Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Short List

I am tall for a woman, just shy of six feet. At the tender age of 13, I grew three inches in one year, and another inch the following year. As I recall, it was very painful. Literally! One leg grew slightly faster than the other, producing back and leg pain, and of course, I outgrew all of my clothes. Although, back then, mini-skirts were all the rage, and the bane of my mother's existence.

In the end, my legs grew to be the same length, and I stretched out to become a tall, slender high school girl, who was taller than most of the other kids.

I didn't want to be tall, I can tell you. I heard all the lines; how's the weather up there? are you an Amazon? are you a lesbian? was your dad a basketball player? And the worst part was, I was invariably taller than the boy I wanted to date, and who would not be seen with a girl who was taller than he.

I did, however, come to love being tall. It added to my self-confidence over the years. I could reach things that others could not. I also discovered I could do more of the sports that boys could do, and be taken seriously as well. It was my love for the extreme, and the "adrenaline rush" that came with it, that motivated me. And my dad, who "walked on water", was a car mechanic, so, of course, I had to be good at that too. Playing with machines, meant fixing them.

I was one of the "boys", and could hold my own. Oddly enough, even though I was tall and did all manner of things that were normal hobbies of the male persuasion, none of those guys thought I was anything but a woman through and through. Most of them respected me for my skills and my desire to participate in their sports.

When I started riding dirt bikes, I rode the same as any of the guys did, without any trouble, and kept up with them too! When it came time to buy a street bike, I had no trouble choosing, since I fit them all without a problem. I didn't even think about height, and made my decision based on looks and feel. I didn't know any other women who rode their own in the early days, so it never occurred to me that height should be a problem.

These days I ride my '02 Dyna Wide Glide with a lot of other women. Some of them are fairly short in height and I have heard all manner of stories about their experiences with buying their bikes. Why it never occurred to me that anyone would have a problem finding a bike short enough for them, I have no idea. Maybe it's because I'd never ridden with a lot of different women before. The few women I'd ridden with in the past were all tall enough to choose from a wide variety of bikes, and the short ones rode with their men.

So why have I written all this, if not for your amusement? Because last night I ran across a website for the "vertically challenged" woman rider!! How cool is that? Here's that link:

Short Women Riders

With all the women riders out there, and many of them shorter than the average man or woman nowadays, it stands to reason there would be a website somewhere that supported them (d'oh!), and the problems they face with finding a suitable bike for their height.

And what do they have on this website? A list of bikes available for short women! It's not obvious where this list is, so you can surf your way directly there at this URL:

Short Bike List

This list contains only metric bikes, and are categorized by rider height in inches. If you're 5'5" and over, and can sit a bike flatfooted (in boots of normal height in sole thickness), they say you're not short. If you're a short woman, and you ride a Harley, I'm sure they would love to hear how you've had it modified to fit you.

Note that they list heights for manage, and flatfooted. Manage means you can balance your bike at a stop while on your toes. My guess is, this list does not address wearing platform boots to lengthen your reach, which is employed by some women.

New and beginner riders should try a smaller bikes at first. They create the confidence needed before trying to master a larger, more powerful bike. I rode a smaller bike (physical size) for a while before moving up to a larger one. And from that one, it was a matter of simply moving up to a larger more powerful engine. Many women go for the huge bikes first, and then quit when they lose confidence.

Metric bikes in general are less expensive, and good used ones are easier to find. I would wait until you are ready for your final size and engine displacement before buying a brand new bike. Although resale values of metric bikes are improving, they still depreciate rapidly, and faster than a Harley Davidson motorcycle. The trade-off is Harley's cost more.

It occurred to me to question why motorcycle manufacturers are not offering more height variables for their bikes, since women make up a much larger percentage today than ever before. It almost seems like manufacturers believe a small woman is not strong enough to ride a larger displacement motorcycle, for it makes no sense to me why they would not address this issue.

Let's explore that theory for a sec.

Most of us who ride know where that thin red line is; when your bike is leaning too far off center for you to muscle it back upright. Your size and strength determines how far off center that line can be, and is the only strength parameter that applies (aside from hoisting it up off the kickstand and backing your bike up an incline). Yes, it's true, most of us women are weaker in strength than most men. What that means is we learn to deal with less "window" between the left and right point of no return. Strength plays no part in riding your bike with balance and finesse.

Any bike will continue to fall on it's side after crossing that magic red line, and the rider must get off (or get up) to pick it up. I don't know of anyone who can hoist their bike upright of the ground, from a straddling position. Oh, there may be a few "bruisers" out there who can, but I would bet the bike is not a 600 lb - 1000 lb cruiser. (Anyone who knows such a person can feel free to send me a video of this stunt, and I will post it here - we can all ooh and ahhhh over it.)

Check out this website for a great tutorial on picking up a fallen bike.

So, aside from the limitations of your balance zone while standing still, the height or strength of the rider has nothing to do with riding a motorcycle safely and efficiently. So why then the disregard for features that would enable more [women] to ride, particularly the vertically challenged women? It's anyone's guess, but it doesn't matter how tall you are or aren't, how strong or weak you are or aren't, you can adapt, and you can ride. Strength of character and determination is all you need. Manufacturers will catch up eventually, once they put down the big club and stop pounding their chests.

Short woman or tall woman, if you want to ride, here's some simple tips to remember:

  1. Sign up for and attend a reputable Rider Safety Course. Before you buy.

  2. Get your permit or endorsement. Riding without one is against the law.

  3. Start small (physical bike size), no matter how confident you feel after taking the safety course. You can always trade-up at a speed you feel comfortable with. Some riders start out too big and drop their bikes too often, or have trouble learning to corner at low speeds. This can discourage you from getting the miles and time you need to become confident. There is a reason (the small bikes used) that you feel so confident after you complete the safety course.

  4. Find a patient, experienced woman rider to accompany you on rides. If you have a husband or male friend who is patient enough, they will suit. (Sometimes those closest to you will feel anxious about you as a new rider, and may be too critical, and thereby eroding your newly found self-confidence.)

  5. Wear suitable protective clothing, and a helmet. Once you've got some miles (and time!) under your belt, and you prefer to ride without a helmet, it's your choice. Read up on your state's helmet laws first. In Florida, you must carry at least $10,000 of medical insurance, either on your bike policy, or a personal medical policy, and be at least 21 years of age, to ride without a helmet. If you rely on your personal medical coverage, you must carry proof of this with you when you ride or risk getting a ticket for no helmet.

  6. Read all you can on safety tips. There are scads of websites out there with excellent tips published. For example, most H.O.G. chapter websites list safety tips, as do Motorcycle organizations such as AMA, and state ABATE sites.

  7. Learn to pick up your bike by yourself. This alone will build incredible confidence as you learn where that "red line" is. It can be very disheartening to have your bike fall over when you are out alone, and no one to help you. And no matter what anyone says, or how long they've been riding, male or female, we all drop our bikes at some point. It is nothing to be ashamed of (though it can be embarrassing). Restoring your bike into the upright position, all by yourself, can make a huge difference in how you feel about resuming the ride.

  8. Never, never, never drink and ride. Even one beer (which may be under the legal limit for you) can impair your ability to react in time. Sitting behind the wheel of a car is far different than operating a motorcycle. I won't even go there on illegal drugs. Using them is against the law, and shows the most basic disregard for yourself, and for others you may be riding with.

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