seats

Why Motorcycle Seat Heights Are Overrated

Me, in 2014 riding an almost impossibly tall DRZ400SM. ~36" seat height with the knobby tires and me barely compressing the suspension.

Me, in 2014 riding an almost impossibly tall DRZ400SM. ~36" seat height with the knobby tires and me barely compressing the suspension.

So you're shopping for your first sportbike, or you're thinking about upgrading to a taller, heavier, faster bike? What does seat height really mean? Does it matter whether the bike is a V-Twin, L-Twin, Inline-4 or Single Cylinder engine? What exactly am I looking for beyond seat height? Does the suspension matter? These are all questions you should be asking, and you will want to ask to consider whether or not that bike really fits you.

Stop letting seat height be your only determining factor when considering what to ride! 

When you initially look at seat height, say on a 2017 Suzuki SV650A (which is 30.9"), you need to know that this measurement is taken when there isn't a body sitting on it. It's simply obtained by measuring with a tape measure from the ground to the top of the seat. 

2016 Suzuki SV650: Seat Height, WITHOUT YOU ON IT!

2016 Suzuki SV650: Seat Height, WITHOUT YOU ON IT!

But when a person (of adult size and stature of course) sits on this bike, the rider may make the rear shock compress, which can result in an overall reduction in seat height (for me that was ~0.75" when I put in a softer spring on my Triumph). Let's go off on a little tangent here for a second.

When you're a small person like myself (130lbs, 5'2"), there are VERY few 600cc-1,000cc sportbikes/touring bikes that are designed for me to sit on the bike and compress that rear spring (if you aren't doing this, then the bike isn't set up correctly for you). And my Triumph definitely falls into that category. The stock rear shock was really meant for a heavier rider, about 150-160lbs to shmush that spring.

This is what suspension gurus (thanks Ken!) call SAG. For a more in-depth explanation of how this all works, read this

The original rear shock that came with my Triumph before I got a customized Ohlins.

The original rear shock that came with my Triumph before I got a customized Ohlins.

So what did I do to resolve this issue? I married a wonderful man a long time ago who bought me a used Ohlins Racing shock for my 40th birthday that I then had resprung (essentially traded in) with a new spring that was much softer and would compress (sag) under my little weight.

No, that didn't mean I could flat foot my Triumph (and I never will!). But it did mean that when I put my left foot down I didn't have to shift my butt over to the left to get it completely flat. I would say easily, a half inch lower, maybe almost an inch. And having YOUR body sit lower in the seat is far better than having the bike itself lower to the ground (for clearance, especially while LEANING which is the whole point of riding a sportbike! Otherwise, you may want to consider a cruiser because frankly they're just not meant to lean over very far).

If I had gone the lowering route, there's absolutely no way I could lean over on my bike in a corner like this. As you can see, I'm definitely NOT dragging my knee, as I'm not leaning that far over. Bottoming out is a very real risk aside from the performance issues, that come along with lowering your sporty bike. Photo:  Killboy.com   

If I had gone the lowering route, there's absolutely no way I could lean over on my bike in a corner like this. As you can see, I'm definitely NOT dragging my knee, as I'm not leaning that far over. Bottoming out is a very real risk aside from the performance issues, that come along with lowering your sporty bike. Photo: Killboy.com  

So consider the suspension on the bike, on top of the seat height. How stiff is it? Where did the rear shock come from? Was it added on afterwards? Are there any adjustments that can be made now that you are going to ride this bike? If you don't address suspension from the beginning, it can greatly impact your ability to ride the bike, your perception of what you think you can ride and your overall experience. 

If you don't have the funds to customize your suspension, your bike probably has at the minimum, the ability to adjust the Preload. In this handy guide from Sport Rider Magazine, they have a simple definition.  If you lessen the Preload, that can also result in an immediate drop in seat height! When I bought a Kawasaki Z750S about 10 years ago, it felt a tad taller than I was ready for. But my mechanic was able to drop the Preload and bring it down to the lowest point which immediately made me feel much more comfortable. I'd say it lowered me a good 0.5" overall. (Certainly not near flat footing but at least I got the balls of my feet down instead of tip toes, and almost a flat left)

z750s

So assuming that the bike you want has a shock that's set in the range of your weight, and you have the option to adjust the Preload, you've immediately lost a good chunk of seat height. On that SV650A, I'd say you could easily chop off at least a half inch, if not an inch depending on the combination of Preload adjustment and rear shock compression. 

There's also the issue of the bike itself. Now, look at the SV650 and look at my old blue Kawi above. Look at the engine. What's different? Well, first off the Kawi is a 4-cylinder, also known as an Inline-4. That makes for a MUCH wider engine overall than the SV650, which is only a 2-cylinder! And, see how they lay the cylinders at an angle on the Suzuki? That's why it's called a V-Twin. Now you've lost half the thickness of the bike between your legs. What just happened? Your knees are much closer together than on the Kawi. So when you go to put your feet down, they'll also be a bit closer to the ground because there aren't 2 more cylinders in your way. Also notice how the seats on both bikes are tapered as it gets closer to the tank. This is a good thing because again, now your knees are much closer. It's not just height that keeps your feet from reaching the ground.  

