Learning to Ride Tall(ish) Bikes When You Are Short
A common topic of conversation among women who ride or would like to ride is which bikes they will be able to manage given their height, and it all comes down to seat height and practice.
I am 5’3” with a 30” inseam. My very first time on a motorcycle was in my MSF course, and it was on a 250cc Kawasaki Eliminator with a 27” seat height. The bike was low enough that I could easily flat foot it, giving me plenty of confidence that I was in control of the bike while wobbling around the parking lot. After earning my M1, I bought a Honda Rebel 250 (27”, 330lbs wet) and rode it for two years. I gained skills and confidence with my Rebel, and when I bought my Kawasaki Ninja 650R with a seat height of 31.5” I needed all that confidence. I dropped that Ninja in a parking lot the first day I owned it, but we went on to have many happy adventures together.
Seven years later, my ride is a 2008 R6 with a seat height of 32” and a wide seat, and I’m able to manage it pretty well. So from someone who has been there, here is my advice on how to get comfortable on street bikes that are a little tall for you.
Start Small to Gain Confidence and Skill
For taller beginning riders, starting on a “small” bike usually refers to engine size. But if you are shorter, give yourself a break and start with a small engine and a low seat height. Being able to flat foot your first bike will give you confidence whenever you need to stop, freeing your mind to work on far more important skill-building. Confidence is invaluable to a rider. Don’t start on something too big for you that will frustrate you so much that you quit riding.
Plan Your Maneuvers Ahead of Time
Once you’ve got some basic skills and confidence going, you may feel ready for a bigger bike. As you will quickly notice, a taller seat is only a problem when you have to come to a stop or do low-speed maneuvers. What I have learned is that a little bit of planning goes a long way.
- When stopping on a tall bike, you only get to put one foot down. Plan which foot this will be. I suggest you always use the same foot so it becomes automatic. I almost always put my right foot down at stops because I am busy downshifting with my left.
- When you’re pulling up to a stoplight, look out for dips in the road or road debris and maneuver yourself so you aren’t trying to put your chosen foot down in it. That would be asking for a tip-over.
- When you are choosing where to park, think about how you will exit the spot when it is time to leave. You want the bike to do most of the work here. So make sure you never park with your nose downhill, in a pile of gravel, or parallel to a hill (because of potential kickstand issues).
Lowering Kits and Seat Mods
When you’re ready for a bigger bike, don’t let your height stop you from getting the bike you really want. Lowering kits exist for almost every make and model and will usually lower your bike a few inches. You can also shave seats down to make them lower and narrower, buying you an inch or more.