From the California Vehicle Code:
#27801 Required Position of Equipment
No person shall drive any two-wheeled motorcycle equipped with a seat so positioned that the driver, when sitting astride the seat, cannot reach the ground with his feet. Effective May 3, 1972.
SBL FAQ Index
"I'd like to learn to ride, but I'm only 5'1." What kind of motorcycle should I get? Everyone tells me to get a Honda Rebel, is this a good bike?"
Welcome to the Short Bike List (SBL), a list of motorcycles suitable for short beginning motorcyclists, and much more.
The SBL was originated by people who are generally around five feet tall, and as beginners found it frustrating to find motorcycles they could ride. The motorcycling community at large is rather ignorant about the needs of a short rider, and this FAQ is an attempt to support new short riders and educate well-meaning taller ones.
Occasionally the KotSBL (Keeper of the SBL) reviews the SBL, makes
changes, and mails it to people who request it. There is still lots
of room for improvement, and it certainly isn't complete or entirely
correct. So, additions/updates/comments are VERY welcome!
In September, 1991, Lisa DeLorme sent me (Noemi) a list of "short" bikes in response to my netwide plea for help for a five-foot tall beginning motorcyclist. The excellent response she gave me was the basis for original SBL, which has since evolved into a package of information including this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) file. Many additions have been made since then, such as comments from other short riders, tips for beginners, modifications, among others.
A series of mail exchanges between myself and Lisa mushroomed into
an active mailing list. A year later, it had over 30 members and
has now over 70.
The "short" mailing list (SML)
Not to be confused with the Short Bike List, the SML is a mailing list whose topic is short motorcycling. Most of us are or were beginners and most of us are women, but it is not intended to exclude any person, be they male, tall or expert (and we have some of everything). We keep it off rec.motorcycles so as not to bore those not interested, but any and all are welcome to peek in on the discussion.
The short bikers list (sbl) is a majordomo list. To subscribe/unsubscribe send a message with "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" in the body of the message to:
You will receive confirmation containing the address of the mailing list.
The sbl mailing list is administrated by Cat Okita (firstname.lastname@example.org). This list
can get high-volume (10 messages a day, though sometimes none), and isn't
ALWAYS about short topics. Much of it is beginners sharing their new
experiences, and this is greatly encouraged. We have some experienced
riders on the list, and some of those who started out as rank beginners
are now getting to be experienced riders. For beginning short riders,
the people on the list are a great resource.
No one is too short to ride a motorcycle. Short beginners are merely too inexperienced to manage a motorcycle.
Truly short riders are generally under 5'2". People who are 5'4" have many more options than they think and can eventually ride all but the tallest motorcycles.
Many factors contribute to difficulty in managing motorcycles, not just rider height and motorcycle seat height. The motorcycle's height, weight, center of gravity, weight distribution, seat width, steering head angle, reach to the handlebars and other things count just as much. For instance, a Shadow 700 you can flatfoot may be harder to manage than a light dirt bike you can barely tiptoe.
Different bikes fit different people in different ways; things like peg placement and seating position vary a lot from one rider to another. The rider's inseam and boots count too. Short men may have an easier time than short women due to greater upper body strength (and longer feet!).
By FAR the most important factor in managing a motorcycle is rider experience, skill and determination. Many situations that tall riders will say you must flatfoot to handle can be handled by skill and planning. I cannot emphasize this enough! With experience, you can overcome most obstacles. We must make up for what we lack in height with skill and planning. In time, you may own a motorcycle you once thought you'd never even be able to sit on without someone holding it.
Every short rider has their own set of challenges and difficulties.
A bike that works for one rider may be out of the question for
another of the same height. It is very individual and there are
no formulas to follow. Except: experience, skill, practice, planning.
Harleys are famous for having low seat heights, and make more flatfootable bikes than any other manufacturer. However, Harleys are conspicuously absent from the SBL for a few reasons. Someone who wants a Harley will get a Harley because it's a Harley. They have their own appeal, culture and styling that encompasses a way of life.
