I remember the very day I learned to ride a motorbike with a clutch. My Dad had brought me to a local private field on the back of his Yamaha DT 125. I had rode smaller kids bikes for years, so he knew I could use a throttle and brakes. The bike was so tall, that I had to climb onto it while the stand was down, and I couldn’t put either foot on the ground once I was on it.
To get me moving, Dad explained how the clutch worked. As I sat on the bike, feet on the pegs, my Dad tilted the bike to an upright position, and flicked the stand up for me. I released the clutch, and I was flying. I rode around and around in circles, enjoying being on the fastest bike in the world… in first gear.
To stop, my Dad had to catch the bike as I rode towards him. Except he didn’t. Each time I completed another circle and slowed down enough to where he was, he would step out of the way, forcing me to keep going, or fall off the bike. Three more attempts before I started sulking, slowed down to an almost stop, and just dropped the bike.
It was the first time I had really been too short for a motorbike, and I was slightly terrified of what would happen when I got a road bike. I couldn’t just jump off that and drop it. Suddenly bike height become the single biggest factor in choosing my first machine.
After that, I spent days and days researching seat heights. I can still tell you now that a 2009 YZF-R125 has a height of 810mm, and that the CBR 125 height is 776mm.
If I couldn’t reach the ground with both feet, then I simply couldn’t have the bike. It ruled out a lot of motorcycles, but this was the drawback of being five foot three inches tall.
The R125 was too tall for me, so I bought and fitted a lowering kit to it. I did the same when I got my first SV650 to race. It wasn’t super expensive, and it meant that I could reach the ground, and all was well with the world. Until it wasn’t.
When I got to Spain in 2016 to race in the European Junior Cup, we were all on race ready CBR650R bikes. Again, the bike was too tall for me, but I figured I could just lower it, and it would be fine. Except in the regulations for the championship, we couldn’t adjust the height of the bike. It was a disaster.
Heading to the track for the first time, I insisted that my Dad walk beside me as I took off, just in case I needed him to catch the bike. I also asked him to make sure he was standing right outside our garage if I came into the pit lane, so that he could catch it when I came in. I felt like I was 15 again, out on the too tall DT125.
Then I seen my fellow competitor Avalon on her bike. She was at least an inch or two shorter than me, but there was no one beside her catching her bike. She was managing it just fine. I watched her, and scanned her bike, waiting to see what sort of witchcraft or mechanical device was helping her walk her bike forward without dropping it.
There was nothing there, except confidence. Avalon knew she wasn’t going to drop her bike. I watched as she shifted her weight and leaned to the same side, allowing her to catch the bike with one foot, as she sat slightly off the seat. It didn’t look incredibly comfortable, but it was working.
I began to copy her. At first, I was hyper aware of pre-planning which side I would stop on. I watched for every slight change in camber on the ground, and would move my weight well in advance of me stopping. Then, I had to stop suddenly. In my panic, I hadn’t chosen a side to lean to. My bike leant one way, and my body leant the other.
I hopped on the very tips of my toe and with all of my might I managed to keep my bike upright. It was some sort of miracle, because the embarrassment of dropping my new race bike in front of my peers would have put me in an early grave. It took a while, but eventually, like everything else, moving my weight on the bike to stop became second nature.
I was confident on my race bike, because it was mine and I knew it inside out. I never came close to dropping it again. My next challenge came in the form of a BMW S1000XR. I was offered a test ride on one, and it looked way taller than my small sportsbike. I declined the test ride, saying I was too small for the bike.
Thankfully, I was then told that I was absolutely taking the bike out, that I knew how to ride a bike, and to stop messing around. It was the kick I needed, and I figured a bike is a bike. I would just have to move my weight slightly more on this one. I took it for a quick spin and enjoyed every moment on it.
It took a long time, but eventually I became confident enough to ride just about any bike and not have to worry about my height. This was, until I tried to ride the Harley Davidson Pan America. I couldn’t even get it off the stand despite its claims of self lowering suspension. I’m sure its brilliant, but the fact it doesn’t lower until the bike is upright means it’s of no benefit to me.
As was pointed out to me, I don’t lack the ability to ride ‘too tall’ motorcycles, I just lack the knowledge of how to. I’ll be heading out on some tall bikes soon to practice, and eventually I know this will pay off, and then I’ll be able to take bikes like the Harley and other tall adventure bikes out for some fun. I’ve come a long way since being afraid of my little lowered R125.
I see a lot of posts online with people asking for lowered bikes, or what bikes can they get for their heights. The answer is, with a bit of confidence and experience, you can have any bike you want.
As always, stay kind.