Life is short, so let’s make the most of every inch of it! Motorcycling for the miniscule

by Jill Boulton

I’ve been looking for another bike.

To be honest, I’ve been looking for ‘another bike’ for about 20 years, and I’ve found one at last!

But before I tell you about the bike, let me tell you a ‘little’ story …

In July last year we took our shiny new VISORCAT trade tent to Durham Police HQ’s excellent BikeWise event. A couple who we’ll call Mr and Mrs Co-ordinated came to have a look.

They were dressed in perfectly co-ordinated motorcycle attire, to match their bike (a brand that shall remain nameless to protect its identity). The guy told me what bike he rode – a tall one – and, noting that he wasn’t himself very tall, I got into conversation with him about seat heights and how it has always posed a difficulty for me.

Now, before we go any further, may I point out that of course, seat height isn’t always a deal breaker for a short rider, but it’s important. I once rode a nice low motorcycle all the way from Polesworth to Edinburgh (OK, for all you Nick Sanders types out there, it’s not very far, but for me it was a major adventure!), but the bike still wasn’t ideal because of the massive stretch to the bars, meaning that I couldn’t see very much except for the bleedin’ tank and the clocks! See Nightmare Rides: the SZR Power Ranger

Anyway, Mr Co-ordinated told me that seat height shouldn’t be an issue for me because after all I’m an advanced motorcyclist so in his view I should have the skills to handle a KTM Adventure, BMW 1200 GS or Triumph Explorer. “And you only have to put one foot down, and women are supposed to be equal to men, and blah blah de blah ….”

I am still not sure if he was taking the piss, but I tried to tell him that it’s harder to handle a bike if, basically, it’s too high for you. I did point out that I could ride any bike in the world, but I’d need step ladders to get on the bloody thing in the first place and would have to drop it to get off. So I would prefer to ride a lower bike because it’s easier, provides more confidence, and is therefore safer.

Mr Co-ordinated wouldn’t accept my point of view of course. But the upshot is, when buying a bike, it’s important to buy one that fits – especially if you’re only 5ft tall and female, the received wisdom being that women tend not to be as strong as men, therefore a bigger, heavier bike could be harder to handle.

Am I preaching to the converted here or does anyone disagree with me?

Anyway, in my opinion, us shorties, especially women, have to take the following into account:

1. Seat height and width – can you get at least your toes down and move the bike around from one side to the other, taking the weight with your body? Personally I wouldn’t want a bike I couldn’t do this with.

2. Riding position. Can you (a) comfortably reach the bars and (b) see the road ahead – both at the same time (!)? And can you do your shoulder checks without looking at your shoulder?

3. Weight, and weight distribution (of the bike!). OK so you can get your toes down and handle the weight. Where is the weight? If it feels low down, this makes things a little easier for you; if higher up, harder.

I have rarely, if ever until recently, been able to find a bike with reasonable power that meets all three criteria above, since I broke my beloved Honda GB250 in the late 1990s.

For your interest and amusement, here’s a list of some of the bikes I have ridden, attempted to ride, or owned (or at least, the ones I can remember!)

Suzuki GP100 (my brother’s first bike, and my first ride)
Puch moped from the 1980s (don’t ask!)
Suzuki GS125ES
Yamaha SR125 (Sweet! And the bike on which I passed my L-test)
Honda CG125 (capable commuter)
Honda CD250 (see blog)
Suzuki RGV250 (should have bought it, despite the fact I couldn’t see where I was going!)
Honda GB250 Clubman (see Blog)
Kawasaki GPZ500S (blog to follow)
Yamaha SZR660 (see Nightmare Rides)
Honda CB400 Super Four (for cowboys only — very wide!)
Honda Bros (narrow, but too high for me)
Honda CBR400RR (ditto Suzuki RGV above)
BMWF650ST (great engine but top heavy)
BMW something else – a big one, far too heavy for me!
BMW scooter with a roof – the C1 – must do a blog on it!
Suzuki GN250 (a hire bike in Madeira)
Triumph T120 Bonneville (lovely and smooth, but too heavy)

My previous bike was the very capable Suzuki SV650, (pictured above with my son and cat before being towed off for another modification to make it manageable for me). I enjoyed riding it, but only at speeds at 30 or above – especially on the twisties! Even with lots of modifications to make it lower, I still found it a bit top heavy and awkward to handle. Despite the fact that I passed my advanced test on it and managed a few thousand miles, I never really gelled with it, so I wasn’t really sad to see it go.

However, after another period off bikes, I got to the point of being pretty desperate to find a bike that would fit me – in more ways than one.

Update: I bought a bike that fits! See blog on Honda Rebel, 9 August.