Seat height, suspension travel, and shorter riders

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by ZoomerP, Nov 15, 2020.

  1. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    Kawasaki Versys-X 300: 32.1" / 386 lbs
    KTM 390 Adventure: 33.6" / 379 lbs

    These combined factors were discussed in another thread, and how they relate to getting more & new riders interested in ADV riding, and not on underpowered 250s. Women were mentioned, but it's really about anyone that's turned off by a high seat height, regardless of gender, age, or level of experience.

    If you can't touch the ground, you probably aren't going to be comfortable on a bike, especially as a less experienced rider. Add in covering ground rougher than pavement, and it's easy to understand why some people are turned off before they ever lift a kickstand on a ADV or DS bike.

    @Norty01 made a lengthy post that kicked things off, and I've copied it below:

    "Ok, we've got motorcycle genre name settled.
    We've got motorcycle weights settled.
    We've got motorcycle features almost settled.

    One thing that was touched on briefly was seat height.

    Let's revisit this subject, shall we?

    Ok, we know seat height is a direct result on suspension travel. Since most of us here rarely bottom out our suspenders (except for the guy doing triples on his GS, that is,) we rarely bottom out our suspenders. Back, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, it was an unwritten rule, that you should bottom your suspension 2-3 times every lap. (Think MX here, will ya?) Ok, since the vast majority of enduro/dual-sport/adventure riders don't ride at a pace on a moto-X track to bottom their suspension, it makes for only bragging rights that a rider has 11.8" front/rear of travel, when they only use 4.5" of it. Therefor, it makes sense to offer bikes with 6" or 7" of travel, thus lowering the seat height 4 or 5".

    You know, truth be told, that 6" of perfectly tuned suspension will out perform a foot of lousy sprung/valved suspension. (Yes, it will.)

    Think about this for a minute. What is the one thing our sport is missing.

    C'mon, you can do it.

    Ok, I'll tell you. It's FEMALE riders. How many female riders do not ride because of the tall seat height? The vast majority. What we need to do is twist the arms of Hon/Yam/Suz/Kaw to build lightweight bikes with 450cc engines, tuned for 50hp, with a seat height of 29-30" unladen. This isn't an impossible task. Hell, I'd like to see the European's offer the same, too.

    Look, I'm tellin' ya. There's a crap ton of females that would love to join us on our rides, but they're stuck with 110cc minibikes. The first spec, I mean the VERY FIRST SPEC that female riders look at, is seat height.

    Back when I was an MSF ridercoach, 35% of my classes were female. Where did they go? HarleyD? Some did. Why HD? Because HD offers seat heights of 27" on some of their bikes.
    I'd like to see more female riders out in the back country. This can only improve our sport, if you think about it. There are very few that go out because of the tall seat height.

    Some wanted to ride dirt, but were summarily "shut out" due to the seat height.

    Now, I know what you're gonna say, "Seat height only matters during mount/dismount." True, it does. But, when a rider gets it in their head that they can't, then they've already been beaten.

    Remember Henry Ford's quote? "If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."


    To a new rider, there's a lot of truth to that.

    What say you?"
    #1
  2. AwDang

    AwDang Enabler

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    He’s right ya know.....
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  3. spoon

    spoon Rubber's gone!

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    I have to chime in here! First @Norty01 is right on the money. My riding partner (female) is 5'6'', not short but not 5'9'' either. Her first bike is a BMW F650 GS with lowered suspension and low seat. The reason for that is she feels she needs to flat foot when stopped. We tried some dirt and soon discovered that was not going to happen. She didn't have the confidence and felt she didn't have the strength to hold the bike up in uneven terrain. This girl was a sponsored road bicycle racer in collage and leg strength is not an issue. She feels upper body strength isn't enough to control, pick the bike up.
    We wanted to ride dirt so the next bike, TW-200 was added to the stable. Night and day difference in her confidence level. But as good as the TW is its not great for distance. I have an XT-250 she will ride it around the yard but not on the trail. Seat is to high.
    So manufactures what gives? Take a look at the better half segment and see what you can come up with!
    Oh, in my case one could not ask for a better riding partner. On the road or off. And she is NOT riding two up! Controling her own destiny and all that.
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  4. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    Part of the problem comes down to the pricing structure, too. If they even have an ADV or DS option with a lower seat height, it seems that manufacturers usually offer that on lower spec bikes.
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  5. AwDang

    AwDang Enabler

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    Which is still a problem.
    Because this is still based on a full size, FULL WEIGHT bike. Women lack the upper body strength of men. They require a lighter feeling, lower / smaller bike.
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  6. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    Sure, but it seems there can be a middle ground between a low spec 250cc bike with a reasonably low seat height, and a high spec, high seat, high powered ADV bike.
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  7. AwDang

    AwDang Enabler

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    What’s available on the US market now that fills that void? Nothing. The CB-X comes close but it’s heavy and has to be lowered.
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  8. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    Sure seems that way.

    Having a factory lowering kit would be a good way to get those lower seat heights on the floor, with the full backing of the OEM. Local shops could do the work themselves, and buyers would know that the OEM had given some thought to how the bike performed with the kit installed. It may also be possible for a bike's geometry to be optimized during the design phase for easier adaptation for different seat heights. They could limit their efforts to one or two models to see if it had sales potential.

