When starting out on bikes the most important factor of all is safety. One of the key aspects in feeling safe on any bike is your sense of being in control of it, even at standstill. And a fundamental denominator in whether you feel in confident control of a bike is its size – and particularly its height – in relation to your own.
Or, to put it another way, if a novice rider gets on board a bike and their feet barely touch the ground it can be a recipe for disaster. How can they be expected to safely turn around in the street without easily being able to put a foot down? Even coming to a stop at a red light is fraught with danger if the ground’s an awkward stretch away…
All of this is compounded if you’re shorter than average. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average height of a man in the UK is 5’9”, that of a woman 5’3”. Accordingly, the average man rarely has much of a problem with a bike’s height, unless it’s a monster adventure bike such as a KTM 1290 Adventure. But for a shorter rider, especially if they’re a novice, any larger or taller bike can quite literally be out of reach.
With learner bikes, whether the A licence class 50cc machines available to 16-year-olds, the A1-licence 125s available at 17+ or A2-licence up-to-47bhp bikes if 19+, size and height is generally less of an issue as a) the bikes are smaller, and b) they’re usually designed to be novice-friendly. But height, and specifically seat height, is still a consideration and, if you’re particularly short, something you should take very seriously.
But don’t worry. On the plus side, there are now more ‘low’ novice bikes available across all categories, than ever before. More and more machines also have either adjustable seat heights or can be adapted with kits which make them lower and it’s also relatively easy to assess which sort of bike is right for you.
To help, here’s our Top Tips for getting the right low and novice bike and also Top 5 suggestions for low learner bikes.
Again, it’s an obvious one, but also one often overlooked. With seat height such a crucial indicator for shorter, novice rider it’s worth double-checking if it’s also adjustable or, in some cases, available with a lowering kit (which usually takes the form of a shorter rear suspension linkage and can be fitted by a dealer). In truth, smaller capacity novice bikes, whether 50 or 125cc, rarely have adjustable seats or kits, and rarely need them either. But in the A2 category it’s far more prevalent. BMW and Triumph, in particular, commonly have adjustable seat heights, which can even make adventure bikes such as BMW’s F750GS accessible to shorter riders.
Finally, and crucially, with your shortlist of possible bikes settled and to hand, it’s time to discover the proof of the pudding – ie try out your preferred bikes for size, at standstill, in a dealers, naturally. Most dealers won’t have any problem with this and it’s only by doing this you’ll find out how a bike’s combination of seat height, riding position, width and weight actually feels and whether it suits you.
Finally, to get you started, here’s our Top 5 bikes for shorter novice riders, across all three learner categories…
WK Colt 50, £1899
There’s a strong argument that, when starting out on two wheels at 16 you’re best off actually going for a 50cc scooter – especially if you’re particularly short. Affordable sports-style scoots such as Lexmoto’s Echo 50, thanks to their twist and go operation, small wheels and ‘step thu’ design are a doddle to ride, stylish, practical and easy to manage. However, if it has to be a geared motorcycle and you’re short of stature, by definition you’re best off with a ‘mini bike’ and the best and most affordable 50cc example is the Colt 50 from Chinese manufacturer WK Bikes. With dinky wheels, a short wheelbase and a seat height of just 760mm it’s as easy and accessible to ride as 50cc motorcycles get and is also cute and fun. It’s not much good over distance, admittedly, but it’s OK around town, a great introduction at 16 to motorcycling and temptingly cheap.
Sinnis Outlaw 125, £2799
New for 2022 the Sinnis Outlaw is a budget, air-cooled, single cylinder, A1/125cc learner category bike which, being custom/cruiser styled, has the benfit of an ultra low (and slim) 720mm seat, making it ideal for shorties. On the plus side it looks great, with styling obviously inspired by the old Harley-Davidson 883/1200 Sportster, right down to its side-mounted air-filter cover, is an absolute doddle to ride, so is unintimidating for novices and, currently at just £2799, is temptingly cheap. On the slight downside it’s Chinese built so there are a few quality/reliability question marks, it’s old design air-cooled, SOHC single cylinder engine produces just 10.5bhp (the class limit is 15bhp) so its performance is a little pedestrian (although this matters less for a novice, cruiser-style machine), and it’s a little basic, too. But for a cool-looking, low-seated, affordable 125 learner bike, it ticks a lot of boxes.
Honda Monkey 125, £3999
Yes, another mini bike, but when we’re talking about novice bikes for short riders it’s almost inevitable. Besides, the Monkey is far more than just AN Other minibike. Launched by Honda in 2018 it’s based on the hugely successful MSX125 ‘Grom’ with styling inspired by Honda’s original small-wheeled, low seated monkey bikes of the late 1960s and 70s. The result not only looks brilliant, its beautifully built, super cool, has a seat height of just 776mm, is an absolute doddle to ride, makes a great learner and city bike and is even reasonably affordable. What’s more, if you’re not convinced by the styling, Honda also have the original Grom and new-for-2022 Dax versions available, too.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350, from £3879
Launched in 2021, the Meteor is an all new, but old school style retro roadster single cylinder machine that’s been designed specifically for A2 novices. The result is light, very low with a seat height of just 765mm, slim (as it’s a single), has fashionable retro/classic styling, easy to manage cruiser/roadster proportions and is impressive value, too. Admittedly, with only 20bhp is not going to set any streets on fire but it has bags of charm, is effective, handles sweetly and is nicely put together, too. For an A2 compliant, easy, affordable bike for shorter than average riders it’s well worth a look.
Honda CMX500 Rebel, £6199
We were tempted not to include the Rebel here, simply as it’s not only another Honda but also another cruiser, but the CMX500 is simply too good and too short-rider friendly to ignore. Based on Honda’s brilliant, A2-targetted, CB500 twin family (which includes the CB500F roadster, CBR500R sportster and CB500X adventure-styled bike), the CMX version gets a slightly detuned version of the flexible and effective twin in a different twin shock frame which enables an ultra-low seat height of just 690mm. The result is a cool custom styled bike with ridiculously easy manageability, decent performance, more than a few quality touches (such as a digital dash and LED lights), the usual Honda build quality and more.