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How to ride a tall motorbike if you are short.

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Picture of How to ride a tall motorbike if you are short.
Riding motorbikes can be tricky if you can't put both feet on the ground. 
Short people usually tend to be limited to cruiser or sports bikes because of the low seat hight. But if, like me, you want to be able to use your bike anywhere a dual purpose bike is the ticket. So even though I can just about put one toe on the ground when I slide off the seat I'm able to ride around quite happily. 

To get the ground clearance necessary off road these bikes are a lot taller then their road oriented cousins. This extra height is also great in traffic, letting you see over most cars. The downside is, unless you are tall you cannot put both feet on the road and this can be unnerving. But it doesn't mean you can't ride them - with a little practice you will be able to handle one better than your not so vertically challenged friends.

Over the years I have been using these techniques I have never had an accident, come close a couple of times but have never done any actual damage to bike or rider. The low speed of the manoeuvres make ego damage the most likely.

As with any riding you go where you look and if you are not confident you tend to look down. For this reason I highly recommend practising the component movements whilst stationary and always in a safe place away from traffic.

Disclaimers: 
  1. Always wear full protective gear, I know I am not wearing gloves and my jeans are not armoured but I did not exceed running speed.
  2. I would not recommend a tall bike for your first motorcycle - become proficient at general handling first.
  3. If possible practice on grass first, it is softer (see #1)
  4. If you do fall off trying this remember #3 before you fall and hope that you remembered #1 before you got on the bike and finally as with anything that you do of your own free will I cannot be held responsible for it.

 
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Step 1: Getting the ground closer

Picture of Getting the ground closer
There are a few things you can do to make the ground closer to your feet, these give you a better stability when stationary but generally will cost you at least a few dollars.
  1. Take your riding boots to the cobbler and ask them to put a thick sole on top of the existing one. Essentially this gives you a pair of platform boots. It works really well if you use a work boot sole with good grip on a pair of MotoX boots which normally are flat.
  2. Many adventure bikes have lowering kits which drop the hight of the bike by changing the suspension linkages. This also effects the handling and reduces the excellent vision you get with the tall bike. These will also set you back a few hundred dollars.
  3. Lowering the seat. Some bikes have a optional lower seat (for a price!) or you can cut in to your own. Doing your own seat is possible but hard to get the padding really good - so if you intend to ride longer distance then consider getting it professionally lowered. Again with this you will loose some visibility.

Step 2: The kerb start

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Sometimes you just need to be resourceful and if you can find a handy kerb, a rut or any other dip in the road then use it.
It's especially useful if you have a pillion as being able to properly stabilise the bike when they are getting on or off is a must.

If I had gone right in to the kerb here I would have been able to put both feet down giving excellent stability. But with this you need to be careful to set off away from the kerb.


Step 3: Off-side Get-on

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This technique is really useful when swinging your leg over the back is hard. If you are wearing full winter / wet weather gear or have luggage on the back. The alternative is to kick your leg up and sort of hop towards the bike, which looks really silly.

Make sure the ground is flat or slightly up on the left side (you need to end up sat on the seat with your left foot on the ground)

Start by putting your right foot on the right foot peg and reach for the right handle bar. Point the front wheel to the left and PULL the brake on.

Slowly put your weight onto your right foot keeping your centre of gravity out over the peg. The bike will start to push down and stand up, this is good because you don't want the weight on the side stand - it's not designed to take your weight (ok, I know you are small ;-). If it moves too far towards vertical just adjust your position a little to the left.

Finally swing your left foot over the seat and sit down, putting your left foot on the ground. You will then have to manhandle the bike up so you can swap feet.

Once you get used to this action you can start to push down a little on the right hand bar as you sit down. This will flick the bike upright and off the side stand. You will have to be prepared to be really flexible as to which foot you put down. If the bike is heading over to the right drop your foot off the peg and on to the floor.


Step 4: Side Saddle to seated

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Many techniques involve starting sat side saddle and converting to a normal seated position. You don't want to get on the bike then get stuck travelling down the road in side saddle, having to work out how to convert to a normal seated position. So it is worth taking a few mins out to work this out in advance. 

Left foot first
Again you can do this on a bike on it's centre stand until you can do it without thinking. I know it sounds easy almost too easy to bother practising but when you are moving and trying it for the first time... Well, done right, it looks good, done wrong and a heap on the road is generally uncool.
  1. Stand at the left side of your bike
  2. Hold the handle bars
  3. step up on to the foot peg with your left foot
  4. stand up, put your weight over the centre of the bike a bit
  5. swing your right leg over keeping your body in roughly the same place
  6. sit down.