Harleys are also expensive, heavy, and have lots of shiny chrome to muff up
in a drop, and hence are not always the best beginner's bikes. Of course,
some beginners start out on them with great success, but generally those
are people who want a HARLEY, not just a short bike. If someone's chief
criterion in choosing a motorcycle is getting foot down to the ground,
the SBL offers alternatives to Harleys.
Flatfooting is a preference, not a requirement.
Many people will tell you that you must flatfoot to ride (including the CA DMV license examiner and the MSF). This is simply not true. Confidence is the highest priority for completely green beginners, and the confidence that comes with flatfooting (or close to it) takes on greater importance. However, in the long term, anyone can overcome the need to flatfoot, especially when they get tired of having few motorcycle options.
The need to flatfoot varies from rider to rider. Many beginners are comfortable with just the balls of their feet on the ground; others prefer to flatfoot their first bike and then upgrade once they feel comfortable with the basics.
One milestone piece of advice I got from a woman MSF instructor who tiptoed a giant BMW is: "Just accept that your heels will never, ever touch the ground and will never be part of your riding. Then learn to live with it from there."
No situation requires flatfooting. For any given situation, there are N ways to handle it. The non-flatfoot rider merely has N-1 ways. Sometimes "flatfoot" isn't even in the set of N options, no matter what the height of the rider! Yes, it'd be easier to have "flatfoot" in your option set, but that's just not always a fact of life. What's the alternative -- not to ride? No way!
Keep yourself out of situations where you need to flatfoot. Backing up is the perfect example of this. Can't back out of a parking spot? Park forward. Overshot a stop line? Start braking sooner. Have to catch the bike after a sudden stop? Brake smoother. Stopped on a slope and can only put down one foot? Plan ahead and decide which foot goes down. Can't reach the ground over a low spot? Don't stop over the low spot! We have no choice but to make up for lack of foot with planning and skill. And remember, everyone, even flatfooters, drops their bikes sometimes.
You can ALWAYS get off the bike and back it up standing next to it if you must, there is no shame in this. This gets easier too, with practice.
The times you "need" to flatfoot are not frequent enough to justify buying
a bike with that as the main criterion (unless that's what you want, of
course). Not everyone is happy without their heels solidly planted,
but not to ride what you want is is even worse.
Our best strategies to compensate for being short are skill, experience and planning. Experience you get by riding for a long time, but skill at low speeds needs practice. You'll learn a lot about balancing use of the controls according to speed and lean angle. The rewards are increased confidence for U-turns, parking and gas stations.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) publishes a Motorcycle Skill Test practice guide describing various exercises to perform in parking lots, mostly ones similar to the exercises taught in their safety class. Write to the MSF at PO Box 5044, Costa Mesa CA 92628-5044.
I find 10 minutes a day for a week works better than one solid hour. When you come across an empty parking lot, practice for a few minutes. Any unfenced DMV test course you see should get a quick lap or two. Some of the practice techniques don't apply directly to what you'd do on the street, but can teach you finer control. Cut-in-half tennis balls work well as cones.
Ride as SLOW as you can in a straight line (eyes up). Technique: keep throttle and clutch steady, modulate speed with rear brake.
Ride moderate-speed circles (2nd gear) in both directions.
Ride figure 8's (much easier after the circles).
Ride higher-speed circles and get used to leaning. Technique: be light on the handlebars and try not to consciously countersteer. Relax the elbow and shoulder on the inside of the circle and see how the bike leans in!
Ride full-lock circles, slow as possible. Technique: look as far around the circle as you can. Experiment with throttle, clutch and rear brake control. Experiment with weight on the inside and outside of the circle. Try to ride the circle as slow as you can. You'll be steering instead of countersteering, but the tightest circles come from leaning slightly and actually countersteering at 2mph!
Ride an far-offset cone weave. Technique: look for the next cone as you're riding around the one you're on.
Ride ellipses -- straight line, U-turn, straight line, U-turn. Teaches you to smoothly slow down in preparation for a slow turn.
