The Big Short: Top 5 Motorcycles for Tall riders, Top 5 for Short Riders

Power, performance and kit levels may rank high on your lists of 'wants' when purchasing a motorcycle... but none of that matters if you can't get comfy!

Honda MSX125 Grom

When choosing a motorcycle, for many the choice between Option A and Option B might well be determined by the one thing you cannot customise… your own height, lofty or compact and everything in between.

After all, there’s no point everyone saying an R1 is a brilliant sports bike if, at 6’5”, you simply can’t get comfortable on it. By the same token, it’d be daft to consider a BMW R1250 GS Adventure as a viable adventure bike option if you’re only 5’4”. 

But there ARE viable sports bikes for taller riders, adventure machines for shorties and bikes of others types that better suit extreme sizes if you are willing to cock a leg over enough of them.

Naturally, it’s important to check out the full adjustability of a motorcycle before you buy, or pay the price at the chiropractor, particularly if you traverse long miles.

However, some motorcycles across a range of segments do offer particular functionality that make them ideal if you are above average or perhaps below. 

Here is the long and short of the best motorcycling options right now.

The 5 Best Motorcycles for Taller Riders

Best 125 – Sinnis T125 Terrain [£3,199]

Adventure motorcycles are traditionally among the better options for taller riders needing a touch more leg ‘room’ thanks to their raised suspension,  their chunky proportions and upright riding positions yet still with impressive versatility and performance. 

But until recently there weren’t really any 125cc options – not any more. Chinese-built Sinnis have updated its fairly unique 125 Terrain for 2021 with a new, 12.7bhp liquid-cooled engine which, with its 780mm seat height, decent fairing and even optional panniers all makes the Terrain one of the best 125s for taller riders – especially at this price.

Best A2 – Honda CB500X [£6,249]

Honda’s A2-specific CB500 family have been among, if not THE, best A2-compliant bikes around since their launch in 2014 and, thanks to their shared, perky, friendly 47bhp parallel twin engine and numerous revisions since they remain at the top of the pile. Comprising CMX500 Rebel cruiser, CB500F roadster, CBR500R sportster and CB500X adventure style bike, it’s the X, thanks to its taller, adventure style, elongated suspension and higher 830mm seat height that not only makes it the best option for taller riders (it’s still not at all intimidating, even for smaller riders) but probably the best A2 option of all.

Best Retro Custom – Triumph Scrambler 1200XE [£11,800]

Triumph’s scrambler versions of its Bonneville retro roadsters, with their off-road style and upright posture have always been among the retros best suited to taller riders, but the British firm raised the bar significantly when it introduced its latest 1200 versions in 2019. 

Based on the now high-power Thruxton version of the Bonnie 1200, but retuned for added low down grunt producing a peak of 89bhp, the Scrambler 1200 is available in two forms – the XC and the more off-road orientated and, crucially here, 30mm higher, XE version we’re picking here. 

It’s a serious off-roader, too, with quality suspension, off-road wire wheels and more (if in any doubt check it out in the latest Bond flick No Time To Die – Ed), it’s also a credible road bike with a punchy delivery and decent handling, an authentic retro and, best of all, those proportions and style make it one of the best options for taller riders, too.

Best adventure/all-rounder – KTM 1290 Super Adventure R [£15,999]

Austrian specialists KTM are right up there with the best when it comes to big adventure bikes with a reputation for performance and off-road prowess few rivals can match. 

Its latest big offering, the 1290 Adventure, was completely updated for 2021 and is both a phenomenal performer (with 160bhp from its big V-twin, plus impressively able handling) and fabulously sophisticated, with some of the best electronics in the class now including radar-guided cruise control, among others. 

Best of all, though, in the context of bikes for tall riders, it comes in two forms, as before, a more road-orientated S version, and, here, a longer suspension, off-road wheeled and thus taller dirt version, the R. 

As such, with an 880mm seat height, it’s one of the higher adventure bikes so suiting taller riders – but it’s also one of the best, especially if planning to do some serious off-roading.

