Short on Legs, Long on Skills

Height no deterrent for Jennifer Hooper

By Donn J. Brous

Standing a diminutive 4 feet 11 inches, Jennifer Hooper is an unlikely candidate to be a motorcycle training instructor she doesnt fit the stereotype. “It never occurred to me that being short would make riding difficult or that I should customize a bike to my height,” she explains.

Jennifer demonstrates a riding exercise on the training range.

Jennifer, a resident of south Florida, works as a RiderCoach Trainer with Motorcycle Training Institute, Inc. based in Miami, Florida. Jennifer teaches the coaches who train people to ride a motorcycle. “I picked a job I love to do so Ill never have to work a day in my life.”

Jennifer giving some helpful coaching to student in her Experienced Rider class.

At 32, Jennifer already has 28 years of riding experience. She always knew she wanted to teach. Initially starting out as a music teacher, she eventually realized she could make a career out of combining her two passions motorcycle riding and teaching. She received her Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) RiderCoach certification in 1998 and completed the program for RiderCoach Trainer in 2004. She is among the small percentage of women in the U.S. who has achieved this level.

Jennifer with graduates of one of her Experienced Rider training classes.

Jennifer surprises many of her students. They often wonder how someone this young, this short and this feminine could be a riding instructor, and a good one at that? “For many people, their first impression of me is disbelief. Is she really the instructor?” Jennifer explains. “Some folks jump to the conclusion that if she can do it, surely I can. But they arent being fair to themselves. Ive got almost three decades of experience and teaching is as natural to me as riding.”

Jennifer points out a riding exercise to one of her students.

Jennifer is an only child describing herself as always being “my own person.” Her parents did not raise her with gender-specific activities or toys and she was never given the message that “girls cant do this.” Instead she was given a JR50 dirt bike and spent all her time riding around the neighborhood with the big kids. She gravitated to faster bikes. Her parents supported her because they, too, are also motorcyclists, as were their parents before them and Jennifers great-grandfather before that. “There was always a wide variety of bikes in the garage. I saw practice as the key to riding them. My father and mother, who are almost the same size as me, never let height be a limitation and either do I.”

There are situations when Jennifer#39;s short stature presents a challenge. When parking her Dad#39;s Honda Gold Wing, she avoids a slope where straightening up the bike would require Herculean effort.

The MSF curriculum is based on a set regimen of key learning points. Jennifer makes the most of that strict learning environment by setting a tone for the classes she teaches. “My classes are relaxed and fun. People learn better in that environment. I build from what the students already know. I add value to their foundation. I guide not lead. I never talk down to them. I ask questions that encourage people to reflect on their own experience, which leads to good self-assessment. I smile a lot. Ultimately, students need to leave the class owning the information, feeling autonomous.”

Jennifer riding the big Honda Rune. Bigger is better is a common thinking in motorcycling. Jennifer says, “I don#39;t agree with that. You need to select a bike you like. That#39;s what matters.”

Among Jennifers students are two very experienced motorcyclists her Dad and her husband, Jason both of whom she mentored throughout the process of becoming RiderCoaches. She enjoys telling people that she inspired “her men” to get into this specialized field.

When riding her Suzuki SV650, Jennifer gets off the bike to push it backwards into a parking spot rather than trusting the task to her tiptoes. She#39;s careful not to stop over a dip that might leave her hovering above untouchable ground. “I have to be a little smarter because I#39;m short, but that isn#39;t a problem.”

And speaking of inspiration, Jennifer keeps a photograph of her great grandfather astride an early 1900s Thor motorcycle in her training manual. She glances at it every day knowing shes doing her part at keeping the familys love of motorcycling alive, never giving a second thought her feet cant touch the ground all the time.

Author Donn J. Brous is a freelance writer living in north Georgia. She owns a Honda NX250 for mountain dual sporting; a Honda Hawk GT650 for road trips and the custom-built, cut down Honda Transalp “Frankenalp” as she calls it, “a dirt fighter, good for any ride.” Donn was in her early 50s when she started riding. She is also a studio artist working with hand painted fabric to create clothing, furniture and festival banners.