Do the MSF's countersteering exercise -- ride straight, then at a marker, countersteer to a quick turn. Both sides.
Ride tight, 90-degree turns one after another (like steps). Great for getting around tight motorcycle parking lots.
Braking practice -- always important but hard to make yourself do! Practice maximum braking from very slow speeds, like 5pmh, and then and work up to braking from higher speeds.
Balance -- come to a stop as smoothly as you can and try to balance at the end. Eventually you will gently light down one toe to hold the motorcycle.
For many of these things you might find that you're better on one side than the other (this is not directly related to handedness).
Even if in practice you don't exceed 5mph, your riding in parking lots and at speed will certainly be sharper. Best of all, it increases confidence.
For actually riding on roads and not just in parking lots, the usual practice that any rider should do applies. For beginners, just getting out on their new, seemingly huge machines on a regular basis is important to overcome intimidation.
Solo rides where you can ride as slow as you want with no pressure are extremely helpful for building confidence. Practice riding over twisty stretch several times, very slow on purpose, including the straights, so that you begin to develop a sense of how to read a curve. Try going so slowly you don't need brakes. If you find yourself looking at your speedometer before the curve, cover it (just for practice). It's not where you want to be looking.
Riding with groups or with a friend is important too. Try leading as well as following a good rider. Try to ride with other nervous new beginners. Be aware of the inclination not to go out riding without your riding mentor to help you. There are many things that can only be learned on your own.
It's also good to get comfortable riding off pavement so you're not intimidated if you have to stop on a dirt shoulder or gravel parking lot. Though it's scary at first, you have a lot more traction than it seems and you may even have fun! If you see a stretch of dirt road, try it. Be light on the handlebars, plan way ahead and don't make any abrupt inputs. Riding off pavement teaches you a lot about riding on it.
Basically, get out and ride! Make yourself do it every day for
a few weeks, even if just for a few minutes. This will help it
become part of normal routine. Even just commuting helps develop
and sharpen skills, and you'll be eager for longer rides. When
you start having tons of fun in motion, you won't worry as much
about what to do when you have to stop and park.
Parking is where the tipover risk is at its highest, and it's very frustrating to feel your bike get away from you. The best solution to this is to learn with experience how to handle various parking situations.
Good planning can overcome 99% of the parking hazards all motorcyclists face. Good short riders rarely drop their bikes parking or unparking, because unlike taller riders, they always think about where they're putting their bikes.
CHOOSE YOUR PARKING SPOTS CAREFULLY!!
This cannot be overemphasized!
Avoid backing up -- find a way to park forward. This is where your tight U-turn practice comes in. It's OK to circle a parking lot a few times, even if the rest of the group has already parked, has their helmets off and are on their way in to lunch. Look for a level spacious, and clean parking spot that is easy to get out of. Chances are you'll be the first one ready to go again, since you did the smartest parking job.
Don't feel embarrassed or pressured into parking before you're ready. Take as much time as you need to select the best spot, make a few laps if necessary. Don't worry about anyone watching or waiting. Beginners feel a lot of pressure, and it's important to know that it's OK to make everyone else wait a few minutes while you park -- it'll be a longer wait for them if you drop the bike.
Avoid pulling forward into a parking spot with a downward slope. Even flatfoot riders get stuck in downsloped spots, because they didn't think ahead. Be careful of pulling forward into spots sloped upward -- gravity will help you back out, but sometimes there is a low spot where the slope meets level ground.
Sloped driveways are always a challenge. Park to one side or the other at the top of the driveway, so that you can back the bike up (standing next to it) parallel to the street and perpendicular to the slope (the first part of a K-turn). Then it's easy to pull forward and out.
No one says you can't cheat. Sometimes I'll park and pivot my bike 180 degrees on its centerstand. And though this is considered somewhat antisocial, sometimes I'll ride up, then off a curb to park my bike facing out (tip: NASA security takes a dim view of riding on federal sidewalks, and the San Jose Police aren't too impressed with this either). Any method, no matter how sneaky, is acceptable. And you can ALWAYS walk it into a parking spot.
