Identifying the best new bikes for shorter riders is a fairly common request – that’s why we came up with our guide to the ‘Top 10 motorcycles for shorter riders’ last month. After all, for diminutive types – or women – being able to put your feet comfortably and confidently on the ground and not feeling overwhelmed by the height or bulk of a machine is a big deal and can be key to enjoying your biking.
But there’s a flip side to the same coin – bikes that suit taller riders – which, for some, is almost as important. And although we’re the first to admit that feeling too large or cramped on a particular bike is more of a discomfort than a danger, taller riders nearly always prefer a roomier machine.
Generally speaking, the best indicator of a bike’s suitability for tall types is its seat height. A high saddle usually implies extra legroom and the roomier proportions which suit taller riders – but this isn’t always the case. Custom bikes such as Harleys, for example, although having very low, cruiser-style saddles, also often have extended ‘highway pegs’ and tall ‘ape hanger’ bars that give plenty of room for tall riders.
For the most part, though, seat height remains a good guide and for simplicity and consistencies sake, it’s the main measure we’re going by here. And although that also favours off-road or adventure style bikes, who’s larger diameter wheels and longer travel suspension combine to also high seat heights, with such a wide variety of styles and capacities of such bikes these days there’s a far broader and more interesting choice than you might expect. So, with no further ado, here’s our pick of the best, across all kinds of category…
A1 licence-compliant 125s which are specifically designed to be unintimidating, novice-friendly machines for first-timers wouldn’t be expected to be at all high or ungainly in a way that’d suit taller riders – quite the opposite in fact. But there are exceptions. Until fairly recently, Honda’s V-twin Varadero 125 proved popular with taller riders for its full-sized, adventure bike styled proportions and remains an in-demand used buy for that very reason. The closest new equivalent today, meanwhile, is the Sinnis 125 Terrain, which, also with adventure bike roominess and a fairly tall saddle height of 800mm is better suited than most to taller riders. But it’s not the tallest. Although sports machines don’t usually suit larger riders, in the 125cc category Yamaha’s ‘mini R1’ YZF-R125 has become a best seller not just for its MotoGP styling and sophisticated equipment, but also for full-sized sports bike proportions akin to Yamaha’s own 600cc R6. That still doesn’t make it a big, roomy bike – but it’s not bad for a 125 and, with a 825mm seat height that’s the highest in the class, is almost roomy.
It’s a testament to the popularity and versatility of adventure bikes that there are now even ones available under 500cc and 47bhp which are compliant with the A2 licence category. Honda’s soft, friendly, twin cylinder CB500X, as updated last year, remains a favourite and is just as easy and affordable as its CBR500R and CB500F sportster and roadster siblings, but with the higher, more roomy and upright proportions tall riders will prefer. But, with the emphasis on height, we’re picking out Kawasaki’s junior Versys, the X300 which, being based around the old Ninja 300’s 38bhp twin but in a much more roomy and upright package complete with an 845mm seat height (the tallest in the class) offers long-legged comfort for taller riders with a touch of class but in an affordable, easy-to-ride package no-one should find intimidating.
Another by-product of the huge current popularity of adventure bikes is the dwindling number of traditional trail bikes, after being so popular in the latter part of last century. Perhaps that’s not too surprising: after all, adventure bikes blend road comfort and performance with off road style and (usually at least some) ability so well that genuine trailiies, the purer, lighter, dual purpose machines that do without their adventure cousins’ fairings and big tanks and are usually powered by slim, lightweight single-cylinder engines, have little appeal. Unless you’re particularly tall yet want a light, city-friendly dual-purpose bike, that is. Thankfully, Honda has got it covered. Its CRF450L, which is basically a detuned CRF450X endure bike, is tallest, with a seat height of a whopping 940mm (its slimness makes it more manageable than that sounds) although we struggle to justify its equally whopping £9469 price tag. But the junior CRF250L at 875mm and 25bhp but under half the price of the 450 is almost as useful and fun. And if that bike’s too limited over distance, there’s the faired, more comfortable Rally version at £930 more.
One of the hits of 2019 has been Yamaha’s eagerly-awaited, adventure bike version of its MT-07 roadster twin which uses a slightly detuned version of that bike’s brilliantly peppy, 73bhp parallel twin, retains much of its affordability, yet delivers it in a tall, upright, roomy and genuinely dual-purpose adventure bike package. Its saddle, at a lofty 880mm, has enough legroom for all, yet, being slim and relatively light, it isn’t too intimidating. The Ténéré is also decent over distance thanks to its fairing and reasonable comfort and is adequate around town, too. There are alternatives: BMW’s recent Adventure version of its F850GS also brings a tall seat (this time 875mm) along with a bigger tank and roomier proportions while KTM’s new-for-2020 and smallest adventure offering so far, the 390 Adventure, also offers big proportions (an 855mm saddle) and genuine dual-purpose ability in a lightweight, small capacity package. But the Yamaha is currently the all-round pick of the crop.
