Which bikes are best for shorter riders? It’s been a perennial issue for shorter male or, particularly, women riders, of which there are more as every year goes by. And it’s a problem exacerbated on the one hand by the continuing popularity of both adventure bikes, which routinely have seat heights only giants and can master plus the upsurge in sports machines which, with their ‘bum-up, nose-down’ postures can be sometimes equally off-putting.
At the same time, however, an increasing number of mainstream manufacturers are commendably tackling the high seat height ‘problem’ by offering more and more bikes not just with adjustable saddles but also extra-low options as standard.
As a result, no longer are those looking for low-seated motorcycles restricted to traditionally low-slung customs and cruisers – although by their very nature they still make a good option – and there is now plenty of variety, across all types of bike, available. But which is best? We’ve analysed all the offerings, studied the spec and options and come up with this guide to 10 of the best, across all categories.
Although adventure bikes with their long-travel, off-road suspension and big wheels are usually among the tallest of bikes, the huge popularity and competitive nature of the class means that, increasingly, accessible ‘low seat’ variants are being offered, too. BMW led the way with its versatile and effective F750GS, which is available with both a 790mm low seat and 770mm suspension lowering kit available which, combined with its slim saddle and light twin cylinder engine makes it manageable for most. But one bike stands out: Triumph’s complete 2020 overhaul of its already popular Tiger 800 to create the new Tiger 900 resulted in improved performance (94bhp and 87Nm), Euro5 compliance, a new, sweeter handling chassis, TFT clocks and styling a choice of standard, GT and off-road Rally versions. Best of all, a GT Low version, which features a saddle a full 50mm lower than standard yet is still adjustable between 770 and 790mm, is significantly lower than not only the BMW but also rivals like Suzuki’s VStrom 650 (840mm) and Kawasaki’s Versys 650 (840mm). Who said adventure bikes were out of reach?
The German marque’s F900XR, as launched in 2020, is effectively a ‘junior’ version of the impressive S1000XR four-cylinder ‘adventure sport’ bike, but this time derived from the F850 parallel twin. The enlarged engine is good for 105bhp, which is right up there with Yamaha’s hugely popular Tracer 900; there’s a bespoke, road-orientated chassis, quality Brembo brakes, it’s comfortable, natural and versatile, has an easily adjustable screen, comes with neat touches such as a colour TFT screen, plus classy extras like heated grips and ESA available as extras. Better still is the fact that, priced just over £10K it actually undercuts the GT version of the Tracer 9. But best of all, surely, and especially in this context, is the fact that, like many BMWs, although its standard seat height is a fairly usual 825mm, a no-cost 795mm low seat version is available and if you want to go further still, as with the F750GS and others, a lowered suspension version, taking the seat height down to just 775mm, is also an option.
Retro roadster style bikes, modern machines with classic 1960s or ‘70s styling and, usually, the twin cylinder engines, tubular steel twin shock frames, bench seats and so on, are naturally disposed towards having lower seat heights than average and generally this is compounded by the fact that the manufacturers of such bikes usually aim them at novice riders. The result is the Triumph Speed Twin has a seat height of just 790mm, Royal Enfield’s new Classic 350 betters it at just 765mm, Moto Guzzi’s perennial V7 has a seat height of just 770mm while BSA’s new Gold Star is just 780mm. All are also relatively light, straightforward to ride and very novice friendly. But besting them all is retro experts Triumph’s ‘bobber’ version of its 1200 Bonneville with an adjustable ‘floating’ saddle height of just 690-700mm. Yes, you can argue whether it’s a retro or is it a cruiser, but either way it’s a great bike with a ridiculously low seat height.
You wouldn’t expect any kind of touring bike to be easily accessible to shorter riders or those otherwise looking for a low seat machine – and with good reason. After all, being designed to offer easy, meaty performance, long distance comfort for two, the ability to lug luggage and being fitted with all kinds of luxuries usually adds up to a big, heavyweight bike– and that is the case here. We’ve previously highlighted touring experts BMW’s range-topping R1250RT, which is almost without question the best touring bike available and has a usefully low and adjustable saddle height of 805-825mm. But one newcomer worth considering is Honda’s Africa Twin-derived NT1100 which is a great touring bike with a seat height of just 820mm. But the lowest of the lot is actually one of the biggest touring bikes available. The full dress, GTL version of BMW’s astonishing, 160bhp, six-cylinder K1600 is a phenomenal machine and actually has the lowest seat in the class – just 750mm. Yes, admittedly, it’s also massive, heavy and awkward, but there is a reverse gear to help you manage!
By their very nature in being ‘chopped down’, laid back cruisers, custom-styled machines are traditionally the most likely to have ultra-low seats and that’s still just as true today. In the past, the combination of a low saddle and slim V-twin engine made machines such as Yamaha’s XV535 Virago or, for those who could afford it, Harley’s Hugger hugely attractive, both for shorter chaps and, particularly, women. Today there’s more choice than ever and it doesn’t mean you’re saddled (sic) with an under-performing, old-fashioned bike, either. Harley-Davidson’s offerings are plentiful, as you might expect, ranging from the new Nightster (with a 705mm seat height) to its ‘Big Twin’ Street Bob (675mm) and the even lower, hot rod style Breakout (665mm). At the other extreme Honda’s new 1100 Rebel offers ease and civilisation but with a seat height of just 700mm. But our pick of the bunch for being a great compromise of entry-level and full-bore cruiser, having a striking US style all its own and actually having the lowest saddle of the lot at just 649mm is Harley-rival Indian’s Scout Bobber.