Again, with PLANNING you can handle almost anything. With practice
and experience, you'll learn what works for you and what situations
you can deal with or must always avoid.
Tiptoeing and one-footing
I can flatfoot -- I just can't flatfeet!
After a certain point, it's no use to handle a tall bike with two feet, even the balls of feet the way most riders do it. Tiptoeing a bike is not for everyone, but all riders should know it's quite doable if the rider is willing. (12K JPG)
Those of us who truly tiptoe our bikes learn to handle them one foot at a time. At stops, the tiptoe rider slides off the seat slightly to reach one foot to the ground. This requires planning so you set the uphill foot down if you're on a slope, and so that you don't set your foot in any traction-robbing substance. It helps to have a seat shaped that lets you slide from side to side that you can easily set the other foot down if you need to, say, put the bike in neutral. Balance and smooth braking are important so you don't need to catch the bike with two feet, as some sloppy riders do.
It's even possible to back up a bit with one foot, depending on the slope. I do this by pushing with my foot and holding the bike with the front brake while I move my foot back for the next paddle. This is enough of a pain that next time I try to stop in the right place!
Few situations truly require two feet. Most situations are more
conveniently handled with two feet, but that doesn't preclude
finding one-foot, or better yet, one-brain ways of handling them.
You will develop their own methods, and in time, this will all be
incorporated into your regular riding habits and you won't even
think about it.
Choosing your motorcycle
Many short beginners start out on a small, inexpensive Japanese bike that takes well to being dropped and won't intimidate them.
It is highly recommended to ride your first bike for at least a few thousand miles. Even an old 250 can teach you a lot. In fact, overcoming the limits of a bike is a valuable experience, especially in terms of cornering and braking skill. The time on your first bike can also help you find out what kind of rider you'll be (sport, dirt, touring, commuting, some of everything).
Get a bike you are comfortable with, even if everyone tells you it's too small or too big. Don't worry about outgrowing a bike -- that's a great milestone that most riders never experience. That means you have really advanced and have experienced the limits of a motorcycle, and have found some of your own. Congratulations! You will be very ready for your next bike and will be better able to appreciate its capabilities.
Most people assume a short rider's main priority in a motorcycle is always seat height. That may be true for beginners, but we're motorcyclists just like everyone else, with our own priorities and preferences. Sure, cruisers are low, but that doesn't mean that cruisers fit every short rider's riding lifestyle forever.
At first, reaching comfortably is the highest priority for most riders, but most short riders choose their second bikes based on their needs for speed, comfort, wind protection, price, reliability, touring suitability etc., just like anyone else.
By the time you're ready for your second bike, you won't need the SBL.
Getting to know your new bike
Many riders with a new bike want to change things on it right away, especially height-related things. I have a 3-week rule for these things: see if you can live with something for 3 weeks. During that time, you'll find that it will get worse or better. If it gets better, you'll forget you ever thought it was a problem, and save yourself the trouble of changing anything. If you find it bothers you more and more, then change it -- your decision will be an informed one!
So before you cut your seat, order a short shock or shorten the centerstand
on a bike you just bought, see if you get used to it first. If you don't,
then change it. If you do, you just saved yourself a lot of trouble.
You're on a steep learning curve the first few weeks you own a bike,
that's not the right time to make major changes.
Do we have to be able to pick up a bike to own it?
Of course not!
There are many, many holes in this statement. Why must you be able to pick it up? So you don't get stranded, of course. OK, don't get stranded! There are many, many strategies toward this goal. Being able to pick up your bike alone is only one, and still does not guarantee an incident-free trip home.
How do you determine that someone can "pick up" his bike? Laying your bike down in your driveway and hauling it up, while is good, confidence-building practice, only means that you were able to pick up your bike in your driveway that day. It doesn't mean you'll be able to pick it up out on the road. It can fall downhill, or into a rut, or you might be very tired, or it might be loaded down -- there are any number of reasons that you can't pick it up.