18 thoughts on Short on Legs, Long on Skills

  1. Inspiring article. At 5 feet 5 inches (I call it the tall side of short), I have been frustrated finding bikes for my height/comfort level. Thanks for the tips on taller bikes. I feel my confidence just got a boost.

  2. A 69 year old male here who last rode more than 40 years ago on a Harley Sportster 1000cc and both feet easily touched the ground anytime all the time.Just a few months ago returned to riding with a 2016 SYM HD 200 EVO.I really needed to read what others have said about the shorter rider and I cannot thank you enough to you riders and the instructors. I’m 5 feet 5 inches and probably getting shorter with age, ha ha.It has certainly taken me some time to gain my confidence with this scooter because I did not realize scooters sit so high up. Arriving at a stop, I now use my left foot to balance, and the smooth gliding-to-a-stop is gradually getting less clumsy as well less embarrassing.No, I did not even sit on my bike to check out any ergonomics before I had it delivered to me. No kidding, not smart.It’s been about three months and things are getting smoother and the confidence is way up. I certainly miss working a clutch and working the gears like I did with my Harley years ago. Missing the true Zen of it all with a clutch. My SYM HD 200 is an automatic/all centrifugal stuff. Oh well, the practicality has it’s place. Bought this scooter strictly for daily runs all over the place as well as for economics including summer trips to the desert in eastern Washington. My wife and I had two big cars so we sold one and got this nearly 90 mpg scooter of which is perfectly freeway capable.

  3. I started riding in 2008 on a 2004 Vento Rebellion 150. People advised me before I bought it that it was too small and a waste of money. I made the right choice, I rode that little bike everywhere for a year. Back and forth to work and home at lunch and then back to work on weekends. I rode it 102 miles one-way to Panama City Beach from Pensacola Florida. I put over 6,000 miles on that little bike and dropped it countless times.I went from barely being able to handle it to being comfy and easy like it was a bicycle. I made money on the little bike when I sold it. Smaller was better and every time I fell over or accomplished something I gained confidence. Yes, even from falling and getting hit by a car; because each time it was, “ok, that’s out of the way.”I moved up to an older bike—a 650 Yamaha. It wasn’t balanced well, and, once again, it was heavier than I was used to. But again with time and miles it became easier and comfortable.I’ve been riding my dad’s Yamaha Virago 750 for the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve had a good 3 years without incident have relocated to Oklahoma and having to adjust to unfamiliar roads and conditions (very rough roads and wind).I was 38 when I started riding and weighed maybe 110 pounds at 5 feet tall. I will be 47 in December and want to get a Harley. My best advice to anyone is start small and go at your own pace. If you really love to ride you will but it can’t be for someone else. Life is full of danger no matter how careful you are, so you might as well enjoy living it doing what you love.

  4. Great article. I am a 5 feet 1 inch, 45 year old lady rider. In 2009 I started learning to ride on a Honda Rebel 250. In 2010, I traded up to a 2009 Honda Shadow 750, that I had lowered 1.5 inches in the back and 2 inches in the front. This was a fun bike to ride, but in March I traded this one in for the new 2016 Honda Fury, which you can lower with its uni-shock. So far this bike has been the most comfortable for road trips over the other bikes I’ve had. You need to pick the bike, not let the bike pick you. Good luck to all lady riders out there.

  5. Inspiring! I’m 4 feet 11 inches ad 32 years old as well, so I could relate well. I normally wouldn’t dare to try a bigger bike than my Buell Blast, but now I think maybe it’s possible to ride a bigger bike, if I had to or wanted to. Thank you for this!

  6. There are some easy (get lower shocks, go to struts) or some high dollar things (change the forks, a “rake”on the neck) that you could do. I would check with a welding shop after talking to the dealership. I had an 18 over with a 2-inch rake on a ’62 XLCH with struts amd my knees were well bent at a light. Good luck.