    I don't know if anything like that has been tried, but it sounds possible.
    @Bultaco206 - You've worked in the industry. What are your thoughts?
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  9. Bultaco206

    Bultaco206 Back-to-back motos suck Supporter

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    In the case of the Japanese brands, you’re adding quite a bit of cost to a unit that doesn’t have much margin to start with. Plus the cost of adding x-number of SKUs per whatever model. Many of which will probably go unused. Might make sense for the lower volume, higher margin Euro brands. But I don’t see Japan, and it’s subsidiaries, adopting anything like that.

    Besides, suspension is a personal thing. I view height like I do spring rates. You can’t build a bike for every height group, nor spring it for every weight group. It’s best sorted locally. With actual input while the owner is standing by the machine.
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  10. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    Makes sense, especially with a contracting market.

    On the other hand, maybe an OEM would gain significant sales if they had at least one trim level of a model designed for shorter riders. If it were to happen, that's how I see it being done. Pick one 500cc-ish model, and figure out how to get the seat down to 30" or less without adding too much cost. Maybe it'd sell really well without much competition, but there would be some risk involved. Kind of a chicken-egg scenario.
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  11. AwDang

    AwDang Enabler

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    Thats the way to go about it.
    I’d think taking the Rebel 3/5 and putting them on a 19/17 wheels set and an inch more travel.
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  12. Bultaco206

    Bultaco206 Back-to-back motos suck Supporter

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    Again, suspension is a personal taste. For both height and weight. Bikes are normally built to an ‘average.’ Anything on either side of that average is best dealt with locally. Getting a bike lowered isn’t all that difficult of a task like it was 20-25 years ago. Most any decent dealer service manager will know the game, and who to use, to make it as seamless as possible.
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  13. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    I understand that suspension setup should be a personal fit. The problem with that approach in this scenario is that someone may not ever get to that point if they can't even take a test ride on a tall bike. I doubt a dealer is going to set up a bike for someone without a confirmed purchase in hand, which brings it back to the chicken-egg scenario.

    From what you're saying, if a lowered model is going to be put on the floor for demo use, it'd be best left up to an individual dealer to do it. I can see the sense in that, especially with a buyer being able to do a test ride and then customize the bike they purchase based on their demo experience. Is it very common for dealers to set up a demo bike like that? I know they don't want to tie up their money, so I doubt that's done.
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  14. Bultaco206

    Bultaco206 Back-to-back motos suck Supporter

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    I’ve seen dealers drop front ends and take preload out for test rides in rare instances. Even saw a dealer allow a test ride around the lot once with no seat. (:photog) But no, no one is going to invest money in slamming a bike just to sit on the floor.
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  15. RowBust

    RowBust Long timer

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    The manufacturers all seem to think that short people need small capacity low powered cheap quality bikes, because that is all they offer us
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  16. ZoomerP

    ZoomerP . Supporter

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    From what Bultaco said above, it seems like the trick would be to find a specific model offered by a high volume dealership, and have short folks that are serious about buying that bike start bothering them about arranging a test ride on a lowered bike. If they saw enough interest, it's possible they'd see that it was worth their while to put together a demo bike - but that appears unlikely.
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  17. Malamute

    Malamute Low speed adventurer

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    I think seat height, and center of gravity are both issues for many people. My own particular narrow area of interest is partly due to how easy the bikes are to handle when rolling them out of the garage or whatever, and having messed with various bikes in the past. When I worked at a shop for a while, I hated pushing the old school H-D Electra-glides around, the seats were tall and tippy feeling, Sportsters also felt that way to me, as did the common Japanese bikes. The stripped down versions of the big twins were a bit heavy-ish, but easy to handle, if you felt it starting to get away from you they were easy to correct and not as hard to get back up if you did get one down. The low center of gravity and low seat height both helped them feel very easy to handle and ride, even on dirt roads. Not having wide fat seats is also a benefit. I dont see why other makers couldnt achieve some of that same feel in medium size bikes, since most people arent that interested in antique class heavier bikes.

    BTW, I often see comments on how massively heavy the H-Ds are. that applies to the dressers, which we affectionately called garbage barges sometimes long ago, but the super glides ran a bit over 600 lb curb weight, the 84 I have now shows 610 or so in the specs Ive found. Yeah, not a sleek offroad machine, but not really that hard to ride and handle due to seat height (26"-ish in the 1970s-80s bikes) and low center of gravity, as many shorter men and many women discovered after being told to ride the lighter but taller sportsters. I never thought sportsters were easier to ride compared to a Super Glide. Surely somebody can apply that principal to other bikes.
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  18. foxtrapper

    foxtrapper Long timer

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    Not just low but skinny. My Harley is low, but it’s so wide I tiptoe as if it were four inches taller.

    My ancient Honda XL500 is a marvel of skinny, light and easily handled by little people like myself.
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  19. RowBust

    RowBust Long timer

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    Back before seat heights became high enough to make your nose bleed. Go back to twin shocks with 125mm of travel, with decent shocks they handle most situations, current monoshock bikes are high because of the position of the shock
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  20. Malamute

    Malamute Low speed adventurer

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    Yes, this was part of my comment about a seat that wasnt fat like the old stock low rider seats. The custom seats that are only as wide as the frame were probably 4 inches narrower. It was obvious when a shorter guy went to stand up my 84 that the seat width was an issue.
    #20
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