. 

Air is an excellent support medium. Besides its role in tires and suspensions, it can cushion us where we sit. Roho’s latest Airhawk dry flotation cushion has proven itself for several years. My late colleague at Land Line, Senior Editor Ruth Jones, loved driving with hers. She even brought it to the office to sit on it there. Roho’s cushion conforms to the body when properly inflated. Don’t use too much air. You’ll just stiffen the cushion and remove most shock absorption. Use just enough air to lift you off the seat. The latest Airhawk cushions have a new cell design, a redesigned cover and, perhaps this most important feature, a new valve system that keeps air from putting too much pressure under your legs while allowing air to be segmented into four quadrants. 

Air is such an ideal cushioning and spring medium, most on-highway suspensions use it, as do almost all truck seats. We’ve become used to the ride quality of air (seats) over air (suspensions). But even air on air can be improved, as many of you have discovered. Link Manufacturing pioneered the use of auxiliary cab air suspensions more than 20 years ago, and, while not exclusive, they remain the leader in their product category. You haven’t really experienced true cab comfort unless you’ve experienced air (seats) over air (cab suspensions) over air (truck suspensions).

We’ve covered seats (oops, another pun), but we still have a great deal more to cover. There are many things to do to make your cab more comfortable, especially when you’re not driving. Next issue we’ll look at heating and cooling, and how to provide power for your cooking appliances and entertainment systems. Meanwhile, think back to the equipment we had 15 or 20 years ago. We’ve seen more improvement in cab comfort in those few years than in the previous 85 years of trucking.

NEXT ISSUE we’ll look at heating and cooling and how to provide power for your cooking appliances and entertainment systems