Depending on the types of motorcycle websites you visit, you may occasionally come across advice for shorter riders (including on this site). In a sense, this term is a shorthand for a variety of characteristics that may or may not be related to a rider's height when standing against a wall. For example, a 5'3" rider with a 31-inch inseam will have a different experience than a 5'3" rider with a 27-inch inseam. (By the way, I am the latter rider in this scenario.)
This four-inch difference in leg length makes a significant impact for short riders trying to navigate a particular bike. Arm length, hand size, and torso length also play a role to some extent. Although these factors are not often discussed, most vertically challenged individuals tend to have shorter arms and smaller hands, which can affect how a bike fits them. Longer legs can help reach the ground more easily, while a longer torso may make it easier to reach the handlebars. We all have our strengths and challenges, what can I say?
In this video from the UK website Bennetts BikeSocial, tall motorcycle journalist Michael Mann talks with Adam Child, a moto journalist who is 5'6-¼" tall, and Leonie, an experienced but short rider who is 5'3.5" tall. Michael, being over six feet tall, doesn't have to worry about the same things as Adam and Leonie. Therefore, he mainly lets the two shorter riders lead the conversation while he asks questions.
Both Adam and Leonie provide a lot of valuable advice. Seat height is one factor, but it's not the only one. Seat width, suspension sag, and the ability to adjust preload can also play a role. Additionally, a bike's center of gravity, presence of panniers or a top box, and the distance of controls from the seat can all affect a short rider's experience.
They also discuss the mental calculations that come with being a short rider, including assessing and planning how to bring the bike to a stop. What's the condition of the ground where you're stopping? Are there divots, potholes, gravel, or slippery paint? Is there a steep uphill to consider? They don't mention the need to plan whether your feet go in front or behind the foot pegs at a stop, but that's the difference between my 27-inch inseam and their 31-inch inseams. If your legs are as short as mine, you'll need to take that into account. All of this requires a lot of strategy.
One conclusion they reach is that it's easier in 2023 to find bikes that fit a wider range of rider heights than in the past. While that's true, there is still work to be done. Offering a range of low and tall seat accessories directly from manufacturers is great, but if riders can't try out a bike with a low seat in the showroom, how will they know if it works for them? People are more willing to spend money on things they know will work, but they're less likely to do so if they're unsure.
Similarly, offering low seat height bikes for demo rides is crucial. I've been to demo truck events where BMW and Zero brought along low seat options for riders to try, which was fantastic. It's the difference between convincing a short rider that they belong on a bike and leaving them on the sidelines while their taller friends have all the fun.
Another important point raised in the video is the role of a rider's confidence. By making low seat options readily available, a wider range of riders will be able to envision themselves on a particular bike. If you're someone who learns through experience, it's easy to understand why.