Biking forthe vertically challenged
by Molly Frost (5ft 2Ē)

Molly is aDSA Certified Motorcycle instructor and advanced rider..


"Iíve heard so many times. Iím only five foot nuffin and Iíll never be able to ride a bike. Well girls, Iím five foot two and a little bit, size 8-10 and not very strong but havenít found a bike yet I canít ride."

 

What do we class as short?
Generally 5í 7Ē and under is consider short and 5í 2Ē or under is quite short. However, no one is so short that they canít ride a motorbike. Vertically challenged newbies just donít have the experience thatís all. The few basic tips here might help out.

If youíre vertically challenged you will be surprised to know that you have more options than you think and can eventually ride all but the tallest motorcycles.

 

Itís not just rider height and motorcycle seat height that contribute to difficulty in managing motorcycles. There are other factors to consider, for example, the motorcycle's height, weight, centre of gravity, weight distribution, seat width, steering head angle, reach to the handlebars and many other things count just as much. I could almost flat-foot my old Triumph Thunderbird but try dragging it through a gravel drive; my old ZX 10R and current GSXR 1000 are much easier, because they are lighter. You should try push old Pan-European though.

 

Also, different bikes will fit different people in different ways items like foot-peg placement and seating position vary a lot from one rider to another. Your inside leg measurements and general strength, donít forget, short men may have an easier time than us petite women because they are generally stronger than us.

 

The most important factor in controlling a motorcycle is your experience, skill and determination. By careful planning and some skill we can overcome many problems that taller riders havenít even considered. With experience, you can overcome most obstacles. Trust me on this. We must make up for what we lack in height with skill and planning and in time, you may own a motorcycle you once thought you'd never even be able to sit on without someone holding it. Iím serious.
A bike that works for one rider may be out of the question for another of the same height. It is very individual and there are no formulas to follow. Except: experience, skill, practice, planning.

 

What is Flat-footing?
Flatfooting is nice but itís not mandatory.
A lot people will tell you that you must be able to flatfoot a bike to ride safely. This is not correct. For a new rider your confidence level is the highest priority, and the confidence that comes with being able to get both feet on the floor takes on greater importance than it need to. Anyone can overcome the need to flatfoot, especially when they get tired of having few motorcycles to chose from.

Just learn accept that your heels will never, ever, touch the ground and will never be part of your riding. Learn to live with it and compensate for it. I was often seen riding around town on my ZX10 wearing my motorcycle boots which have 3Ē heels (builts up). Even then I canít get both heels down but it does help. Iím not advocating using high heels or heel lifters, you have to have a lot more experience for that.
A usefull tipe would be to purchase boots a size too big for you and then buy some heel lifters.These are gel-filled wedges that fit inside your boots. They can make you up to 3" taller. I havenít yet found a situation when I needed to get both feet down. For any given situation, there are always other ways to handle it. Us shorties simply have to come up with other ways.
The golden rule is to keep yourself out of situations where you need to flatfoot:

 

Parking
Parking your bike is the classic example. Itís all very well trying to look cool by paddling your bike in and out of parking spaces with ease like the taller ladies and most blokes do but it doesnít look cool when your toe slips and you fall over. Get off the bike and wheel it into the space. I do this all the time, yes I get some looks from the blokes and I know what they are thinking ďsilly tart, she shouldnít be riding a ZX10R, she canít even park itĒ So what, this happened during a meeting at the ACE, I didnít care. Do not feel pressurized to paddle the bike, itís not the law.
Have a good look at the parking area, select your spot well before hand and go for it. I normally ride into a spot then wheel my bike out when I leave. This allows me to warm up my engine and put my helmet on. It looks a lot cooler than getting all hot and bothered trying to paddle a bike out. Before you leave have a walk around to see what is your best exit route, if in any doubt whatsoever push it out. The last thing you want to do is crash into another biker.

 

Stopping
We have to be more observant than taller riders and learn how to read the road and general condition in greater detail.

At junctions:
If itís on a busy road you will notice that your lane will be worn into a ďWĒ pattern where HGVís have worn the road with their wheels. Aim to be at the lowest part of the ďWĒ this make it more comfortable for you to get your foot down. Some of these troughs can be a few inches. If you stop at the high part of the ďWĒ you have to find these extra inches.

In windy conditions:

When you can only just get a toe down the wind becomes an important factor, turn the bars to the right this will lean the bike towards your left. Your foot will then be closer to the ground and you and your bike will become more stable so side winds shouldnít affect you as much than if you were standing upright.

Generally:
Look out for anything that can cause your foot to slip, for example:
White lines
Gravel
Mud
Water
Any debris
Drunk blokes (only kidding)
Also, itís not against the law to put your foot on the kerb.

Braking practice
Plan well ahead and brake slowly using only the back brake to finally stop. The best technique is:
Use your brakes to slow down and change down
Just before you reach the spot where you need to stop engage first gear, this will alleviate the need to fumble for it when youíre ready to pull off.
By now you should be going very slow so use your back brake only to come to a complete stop. If you used your front brake the bike will dip forward and may unbalance you.
Practice this on a quiet road.

 

Pulling off
Plenty of revs and lots of clutch control is the key. A lot of people drop their bike when pulling off. Why? Because they stall the bike! The same applies to taking slow corners. Plenty of revs, clutch control and use the back brake to slow your speed.

 

Reversing
It is possible to reverse a bit with one foot, depending on the slope. I do this by pushing with my foot and holding the bike with the front brake while I move my foot back for the next paddle. This is enough of a pain that next time I try to stop in the right place!

Very few situations require two feet flatly on the floor. Most situations are more conveniently handled with two feet, but that doesn't preclude finding one-foot, or better yet, one-brain ways of handling them. You will develop their own methods, and in time, this will all be incorporated into your regular riding habits and you won't even think about it.

Learn to swing your bottom off the seat when needed, there might be times when you will get caught out and the only way of saving it will be to get your bum off the seat.

 

Choosing your motorcycle
Get a bike you are comfortable with, even if everyone tells you it's too small or too big. Don't worry about outgrowing a bike -- that's a great milestone that most riders never experience. That means you have really advanced and have experienced the limits of a motorcycle, and have found some of your own.

Most people assume a short rider's main priority in a motorcycle is always seat height. That may be true for beginners, but we're motorcyclists just like everyone else, with our own priorities and preferences.

Itís quite funny to see how salesmen treat me when I walk into a dealership. First they look around for a male partner (Iím single) then reluctantly they start to talk to me. If Iím not wearing motorcycle clothing they usually guide me towards the scooters or small cruisers. It takes a bit of convincing before they let me sit on the big sportsbikes. If Iím wearing my leathers they usually notice that my kneesliders are worn and I have no problems.

 

Your new bike
Many dealers will advise you about fitting shorter shock absorbers or other methods of making your bike fit better.

When you get your new bike ride it to a quiet spot, an industrial estate on the weekend is a good place. Spend an hour or so getting to know your bike. Practice stopping, pulling off, slow speed control. Even practice just pushing the bike around on foot.

 

The advantages of being a short rider
Yes, there are some! We tend to be lighter, and so can benefit from more performance from less powerful motorcycles. We have a lot more room to stretch out on our bikes than the six-footers do. People who are 6' and taller have just as much trouble finding bikes to fit them, and there are very few modifications they can make. We are also very cute.

 

Take care out there and have fun.