Upper Body Strength for Women Handling Weight of Big Motorcycles

Short reader asks how others muscle around tall bikes

upper body strength
WRN contributor Sarah Moreau handles
the weight of the 831-pound Indian Chieftain
with no problem because of the
low center of gravity of the motorcycle.

Dear WRN,

Great tips in this story about short riders handling big bikes, but my issue isnt just height, its the weight of the bike. If Im not on both feet I dont think I have the upper body strength to hold up a taller bike. Am I the only one who worries about this? How do others deal with the issue of upper body strength and weight of bigger motorcycles?

Thank you,

Sash Walker
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Please respond to the question below and share your advice.

29 thoughts on Upper Body Strength for Women Handling Weight of Big Motorcycles

  1. I am 5 feet 3 inches, or that is what I was when younger. Anyway, I have owned many bikes as I have been riding my own bike about 30 years. I am now 59. Today I ride a 2016 Indian Springfield. We did lower the rear 1.5 inches because this was a simple way to give me additional footing. I traded in a 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Glide—beautiful bike but it was just too heavy for me to maneuver comfortably in tight or sandy circumstances.We ride cross country so I wanted something more like my previous 2006 Harley-Davidson Deluxe which is an excellent size bike for short folks. I didn’t get a faring on my Indian because unless I lower the entire bike, which is what one would need to do to still be able to see over the faring properly, I wanted to keep as much of the factory handling that I could. I do drag on the turns quite often mostly because I love to lay into the curves.Of all my previous bikes I will say this Indian Springfield is the best for the long haul and curvy highways. I have great maneuverability and since I have always stood my bikes up with my thighs there are no issues there. We live out of town a ways and a portion of daily travel is on dirt/sandy roads. The Springfield also comes with hard locking bags which is a great benefit on the open road! Happy travels and God’s richest blessings!

  2. Hello. I’m 43 years old and I have never ridden a motorcycle but in March I was blessed with a 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Glide. I have no clue about this bike but my husband does. I’m about 5 feet 5 inches, 130 pounds. I need a woman’s advise on the best way to go about learning to ride this beautiful machine. Summer is almost gone so please help fast.

    1. Hi Julie,Congratulations of the new bike, but we sincerely hope that you use extra caution and read our Beginner’s Guide before you attempt to ride that big motorcycle. The safest way to learn to ride is to enroll in a course, taught by trained professionals, where they use small, lightweight beginner bikes. A Street Glide is a great bike for someone with thousands of miles of experience, but is not a good bike to learn to ride on, as it is very big and heavy and has more power than a new rider is able to control.Start small, develop your skills, and hopefully, one day you will be proud to ride the Street Glide.

  3. It’s been more than 30 years since I last rode a bike and at the age of 56 I decided to get back on again. I am 4 feet 11 inches with a 29-inch inseam. I sat on a large variety of bikes until I settled for a Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS. I like it because the weight is down low and it’s very well balanced. Also I was able to modify it with a short reach seat and handlebars. I also put on a shorter shank for the gear shifter and moved the pegs back an inch. Once all this was done I felt so much more in control and confident. This way I can concentrate on getting to know my bike and getting some miles under my belt, and only when I’m ready I’ll move up to something else.Oh, yes, and personally I feel that having both feet flat on the ground with a bend in your knees is paramount. Happy riding everyone.

  4. Use your legs. A woman’s strength is in her legs, not the upper body unless you work out. I am 66 and have learned to use my legs.

