I wrote a blog post yesterday where I shared some of my experience and recommendations on buying a motorcycle. I commented in that post how incredibly important the “fit” of a motorcycle is to the rider. How well the bike fits you determines whether you feel comfortable on it. I can tell you from my own experience: if you’re not comfortable on your ride, you will find excuses not to ride it, which defeats the purpose, eh? I mean, why own a big hunk of metal that collects dust in the garage or rusts in the drive?
That’s exactly what happens to a lot of bikes, unfortunately. The buyers get excited and go buy a motorcycle. New or used — it really doesn’t matter. They might buy some nifty new accessories, saddle bags, or chrome and dress it up.
They get on it and ride it to show their friends. Hey, cool bike! Cool you!
But then they ride it some more, and find that after a while… um… the back is achy. Wrists are sore. Rump hurts. Elbows, knees, or shoulders feel tight, cramped, or are just plain ol’ painful.
A rider may not develop all of these symptoms, nor experience them all of the time. Perhaps the rider strained a muscle playing ball the other day and the soreness is made worse by riding the bike. It will go away… sooner or later.
Face it, though, none of us are getting any younger. Demographics of the “average” motorcycle rider are showing that bikers are an older lot — like by decades — than they averaged back in the ’50s.
We may find that sitting on a motorcycle seat that has a very thin amount of padding between the butt and the bike’s frame becomes mighty uncomfortable. We may find that sitting in a position that requires us to reach forward or hunch over causes pressure in the lower back, or on our joints.
The position in how we are seated on a motorcycle is “the fit.” The more comfortable the fit of a bike is for you, the more likely your body won’t be complaining after a long ride. Conversely, if the bike doesn’t fit you well and your body starts nagging you at the end of the ride, then you will be more likely to choose not to ride it as often. I’m not saying that you will decide all of a sudden to stop riding your bike ever again. But you will start finding excuses not to ride… other things to do… other priorities. Before you know it, you have a very expensive and heavy paperweight out in the garage.
This happened to me when I bought my Harley Road King in 2008. Before that, I rode a Harley Dyna Low Rider. The LR had a low seat height, yet the sweep of the handlebars and the position of the foot-operated controls moved me into a comfortable seating position. My arms were slightly bent, my back was straight, my feet were able to reach the controls with deliberate by minor movement. It was perfect.
The Road King fit okay, or at least I thought. I could operate the controls, and I didn’t feel as if I were stretching. However, I went on a few rides and after about the first 50 miles, my back was achy. My shoulders, too. I would get home after a day ride and go soak in a hot tub. Then I found myself saying, “oh, I have to clean the gutters or treat the deck or clean out the garage,” and I found myself making excuses not to ride. Heck! After spending all that money on a new bike and there I am — not riding it!
I also have to say that some of my reluctance to ride (or not) had to do with feeling comfortable handling the bike. That’s fodder for a future blog post.
Meanwhile, I thought that I had to do something to fix this situation. Since my body wasn’t going to get younger or less achy, I spoke with other guys my age (and older), and asked them what they did. Each one of them told me that they did something to adjust the bike’s fit for their bodies.
Motorcycles come pretty much “one-size-fits-all” yet not all riders are a standard 6′, 185 pounds. Some of us are shorter, some are taller, some are lighter and some are heavier. Some are men, but there are a lot of women riders, too. Some have full range of motion of all joints, and some do not if past injuries or surgeries affect it.
I went back to my dealer and spoke with the parts manager. I asked him to look at how I was positioned on the bike. It was pretty clear when he looked at my seating position what the source of my ongoing discomfort was. The riding position required me to lean just a little more forward to reach the controls on the handlebars. Then that caused me to put pressure on my lower back, which caused both my back and butt to hurt.
He also looked at how I operated the foot controls, and found that I could reach all of them comfortably, safely, and well. He didn’t recommend changing anything down there (which was do-able if necessary.)
He recommended that I get a different set of handlebars so it would adjust my seating position to a more upright position, and let me bend my elbows a little bit. The new bars weren’t expensive (though labor to install them and make the fly-by-wire throttle work with them was). However, after having the bars replaced, it made a world of difference to me and to my ride.
There are other things that can be adjusted either by a motorcycle owner or a professional, besides the rise and pull-back of handlebars. The foot controls can be adjusted, shortened, or put on risers. The overall height of most street bikes can be lowered (or raised.) Seats can be replaced for both comfort as well as where it places you relative to the bike’s frame and controls. Shock absorbers can be adjusted as well to make slight changes in the rider’s position (mostly height) on a bike.
Next time you’re out riding and you are feeling that you’re getting sore and it’s time to head back, ask yourself if you are returning because it’s been a long day and you’re just tired, or if you are returning because the bike isn’t feeling comfortable. Next time you asked yourself, “clean the garage or take a ride” and the choice is to clean and not ride — then absolutely go get the fit of the bike adjusted!
The fit of your ride determines the happiness of the biker, as well as her or his comfort. Enjoy them all.
Life is short: go ride!