And even if you can't pick it up in your driveway doesn't mean you won't be able to when the chips are down. I wonder how many Ducati riders and BMW K1100LT riders lay their bikes down on purpose in their driveway to test out this "requirement," anyway?
There are many owners of big touring bikes who can't pick up their bikes alone every time (and who'd want to anyway, they're heavy!). And there are riders who go offroad alone with their nice light easy-to-pick-up dual-sport bikes who get stuck. Who's more likely to get stranded: the K1100LT rider who can't budge his bike off the ground and rides from restaurant to restaurant, or the guy with the light KLR650 who ventures onto a Jeep trail alone?
Very rarely does a rider find himself truly alone. In the situations in which you are most likely to drop a bike (parking and unparking), there is almost always someone around to help. How many times are you truly out in the middle of the fabled nowhere alone with a dropped bike? If the answer is "often," you may want to rethink a few things. If the stranding is happening because of dropping your bike, you need to practice handling it. Or quit riding late at night when you're too tired. Maybe you shouldn't ride alone or in unfamiliar circumstances until you improve. Maybe you do need a smaller, lighter bike that you can handle more easily.
Certainly there will be unhappy, frustrating moments when you wish you could pick up your bike by yourself. Are those times often enough or powerful enough that they will seriously influence your choice of bike? Is ten minutes of frustration worth making serious compromises in a motorcycle that will affect the other hundreds of hours you'll spend on the bike? Would you pass up your dream bike for this reason alone? Probably not!
There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be able to pick up your bike in your driveway. But this is only one of many means toward the end of not getting stranded. It does not have to be a requirement or a primary factor in choosing a bike.
(Need to add in techniques on picking up dropped bikes)
Ever the problem for the beginner, it's always worse for the short rider who has little leverage, and often lacks the strength to muscle a bike onto the stand. Take heart: ANY centerstand can be conquered with technique and timing. Many tall and strong riders never develop a technique and just rely on brute force.
Centerstanding is a whole topic and flame war unto itself, so just a rough outline of a basic method follows.
- Lower the bike's centerstand with your right foot until both "feet" of the centerstand touch the ground. You may need to let the bike go over to its right farther than feels right!
- Left hand on the handlebar, right hand on a grab spot by the seat, press with your right foot as though you are stepping down, and guide the bike backward, not so much up.
- When it reaches its highest point, press even harder with your foot and pull backward.
Imagine that there is a STRAIGHT LINE from the point where your toe hits the centerstand lug to the point where your hand is. Simply increase the LENGTH of the straight line and think of nothing else.
You can't, and shouldn't, *lift* the bike onto the centerstand. With
practice, you'll be able to feel when the bike is at the high point where
giving it an extra push will get it onto the centerstand. Every bike
is different, too. Keep at it, try every time you park the bike, and
eventually you *will* be able to do it every time.
Most tall riders do this by sitting on the bike, reaching one foot down and pushing it off. If this method isn't possible for you, another way is to push it off standing next to it. Most riders will grab the handlebars and push forward, grabbing the brake as the bike comes down. If this works for you, great!
But I've found that grabbing the front brake is the quickest way to the ground for my bike. Another way is to stand next to the bike, put your left hand on the handlebar and the right hand on the centerstand grab handle if there is one, or in the same place you put your hand for centerstanding. Then push it off with your right hand, the left hand steering, and walk with it a few steps as it rolls. The rolling keeps it stable so you won't drop it.
Experiment with every way you can think of if none of these
work for you.
It's a good idea for several reasons to learn to get on and off a bike without a sidestand. One is that some bikes have a spring-loaded sidestand that automatically retracts, and your legs may be too short to deploy it from the saddle. It's embarrassing to be stuck on a new Ducati without being able to get off it after the sidestand sproinged up.
If a bike is tall enough, it's harder to push the bike vertical while sitting on it than while standing next to it. This is particularly true when combined with an automatically retracting sidestand -- a push that doesn't make the bike perfectly vertical could lift it off the sidestand just enough for it to retract, leaving you in midair with no sidestand and legs too short to catch it!
The more balance you develop, the better off you'll be overall.
