UPDATE July 2020:
I recently recorded an online seminar about short riding tips with RevvTalks.com. I’ll be embedding it on this page as soon as I have a copy, so stay tuned!
About 7 years ago I wrote this blog post about Motorcycles for Short Riders. It was intended to be a list of all the motorcycles I’ve ever ridden but not necessarily owned.
As a very lucky woman, my friends and even some strangers have been extremely generous and trusting of my riding skills. So much so that I’ve been able to throw a leg over ~25 different types of motorcycles.
I’m going to copy some of that information over here, but not all of it.
That list doesn’t show you how I was able to ride all of those bikes. So this is my how-to-guide that covers 3 basic things that all new riders need help with. But when you’re this | tall, you may need to approach things a little differently because your lack of inseam means you have to compensate in other ways.
So, I'm short too: 5'2" (formerly 5'3" but apparently I'm shrinking in my old age) with a 28.5" inseam. However, I am blessed to have a slightly higher inseam than my counterparts, I know.
It's not about how tall you are, but HOW WELL you ride.
I want you to know that you won’t be limited to a motorcycle that matches your inseam. I've never flat footed both feet on a motorcycle except on an older Honda Rebel 250 and a (kid sized) 50cc dirtbike. But I didn't let that stop me from riding what I wanted to ride and you can too!
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a process and if you think that you’ll become an extremely proficient rider with enough skill to ride a bike that’s 5-10 years beyond your experienced level, you’re going to be very disappointed.
Here’s what has worked for me over the years, and will make the biggest impact on your ability to ride almost any motorcycle you want.
I came up with this list after numerous riders have asked me about my riding
1/ Keep Riding Bikes that Make You Happy.
When you choose a motorcycle, there are a thousand things that will enter your mind as far as making such an important decision. Many times you are going to be driven purely by looks. Sometimes you’re driven by peer pressure. No matter what you buy, make sure that bikes makes you happy every time you ride it. If you're avoiding practicing, and don’t love RIDING your motorcycle (not just looking at it), that’s probably a red flag and something you should really think about whether or not to keep.
2/ Start out Small (displacement) and Work Your Way Up.
You may just need some time and practice on a smaller, lighter bike until you gain enough riding experience to manage these weights, heights and dimensions. The key to learning to ride is literally, learning to ride. You are also trying to get your body used to the feel of a heavy motorcycle. Since we are shorter, our center of gravity is raised simply because we are much closer to the bike than someone who is a few inches taller. That frame of reference is going to be crucial when you step up to a midsize or liter sized bike.
3/ Tall and Light beats Low and Heavy.
IF you have aspirations to ride taller, heavier bikes in the future, I recommend starting on something lighter and taller, because you will force yourself to get used to something that you Cannot flat foot. Start training yourself to stop on left foot first.
It's a dangerous tightrope when you're used to flat footing everything, because making the jump to a bike where you can only get the balls of your feet down is going to be a more difficult learning curve. You’ve taught yourself to rely on your feet this whole time, not so much your skills. Without two flat feet for stability, you have to compensate with your riding skills.
4/ Brake Like a Boss.
Practice perfecting your braking skills! The better you brake, the easier it'll be to handle the 400lbs+beneath you. Get used to just putting your left foot down first, and keep that right foot on the rear brake until you accelerate again. I know that you may not need your rear brake to stop since many motorcycles have incredible stopping power from the front. However, to really finesse and smooth your braking you may need to practice adding (just a little) rear brake in order to maintain stability. Have you ever almost dropped your bike at a stop? It’s most likely because you didn’t use enough rear brake and let go before the bike actually stopped moving.
When you have a big that's taller and heavier, you have to compensate with this technique because you have to manage 400-500-600-700 lbs of force stopping suddenly.
5/ Wear Real Motorcycle Boots.
Having Extra Traction is SO important, especially when you're shorter and you can't flat foot with both feet. I never could've upgraded to larger bikes without investing in great boots. The feeling you get when you put your feet down can make or break your perception of what you think you can do! And riding motorcycles is all about faking it, so to speak. I really think that you have to make yourself think you can do it so that you will.
So this photo is of me riding a friend’s Triumph Street Triple (we have the same bike!) in 2018 at the Women’s Sportbike Rally. Notice that only the ball of my left foot is touching the ground. That’s all I need, because my Dainese boots have incredible traction, even in that tiny patch of rubber touching the ground. If the ground is smoothly paved and flat, I can back my bike up with one foot. Granted, it takes longer than with two, but I can do it. And this bike only weighs ~400lbs. So I certainly wouldn’t have that capability on say, a 500-600lb Adventure Bike.
Real motorcycle boots are very different from anything you’ll buy from a casual website like Zappos. I can almost guarantee you that anything you’re using now for non-motorcycling activities won’t have as much traction as a true riding boot. There are plenty of options, and if you choose a purpose-built riding boot (rather than just a cool looking one), you will have more stability and traction which will translates to more confidence.
6 /Patience & Practice
If you don't take the time to practice riding, every day (when weather permits) or as often as you possibly can you'll never progress when it comes to techniques and riding taller bigger bikes. Riding is more than just keeping it upright. The more you ride, the better you’ll get. Even better than the person next to you who’s 5” taller. Just because they’re taller doesn’t mean they know how to ride a motorcycle any better than you do.
You don’t need to ride an hour or three hours every day either. Try to commit to 15-20 minutes a day, minimum. At least 5 days a week. This guy says it only takes 20 hours. Try his method and let me know how it goes!
7/ learn how to move your motorcycle.
I almost always hop off my bike to park it. You don’t always have to stay on it to park it, and you don’t always have to hop off. But learning how to do this will save you grueling, stressful minutes if you’re stuck in a corner or have to make a quick exit and need to do a 3-5 point turn to get out of a tight spot.
Who says you HAVE to back it up and park while seated? Strategic parking is another way to make sure you will be able to easily leave any spot without needing anyone's help! Check out this blog post with my easy parking tips.
8/ Don't Lower Your Bike, Increase Your Height
Add 1-2 inches in the heel, so when you put your foot down, most of it will be touching the ground. And if you ride sportbikes like me, then the front of your boot won't be too thick to place under the shift pedal. Way less expensive and you won't lose ground clearance like you do when you lower your suspension. The insoles I linked also have multiple heels so you can experiment with how much height you really need. They also make heel only versions of these insoles as well. Just go to Amazon and search for “lifted insoles” or “heel inserts” or “height insoles” and you’ll find a ton of options.
When it comes to lowering your bike, there are a lot of ways to do it. I simply don’t recommend this except as a last resort, and only by a suspension specialist because your back end needs to be in sync with your front. This is especially important with sportbikes.