Right foot first
Again you can do this on a bike on it's centre stand until you can do it without thinking. 
  1. Stand at the left side of your bike
  2. Hold the handle bars
  3. step up on to the foot peg with your right foot
  4. Sit side saddle with your right foot on the left peg.
  5. Swap feet on the peg, making sure you have a really solid footing.
  6. Stand up on your left leg.
  7. Swing your right leg over the seat, being really careful to miss the back of your bike with your foot. If you do hit / catch something sit back down, recover yourself and try again.
Getting off again
Essentially this is a reverse of the Right foot first. I always put my left foot on the ground first, because if you are moving you won't get your feet tangled up. Defiantly practice the movement on the stand first for this, then I would recommend practising on soft grass until you really have it ingrained.
  1. From seated stand up
  2. Swing your right foot over to side saddle
  3. Swap to your right foot on the peg
  4. Slow to a slow walk
  5. step down off the bike, keep walking if necessary.

Step 5: Going for a walk

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This technique is really useful where you can't just get on and ride, perhaps where the camber is steep, you are stuck in deep mud, you have luggage making it hard to swing you leg over or you just prefer it this way.

Warning: Now we are talking engine running and gear engaged therefore things can go wrong so please be careful!

I'm assuming you can push your bike around stood at the left hand side. If you have ever had a flat tyre then you may have already had to walk your bike under power. 

NOTE: Throughout every part of this remember where you look you will go - i.e. DO NOT look at the ground!

Walking with the bike
  1. Standing to the left of the bike with hands on both bars and side stand up.
  2. Start the engine and pull the clutch in, cover the front brake.
  3. Once you are comfortable use your right foot to engage 1st gear.
  4. Slowly release the clutch up to the point where it starts to engage. Try not to use throttle unless you really need it.
  5. The bike should start to move forward so walk with it. Know where your foot peg is and be careful not to hit it with your leg.
  6. Initially take a few paces, pull the clutch and brake so you come to a stop. Be gentle, inertia can work for or against you.
Practice this until you are comfortable.

Taking a step up
You may want to try this without the bike in gear for the first few times until you have the timing right.
  1. Push the bike so it is moving at a fast walk.
  2. Be aware of where your feet are so when you step forward with your right foot you miss the ground and put it on the peg.
  3. leaning the bike slightly to the right  to counterbalance your weight step up on to the peg.
  4. Don't try and sit on yet, just use your brake to slow to almost a stop.
  5. Step down with your left foot and you can get off the bike, continue walking if necesssary.
Again, practice this until you are comfortable. It is possible to get off at walking pace an continue walking.

Putting it together
All you need to do now is find a nice clear space free of other traffic so you can take your time getting on.
  1. Start walking with the bike
  2. After 2 or 4 steps put your right foot on the left peg
  3. Stand up onto the bike
  4. Sit down
  5. Swap feet
  6. Stand up again
  7. Swing your foot over
  8. ride in to the sunset

Step 6: Up and Off

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Similar to the walk and hop on where you set off from the side of the bike. This time you really need to be confident with your clutch & throttle for your launch.

NOTE: Throughout every part of this remember where you look you will go - i.e. DO NOT look at the ground!

Instead of walking forward with the bike you put your foot on the foot peg, engage gear, set off and sit down.

Right Foot First
This is video shows how using your right foot. It is ideal if you are wanting to sit side saddle for a while then stop. Or you can swap feet on your peg as I do here and swing over in to the seated position. It's also a bit easier than using your left foot as you can get more speed up before you lift your foot up, do this by putting your left foot slightly in front of your peg.


Left Foot First
In this video I use my left foot first so that I can swing my right over and sit down and ride. 
jleo17 months ago

I love my varadero however if you cant step over the bike and have to do all of the above to ride a bike I don't think your safe you have to pay attention to stopping and how to etc instead of paying 100%attention to the road. if you cant put both feet down the bike is too big for you forget big tall etc it means what it means its too big im not going to be finiky about wording you need a smaller bike. or just buy a chopper why because choppers are truly awesome and you can be short and ride them. btw new rock boots are tall but last forever but not fully waterproof

expatty (author)  jleo17 months ago

Ride a chopper... urr sorry no thanks! I have tried choppers and quickly found I didn't like them, they just didn't have the ground clearance or the suspension travel.

