Bikes of all shapes for riders of shorter size
By: Seth Richards
There’s this notion that if you’re a shorter rider, you’re resigned to riding namby-pamby cruisers or small-displacement entry-level bikes. The feeling is that the motorcycle industry is saying “let them eat cake,” as it steers shorter folks towards the dusty diminu-cruiser (resplendent in chromed plastic and ‘80s styling) in the forgotten corner of the shop. If you went motorcycle shopping just a few years ago, you’d be excused for thinking the industry neglected the inseam challenged as it developed bigger and bigger bikes. I mean, have you seen the Ducati Multistrada Enduro and Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports?
While a lot of entry-level, small-displacement motorcycles are great for shorter riders, there’s a whole wide world of bikes that are appealing to riders of all skill levels that happen to be suitable for shorter inseams. With that in mind, here’s a batch of new motorcycles that run the gamut from the obligatory entry-level bike to a 1,198cc power cruiser. Options abound, from the sporty, to the adventurous, to modern classics. It's 2018, OEMs are making bikes for the people. So have your cake and eat it too.
For shorter riders, seat height isn’t the only factor to consider. An average seat height on a slender bike with a decent amount of squish in the suspension, for instance, can fit a shorter rider better than a firmly sprung, squat inline-four. If you’ve ever sat on an ADV bike with semi-active electronic suspension set in off-road mode, you’ll know the seat can seem surprisingly reasonable as it squats beneath your weight. So don’t just look at a bike and automatically discount it. Sit on it and remember that setting suspension sag for your weight will help.
Overall comfort is contingent on ergonomics that don’t stretch the rider out. A comfortable reach to the bars and pegs is as important as a reasonable seat height. In other words, that slammed chopper may have an ultra-low seat height but its forward controls obviate it from being an ideal option.
Here are our genre-spanning picks for the best new motorcycles for shorter riders.
Triumph’s 1,200cc Bonneville T120 has a very rational 31.1-inch seat height, but the 900cc Street Twin bests it with a saddle only 29.5 inches above the ground. All but the shortest riders will be able to flat-foot it on the Street Twin, thanks to its narrow parallel-twin engine and slender tank. If it didn’t go against the “no cruisers allowed” premise of this story, I’d point out that the Triumph Bonneville Bobber’s seat is a mere 27.1 inches tall. The Street Twin is classic and capable. Go swing a leg over one and let us know what you think.
ADVs tend to be the tallest bikes on the market, but the new Tiger 800 XRx LRH brings things down to earth. That LRH designation stands for Low Ride Height. In the lowest of its two positions, the XRx’s seat height is lower than 30 inches—that’s 2 inches lower than the lowest seat height of the standard XR and 3 inches shorter than the XC’s shortest seat height. Triumph achieved this by reshaping the saddle and by giving the LRH its own set of suspension built just for the purpose. Way to go, Triumph. It’s just one more reason to love a bike that’s already easy to love.
Ducatis tend to be narrow because of their V-twin powerplants. The Diavel is certainly not the most svelte of its breed, but its low 30.3-inch seat height makes up for it. Unlike the XDiavel’s forward controls, the standard Diavel’s more neutral riding position may be more suitable for shorter inseams. Even better news, Ducati has confirmed there will be an updated Diavel for 2019, which means you’ve got options: Get the updated model with variable valve timing, or find a bargain on a leftover 2018 model.
The Moto Guzzi V7 is an archetypal motorcycle. It looks like a motorcycle should look, but its cylinders thrusting out the sides make it quirky. It’s a Guzzi. The V7’s otherwise classic layout makes it a good option for shorter riders: not too tall seat, pretty narrow saddle, standard seating position. Done. There’s something about the cylinder heads sticking out in the wind that’s vintage Italian.
Salesmen who see my beard and Red Wings immediately peg me as a Scrambler man, and to their credit, when I pull myself away from the superbikes, I can’t help but sit on every Scrambler model in the shop. For research, you know. The Scrambler’s narrow tank, cushy seat, and plush suspension make the bike seem super approachable. On a never-ending quest to wear my wife down enough to get her into motorcycling, I always cajole her into swinging a leg over a Scrambler.
“Just imagine,” I say, “romantic after-dinner rides around the countryside to go get ice cream. You in a cool leather biker jacket.” “Never gonna happen,” she says.
She placates me by admitting she likes the Scrambler, though. At 5-foot-5 she can comfortably straddle the thing. If only I could get her to actually ride one. My persistence eventually wore her down enough to date me, so maybe there’s hope after all…
Here’s the obligatory entry-level bike. In addition to its 31.5-inch seat height, Honda’s “Neo-Sports Café”motorcycle has a super-narrow saddle and slender, sculpted tank atop its single-cylinder powerplant. While a lot of beginner bikes look and feel bargain-basement and are about as stylish as a Kia rental car, the CB300R is genuinely handsome. It has an inverted fork, radial brakes, and cuts a dashing figure in “Chromosphere Red” or “Matte Gray Metallic.”
Honestly, I take it as a sign that OEMs are beginning to realize that small-displacement and affordable motorcycles don’t have to be uninspiring turds made of pig iron and chintzy plastic. Just because riders want to flat-foot it at stoplights and pay cheap insurance premiums doesn’t mean they don’t care about quality touches and good looks. The little CB, at $4,649, is cheap, will probably be unkillable, and looks more premium than we’ve previously come to expect from the category. That’s good for all riders, regardless of height.
When I rode the MT-07 in rain-drenched Spain, I couldn’t help but think it was the Universal Japanese Motorcycle of the 21st century. It’s a bargain on every level and pretty hard not to like. The engine’s 270-degree crank makes it engaging enough for experienced riders and its overall predictability makes it suitable for beginning riders. The parallel twin is a compact package that allows the MT to have a narrow seat and tank—perfect for moving around on the bike and finding your footing at stops.
The great thing about the Ninja 400 is that its sportiness isn’t just skin-deep. It was designed to be a legitimate sportbike—just a smaller, less focused one. Compared to the Kawasaki ZX-6R, its seat is close to an inch lower, and at 366 pounds (claimed), it’s more than 60 pounds lighter. So if you get the bike off center, it will be that much easier to save.