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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them

5 Tips for Short Riders Handling Tall and Big Motorcycles

Techniques to boost your confidence so you can ride any bike

By Tricia Szulewski, MSF RiderCoach

As a woman who is 5 foot 7 inches tall, I realize I am at an advantage when it comes to fitting most motorcycles. That said, I have ridden plenty of motorcycles where I can only reach the ground on tiptoes. I’ve only tipped a bike over once learning valuable lessons in the process that I’m about to share to with you.

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"... if you desire to ride a taller bike ... a boost in confidence is what you need."

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes lean left
As part of my job test riding motorcycles, I must be able to ride any size motorcycle. Leaning to the left while seated on the motorcycle when stopped, shown in the photo at right, is one effective way to be in control on a taller motorcycle.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes tip toes
Whether riding a tall sport touring motorcycle like this BMW S 1000 XR (seat height 33.1 inches, same bike I'm on in the above photo), or a cruiser, the same techniques I’ve outlined below apply. This is my friend Laura, who stands 5 feet 4 inches.

In my job as an MSF RiderCoach and as a journalist in the motorcycle industry, I often hear women say that there aren’t enough motorcycles out there to fit them so selection is limited. If you are a proficient rider, you are not limited by the motorcycles that fill your local dealership’s showroom. You are limited by your own self-confidence.

I’m going to show you how to ride a tall motorcycle without lowering the suspension or using a reduced reach seat.

So if you desire to ride a taller bike but physically can only get your tiptoes on the ground, then a boost in confidence is what you need. The following five tips will help.

1. Practice and become proficient on a small bike, one where you can put both feet flat on the ground.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes honda rebel
Starting out on a small, light bike, like this Honda Rebel, should go without saying, but too many times a new rider will tell me she bought her dream bike as her very first motorcycle, then dropped it in the driveway because it was too heavy for her to hold up while learning new techniques. Get something small that you can hold up easily should it start to tip over to one side. Ride that motorcycle all over the place while you practice mastering the motor skills involved in riding a motorcycle.

Practice accelerating quickly from a stop. Practice starting out on a hill. Practice quick stops and swerves. Practice backing up out of a parking space by walking the bike while standing next to it. Practice stopping by placing only your left foot on the ground. Ride a lot and experience all kinds of different scenarios on a bike that you can handle easily.

Once you are really good and have plenty of real life experience, go shopping for a bigger bike. If you’ve got the skills, you don’t need to put both feet on the ground anymore. I’ve seen some incredibly skilled female motorcyclists ride bikes where they can’t put any part of their feet on the ground! Believe me, it is possible, and we all can do it. Here’s a story we did years ago on a 4-foot-11 Jennifer Hooper who is one of them.

2. Have a Plan Before You Put Your Feet Down

Scope out the parking situation. Have a plan before you put your feet down.
Before I even turn into a parking lot, I am scouting it out for several things: Is it paved? Does it have any grading or slopes where I need to be careful of the direction in which I put the sidestand down? Is there enough room to make a U-turn if I need to? Are there any parking spots where I can pull through so I’m facing forward when I need to leave?

If the lot is not paved, I may just skip it and go somewhere else. If it’s a level surface, or if there are no slopes to contend with, I make sure I park so that the motorcycle won’t roll when parked, but will be easy to get out of when I’m ready to leave.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes hill parking
If the parking space goes uphill, I’ll park front wheel in first. Then, when I’m ready to leave, I can just back it out of the spot. Make sure you always leave the bike parked in gear so it doesn’t roll.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes flat parking lot
Parking on a level surface is easier, but you may need to back the bike into the spot. Of course, a level spot that you can ride into and out of is best. Always seek these out first. Make sure there’s no way someone can come along and park right in front of your motorcycle if you were planning to ride it out. If you’re parking in a spot with a cement bumper, but there’s room to the left and right to ride out, position the bike far enough away from it so it’ll be easy to ride around it when you leave.

3. Walk the bike.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes backing up
If both your feet can’t touch the ground when seated on a motorcycle and you need to back out of (or into) a parking spot, walk the motorcycle by standing next to it. Grasp both grips from the left side of the bike as you upright it from its sidestand. Use your body as leverage and lean the motorcycle against your right hip, while backing it up in neutral or with the clutch squeezed. Cover the front brake while moving slowly. Again, practicing this maneuver on a small bike first is ideal, so you know how to do it with a bigger bike.

4. Lean left when coming to a stop.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes lean at a stop
Make it a habit to secure all your luggage so that the load is evenly distributed on your bike and get used to leaning slightly to the left when you stop. That way, you’re still able to use your rear brake pedal to make a complete stop as you put your left foot down first.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes stopping
If you can reach the ground with tiptoes, you can then keep the front brake applied while you put your right foot down too. And always keep the handlebar squared off when you come to a stop, or else the motorcycle will want to fall in the direction they are turned.

5. Watch where you stop.
OK, I admit it. I did drop a bike once because I put my foot down and there was no ground there to catch me. This can happen when loading a bike onto a ramp, but it can also happen when you stop in a small “valley.” In other words, the front and rear wheel are on hills, and the ground between drops down. It was nighttime when I did it, and I was in unfamiliar territory, but honestly, I was tired and not being careful enough. You, however, will never make this mistake because you are reading this.

5 tips for short motorcycle riders handling tall bikes dip
Watch for those “valley” areas, or dips in the pavement, when coming to a stop. They’re common at parking lot entrances and exits.

Also be aware of pavement that is sloped. If you need to come to a stop and the ground is sloped, make sure you put a foot down on the “shorter” side of the bike. This is the exception to tip number 4.

If the ground slopes down to the left, you don’t want to lean the bike left because the bike will fall over. Instead, lean it right, so you can get your right foot down to steady the bike when stopping. Make sure you include extra stopping distance in your approach since you’ll have to let off the rear brake with your right foot a little early.

I hope this article inspires some of you to push yourself beyond your personal limitations. You don’t need to have both feet flat on the ground to ride a motorcycle. All motorcycles produced today are engineered to be incredibly balanced machines. Many can almost stand up by themselves. Using the tips of your toes to hold up a motorcycle is all you need besides some skill and confidence. Practice the skills and the confidence will come.

Related Stories
Starting out on a Hill
Video: Getting Comfortable With Your Motorcycle
Short on Legs, Long on Skills
Avoiding Hazards: How to Swerve


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