A motorcycle’s seat height can make a big difference between a good beginner motorcycle and a bad one!
Another similar “ratio issue” is the rider’s Inseam length to seat height ratio/factor. What we are referring to here is that some bikes are essentially so tall (aka the rider’s inseam to the seat’s height ratio is so severe) that at stops, the rider cannot place either one or both of their feet firmly on the ground without having to lean the bike to one side or the other. This situation comes into play whenever the bike comes to a stop and needs to be kept upright by the rider placing one leg out to the side to steady the bike.
The situation can vary from subtle lean angles to severe angles depending on how short the rider is and how tall the bike’s seat height is (hence the label – “Rider Inseam Length to Seat Height Ratio”). To minimize the lean angle of the bike, some riders in this situation often compensate by using their “tippy toes” on either one or both feet.
I can tell you from experience many new riders find that to be a very disconcerting feeling; enough so that over the years I have heard more than a few riders (again, who were on the shorter side and/or had a bike with a seat height on the taller side) who had this experience and it caused them to either quickly have to turn around and sell their motorcycle (almost inevitably at a loss – see our section on “Rider Financial Situation” below for more info on this) and end up selling it or worse or it was the factor that caused them to give up learning to ride motorcycles or led to the “laying the bike down” at a stop sign or light.
And the issue can get significantly worse if compounded by a challenging rider strength to motorcycle weight ratio leading to the rider having to steady a lot of weight leaned over on that leg/foot or worse – on their tippy toes. So, the bottom line is, particularly if you are a rider on the shorter side of the average height statistics (more accurately your inseam is the telling measurement) or if the motorcycle you are considering has a taller than average seat height, you need to make sure you have a chance to sit on the bike, take it off the kickstand, and see if you have an issue or not.
A good way to research this is to go to a local showroom and test out the bikes with different seat heights. Try to see if you can find some bikes with a higher seat height (typically off-road bikes (dirt bikes and/or dual-sport motorcycles) have higher seat heights due to their higher suspensions to handle bumpier terrains) and if there is a seat height where you have to start to lean the bike to one side of the other while your foot is flat on the ground. What you’ll notice is that some bikes are low enough that you can steady the bike with both feet flat on the ground, as you move up, you’ll get to the point where you may have to lean the bike to one side of the other and only one foot can be flat on the ground.
If/when you find a height that puts you in a position that doesn’t feel secure to you, note that bike seat height (motorcycle manufacturers place-specific seat height measurements on website and brochures) and consider that your red line when it comes to the Rider Inseam Length to Motorcycle Seat Height Ratio factor. Then you can start ruling out motorcycles that exceed that measurement (again, seat height is something that manufacturers commonly post online for their various models).
One additional note on this topic is that for those of you riders out there who are on the shorter side of averages, many motorcycle manufacturers have made a big push over the recent years to offer models that have lower and lower seat heights. This is because they are trying to not only appeal to shorter male riders but also the rapidly growing number of female riders. This growing demographic of female riders have gravitated towards these lower seat height motorcycles (and often lighter motorcycles) and so the manufacturers will continue to try to market to this demand by developing more and perhaps even lower motorcycle models.
This article was designed to focus on one particular factor involved in choosing the best beginner motorcycle. For a complete guide covering all the decision points in finding a great beginner motorcycle, visit our Ultimate Guide to the Best Motorcycle for Beginners click on the image below.