If you can get on and off without the sidestand, you have an
extra measure of control that will help you handle any bike.
Advice from others
Taller riders might tell you you can't do it: what they mean is THEY can't do it, because they've never needed to learn. Too often when someone sees a short rider struggling to back up a bike, they say, "that rider needs a lower bike" instead of, "that rider shouldn't have parked there."
Someone once told me he thought a requirement to owning a bike is that you have to be strong enough to back it uphill. This was because one time he parked his FJ1200 forward in a downsloped spot and had to rely on his enormous strength to pull the bike out. True, I'm not strong enough to back an FJ1200 uphill, but then, I'm not dumb enough to park it that way! But a new short rider hearing what he said might permanently cross an FJ1200 off his or her list of possible bikes -- a real shame. FJ1200s are actually very low and quite manageable if you don't park them foolishly.
Taller riders will also tell you about the time they almost dropped their bike stopping over a low spot, putting their foot in a pothole or oil, and had to use their long legs to save it. Of course this means YOU have to have long legs for these situations too, right? No! Short riders don't stop over low spots or put their feet in potholes! (In fact, if you learn to gently set one foot down, slipping is less likely since your foot puts very little pressure on the ground.)
Don't let anyone extrapolate an impossibility from a single incident in their own experience!
We have to approach every situation with a different mindset than most other riders. Don't get discouraged if you can't do something the way everyone tells you is "the way" -- you'll find your own way. The FIRST thing a short rider has to change is his beliefs about what can be done and how.
As an example, I sometimes get advice from well-meaners about how to deploy the spring-loaded sidestand from the saddle of my BMW R80G/S. Good thing I never took that advice to mean that I *had* to learn to do this! For one thing, none of the methods they suggest work for someone as short as I am. And for another, they assume that I *want* to deploy the sidestand from the saddle, since that's how "it's done." While I appreciate the concern, it's not necessary: I prefer to mounting and dismount without a sidestand.
Advice from other riders is usually aimed at doing things the way most
people are used to doing. While there's nothing wrong with that, some
of what other riders tell you just won't apply. That's OK: listen
to it, process it, and form your own conclusion. Nothing is gospel!
To tall riders
"After I took the MSF class, I started riding our Honda Ascot. My husband didn't think it had enough power to pass safely on the freeway, so we got a Hawk instead. It scares me! I was doing great on the Ascot, but I haven't been out much since we got the Hawk. Now my husband is getting sort of frustrated that I never ride anymore."
-- Woman I met at a gym
This story is very familiar.
Many of the people requesting the SBL are the SOs, friends, siblings or spouses of beginning short riders, and are frequently tall, and male, riders themselves. Many of these well-meaning riding mentors find themselves frustrated at how slowly their [usually female] friend/SO/sister/wife is learning. Often they can't relate to the intimidation, fear and difficulty in managing this relatively tremendous object.
Also, often the guidance they offer doesn't emphasize the methods a short rider must develop and rely on. Many a short beginner's closest calls and tensest moments come from parking next to their mentor. Often the newbie does better when they are forced to choose their own spot. It isn't easy to park across the street when everyone else parked right in front of the restaurant, a beginner can feel very conspicuous and just wants to fit in, and so is pressured into trying something that doesn't feel right.
To the kind teachers: be patient, supportive, encouraging, and firm!
She's not just being a weenie. It can take a long time to gain a confidence foothold. Some people catch on slower than others. For a small and weaker learning rider, it is important to overcome intimidation and feel like you have control over the motorcycle.
A short rider can eventually manage any situation, but many of those situations require skill and experience that the beginner doesn't have yet, and that a taller rider never needed to develop. The prospect of facing these situations (such as, a stop sign at the top of a steep hill) detracts from confidence, and adds to the learning time.
For the onlooker, it's hard to balance being supportive and pushing the beginner -- you don't want to be forceful, but you know they need a push. Sometimes treating them as a regular rider is the best way for them to gain experience. Don't make too many beginner allowances, let them make their own mistakes, and figure out how to get out of a situation themselves.