2017 sv650A
Specs for the 2017 Suzuki SV650A, from  SuzukiCycles.com

Specs for the 2017 Suzuki SV650A, from SuzukiCycles.com

Another thing to consider that you will (yes you really need to) be wearing proper motorcycle boots. Not sneakers, not flip flops, not loafers. Real riding boots. Something that has a real sole, grippy, anti slip and probably ~1-2" higher in the heel. Leverage is one of our most important friends as shorter riders. Without it you are screwed. (Pssst..Stop trying to ride a motorcycle without the right gear. It's a real motorcycle, not a video game :D)

A very good example of this is the Daytona Ladystar. But you may not even need something that tall.

You may just need a regular riding boot like these Sidi Vertigo Leis, (left) which I wear every time I go riding. And even these have ~3/4" heel on them. So add that to your natural inseam. 

I've also added these awesome insoles which give me another 2" of overall height! HELL YES.

 

Available on  Amazon.com . Just do a search for Height Insoles or Lifted Insoles and you'll find a ton on Google or Amazon. 

Available on Amazon.com. Just do a search for Height Insoles or Lifted Insoles and you'll find a ton on Google or Amazon. 

So all I'm saying is, DON'T GIVE UP just because some numbers tell you that you should! If you've been riding something for awhile and are ready for the next level, then some of these things will greatly apply to what you're thinking about riding. 

Or, as a totally new rider you will also be thinking about what you can or can't ride. So make sure you start AT YOUR EXPERIENCE LEVEL. I can't emphasize this enough. 

I truly think this is the #1 mistake people make (aside from not gearing up). When you start on a bike that is well beyond your level, you have no idea how to compensate for the lack of height. Instead you end up frustrated, stressed out, unhappy and probably someone with very poor riding skills as you drop your bike left and right. 

A couple of caveats however, with all this advice: 

  1. Don't expect to ride a bike with a really tall inseam (~3-6" taller than yours) if you've never ridden before! Because, no, that won't work! 
  2. And there are NO shortcuts to becoming proficient in riding and getting better at riding. When we are short, we must ride better:
    • With more precision than anyone else to ensure we brake perfectly so as to prevent dropping the bike. This means clutch/throttle control, exceptionally smooth braking and cornering, etc. 

Also read this article I wrote about all the bikes I've ridden in my brief career as a motorcyclist. There are a few other things to think about when choosing the right motorcycle as well.  

Good luck, and remember to consider everything when shopping for a motorcycle. Don't let anyone make a decision as personal as choosing YOUR motorcycle or motorcycle gear. 

Ride Report: Central Pennsylvania

coveredbridge_PA-1.jpg

Our first road trip through Pennsylvania. Having just moved from CA, I knew that finding worthy twisty roads was going to be a challenge.  

Almost ready to go!

The Gear

We loaded up the bikes, each of us carrying 20L of Kriega Packs on our backseat. Because look at those backseats, they're tiny! Since we were preparing for hot weather, we both packed ultra light. (3 nights, 4 days in 20Liters; not normal for me. I usually need all 40L). On the Speed Triple, we have 2 US-10 Liter packs and on the SV I have one US-20. I offered to carry all of it but someone was being chivalrous. Honestly, I can't tell the difference between having just one or all 3 even fully loaded!

As far as myself, I wore my hybrids, Revit Galactic and Gear 2's, which were perfect for the 70s-80s that we were riding in. Looking back I should've worn my Schuberth C3ProW but decided to go with my Arai Vector-2 since it flows so much more direct air. I was expecting a really hot weekend of riding so I opted for the lighter option. It was my first time riding a considerable distance on my new to me ride, without a fairing and windscreen. We also spent a lot of time on more scenic roads and the winds were pretty miserable. I know the Schuberth would've been quieter and a bit more stable at speed; and since it was cooler than I expected less wind in my face!

dreibelbis_covered_bridge_pa

For the man, we picked up a new mesh Dainese Air-3 jacket (Euro 54; 5'11", 210lbs) for him, which he says flows an incredible amount of air. Definitely too much for 70s-80s but perfect for the hottest riding conditions. A pair of Alpinestars GP Air gloves  followed him home as well, a really nice pair of summer gloves with a nice balance of protection and ventilation.

dainese air 3 jacket

Sidenote: this jacket is available all the way down to Euro 44 / US Women's 6. If you dont have a huge hip differential (more than 2-3 inches between the difference of your waist and hip measurements) then it's a great option for women too.

I also want to mention this cute little handlebar bag that the man wanted for his S3 instead of a tank bag. It had just enough space to keep basically what you see below; wallet, keys, small necessities. The GiantLoop Zigzag Handlebar Bag, $52.25 on Revzilla.com.

Zigzag Handlebar Bag-1

Friday July 4

I prepared a mighty route, mostly off the interstate/turnpike. Lots of local roads. We spent about 30 minutes on Interstate 76 before reaching 422.

philly2williamsport

The highlight of the route was 125 to Shamokin. It was definitely the longest stretch of a twisty road, maybe 10-15 miles? I figured out how to make a step by step map via google maps! It's 225 miles, about 6-7 hours from start to finish with quick breaks here and there.

