Can smaller, shorter people ride bigger bikes?

Now here is a topic for discussion! I recently changed bikes from a Yamaha Royal Star to Ken’s Royal Star Tour Deluxe. Right off the bat I will tell you that the Royal Star (RS) fit me better. Why? It is one inch shorter than the Royal Star Tour Deluxe (RSTD). However, I liked the top end power of the RSTD, the color and more importantly, the way it handles so I set to work customizing and lowering the seat. Neither bike was ever designed for a person under about 5’8″. Maybe manufacturer feel that a big bike (600+lbs) is “heavy” and should be handled by taller people. It could also be that statistics have proven that shorter smaller people do not commonly own larger cruiser type bikes.  All bikes are heavy if they are falling over so looking at any bike as being heavy is strictly in the eyes of the rider. Once you get that, standing a bike up is all in the balancing ability of person and is done with the legs and hips, you can forget picking up or standing one up using your arms.

Then how can a smaller people, especially women ride a bigger bike? Two things must be adjusted; the seat height and the position of the handle bars. A new lower profile seat, such as a Mustang Seat, can be purchased.  Also, the stock seat can easily be cut down, reshaped and recovered. The goal is to get the rider to be able to sit on the bike flat footed or at the very least be able to use their tip toes. I have two friends that ride dual sports and sport touring bikes both of which do well using their tip toes. I prefer being flat footed so that if I wind up with one foot in a hole at a stop sign I can then use my tip toe. The weight displacement of the bike has a huge bearing on whether it is top heavy or has a lower center of gravity. The choice is certainly a personal one.

Next are the handle bars. If the handle bars do not fit you correctly, the end result can be anything from low back pain, shoulder pain, pinched should blades (scapula’s), to pain in your arms, writs and neck. Also, handle bars that do not fit correctly can also affect your ability to handle the bike effeciently. You can start by adjusting the stock bars up or down a bit. Small adjustments go a long way. Check that you are not squirming on a ride that lasts more than 1 hour. If the bars are too wide for you, look into changing the bars for a style that is not as wide and come back closer to you. Flanders offers a bar that is a combination pullback riser and a narrower bar all in one. I just purchased a set because the RSTD is one inch longer than the Royal Star. An alternative to changing out the handle bars is the installation of risers which will bring the bars back to you.

Contrary to popular belief lowering a bike is not recommended. When a bike is lowered it changes it’s ability to lean properly as designed by the manufacturer. I once purchased a bike that had been lowered. I knew very little about how it would ride and on a weekend trip, we were going over a small mountainous pass. I went into the corner which crowned a hill and as a novice rider I was not set up properly. In order make the turn I had to lean the bike radically which wound up scraping not the pegs but the heel of my boot and the frame. Needless to say when we got back home we set to work on raising the bike back up to stock height. (I would also bottom out at 25 mph on railroad tracks!) Lowered bikes are cool on straight-a-ways!

Now let’s examine what makes a bike feel “lighter” and how the women on the Ride Like a Pro DVD series can look so good riding such big bikes. My friend Melanie put about 78,000 miles on her V Star 650 before going to a shinny new V Star 950. Melanie is not real short but prefers a bike that sits lower so the fit was good. The 950 felt “heavier” to her and cumbersome so we went out to our skills course and practiced a bit. She said that just putting herself through some tight maneuvers allowed her to get to know the bike and thus it felt “lighter”. It’s safe to say that practice not only makes perfect but it also makes a motorcycle feel lighter and respond to you quicker. So before you move up to a big, heavier taller bike, budget for the necessary changes you may need to make the bike fit your frame, then go out to a quiet area where you can practice tight maneuvers and get to know the machine. You’ll be glad you did. Ride to stay up, never to go down.

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