Make sure you say it's OK to ride at their own pace and that you'll wait for them at intersections. Encourage them to join you on rides. Indirect pressure is a fairly good way to break in a beginner: ride as long between stops as you would normally, take the same or slightly longer breaks, don't point out where to park, but don't push hard all day as you would with an experienced group, at least not at first. Most motorcyclists will rise to the occasion -- we have to be made of tougher stuff than the average Joe or Jane! After a few rough rides, it gets easier. Of course, how to handle a beginner varies tremendously from person to person.
Another common mistake is for the well-meaning tall mentor, usually male, to advise his beginning woman friend/sister/SO that she needs a bike 1) with an engine displacement above a certain minimum and 2) she can flatfoot. This too often translates into a short beginner starting out on a heavy, low cruiser with a big engine for "passing power." Baloney! These bikes are harder to handle and can slow down the learning process. Even a 250cc motorcycle can out-accelerate most cars. It is far more important for the short beginner to feel confident on the bike than it is to blow off cars.
If he or she outgrows a small bike: great. That's a terrific milestone. Few riders experience outgrowing a motorcycle's capabilities, and this is valuable for learning your limits and riding style, as well as making an appropriate choice for the next motorcycle. Though the experienced rider may not relate to being intimidated by what seems to them to be a perfectly reasonable bike, far too many beginners never really get going because the bikes suggested by their well-intentioned advisors scare them.
Also, just because you're used to flatfooting doesn't mean she'll be able to do things the way you do. Try spending a week with only putting one foot down -- no backing up, no duck-walking. You may find yourself in the parking lot practicing full-lock circles too!
Even the most skilled and well-meaning tall rider has never faced the
challenges of short riding and doesn't know from personal experience
what can and can't be overcome. This is one case where the experienced
rider can learn something from the beginner!
The advantages of being a short rider
Yes, there are some! We tend to be lighter, and so can benefit from more performance from smaller-engined motorcycles. We can bum rides from experienced riders and learn a lot that way. We have a lot more room to stretch out on our bikes than the six-footers do. People who are 6'5" and taller have just as much trouble finding bikes to fit them, and there are few modifications to make for being too tall!
Still, there is nothing better than one word to convince a tall
rider that life as a short rider isn't all bad: LEGROOM.
Who am I and what do I know, anyway?
Who I am is something of a short rider's advocate.
What I know very well is the heartbreak of thinking you're too physically small to handle the motorcycle you really really want. This FAQ is an attempt to give other short riders hope.
After months of glaring enviously at legs longer than mine, frustration overcame believing that I had to flatfoot and that I was too short (5'1") to ride my dream bike, a BMW R65. Fortunately I met a woman who owned a BMW and first planted the idea that it could be done. I started practicing, seeking the advice of other short riders, and, most importantly, questioning the ways most riders did things. In time, tiptoeing was a way of life, and I forgot all about being short on my R65.
But then I went through it all again when had to have a BMW R80G/S, a bike with a 33.8" listed seat height. We all have our limits -- could this be mine? Once again, I had to decide I wanted this bike enough to find a way to handle it, and had to change my thinking, expectations and techniques even further. I've had my G/S for 20,000 miles and ride it with a Corbin seat customized for comfort instead of seat height. Though I truly cannot touch both feet down on this bike, its light weight and wide handlebars make it easier to handle than my R65.
This FAQ came out of mine and others' experiences and frustration at being limited to a small selection of bikes. The support of other short riders on the "short" mailing list was invaluable, and in the early days we helped each other discover motorcycles we could ride and ways to handle them. In a few short years, we have broken serious ground in educating the motorcycling world about what short riders can do. Many of us have bikes we never thought we'd have, and that is extremely satisfying. Nothing makes me feel better than when someone posts to the short list and announces that they just bought their dream bike that they once thought was too tall for them!
By far the most important factors in short riders' success are their determination, perseverance and desire -- not inseam!
We are not small in spirit!
Noemi Berry, KOTSBL
End of SBL.FAQ
Last update: January 30, 1996