After tourers and cruisers, it seems only natural to next include baggers – US-style bikes which, basically, are a combination of the two. Harley’s Willie G. Davidson invented the breed when he chopped down a touring Electra-Glide to come up with the first Street Glide in 2008, a bike which has cruiser style but tourer comfort and luggage carrying ability and one which has proved so popular (it remains the USA’s best seller) that it’s now spawned a whole new class. By virtue of those two influences, the ‘bagger’ also usually has an ultra-low seat but also plenty of comfort and style. There’s now plenty of choice, too. Apart from Harley’s own Street Glide Special (690mm seat height), there’s BMW’s own monster six-cylinder K1600B (750-780mm) but the lowest of the lot again comes from Harley’s great US rival, Indian, whose Chieftain Dark Horse not only beats the Harley for power and arguably pose but also has the lowest seat height of the bunch at just 650mm.
Conventional, ‘no-frills’ roadsters– unfaired bikes with few compromises for style or ambitions to ride anywhere other than on the road – might be expected to naturally offer fairly low seats as well. The truth, however, is slightly different. Many ‘nakeds’ are derived from sports bikes with jacked-up rear suspension and aggressive riding positions and even those that aren’t invariably employ monoshock rears, which have some of the same effect. Some, however, are designed for novices so make an attempt at being manageable and low. Yamaha’s hugely popular MT-07 has a reasonable 805mm saddle height; the rival Kawasaki Z650 is a step lower at 790mm and Honda’s A2-licence-friendly CB500F is slightly better still at 789mm. But our pick of the bunch is Suzuki’s SV650, a novice-friendly middleweight with a charming and eager (and slim) V-twin motor, straightforward styling and manners, a very affordable sub-£7K price and, best of all, a seat that’s just 785mm off terra firma.
OK, we’ll keep this category short and sweet for two reasons: 1, we don’t seriously expect many of those in the hunt for a short-seated bike would genuinely contemplate heavyweight, 190mph rocket ships such as Suzuki’s latest Hayabusa, and 2, with the recent demise of Kawasaki ZZR1400, the big Suzuki is pretty much the only bike of its type available anyway. That said, it’s still worth knowing that hyperbikes such as the Hayabusa, while also having huge, 180bhp+ plus engines; heavyweight, low-slung chassis and lavish specifications also, because of their drag racing DNA, have impressively low seats – although this is counteracted somewhat by their bulky girth and hefty weight. The ‘Busa is, simply, a ballistic missile among motorcycles and not for novices or the faint-hearted, but it is also worth remembering that its saddle height is actually far more welcoming than most realize, being a meagre 800mm.
Similar to hyperbikes and adventure machines, the very character of today’s sports bikes, with their back-ends jacked up high and their fronts tipped down low, doesn’t sit comfortably with any desire to have a low-seated bike. The latest generation of 1000cc superbikes, for example, on top of having around 200bhp, the most sophisticated rider electronic aids and cycle parts known to motorcycling, also invariably have fairly lofty saddle heights around the 840mm mark. So, not only are they daunting to ride, they’re daunting to get on in the first place. Tallest is the latest Yamaha R1 (855mm) followed by the Ducati Panigale V2 (840mm), Kawasaki ZX-10R (835mm) and BMW’s S1000RR (824mm) with the best being the Honda Fireblade, at 820mm. But if you’re prepared to settle for something a little softer and less extreme – and we’re not talking about going all the way down to the Honda CBR650R, at 810mm, here – you can get something with a reasonable saddle height. Ducati’s Supersport is the prime example: It has a real world 110bhp V-twin, a typically fine-handling Italian chassis, fabulous looks and, at 810mm, a seat height that’s within reach of most riders, too.
You’d expect 125 learner bikes to be manageable and have low seats – that’s what they’re designed for, after all: to be unintimidating and easy to ride for novice riders. But some are better than others. And while Honda’s cute commuter CB125F, has an ultra-low saddle height of 790mm to go with its easy-going, single cylinder engine, ultralight weight and idiot-proof manners, there are others that are better still. We expected Honda’s recent Monkey 125 to come out top – it is a fun, minibike after all, but its saddle is actually a touch higher than the CB’s. Instead, apart from AJS’s stretched-out custom Daytona 125, whose seat is just 640mm off the ground, it’s the bike the Monkey is based on, the hugely-cute, small-wheeled minibike, the MSX125 ‘Grom’, which is so easy to ride and so fashionable it’s become something of a cult machine, that comes out best of all. With an even lower seat height of just 761mm we defy any short rider to require anything lower.
Fancy a used option? Here’s our five of the best:
2016-2020 Triumph Street Twin, £5,150-7,650
‘Entry level’ Bonneville has seat height of just 750mm and was renamed the Speed Twin 900 in 2021
2015-current Kawasaki Vulcan S, £3,900-6,800
Affordable versatile, cruiser/all-rounder 650 with 705mm seat.
2018-current BMW F750GS, £6,100-9,800
Entry-level GS is most affordable and accessible BMW adventure bike.
2012-2020 Harley-Davidson 883 Superlow, £4,750-8,250
Now deleted Sportster is lowest and easiest way into Harley ownership.
2017-current Honda CMX500 Rebel, £3,550-6,200
A2 friendly cruiser has just 690mm seat height
We understand that you can only ride one bike at a time, regardless of how many motorcycles you have in your garage. It’s not uncommon for motorcyclists to own more than one bike. A practical machine for commuting, something sporty for weekend thrills and an adventure bike and a nostalgic classic or two as well.
A collection of motorbikes presents a challenge to insurers; our job is to make sure you have the right cover for each bike at our best possible price, but we think Bennetts’ multi-bike insurance does just that because as a motorcycle insurance specialist with BikeSocial, our team of in-house biking experts, we believe that Bennetts knows biking better.
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