Make Yourself Comfortable on Your Harley
The Harley-Davidson brand has become a staple of American culture, and with good reason. Harleys are impressive bikes. They're fast, powerful, and look amazing. Unfortunately, though, riding a Harley instead of a lesser-known brand won't make you immune to common problems like back pain and sore joints.
Whether you plan on taking the bike out for short trips on local roads each weekend or already have a plan for a cross-country motorcycle tour in the works, staying comfortable should be a top priority. It's not just about comfort, either. Motorcycle riders often find that they have to cut day trips short and spend less time than they want to on their bikes due to pain and soreness.
The good news is that whether riders have just purchased their first pre-owned motorcycles or they're seasoned veterans who want to stay on the road for longer, there are plenty of ways to make motorcycle riding more comfortable. You can find out about the top tips for making yourself comfortable on your Harley below.
Make Sure the Bike Is a Good Fit
If you already have a favorite bike that you've been riding for years, don't worry about this section. We'll talk about some important alterations you can make to the bike below, but for now, let's focus on bike-buying tips. Instead of focusing on how different motorcycles look, you should pay attention to things like ergonomics and size.
Type of Motorcycle
It's not uncommon for new motorcycle riders to focus more on how a bike looks than on whether it will suit their purposes. Don't be one of those people. If you want to be comfortable on your new bike, choosing the right motorcycle style is essential.
People planning longer rides usually opt for touring motorcycles, which are designed to maintain rider comfort over an extended period. Touring bikes aren't the only option, though. They're ideal for cross-country motorcycle trips, but these motorcycles' heavy weight can be frustrating to deal with day-in and day-out. Adventure or dual-sport bikes are better fits for riders who don't mind sacrificing a little time for extra breaks to get greater nimbleness.
While we're talking about weight and size, it's worth mentioning a few things about engine size. New riders usually opt for bikes with 750cc engines or below, and these smaller, lighter motorcycles are usually quite comfortable for short rides. For longer rides, a larger engine will offer greater power and reliability. Plus, high displacement will make holding cruising speeds easier.
A motorcycle's seat height can't easily be altered, so you need to make sure the bike you intend to purchase is sized correctly. The best way to do so is by sitting on the motorcycle and seeing how it feels. You should be able to reach the ground on both sides of the bike.
If you plan on buying a motorcycle online, start by taking two basic measurements: your height and your inseam. You can then compare the listed seat height against your inseam to get a rough idea of whether it will be a good fit. Riders can also use online tools such as ergonomic simulators to help determine whether the bike will be comfortable to ride.
Keep in mind that factors such as how large the soles of your motorcycle boots are and the width of the seat can also affect whether or not the bike will be comfortable to ride. Wider seats will put your feet further off the ground, while thicker soles will do the opposite.
Weight distribution is largely a matter of personal preference. You'll need to actually sit on the bike to get a feel for it. Just move around from side to side and from back to front to see how it feels. If any of the motions are difficult or uncomfortable, the motorcycle isn't a good fit size-wise.
Distance from Seat to Controls
Finally, check the distance from the bike's seat to its controls. You should be able to reach both the hand and foot controls easily from the seat without stretching or twisting.
Outfit Your Bike
Every Harley rider's preferences and intentions are different, so there's no way for even this iconic company to ensure a perfect fit right off the factory lines. It's better to look at stock motorcycles as good starting points. As you prepare for your first ride or long trip, outfit your bike right with:
While seat height can't be easily altered, changing out seat pads is a simple process. Options include inflatable cushions, polymer pads that prevent sores, and other comfortable materials. If you don't want to replace the entire seat, a traditional sheepskin cover might be a better bet.
Anyone planning a long trip or frequent motorcycle rides should consider investing in a windshield. It's the best way to prevent not just the wind but also road debris and bugs from hitting you in the face.
Factory levers can tire out your hands quickly, especially if they aren't a perfect fit for your hand size. Outfitting your Harley with adjustable levers can make using them more comfortable. As a general rule, shorter levers are best for people who use only a couple of fingers on the clutch and brake and for anyone who wears bulky gloves that could get caught up between the bike's lever and throttle grip.
Most touring bikes come standard with cruise control, but the same does not hold true for other types of motorcycles. If you already have a bike that doesn't have cruise control and you plan on putting a lot of miles behind you, a cruise control gadget will be an invaluable tool when it comes to comfort. Just set it over the throttle grip to save yourself some serious wrist aches.
Get the Right Gear
Getting the right gear is largely a matter of dressing appropriately for the season and making sure you have adequate protection. No matter the weather, you should always wear a well-fitted motorcycle helmet. This piece of gear won't just keep you more comfortable - it could save your life.
