Well anyone under 5’6” will probably recognise this – you sit on a prospective new bike and it feels great but you can only get the ball of one foot on the ground or not at all. Made worse when your height is in your upper body with legs that are proportionately shorter, making riding a motorcycle just a little challenging. I prefer bikes with a fairing which also tends to make them higher. Taller riders have probably no clue what I am talking about.

Not that riding the motorcycle is the problem. In fact, riding the motorcycle, any motorcycle, is great fun and usually easy when on the move. No – it’s more when you are stopping or doing under 2mph coming to a halt or moving the bike around that it becomes a problem. When coming to a standstill one is looking for a flat piece of tarmac with no indentations, no slope of any description, no gravel, as that is not great either and don’t complicate things with uphill traffic lights, slight slopes and cars cutting in front of you – especially in London, or Tours or mad Italians in Florence.

Yes – been there done that, and it causes issues, but that’s not where you drop the bike – no it tends to be just moving it around outside your bike shop, in a gravel car park, parking up in a grass field or just manoeuvering backwards and the ball of your foot slips away whilst pushing back. Then there are those clever little indentations in the tarmac that hide themselves and become all too apparent when you place your already stretched foot into them.

Dropping bikes has always been a bit of a habit. I have owned a couple of Honda VFR 750’s and a series of VFR 800fi’s. They were almost perfect, a little high but I rarely had an issue even when fully laden plus pillion. Now of course, there were exceptions to my perfect stopping or even starting – like when I jumped back onto my VFR outside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The name should have given me a clue, but fired up into gear with a big throttle, off we go and bang, yep you guessed it, front disc lock was not going anywhere and because I was on a mission and lent over, the bike went straight down! Of course certain members of the group, namely Andy Wedge and Richard Tickner were on the floor crying with laughter.  I was fuming and because this was so hilarious no-one came to help me get the bike up. That was 20 years ago but I still get reminded of this on a frequent basis even now.

aprillia rs 660

From the VFR800’s I moved onto BMW K1200S’s and K1300S’s each with a lowered seat and just about got away with it most of the time, but they were heavy so when stopping, the bike needs to be fairly vertical and if it starts to go you won’t stop it.

Moving on I chose 2 x BMW S1000XR’s, which are basically an upright sports bike and probably the easiest motorcycle I have ever ridden, with great power delivery and precise handling. However even with factory lowered suspension and lowered seats, they were still a challenge every time I came to a stop. And do not press the electronic suspension button for the pillion load under any circumstances, as it automatically raises the bike by 25mm which is an extremely bad idea when already at full stretch!

In fact, the only bike I have never dropped, and that’s sure to change now I mention it, is my current little Yamaha XJ6 Diversion which I bought so I could easily commute into London for work without the worry of trains and tube with Covid 19. This is low with an 800mm seat height, and I am able to stamp a foot on the ground when some idiot decides to pull out in front in a white van or 4×4. With 75bhp it is only just about enough (and a lot less than the 160bhp of the XR), so on the open road it tends to live in the 10-12,000rpm range to get the best from it.

Motorcycle design is generally going in the wrong direction for me, they are getting bigger, higher, heavier – sadly not what I require at all. Ideally something lighter, less tall, more manageable and generally fun would fit the bill. So that’s most of KTM’s out, then all the Honda range have gone higher, so have most Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki’s. All due to the ever-increasing demand for the adventure/upright market for old buggers that get aches/pains and can no longer fit on a proper Sports bike.

Even the new version of my beloved old VFR800 now has a greater seat height and at 260kg carries a further 30kg. “Why?” I asked the Honda salesman? ”Ah well, it’s due to the technology,” he replied. Well apply that technology in a practical way to achieve a lighter machine!  I do understand cleaner emissions equals weight gain, but 30kg? 

Now of course there have been many suggestions by my friends (micky take) as to how I should overcome this shortness of leg problem: The sensible one being to ride a Custom bike – Harley’s – Cruisers, Retro’s – sorry but just not my thing; others tell me to go back to a 125cc, keep practicing at slow speed /or attach 2 x 6” pieces of timber to my boots; then of course there are the automatic outriggers that come down when stopping; plus – the real classic – to carry two kerb stones around with me and chuck them either side of the bike when stopping to put my feet on! Yes – I have heard them all and they are very amusing but they don’t solve the problem.

So – what am I to ride now Covid has ended, and I want a few more horses? Well, I have never owned a Ducati because they used to break down all the time, so maybe a modern, hopefully reliable, SuperSport 950 with suspension lowering kit may be an idea?

Then there is the new Aprilia 660 with side fairings but needs a decent screen so that’s a possible, but what about spares? If not, I may have to keep my eye out for a pristine Yr 2000 VFR800fi, though it does not have ABS which is one extra I have become used to.

Being short really does limit your options to very few indeed, especially if you want a fairing which I do. There are a number of smaller bikes on the market but they are usually lacking in power. The rise of the adventure style bike has made bikes taller, however it does seem that a few companies are wising up to the problem and certainly Triumph have a couple of options with their lowered Tiger 900 GT Low and the new Tiger Sport 660! The BMW F900XR with lowered suspension is also a possibility as is the Kawasaki ZZR 1400 although that is very old school and rather heavy.

There are also more customising companies advertising to lower bikes by quite a margin. So I think I will next try the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce – a beautiful machine which is relatively light, but unfortunately has an 875mm seat height which means lowering by 75mm, or 3 inches in old money. So here is the dilemma – spend £17k on a new bike and then another £2k having it lowered before you can even sit on and ride it.  And I may not even like it! 

Yes, riding a motorcycle and being shorter, is a challenge but what’s life without a challenge. Good hunting and if you know of other good options with about 110bhp please let me know.

Phil Donovan

First published in Slipstream September 2022