Comfort is more than just ergonomics

Proper ergonomics are just the beginning of being prepared for long distance riding

Good fit is only the beginning to easier long distance touring!

By George Tranos
One of the most common questions that I receive as a motorcycle instructor is, “What bike should I buy?” My normal reply is, “purchase a motorcycle that fits you properly and has the appropriate power and weight for your skill level.” While this is good advice, it really doesn’t address the entire picture of how to achieve comfort on a motorcycle.

Leaving aside the weight and power issue and concentrating only on fit, proper ergonomics are important. Many studies have been written on creating a harmonious man / machine interface. Proper ergonomic design will prevent repetitive stress injury, sore muscles and back pain, numbness and other disabilities. The long term prognosis for riding a motorcycle that doesn’t fit you well goes well beyond discomfort.

  • Good posture is important! Some motorcycle styles put your body in an awkward posture that puts stress on hands, arms, back and legs. Cruisers can put a lot of pressure on your spine as the feet forward, arms stretched and back curved riding position doesn’t allow you to use your legs as shock absorbers. Sportbikes with their rearward leg position, extreme knee bends and forward leaning posture can stress the hands, arms and legs. Long distance riding using either of these styles can be downright painful. Standard and touring style motorcycles allow the body to be more relaxed and upright leading to less stress from poor posture.
  • Physical fitness counts too! Regardless of style, however, riders can experience fatigue and soreness on rides of any duration. This may be caused by lack of muscle tone in the body’s core area or by generally being out-of-shape. Regular exercise can help strengthen the core muscles needed to prevent discomfort. Stretching can increase range-of-motion and improve flexibility. When riding long distances, riders should periodically get off their bikes to move and stretch. Good hydration is also essential for longer rides especially in hot weather.
  • A good seat makes all the difference! Other things that can cause discomfort are motorcycle seats that are uncomfortable to sit on. If you’ve been riding long enough, you probably have had a bike with a bad seat. Changing out the seat for a different one can make a big difference in how long you can stay in the saddle. There are a variety of aftermarket seat manufacturers that supply motorcycle seats and there is probably one or more available for your bike.
  • You are what you wear! What you wear can also have a big effect on comfort. Proper riding gear can make a big difference. Choose gear that offers protection, comfort and visibility. Wearing bright colors with retro-reflective material can help other road users see you better. A good riding jacket is longer in the sleeves and back, has good closures to seal out wind and weather and offers protection in a fall. A good pair of riding pants can offer the same security and comfort. Look for garments that provide a range of riding temperatures. Some offer vents that can be opened in warmer weather or closed when the weather turns cold or wet. The object is to find gear that provides good protection but also increase your comfort on the motorcycle in varying conditions.
  • Good vibes keep you happy! Keeping your motorcycle tuned and running properly can also prevent fatigue. A poorly running bike adds uncomfortable vibration that can tire you out faster. Footpegs or handlebars that vibrate or buzz can cause hand fatigue and numbness. If your bike still vibrates after a tuneup, consider adding heavier bar end weights or changing out your footpegs or floorboards to ones that are more insulated. Rubber mounting can sometimes eliminate the shakes from affecting you as much.
If you’re planning a trip and want to comfortably ride your motorcycle every day for a period of days, do whatever you can to prepare. Choose a bike that fits you properly. Change what you can to make it better for you ergonomically. Keep yourself physically fit, build your core body strength as much as possible and stretch to maintain flexibility. Find a comfortable motorcycle seat to use, buy and wear comfortable and versatile motorcycle gear. Keep your bike tuned properly and try to eliminate as much vibration as possible. The better prepared you and your bike are, the less fatigue you’ll feel, the longer and more comfortably you will ride and the more fun you will have!

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