Small changes can add up to big comfort.
My bike’s pretty great, but it’s relatively uncomfortable for anything longer than about an hour’s ride. How can I make it more comfortable?
We are all lucky enough to be living in a motorcycle renaissance. There is a bike designed for anything you want to do, for any style of riding you’re into. Just a few years ago, there were so few small-displacement bikes on the American market, for instance, and now they’re everywhere. If you want to do some long-distance touring on your motorcycle and it isn’t a tourer, what to do?
The easy answer is “buy a tourer,” isn’t it. We don’t all have the space or money to own and maintain a different motorcycle for our every whim, so we do what we can to make the bike we already own, work for our needs. Here are some suggestions for upgrades that can help you stay comfortable on a long trip no matter what kind of motorcycle you’re riding.
The biggest complaint a lot of riders have after a few hours in the saddle is, well, the saddle. Stock motorcycle seats are famously bad in a general sense. If you want to be comfortable on your bike for long hours, replacing the seat with one built for the purpose is a great place to start. Know, however, that every butt is different and every seat is different, so a brand that works well for your friend may not work for you. The best (cheapest) way to find out what will work, is to borrow an aftermarket seat from a friend with the same bike. If that’s not an option, do some research on return policies before you dive in. If you need a starting point for all your research, check out Sargent, Corbin, Russell Day-Long, Mustang, and Saddlemen. Aftermarket seats are expensive, but they are worth the money.
If you find yourself with knee pain after an all-day trip, your pegs might be too high, or your seat too low, or both, for long-term comfort. Keeping your knees at a straighter angle, one as close to 90 degrees as possible, will increase your on-bike comfort. Some seat mounts are adjustable and will let you set the seat to a higher position. You can also source a taller seat. If your reach to the ground is an issue and you can’t raise your seat, try a peg-lowering kit to stretch your legs out a little. You can also look into highway pegs that will let you change your foot and leg position on the bike during long rides. Note that either of these last two options, though, can cut into your bike’s ground clearance, so if you’re a real canyon carver, or your bike is already pretty low, do this at your own risk.
Your motorcycle has one of two handlebar styles. Some have a traditional single-piece tubular handlebar that is connected to the upper triple clamp in the middle. Some have “clip-ons,” which are two handlebar grips that each clamp onto the top of the motorcycle’s fork tube. Either way it’s a pretty simple proposition to change the angle of the handlebars by loosening, adjusting, and re-tightening those bars (keep an eye on the torque specs for those bolts! Loose bars can and will get you into trouble!), or replace them with slightly taller bars, or install bar-risers on your clip-on style handlebars. Getting your grips higher and closer to your seat will allow you to sit a bit more upright. Again, a more neutral position is better ergonomically, and easier on your body. Sometimes just rolling your handlebars back half an inch in their assembly will do absolute wonders for any mid to upper back or shoulder pain you’re having and it’s a free, easy mod. Raising your handlebars a lot might necessitate new brake and clutch hoses; keep an eye on clearances when you make changes here. Can you still steer point to point with no resistance? Great!
You might think any kind of wind protection is good, but a bad windshield is sometimes worse than no windshield. Buffeting and “dirty” air flow can really beat you up at road speeds. For improved wind protection, stick with a well-regarded brand of aftermarket windscreen, and research your specific make and model of bike. Sometimes, just clamping an adjustable windscreen extension (alternately called a visor, a spoiler, a deflector, a blade, and a Laminar Lip) to your existing shield is the way to go. Play with the angle until the air coming off it is a smooth stream. There you go, a fairly cheap and very easy fix!
This won’t make you more comfortable on the bike, unless you’re a passenger and we’re talking about a top-case with a backrest. Luggage can make everyone more comfortable, though. With it you can carry things like rain gear, extra layers, heated gear, a spare pair of gloves, food, and dry socks. It’s the creature comforts, truly, that can make a difference between being totally uncomfortable, and being warm and dry and getting a good night’s sleep.
What do you carry, and what have you done to your bike, to make it all-day comfortable for you?