Like I said, being on the short side only makes a difference when you are stopping. I have ridden over 500,000km on bikes which are "too tall" for me with only a couple of very minor height related incidents. My current main bike is an ST1300, almost as tall as the Transalp but a lot heavier, I still don't have problems because I have learned to adapt. Both bikes I can throw around a Moto-Gymkhana course without a problem :)

Beenay253 years ago
I'm going to put this as nicely as I can... but riding a bike too big for you just makes you a chalk outline waiting to happen...

Too tall and too big are two very different things. We're not talking about riding a liter sports bike - that's too big for most people. Not being able to get on/off a bike doesn't really post any real danger. The worse is that can happen is that the bike gets dropped, so what? Just jump off the bike.

expatty (author)  Beenay253 years ago
Some say that riding any bike makes you a chalk line waiting to happen. It is true that bikes are a lot more dangerous than other forms of transport and therefore take a lot more training and practice to survive.

As far as a tall bike is concerned, once you are up and moving the size of the bike does not make a difference. Personally I am not concerned that both my feet can't touch the ground when I am riding down the road, in some ways it is a bonus! On the other hand, I am mildly concerned when setting off and stopping as falling when stopped is really embarrassing and sometimes will cost a little for repairs. That is why I concentrated my instructable on these slow speed manoeuvres.

My experience for producing this instructable comes from 10+ years of riding tall bikes every day. I'm currently doing 45,000kms / year on the bike in the photo's and being 5'4" need to use the techniques shown every day and they are fun :-)
jsadler12 years ago
One of the funnier scenes is seeing a guy on a harley that is too tall for him start to pull out of his driveway and there is a dip such that the front while is on an incline and the back whell is on the downside of the incline in back of the bike. That adds another 4, 5 or even six inches before the toes touch the ground on one side. Sadly with an 850 lb. bike once it starts to lean it is going to go down. It will be an expensive thud when it hits. And it may take several people to pick the bike up. If one tries to lift it it will cause more harm and more expenses. A side drop on some sports bikes at zero speed does enough damage to the plastic that they actually write the bike off as a total loss.
Also there is no excuse for designing bikes that weight 850 lbs.

Yeah, they are essentially small unreliable cars. Or a flying lazyboy. A very expensive and ineffective fashion accessory. A 300lbs dirt bike dual sport supermoto is meant to be dropped and dragged and that's my ride. I don't understand how a grown man can be too short for a Harley. unless if he's less than 5' with a 23" inseam or something.

expatty (author)  jsadler12 years ago
Ah yup, been there too!
Forward planning is useful there, identify the places you can and can't stop - before you get to them.

Also slow riding helps too so you don't actually have to stop. If you have to then use the opposite to walking on the bike so you can stand next to it when you stop.

Being short you do have to develop your slow speed skills a bit more and become creative in their use.
cfishy1 year ago

But most of the time I have to ride into traffic, meaning, immediately turn while starting. These look cool but doesn't seem practical for urban stop and go riding - or maybe I'm not not happy that us hoppers being called "silly." These moves do seem to be something I wanna practice on. But hopping is still the essential in urban riding!

I also wanna point out that one of the very first thing I do when I get a new bike, before even riding, is adjustment at the suspension shop. They can work magic with half hour of adjustments.

I'm 5'3" with a short inseam for even my height - 26.5" and my Husqvarna SM610 is about 34" height. European dirt bikes side stands are very weak and I don't dare sitting on it. I can ride any bike that I can ballet tip toe on one foot while my other foot hangs on the bike - most of the time not able to reach the other peg. As long as the bike is narrow and light enough for me to hop, it's no problem. It does mean my bike's tail gets kicked everytime I get on and off, though.

Moem3 years ago
Excellent tips from the looks of it. I haven't needed most of them yet, but I'm sure they'll help encourage shorter people, and we all know most of those are women, to ride with confidence. Kudos!

Personally I kickstart my bike on the side stand. It's easier for me than finding a suitable kerb every time and gives me more leverage to give it a good kick.

Here's a little tip of my own:
I find that making the seat narrower, especially in front where you don't normally sit anyway, helps more than making it lower. You'll be able to stick your legs straight down and reach the ground more easily.

Also, I prefer boots that aren't too stiff, so I can stick my toes out further. I can flatfoot my bike, I just can't flatfeet it. As long as I can usually set the balls of my feet down on either side, I'm fine.

And the kind of falls that result from not being able to put your foot on the grond are the ones that happen at low or no speed. Not the dangerous falls in most cases. So like you, I'm not too worried.
toezter3 years ago
Even with my seat shaved down, I can just barely get both the balls of my feet down on the ground. However like you expatty, one foot is good enough. Looks like you've been riding well enough to know what you're comfortable with. I honestly never seen anyone get on/start a bike like that! :D