Production motorcycles have to be designed to be ridden by a wide range of riders, big and small, light and heavy.
As a result, very few motorbikes fit their owners like a glove, at least out of the factory, but there are a few simple, and some major, modifications which can be made to improve the rider’s confidence and comfort.
While some tall riders may find standard bikes somewhat cramped, shorter riders can find themselves intimidated and put off by a bike if they cannot get their feet flat on the floor at standstill.
For those shorter riders looking to customise their bikes to help them get them closer to the ground, we’ve taken a look at some of the most common modifications carried out by real life owners.
The safest, easiest and often least expensive way in which to customise your motorbike for the shorter rider is to change the seat.
In days gone by, this usually meant modifying your standard saddle removing the seat cover, cutting out some foam and then reupholstering it. This was very much a hit or miss process, and usually involved sacrificing some comfort in order to be able to get both feet on the ground.
An alternative to doing it yourself was to commission a custom seat from one of the many specialist companies out there, who could either modify your existing saddle or build a new one from scratch. These guys usually specialise in building beautiful seats for custom bikes and trikes, and it can work out expensive, as you might expect from such craftsmanship.
These days, manufacturers have worked out that making their bikes more accessible to a wider range of riders is a great way to sell more bikes and also more accessories. In recent years we’ve seen an increased number of bike makers offering a range of alternative seats for their most popular bikes. These usually are aimed at shorter riders, however ‘comfort seats’ with additional padding are often available as dealer fit accessories. As the name suggests, these offer a plusher ride, but tend to be favoured more by taller riders.
Some manufacturers, including BMW and Ducati, will offer a low seat as a no cost option, while other charge extra. For owners of older bikes, it may well be interesting to find an old second hand seat and to experiment with changing the shape and thickness of the foam.
The benefit of changing the saddle is that it doesn’t affect the geometry of your bike and is therefore unlikely to have any adverse effect on the handling. The downside is that, in most cases, the reduced seat height is achieved by removing material from the saddle, which can make the bike less comfortable to ride – especially on longer journeys.
Adjusting the preload
Many modern motorcycles benefit from adjustable suspension and a simple mod that can help ‘lower’ the suspension is to reduce the preload on the rear shock.
Preload addresses the amount that the springs are compressed by the shock absorber. Adding preload means that the shock won’t need to move as far to get to its full extension so, conversely, reducing the preload extends the amount of movement in the suspension. That means that it will compress more with the rider on board, giving a little more sag and making the seat height feel lower than with the preload wound up.
The downside of adjusting the suspension for more sag is that you will probably not be able to get the maximum performance while riding. Winding the preload up makes the bike sit higher but usually gives a stiffer feeling and better control on faster, smoother roads. Reducing preload gives a softer feeling which may be better over bumps, but will probably feel less precise and slower to turn. It is, however, a very easy way to reduce the seat height in stop-start traffic.
Modifying the suspension
Many shorter riders swear by lowering the suspension on their bikes, although manufacturers rarely recommend it.
Dropping the forks through the yokes and installing lowering links on the rear linkage are inexpensive ways of lowering the bike, but can have an adverse effect on the handling.
Modifying the suspension can make the bike feel great at standstill, but by changing the geometry you risk messing around with the handling. Ground clearance will almost certainly be less and the bike may have a tendency to understeer and run wide on the corners. Manufacturers spend a fortune to make their bikes handle as well and as safely as possible, so by lowering the suspension you risk throwing all that R&D work away and making your bike less safe than when it left the factory.
Professionally lowered suspension, including a shorter rear shock absorber, can prove effective though, and many owners are absolutely delighted with their lowered bikes. It’s also worth considering the side effects of lowering a bike. For example, the side stand may need modified, as the standard item may well be too long and could cause the bike to fall over when parked up. You’ll also need to make sure that things like cables don’t need replaced, or that the revised geometry doesn’t cause the wheels to interfere with the bodywork. All in all, radically altering the suspension is a step that requires careful consideration and is best carried out by specialist engineers.
As always, when making any modifications to your motorbike you should ensure that you contact your bike insurance company and notify them of any changes you have made.