Top five… tips for shorter motorcycle riders
Riding a motorbike is a very inclusive activity. Whether you ride as a cheap way to get to work, get your kicks on sports bikes at weekends or are a dyed in the wool biker, there’s something for almost everyone in the motorcycling world.
When the helmet goes on, we are all equal but one criticism often laid at bike manufacturers is that their models are not always suitable for riders who are short in the leg. It’s a tough ask, making a motorcycle that is as practical and comfortable to a short person as it is a tall person, but hopefully there are still plenty of interesting and practical bikes out there to suit your needs – whatever your size. Even if you do find that bike that fits you like a glove, there are a few ways in which shorter riders can feel more comfortable and confident while riding.
So, by popular demand, we are providing these hints and tips to help shorter riders choose the right bike for them, and to help them get the most out of their steed…
To be honest, you probably research most things you buy these days. Whether it’s a toaster, a fridge or an insurance supplier, you can bet that there will be a website out there with a review of the product or service you want to buy, very often directly from a real life customer.
Read reviews, check out forums and ask questions on the various social media platforms dedicated to the bike you’re planning to ride. You’ll almost certainly find another owner happy to impart their experience.
Go see the bike in the metal before you buy it. Test ride if possible, but if you can’t make sure you at least sit on it and make sure you’re comfortable. Ideally you want to do that wearing your winter riding gear, as thick garments might restrict your movement a little and make your inside leg even shorter.
If you’re buying from a dealer, talk to them about any concerns you might have. Very possibly you won’t be the first customer with the same comments, and they may be able to provide a simple solution or recommendation for your problem.
Modifications can be a good way to adjust the bike to help it fit you better.
Typical mods include changes to the seat, handlebars and suspension, although extreme caution should be taken when it comes to the latter.
Manufacturers recognise that making bikes more accessible can lead to bigger sales figures, so an increasing number of bikes have seats and handlebars that have various height settings as standard. Often they will offer alternative saddles as part of their accessory range, which can reduce the seat height. The advantage of these is that they can make it easier for the rider to get their feet on the ground at standstill, although the flip side is that they usually have less padding and a different seat profile, which in turn means that they are less comfortable. You could also try modifying the seat yourself, or commission a custom saddle maker, although that is usually quite expensive.
Modifying the suspension is a more complex issue. If your bike has an adjustable rear shock, winding down the preload will increase the ‘sag’ and help it sit lower to the ground, although the handling is unlikely to be as sharp if you like to push on.
If that’s not enough, there are other ways to lower your motorcycle, including dropping the forks through the yokes, changing the rear shock absorber and the rear linkage. This will undoubtedly change the handling of your bike, reducing the ground clearance, altering the steering characteristics and potentially meaning that the side stand will need to be altered to stop the bike falling over when parked up. Some professional engineering companies have been reported to lower bikes with some success but anything that changes the dynamics of the motorcycle is best avoided, or at least approached with extreme caution.
Adjust your riding style
While modifying the motorcycle is a good way for a shorter rider to be able to get their feet down at standstill, that may not be able to go all the way.
Most riders start out on narrow, low and lightweight 125cc machines, on which they can comfortably get their feet down at standstill. As we work up to bigger and heavier bikes, it can be more difficult to get both feet down which can be disconcerting.
If this sounds like you, then you may be able to adjust your thinking and riding style to accommodate. If you can’t get both feet flat on the ground, you might find that dropping one butt cheek slightly off the saddle and getting one foot solidly on the ground gives more security than struggling on tip toes to get both feet down. As a shorter rider you’ll need to pay close attention to road cambers and so on when you pull up, but with practice and experience it will become second nature, which brings us to…
We’re going to go on record as saying that short riders can ride tall bikes. Television adventurer Charley Boorman is known for riding fully loaded adventure bikes on rough terrain, yet he’s not exactly tall, while there’s a famous Japanese motorcycle journalist known for his diminutive dimensions and ability to test ride any bike out there with great pace and confidence.
On the move, short riders can ride tall bikes with the best of them – it’s only when pulling up that many find an issue. In a lot of cases, it’s a confidence thing and the best way to improve confidence is to get some top notch rider training and miles under the belt.
It’s not a magic bullet, but a confident rider will be less intimidated by their machine and can react better to situations that will undoubtedly occur. Training, plus experience, leads to muscle memory – an instinct that kicks in when riding. The more you practice, the better you get, and soon rolling up to traffic lights will become second nature, instead of filling you with dread.
Be prepared to fall!
Ok, so this is a bit awkward but what would actually happen if you drop the bike?
Chances are that we are taking about a topple at standstill, which is unlikely to cause terminal damage you your motorcycle. Just as we talked about modifying the bike to make it easier to fit on, having a look at fitting crash protection is definitely worth considering for less confident riders. Drop bars, fork protectors and crash bungs are all sacrificial parts designed to take the impact in the event your bike falls over and could well be a good investment. Practicing picking your bike up in the case of it being dropped is something else you might consider trying. Despite bikes usually weighing in excess of 200kg, many swear that picking them up is more about technique than it is strength – and there are plenty of online tutorials to be found online.
Of course, no-one wants to drop the bike – especially if you’ve just bought that expensive dream bike – but being prepared for the eventuality can make stopping and low speed riding less stressful for some riders, allowing you to be more relaxed and able to enjoy your riding more. Again, having that confidence of knowing you can deal with any situations presented to you will help you be more relaxed and allows you to enjoy your riding much more.