Advice for Small(er) Riders

When I got my motorcycle license 25 years ago, the big question was, “what motorcycle is the best fit for me?” At just under 5’4″ with a 29″ inseam and 115 pounds, my choices were limited. I knew I wanted a sports bike and the smaller 250 cc machines just didn’t have enough top speed. Most Japanese sport bikes have an inline-4 engine which requires a wider frame, and have a seat height of around 32″. When you can’t get both feet on the ground it affects your confidence as a novice rider.

I spent hours sitting on motorcycles in various shops and finally came up with a Ducati 900. The V-twin engine allowed for a narrower frame and seat, making it easier to touch the ground. The original seat height of the 1995 model was 31 inches. I had the seat cut down, bringing the height closer to 30.5 inches. I couldn’t flat-foot the bike, but I was firmly on the balls of my feet. Later, I opted for a softer spring, which brought it down to 30 inches, and it was a better fit for my weight. On the flip side, the bike sat nearly upright on the kickstand, which could have made the motorcycle fall over if bumped. So the third modification was to: a) get rid of the spring on the side stand, so it would not flip up so easily when dismounting , and b) shorten the kickstand by cutting out a piece of the aluminum and re-welding on the foot. The bike then sat at a nice angle when parked.


Above are photos of my 1995 Ducati 900. In the second photo the bike sits nearly upright with the softer spring. (This was before we adjusted the kickstand.) The final change I made to my Ducati was to install adjustable levers. I have small hands, so if the clutch and brake levers are too far out it makes them hard to reach, and can limit response time. I dialed them in for a mid reach, and the Duc was now set up for the perfect ride for a small person. The Duc also had a dry weight of just over 400 pounds making it easier to handle. The heavier the bike, the harder it is to handle. Occasionally you have to paddle a bike backwards, so having your feet on the ground and a lighter weight machine makes it doable.


Dirt bike riding is another option for women. My bike of choice is a Honda 150 CRF. It has enough power for my off-road abilities and I can still reach the ground.


This is one of my current rides: a 1968 Honda 350 CL. It has a 19″ front wheel which makes it a little taller than its cousin, the CB 350.


European classic bikes tend to be smaller, which is nice for those of us who are short, but the above machine shifts on the right, which takes some skill.


My new ride: a Ducati Scrambler Classic with 803cc. Mine has the optional low-cut seat.

For the vertically challenged here’s what matters: seat height and reach to the handlebars and levers. The bike’s seat shape and width affect both of those things. The less seat width between your thighs, the easier it will be to touch the ground. Also weight — the heavier the bike, the more difficult it is to handle. Many of the Harley Davidson motorcycles have low seat heights, but they are 100-200 pounds heavier than sport bikes, so while many women opt for the low seat, they find them heavy to maneuver at low speeds, around gas stations and paddling them backwards. Also, the thicker grips and hard-to-pull clutch levers on the Harley can be intimidating. Some models work better than others for short women, and rides can always be customized to work for you. It really comes down to your riding style preference — sporty, cruising, touring, or enduro — and what machine feels most comfortable to you. Confidence is a large part of the equation for the novice rider, and even for the not-so-novice. Find a ride where you can get your feet down, and reach all the controls comfortably.

There are a number of motorcycles that are suitable for short riders. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ducati Scrambler – seat height 30.3 inches, weight 400 pounds, top speed 120 mph, style: sporty but with a more upright riding position
  • Triumph Bonneville SE – seat height 29.1 inches, weight 500 pounds, top speed 97 mph, riding style: sporty but with a more upright riding position
  • Yamaha YZF R3 – seat height 30.7, weight 368 pounds, top speed 110 mph, riding style: sport bike riding
  • Harley Davidson Sporster Superlow – seat height 27.4 inches, 565 pounds, top speed 98 mph, riding style: cruiser riding with forward controls
  • Indian Scout – seat height 25.3 inches (the lowest of this select group), 558 pounds, top speed 120 mph, riding style: cruiser riding with forward controls
  • Yamaha Bolt – 27.2 inches, 542 pounds, 101 mph, riding style: cruiser riding with forward controls

Remember — ride it before you buy it.

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