Riders should never leave home without the requisite protective gear, either. Motorcycle gloves, a leather jacket, and riding pants are a good start, but they can be prohibitively hot on a sunny summer day. When extreme heat is more likely to be a problem than rain or cold, ventilated or mesh gear can help. Made from specialty fabrics, they control airflow around a rider's body to allow the evaporative cooling effect to take effect.
Even on a relatively warm day, uncovered fingers can get quite cold. It's always wise to have riding gloves on-hand. In cold climates, heated grips are also a worthwhile investment.
Some long-distance riders take comfort and performance one step further and purchase compression garments for long rides. These garments are designed to increase lymphatic and blood flow, but they also hold muscles in place and isolate them from the bike's vibration.
Riders who are planning long-distance trips should try to pack as light as possible. It's fine to use saddlebags, but stick to the essentials, such as:
- A change of clothes or two
- Travel-size toiletries
- Some lightweight, non-perishable snacks
- A basic first aid kit
- A basic repair kit
- Enough water to stay well-hydrated
- A tarp if motorcycle camping
If there's still space and your motorcycle will be well under its carrying capacity after you get on, then it's safe to add nice-but-not-necessary items. When in doubt, it's always better to err on the side of caution and keep your load as light as possible.
Focus on Stretching and Posture
The right riding gear will be able to flex with your body, allowing a full range of motion. After putting it on, take the time to stretch each muscle group before setting out. You should try to develop a solid routine that involves a full range of basic stretches and stick to it religiously to stay comfortable while riding and avoid unnecessary muscle soreness.
Posture is just as important as stretching. The right seat can make a huge difference when it comes to back support and reaction times, but you'll need to pay attention to how you're sitting, as well.
Try to maintain a neutral seating position with muscles that are relaxed but at the ready. Your hands should be midway between your shoulders and stomach with arms slightly bent when you sit up straight on the bike. If the handlebars are too high, low, or far away, revisit the bike-buying and -modifying tips above before setting out on a long ride to avoid placing undue stress on your joints.
Stay Healthy on the Road
If you're planning a long ride or a road trip, staying healthy is essential not just to comfort but also for safety. Be sure to stay hydrated by taking frequent water breaks. Most seasoned riders suggest stopping once an hour to use the restroom and drink more water. Staying adequately hydrated will help to prevent muscle soreness and maintain focus, so don't underestimate how important it is to drink enough water.
Some riders prefer to use hydration packs over frequent water breaks. Camelbacks are a good option, especially for long rides through hot climates. Just don't assume that using a hydration pack will replace the need for frequent stops.
Taking a water and bathroom break every hour also gives riders the chance to get up off their bikes and move sore muscles. Sitting in one position is always going to cause some muscle soreness, even with the best bike, gear, posture, and riding practices. While it's OK to move around some on your bike when there's no potential need for emergency maneuvers, it's better to get up and walk around.
Stopping for meal breaks is also a must on long trips. Be sure to eat a full, nutritious meal before setting out each day and prioritize staying healthy throughout the trip. A rider's wellness won't just impact their comfort level. Riding while sick, hungry, or sleep-deprived can also be dangerous.
Expect the Unexpected
On longer trips, staying comfortable isn't just about the hours you spend on your bike. It's also about how the rest of the trip goes. Try to predict what types of situations could come up based on the season, the route, and the bike, and come up with backup plans.
Think about what would happen should your bike run out of fuel or develop a flat in the middle of nowhere. Without taking precautions, you could be stuck for hours. Keeping a phone charged to call for help is always a good idea, but breakdowns don't just happen in and around cities.
Taking simple steps like letting other people know about your plans, route, and timeframe can be a lifesaver if you run into trouble far from civilization. Your contact person will at least be able to reach out for help if you don't check in and give the relevant authorities information about where to look, so you won't have to worry about being stuck in a bad situation for days.
Breakdowns aren't the only thing to worry about when it comes to expecting the unexpected. You should always be prepared for inclement weather, as well. Check the forecast before setting out, but don't assume that sunny skies at your destination mean you won't hit rain, hail, and other sudden weather events while you're on the road. Pack a rain suit and map out some sheltered rest areas along the route just in case. You'll be much more comfortable sheltering under a highway overpass than you will be pulled off the road and huddled beneath a poncho.
Hit the Road in Comfort and Style
Setting out on a long ride or a motorcycle camping trip is always exciting. Whether you're about to take that first trip on a brand-new bike or you're a veteran motorcycle camper, staying comfortable should be a top priority.
Sore muscles, dehydration, and lack of proper gear can all get in the way of your ability to enjoy the trip. In some cases, failing to take care of yourself and your bike while on the road can even lead to dangerous situations. Follow the tips above to make sure every ride is a safe, comfortable, and fun one.