We’ve grown used to the unendingly popular retro bike category, as kicked off initially by Triumph’s reborn Bonnevillle in 2000, being dominated by
old-fashioned, relatively light and low roadster twins. Apart from the Bonnie there’s Guzzi’s V7, BMW’s RnineT, Yamaha’s XSR duo and many more, most of which are simply too dinky for lankier riders. But that’s ignoring the ‘scrambler’ retro off-shoot: off-road variants inspired by the classic scramblers of the 1960s and pioneered by the Triumph themselves in 2008 with the Triumph Bonneville Scrambler. These bikes, with their bigger wheels, sometimes longer suspension, higher bars and so on have all the olde worlde retro charm of their roadster brethren but with added legroom which taller riders will welcome. Triumph latest offerings are the Street Scrambler and 1200 Scrambler, the latter being a true, punchy off-roader with a 840mm tall seat. BMW have gone one better (taller?) with a version of the RnineT, the Urban G/S inspired by 1980’s original R80G/S, while Ducati go better (bigger?) still with its Desert Sled. Based on the popular, novice-friendly, 72bhp Scrambler 800 V-twin, the Sled has been given extra height and off-road ability and looks that ape Yamaha’s classic XT500 trail bike. And with a 860mm saddle, longer suspension and wider bars it’s a proper, full-sized retro for taller riders, as well.
There’s no question that supermotos – basically punchy enduro or motocross bikes that have been converted for road and track with street wheels, tyres and brakes – have pretty niche appeal. But there’s also no doubt that their punchy, ultra-nimble performance is great fun and that their lofty saddles are particularly suited to lankier riders. No, they’re not for everyone and have limited practicality – motorways would be unbearable while pillions or luggage are impossibility, but for short, twist-packed Sunday blasts few bikes are more fun. Of the production versions available two stand out – Ducati’s slick and sophisticated Hypermotard, with a 937cc V-twin producing 113bhp and a 870mm saddle height, and its Italian rival, the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900, also with an 870mm saddle, a slightly tamer 94bhp and a far more affordable sub-£9k price tag which, on balance, is enough to make it our pick of the two. But if you want something more than an urban toy, look elsewhere.
Now we’re talking. The modern breed of adventure bikes, big-bore global travellers inspired by BMW’s original, 2002 R1150GS Adventure complete with long distance fuel tanks, tall off-road suspension and the towering seat heights to match, have redefined how big motorcycles can be and are also hugely tempting for taller riders. If you want versatility, the ability to tackle M-ways two-up with luggage, twisting A-roads and even a bit of dirt, not to mention rugged off-road style, nothing comes close – hence their enduring popularity. But when it comes to sheer size and aplomb three stand out: the new, taller, more off-road Enduro version of Ducati’s brilliantly sophisticated and 160bhp fast Multistrada; BMW’s latest GSA, complete with flexible and fruity 136bhp ‘ShiftCam’ boxer (not to mention an options list that’d shame Range Rover) and, arguably, the biggest, slickest and most potent of the lot, KTM’s range-topping 1290 Super Adventure R which, with an 890mm saddle, 160bhp twin and even decent off-road manners stands, at least in some ways, head and shoulders above the lot.
‘This is just another big adventure bike’ I hear you saying, but there’s a difference. While machines like the aforementioned BMW GSA, KTM and Ducati MTS Enduro are true off-roaders, there’s another breed, a bit like the SUV ‘softroaders’ in the car world, who have much of the off-road style and size of true adventure machines but in truth are pure roadsters. As such, they combine roominess and comfort but with more sporty, touring ability. Kawasaki’s big, four-cylinder Versys, as updated last year, typifies this. And with ample comfort, litre-bike performance yet upright proportions including a 840mm seat height is a great option for tall riders. Honda’s V4 Crosstourer, with its 850mm saddle is another. While BMW’s just-updated S1000XR delivers near superbike performance from its S1000R-derived four-cylinder engine in a roomy, upright package. But the roomiest of all (and, with an XC off-road variant making it the one closest to a true adventure) is Triumph’s big 1200 Tiger. With its evocative, shaft-drive triple and 855mm seat it’s the biggest and tallest of the lot and is not just great for tall riders, is a potent versatile all-rounder for two as well.
If you can’t face the bulk and blurred edges of an ‘adventure sports’ machine such as BMW’s S1000R derived S1000XR, super nakeds provide a purer sports alternative for those wanting superbike performance but with a more roomy, upright riding position – and 2020 has a flood of new options. BMW themselves have led the way for years with its S1000R, essentially a ‘naked’ unfaired version of the (old) S1000RR with a slightly detuned, 165bhp version of the fierce Bavarian four yet a more open, upright riding position taller riders will prefer including a 814mm seat. But for 2020 we’re spoilt for choice: Kawasaki have its new ‘big and bold’ supercharged Z H2, with a whopping 198bhp, 830mm saddle and big all-round proportions that remind of Suzuki’s old B-King. While our pick is Ducati’s returning Streetfighter, now derived from the outrageous Panigale V4 superbike, boasting an even greater 205bhp and with a high 845mm saddle that should suit taller riders everywhere. We say ‘should’ for, as we write, it’s still not been released or ridden. But on the basis of the Panigale and its spec sheet alone we’ve no doubt it’s going to be a blinder.
OK, we realize that pure sports bikes, with their cramped racer riding positions, low screens and high footpegs, are possibly the least comfortable bikes of all for taller riders but we couldn’t ignore the category completely and it’s worth exploring what’s on offer if you’re tall and interested in the ultimate in performance machines. With that said, until recently we’d have had no hesitation in recommending the old Honda Fireblade (2008-17) or earlier BMW S1000RR (2009-18) both of which combined ballistic but road-friendly performance with relatively roomy, real world ergonomics. Since then, however, superbikes have become significantly more extreme and cramped, so much so that, where the ‘M1-alike’ Yamaha R1 from 2015 was once considered the most compact and cramped bike in the class the latest, slightly revised version, is now one of the roomiest, with the loftiest seat height of 855mm. It is worth adding, however, that in this category more than most seat heights don’t necessarily equate to roomy riding positions. Pegs can be high and cramped, bar placements low, screens tiny and so on, so much so that the only real way of finding out if they fit is by trying them for size yourself.