  7. I am 5 feet 0 and started on a Suzuki 250. I got really comfortable on it and wanted to move up, so I could keep up with my friends that ride. I went with a Harley 883 XL and lowered it half inch or so. Parking is not my issue. It is stopping on hills and being able to keep the bike up. Any suggestions?

    1. Here is a great article about stopping and starting on hills. You can read it here.

  8. Great article! I too am a shorty, 50 years old, 5 feet 1 inch, and have been riding for less than 2 years. I’m on a DR 650 – dual sport bike, perfect for Vancouver Island. There are lots of logging roads to explore and enjoy. I’ve had the DR lowered with the factory setting, and have also done a lot of work on the saddle, changing out the foam and narrowing the profile to get a few millimeters here and there. Stiffer motorcycle boots make it a bit more challenging to reach, but in any case I can plant most of my forefoot on the ground. Better than the tip-toe situation, when I started out. As in the article, I don’t (can’t) really move it while seated, but push it as I need to, to get a better position on the terrain. On a side note, I’ve been doing a bit of motocross at a local track, and have to say, that is awesome for improving bike handling skills!

  9. I’m a shorty as well. This is such a fantastic article. I think a lot of us shorties just starting out need exactly this kind of inspiration. And I started out at 49. Thanks to WRN, Jennifer, and the author!

  10. I am only 4-feet-10 and a grandmother of six. I ride a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200L and I also try not to let my height stature get in the way of riding. There are lots of touring bikes I wish I could ride but unfortunately this is one sport you do need to be able to reach the ground. Nonetheless, me and my Sporty do just fine. Never too short, never too old.

  11. Wow. It is so nice to know that there are other shorter and fun loving “older?” women bike riders out there. I, too, started after 50 and have been riding a little more than a year. Got a 04 Buell Blast (used from the Rider's Edge Course) and have been together ever since. I'm currently helping my brother-in-law modify a 08 Sportster 883 for me and keeping my fingers crossed for a warm winter (it could happen!). To be honest though, my Buell will aways be first in my heart.

  12. What a great article! I am 4-feet-11 and started riding at 57 and am now 60. I don't think you are ever too old or too short to do what you love! I am on my fifth bike in 31/2 years. The first was a 250 Virago for about six weeks; then a 650 Suzuki, next an 883 Harley Sportster and onto a 1200 Sportster. I just bought a Softail Deluxe. Changed out the handlebars to bring them back, put on a custom Corbin close seat and am off and flying! I do have to be careful where I park since backing up can be an issue if it is up hill at all. I may have a lowering kit put on it to solve that problem. Power to the older petite lady riders!

  13. At 5 feet 0 inches the article was a good one for me. Now I want to hear more about author Donn Brous and how she started riding over 50.

  14. This is inspiring. Even at 5 feet 4 inches I feel limited in the variety of bikes I can ride, but not as much as I was when I first started riding. (It's been five years so far, so fun!) I think that's a big part of it — Jennifer started riding when she was still “immortal,” unlike a lot of women who don't start until after they already know how it feels to get hurt! '

    I hope all you riding women out there will put your daughters on bikes as soon as they can walk, so we can all “advance the cause” generation by generation!

  15. What a neat article. I too am only 4 feet 11 inches and try not to let my short stature get in the way of riding. This is my second season and I currently ride a Yamaha V Star 650 but am looking at moving up to the V Star 1100 or 1300. I have also looked at the Honda Shadow. I find that that the V Stars are a great fit for shorter women right off of the showroom floor without making a bunch of adjustments to get the bike to fit. So, don't let a short stature get in the way of wanting to learn to ride. More and more motorcycle manufacturers are realizing that more women are riding these days and building bikes geared for the female rider. Like Jennifer, my goal is to become a Rider Coach with the Minnesota MSF. I truly enjoy riding and belong to a women's motorcycling group, Women On Wheels.

    1. We did a video review of the V Star 1300. Click on the Motorcycle Videos link on WRN to see the video.

  16. Yeah! I just started riding in my “50th” year! I've been a passenger for 33 years. This is encouraging. I've done eight miles on the road and 30 in the parking lot so far. Took the MSF class twice, just cause it was so much fun!

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