2019 Guide to Riding Posture for Bikers
Throughout your motorcycle rider training, from your CBT right through to your A2 or your A, the topic of posture and ergonomics is rarely brought up. However, this is a topic that affects every rider and deserves to be taken seriously. According to the NHS, back pain is “extremely common”, with back pain being the leading cause of disability in the UK, and 1 in 10 men experiencing the condition.
Aside from doing physio and taking painkillers if you are already affected by pain, prevention is undoubtedly better than cure. For motorcyclists, then, back pain should be a top health and safety concern. In fact, in terms of injury prevention, using the correct and comfortable riding posture should be considered as important as choosing the right motorbike helmet or protective clothing.
The good news is that by taking the time to learn about the correct posture, and by easing into some good habits that you can use in your everyday motorbiking, you can nip back pain in the bud and ensure any mild discomfort doesn’t develop into a painful and long-term condition. Additionally, you may find that by using the correct motorbike posture, longer trips are more comfortable overall, making your motorcycle adventure and touring experience tons more enjoyable.
Covering the basics: Making sure the motorbike fits you
There are a quick few things you can learn to check, however, when you’re jumping on a bike that you aren’t familiar with, which will make your life easier on the road. Be sure your gear and motorbike helmet fit correctly before departing since a small annoyance in fit can soon develop into a big problem after 3 hours on the road! The first thing that we should bear in mind when we’re talking about riding posture is how well your current motorbike suits you. If you’re renting a motorcycle on motorbike tours abroad, this is of paramount importance since you may not have much time to get familiar with the bike before you take it on a long journey. After all, we can talk about posture forever, but if the bike isn’t right for you, it’s never going to work - whether you pay attention to your posture or not.
1. Ride height
On adventure bikes like the BMW R1200 GS, this is perhaps the most essential element of motorbike/rider fit and the first thing you’ll notice when you get on the vehicle. When we measure seat height, we usually go from the floor to the top of the seat.
What you’ll want to make sure of is that your feet are flat on the floor when you’re sitting stationary in your normal riding position. The “ballerina” effect you’ll get by standing on your tiptoes isn’t just uncomfortable. It can prove dangerous as you won’t have as much leverage to right the bike if it decides to tip when you’re waiting at lights.
If your feet don’t quite touch the floor, you can sometimes adjust the ride height by adjusting the suspension. Some bikes even come with electronic adjustment for this. However, you should consult with staff before doing this with a rental bike.
2. Handlebar and Mirror Position
The position of the handlebars can affect your riding style and posture, with shorter handlebars favouring a bent-over or racing posture, and more extended handlebars lending themselves to more relaxed or cruiser-type riding styles.
You should also take special care to ensure the mirrors are set up correctly, as even a slight lean to either side so you can view the driver behind can cause significant neck strain over time. Before you set off, adjust both mirrors so you can see the number plate of the vehicle behind without moving your head, and so that your helmet doesn’t obscure the view too much.
3. Footpeg position
In terms of your position on the road, you should be grounding your entire body through your heels and on to the footpegs. For this reason, you should be able to place your feet firmly on the motorbike’s footpegs. Aim to be grounding through your heel rather than your toes. This will give you more stability and allow you to access the brake and gear selector more easily.
If you find you have to adjust the position of your foot quite often in order to access the gear selector, you may need to consider if your footwear is suitable. You can also look at replacing the footpeg, or even the gear selector arm completely. Some bikes have adjustable arms on the gear selector and brake lever but check with your rental company before making any modifications.
The adventure bike riding position
This is the riding position you’ll use if you go on a motorbike adventure on a bike such as the BMW R1200GS, the Honda Africa Twin or the Ducati Multistrada. Combining these bikes with a flip-up motorbike helmet and helmet intercom will make for a great ride.
A good tip for adventure bikes is to make sure that any screen if fitted, is tall enough to direct the wind up and around your body. If you find yourself ducking to get out of the wind, this is a sure recipe for neck and shoulder pain, primarily due to the added weight of your motorcycle helmet. In this case, you may need to adjust the screen.
Generally, these sorts of bikes will be set up with high suspension, meaning the ride height will be quite high. Some shorter riders may find the seat height on these bikes prohibitive, but the taller configuration allows for better shock absorption, especially useful for casual offroading, which these bikes excel at.
Consequently, you’ll want to make sure you keep your back as straight as possible, while still maintaining a relaxed grip on the handlebars. This will allow your legs and feet to settle into a comfortable seating position. These sorts of bikes also generally allow ample space for a pillion and can offer some of the best pillion experiences around.
The cruiser riding position
Combining this look with a cool open-face helmet is definitely the way to go. The other trademarks of the cruiser style are usually a foot-forward position with long handlebars to allow the rider to relax into the bike. In fact, many cruiser owners remark that they are more comfortable than their settees at home! For those who prefer touring on cruisers, like a Harley-Davidson, Yamaha XV or even a Triumph Bonneville Bobber, the comfort aspect of the cruiser riding position is a sure stand out after hours spent on the road.
Comfort is the name of the game with these bikes, but one thing to bear in mind is that you don’t lean back too much. This can cause unnecessary shoulder strain. One way to fix this is to fit a backrest to your bike that can also look stylish if done right. Ensure your feet are also planted firmly on the footrests.
The sports bike riding position
This riding style will mean you have your head more down and forward, and your feet on the footpegs either in line with or slightly behind your hips. This angles your body into the wind and gives a better aerodynamic profile. Granted, we don’t generally recommend touring on a hardcore racing bike, but there are many performance sports tourers on the market such as the BMW K1300 S which can scratch the performance and handling itch, while still remaining comfortable on those long trips.
To ensure this aerodynamic quality, most riders opt for a full-face helmet, which will allow air to flow over smoothly and mean you won’t have too much resistance on your neck and shoulders.
Get your head in the game, relax into the ride
Once you feel your bike fits you properly, there are some things you should bear in mind to ensure you have the most comfortable riding experience, regardless of the motorbike you ride.
- Relax: Nothing will mess up your body position more than tensing up. Ensure your shoulders are relaxed and don’t grip the handlebars too tightly. Centre yourself with your core to turn the bike rather than your arms, and steer with light and smooth actions.
- Look forward: You’re taught in your CBT that “where you look you will go”, and this is entirely in everyday riding. Look at the road directly ahead with a relaxed gaze, and try not to turn your head too much (even to admire the scenery!).
The movement of the road in your peripheral vision will help you corner and manoeuvre, and keeping your head centrally forward will help reduce neck strain. And, in the unlikely event of an accident, your motorbike helmet will be able to protect the side of your head better than the front if you fall off.
- Breathe: It can be difficult to remember sometimes, but proper breath control will make everything in your ride a breeze. Riding a bike is quite an intensive activity, both mentally and physically, so keeping your breathing relaxed and constant will make sure you have a good oxygen supply throughout your body.
Try to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth, which will reduce moisture in your motorcycle helmet and prevent visor fogging.
Remember, every bike, and every person is different, and while these general tips will help you adjust to the ride, there can be no substitute for experience on a particular motorbike. Lots of things can make a difference in how comfortable your journey is, including your motorbike helmet and gear. Many of us have had a “princess and the pea” situation with a stone in the boot for 3 hours!
The most important thing is to ride safe, enjoy the journey, and have fun! There’s a world out there, and we hope you agree the best way to see it is on a motorbike.