Best Sports - Super Naked – BMW S1000XR [£14,285]

OK, you can argue we’re twisting the definition of sports bikes or super nakeds here, and that the XR is more a so-called ‘adventure sports’ – but seeing as its mechanicals are lifted straight from the S1000R super naked, which in turn are derived from the (old) S1000RR superbike, we think we’re justified. 

With 165bhp and excellent electronics (since 2020 including BMW’s brilliant 6.5in TFT display) it’s effectively an upright, faired four-cylinder sports bike. It’s also comfortable, well-equipped and versatile. 

Best of all, though, that blistering performance and decent handling is all available via a roomy, reasonably tall (its seat height is a fairly lofty 840mm), well-protected riding position that definitely suits taller riders.

Top 5 Best Motorcycles for Short Riders

Best 125 – Honda MSX125 [£3,649]

You don’t get much smaller, lower and easier to ride than a so-called Monkey bike and, when Honda introduced its all-new, 21st century take on the mini-bike theme, with the first MSX125 in 2014, the Japanese giant proved once again that no-one does Monkey bikes better than Honda. 

That first model, with its 12in wheels and dinky proportions, but also brilliant design, quality build and all-round fun factor, proved a global sensation. But this new, now Euro5 version for 2021, is better still. 

Now with 10bhp, new styling and a low 761mm seat height, the Grom (as it’s also called) remains a doddle to ride, however small you are, with a quality and cult following few bikes can match.

Best A2 – Honda CMX500 Rebel [£5,849]

The CMX, or Rebel as it’s more commonly known, is the cruiser variant of Honda’s hugely successful CB500/A2-compliant family and as such, with not only its bespoke frame which allows a seat height of just 690mm, but also a slightly detuned engine for added flexibility, it’s a brilliantly manageable bike for shorter riders. 

Although low, it’s not ‘overly-cruiser’ and is ridiculously easy to ride with nimble handling, plus it’s also well-built with proven reliability, has a brilliant dealer network and is temptingly affordable, too. 

It might not be as ‘cool’ as a genuine Harley, but it’s lighter, easier to ride and cheaper!

Best Retro Custom – Triumph Bonneville Bobber [£10,500]

Laid back, low seated customs or cruisers naturally suit shorter riders but often at the expense of performance and/or handling – not so with the brilliant Bobber. 

Based on the brilliant Triumph Bonneville retro roadster but with a the higher performance 1200 engine giving 76bhp and a bespoke single shock rear end, the result is a low seat height of just 765mm yet still with all the performance, handling and braking of Triumph’s already fine-handling Bonnies. 

Want a low, manageable seat height, decent performance and handling AND class-leading retro style? You want a Bonneville Bobber, you do…

Best All-Round Adventure – Harley-Davidson Pan America Special [£15,500]

Yes, although adventure bikes aren’t naturally suited to shorter riders, there are more than a few specially-adapted options available, not least from BMW, which invariably have both adjustable seat heights and low seat options and also Triumph, which now produces a special low seat version of its latest Tiger 900, the imaginatively-named Tiger 900 Low, which is specially adapted to have a low saddle of just 760-780mm. 

However, we’ve decided to pick out Harley-D’s all-new Pan America here, not because 150bhp, electronics-laden and surprisingly versatile adventure bike is so good (it is) but because, in top spec Special trim you can also add the £600 option of HD’s clever Adaptive Ride Height System which lowers the normally 895mm seat to just under 800mm automatically when the bike comes to a stop. Clever eh?

Best Sports-Super Naked – BMW S1000R - BMW S1000RR [£12,055-£15,590]

Generally-speaking its difficult to find superbikes or high-end super nakeds that suit shorter riders simply because their seats heights, with their raised rear ends, are often so tall. 

That said, BMW’s latest, fully revised S1000RR and its new-for-2021 naked version, the surprisingly civilised S1000R, are among the best. The 204bhp RR superbike is a phenomenal performer in its own right yet also surprisingly versatile, comfortable and, with a seat height a fairly reasonable 824mm, more accessible than most. 

The 164bhp R super naked, meanwhile, is lower still at just 814mm, has further low seat options available and manages the neat trick of both being a wild performer yet also comfortable, practical and impressively docile when you want, too