Actually a really nice mix of sweepers and a few tight turns. I'd call it more of a beginner road, not really technical. This was one of the nice stretches of open space on 125, just beautiful. After we got to Shamokin, it was late so we decided on a more direct route from 61 West to 15 North and didn't get to explore the route I planned after that point. :(

somewhere in PA

shamokin route 125 pennsylvania twisty

A nice view coming up 125

Budget Inn Williamsport

I would say that most of the roads were very scenic, with some nice sections of twisties here and there. Being a California girl, my standards are high. Probably too high. But it was definitely one of the best roads I've ridden in PA so far. We also made a point to ride it again on the way back home.

However, one thing that did meet my expectations was the motel we stayed in. Motel price, but much much nicer than other motels I've stayed at. It's a family owned motel, very reasonably priced (less than $80/night), non smoking, and pet friendly! We were able to park right out front too

nice, clean motel in williamsport - Budget Inn Williamsport

Since we rolled in rather late on 4th of July we ended up ordering from Little Caesar's Pizza, the only thing open in town. We planned a route for Saturday, pretty ambitious because our goal was to ride as many of the twisty roads we could find. A couple weeks before we left, MadMaps generously sent me a set of maps for Pennsylvania! Check out everything they have to offer on their website.

maps pennsylvania roads motorcycles

Saturday July 5

The day started with breakfast at the Texas Diner in nearby Lockhaven (tasty and cheap!). We decided to ride a few different parts of several different routes. We definitely found some fun stretches, lots of scenic routes that really showcased how beautiful the state of Pennsylvania is once you leave the big city.

somewhere in PA, shot on the new GoPro Hero 3+

Riding with Sue!

Our goal that day was to check out the Pine Creek Gorge, aka Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Our route started out like this out of Williamsport:

220 North --> 44 North --> 144 North --> 6 East --> 362 East

Since Sue was leading us into the park entrance, I'm not entirely sure where we entered. We took the turnoff from 6 and then entered on the North end to Leonard Harrison State Park. There was even free motorcycle parking right in front.

pine creek gorge PA

pine creek gorge pa

Unfortunately my mind is a blur as to what our return route was back to Williamsport. All I know is that we rode about 400 miles that day and it was a lovely ride back. Since we rolled in around 7pm we decided to pick up sandwiches and enjoy a nice meal outside.

Sunday July 6

I don't want to mention breakfast because it was rather sad, not nearly as good as the Texas Diner, so go there! Sunday's route was a little different:

williamsport to punxsatawney

Welcome to Punxsutawney!

After we all got our photos in, we decided to head back. Unfortunately this is where we decided on an improvised route. All I can remember is that we got over to 219 South and stopped at 22 for a gas break. :-(

Monday July 7

The good news, I saved my ride route back home! I overlapped a few roads without knowing it.

Williamsport to Philadelphia

Williamsport to Philadelphia

I basically looked at google maps and picked the twistiest routes I could. Of course, we had to do 125 again. The best part was stumbling upon 2018 and the covered bridge! It was beautiful, just like in the movies. I've never ridden or driven through one before. We found it off 143 just south of Lenhartsville. It's on the left, less than 2 miles south. You need to look for it because if you don't, you'll pass it. We were so excited we forgot to take pics of the front. But here are some awesome pics of the back!

the covered bridge! built in 1896

cool house at the end of a covered bridge

covered bridge hwy 143 Dreibelbis Station Bridge

following someone thru the bridge

Looking at the map, the road behind the bridge looked really fun too.

We hit some traffic on the way back into Philadelphia so the entire day was a long one, leaving at 10am and getting home at 6:30pm. I'd say we were out riding every day from 9am to 6pm. Overall we rode ~1,100 miles and I enjoyed almost all of it, except for my horrible stock seat. We can't wait to send our seats to this guy in Florida: A Great Day to Ride. The riders on the Triumph Rat forums swear by him, and for the price I can't say no. Especially since we can do both of our seats for the cost of one Sargent or Corbin.

sue and gin 2

riding with women

I also have to mention my wonderful friends, Sue and Gin of the Women's Motorcyclist Foundation. Between the two of them they have well over 1,000,000 miles (literally) under their belts from all the roads they've ridden over the years. They won't stop riding even though they technically "should" due to them being at the age of "retirement". Not likely, anytime soon. I've learned so much from these two, I'll never stop riding until I absolutely, positively have to. They're living proof that riding motorcycles keeps you young :)

To sum it all up, I have to rate the riding as scenic, and nothing like the technical riding we have in CA. I know that there were a LOT of roads we didn't explore, because they didn't appear to be fully paved. If we all had dual sport bikes, I know we would've been more adventurous to find out what all these little roads were like. I found a TON of twisty routes in my atlas but none of them were clearly paved. I don't mind exploring every now and then and may do that on my next ride because I don't care if I hit some sand or gravel. If it's too much I'll just uturn. But I feel like there were a lot of potentially amazing roads that just need a slightly different bike...

Next Trip: Either up north to NY mountains or south to VA. Stay tuned!