Motorcycles are not one-size-fits-all machines. Bikes, like their riders, come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s difficult to know how a bike will feel or fit just from a spec sheet.
That’s why I am a huge fan of Cycle-Ergo, a website with an interface right out of 2005, which lets you pick from a number of different bikes and then input your height and inseam in order to visualize how a motorcycle will fit. It’s like a virtual try-on for bikes and if you are the least bit curious about riding, I encourage you to visit the website.
Motorcycle ergonomics do rely on saddle height, but they go beyond this single measure, otherwise I’d be comfortable on any cruiser since these have notoriously low saddles. I’ve recently learned that I’m not as happy on cruisers as I am on naked bikes and it mostly comes to down to the rider triangle, which refers to the riding position produced by a bike’s geometry.
This has been covered by Cycle World in detail and, to some extent, by Revzilla in the following video which explores bike ergonomics with handy data points:
I want to show a number of different sources describing bike ergonomics because this doesn’t apply only to short riders, and that’s what makes me such a fan of Cycle-Ergo. Whether you are 5' 3" or 6' 3", it will help you understand what the rider triangle looks like on the motorcycle of your choosing.
Using the website, You can get specs like forward lean, knee angle, hip angle and estimated saddle height. These are all important to the way a bike handles. Look at this image of a rider on a dual-sport Suzuki:
OK. Stop looking at those beautiful spoked wheels for a second, and observe the rider’s arms and knees. Now look at this rider on a Harley cruiser:
Notice how their arms and legs are positioned differently. Now, focus on the points of contact, namely the saddle, foot pegs and handlebars. Here’s an image of our own Bradley Brownell on a Grom for you to observe those points:
That set of contact points is what produces the rider triangle, and that triangle will vary across bikes and riders. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it is the most important confluence of figures on a motorcycle.
Power and weight is important. Looks are important. Suspension is arguably the most important spec on a motorcycle per Jalopnik alumnus Norman Mayersohn, who once described custom suspension work as the ultimate performance upgrade.
But it all starts with the rider triangle, and Cycle-Ergo is still my go-to webpage for this. The only glaring oversight on the”Motorcycle Ergonomics Simulator” is motorcycle width, but that’s probably beyond the scope of this simple webpage. Factoring in the width would likely require accounting for saddle size, fuel tank volume, and possibly even frame specs, which is kind of a big ask.
As it stands, the site is still a good resource for riders, just don’t let the ancient interface put you off.