Dec 22 2008 Harriet Ridley
Make your bike fit for purpose
ALTHOUGH sports bikes are becoming increasingly small, there are still many tall bikes out there in all categories. And there are many short riders too, which can be a problem.
Not being able to reach the ground can shake your confidence, test your riding skill and even restrict your choice of bike.
At 5'6', BMW's R1200GS Adventure or KTM's 950 R Super Enduro, both in standard trim, are definitely out of my reach. But there are ways around the problem. If you can't adapt to the bike, the bike will have to adapt to you. And this means lowering the thing.
One way of lowering your bike is to lower the suspension. Most modern motorcycles get adjustable preload on the rear shock, which means you can lower the rear ride height by reducing the preload.
Like all dirt bikes, my Honda CRF250X was super-tall and I kept running out of leg off-road and falling off (that's my excuse anyway). So I took some preload off the rear, lowered the forks in the yokes, and the bike now feels tailored to me. And it's not as far to fall now!
However, it's important to alter the front and rear evenly or you'll change the bike's geometry, which will affect handling. If in doubt, ask the dealer.
FI International sells lowering kits to reduce the seat height by up to 50mm and each one varies depending on the bike. Most of the kits comprise either shorter springs for the rear shock or shorter linkages that are fitted to the bottom of the rear shock.
Some of the kits also include different bump stops to limit rear shock travel. This stops the back wheel from touching the mudguard, which can happen when you lower some models. These kits start at £99.95.
However, some of the kits contain a lower replacement rear shock and cost £500. For more information call 01424 215444 or check out www.fiinternational.com
Alternatively, you could go to suspension specialists of your choice to have your standard shock and forks re-built to lower the bike, or go for an aftermarket shock built to your specification. Try Maxton Engineering, 01928 740531, www.maxton.netspinners.co.uk .
But remember, it's all about compromise - keep the amount you lower the bike by to a minimum as what you'll gain in confidence and bike control, you'll lose in ground clearance and suspension performance. Plus it could start looking silly.
But if this still isn't enough or you'd rather take a cheaper route that won't affect suspension, you can always scoop some or all of the padding out of the seat. Any upholsterer will do this and re-stretch the original seat cover for around £35. But if you're planning to go touring, avoid removing all the padding or you'll get a sore bum.
BMW now lets you shorten its new bikes by up to a massive 100mm. This is done with a lower seat and if this still isn't enough, lower suspension. BMW builds the shorter suspension from scratch rather than modify existing parts for optimum performance.
The seats are lowered by altering the shape (they're narrower with a dipped shape), rather than removing padding, so they stay comfortable. When ordering a new bike the lower seat doesn't cost extra, while lower suspension is only £90.
But you can buy the shorter seat for your second-hand BMW as an accessory. Price varies depending on the model. For instance the lower seat for an R1200GS is £159, for the F800GS it's £178.
As for suspension, BMW doesn't recommend retro-fitting shorter components. But when buying a second-hand current model, bear all this in mind and check whether the bike's height has been modified and if so, whether it suits you.