One of the most exciting bits about being a motorcyclist is having a staggering range of motorcycle models to choose from. My fellow biker friends and I were having a recent discussion lately on bike shopping and I told them that my number one criteria was Seat Height.
Yep, it can be the sexiest or most powerful bike on earth, but I would never ride a bike where my feet are barely touching the ground when the bike is stationary.
In my opinion, a motorcycle needs to allow at least half of both feet to be in contact with the ground for the rider to safely push-peddle the bike around in a car-park or when he needs to back away from a faulty car-park gantry. Being on the tip of your toes means the bike is just too tall for you.
Bottomline: It’s better to be a tall biker than a short biker. But we can’t change our height to fit the bike!
What is the optimum seat height for you? You will know immediately when you sit on a demo bike in the showroom. If you want to do a quick check before you get to see the actual bike, learn how to read the seat height of different bikes on their online product webpages, and know what is your personal maximum seat height that you can ride without feeling uneasy and insecure (my seat height limit is 32.5 inches or 825mm for my Asian height of 1.71m).
Generally, most low-capacity bikes tend to be under 30″, cruisers at 28″ or less, sportsbikes at 32″, and touring bikes at 34″ (ridiculously tall for Asians).
Here’s a quick sample of different seat heights out there
- Honda Wave 100 (ie. a 100cc kup chai) – 29.6″
- Honda Super 4 (400cc street bike) – 29.7″
- Honda CBR600RR (a mid-range 600cc sports bike) – 32.3″
- Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight (1200cc cruiser) – 28.9″
- Yamaha MT-09 (900cc naked street bike) – 32″
- Ducati Monster 1200 (1200cc naked street bike) – 31″
- BMW R 1200 GS Adventure (1200cc touring bike) – 35″
From the info above, I can probably ride any bike but the ginormous BMW GS Adventure. Of course, BMW knows it makes gigantic bikes and made this marketing video below to show how a 1.59m tall lady can ride their GS bike with a lower seat. BUT I’d counter that she doesn’t have enough body mass to manage the sheer size and weight of that bike with ease. How many petite ladies do you see riding a GSA anyway?
BMW also created a nice online marketing tool called the BMW Seat Height Configurator that allows you to quickly filter out which of their motorcycles are suitable for you.
According to this tool, if you’re not at least 1.75m tall, you’re not tall enough for their R Nine-T or S1000RR sports bikes. As you can see in the screenshot below, I wasn’t recommended either of those lovely models because I’m 1.71m tall. Personally, I’d ignore that advice until you sit on the bike yourself. Some people have longer legs but shorter torsos, so a taller bike may actually suit you in that scenario.
And if you are REALLY feeling lazy about checking product websites, there’s this great website called Motorcycle Ergonomics Simulator that allows you to key in your height and leg inseam, choose your bike, and instantly see whether it’s too tall for you and how your posture will be. It’s remarkably accurate from my comparisons with the real world bikes.
By the way, I can lower the Ducati Monster 1200S seat a little more (a spiffy factory feature), but then it makes my knees too hunched and I will get a back ache after any ride lasting more than a few minutes.
So it’s not just the seat height that matters but the positioning of the foot pegs and overall ergonomics of the motorcycle that counts. Another factor is the width (or girth) of the seat itself – some seats are so wide that your legs go further apart, hence reducing the amount of foot contact with the ground. So you might have a low seat height, but still have difficulty flat-footing the motorcycle.