  5. I am 5 feet 2 inches and weigh 96 pounds. I have three motorcycles but the BMW 700 GS gives me some concern. With crash bars and all it probably weighs close to 500 pounds. It’s not huge like some Harleys but heavy enough to cause this shrimp some concern when both feet are more tippy toes than not. Even with a lowered suspension I needed built-up boots. I had used the Daytona Lady Stars last year. They were okay but this year I bought the Daytona Lady Pilot GTX boots in one size bigger than I usually take. There have an even higher sole than the Lady Stars. I added a lift insert inside the boot that I bought on Amazon (that is why one size larger). It adds maybe a 1/2-inch to the height.This is the best combo I’ve found and I have no trouble now putting both feet on the ground fully. The boots are super comfortable too even with the insert. It feels like walking on a bouncy cloud. I can even sit on my bike and move it backwards out of the garage while sitting on it—I couldn’t do that last year as the weight and tippy toes didn’t give me enough push on the cement.BTW, I do lift weights and stretchy bands, etc to stay strong and have always exercised this way. But if the bike is too tall and too heavy even all that exercising might not help much if your are having trouble reaching the ground. If the bike is already vertical there really is no need for more physical strength to hold it up. You are just helping to keep it aligned.I also had a Rekluse auto clutch installed since the 700 GS has a tall first gear. Once in first gear there is no need to use the clutch lever at all at stops or uphill stops. Just the brake—no holding the clutch in or letting it out slowly to move off when in first. Love it!

  6. I started riding in 2006. I rode a Honda VTX 1300 C to begin, then moved to a VTX 1800 C. I weighed 280 pounds back then. Now I weigh 175. Huge difference. I had sold my VTX 1800C. Then last year I bought a VTX 1800 F3. I thought I could handle it with no problems, well I was wrong. After a 100 pound weight loss, I didn’t have the strength to handle that size bike. I go to the gym, and had talked to the trainer. He advised me to do core training. I have since decided to sell the VTX 1800 F3 and buy another VTX 1300 C. When I had my first 1300 C, I could hold it up and rock the bike back and forth between my legs, and I can do it now with this bike. I feel a whole lot more at ease knowing that I can handle the weight of it compared to the last one. The weather is getting nice enough for me to start riding it, and I am confident that I should not have any issues. I know there isn’t that much weight difference in any of the bikes I have rode. I think it’s more the wheel base and turning radius. I also believe that upper body and core muscles do help. Safe travels to all.

  7. I’m 5 feet 3 inches and ride a Harley-Davidson Street Bob. Once the bike is moving I have no issue with controlling the weight. Slow speeds is where I have issues. When transferring from the cage to the bike I have a tendency to let the bike roll on stops and this causes me to brake weird. At least I know I can pick it up now.

  8. With upper body, it is building your core strength—abdominal muscles (not crunches please—back muscles, and the muscles around the pelvis.

  9. I’m 5 feet 6 inches and ride a 800+ pound Street Glide. Take experienced rider courses! Lots of them, every year if you can, until you can throw the motorcycle where you want it to go!

  10. I have a bad hip and leg along with my back. I ride a Honda VTX1300 with a Voyager trike kit. It still has the back tire, making turns and curves difficult until I learned how to “push and pull,” the handlebars. I’ve done curvy winding roads in North Carolina. I really need upper body strength.I’ve gotten very good at it and have built my upper arms up. I’m 72, 5 feet 5 inches, 130 pounds. Just started riding a year ago.

  11. I am 5 feet 4 inches and ride a 850-pound bike. If you are concerned about holding up the bike at a stop and are flat-footed weight doesn’t become an issue. A lesson I learned: If you are concerned about standing a heavy bike up from the kick stand, straighten the handle bars, put your hand under the tank on the low side and you will be able to stand the bike up easily.

  12. I think the most important thing is to be flat-footed. If you have to manually move the bike while seated, it is your legs and feet that get the job done.I’ve ridden a Honda Rebel 250, Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 SuperLow and now have a Harley Dyna Switchback. I’ve found the Switchback, which is the biggest and heaviest, easier to maneuver while in motion. But before I had my seat height adjusted I was not quite flat-footed which made me slightly unstable at lights and moving it while seated. Flat-footedness is definitely the key to stability.

  13. I’ve read the answers and I realize my question must have been vague. I’m 4 feet 11 inches with only a 27-inch inseam. If I want to ride a bike with a 31-inch seat height I cannot rely on my lower body alone to balance at stops. Also I often ride with a great deal of luggage because I’m usually touring. The weight is at seat height.I sometimes struggle now with my V Star 650 when it’s fully loaded and I’m on unsteady footing, but I have not dropped it. Are there any tools or strategies I can use to ride a taller bike, one I can only get one foot down, under the same circumstances?

  14. All about the stance and being flat-footed at stops. I always thought the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy was too heavy for me. Changed the seat to a slimmer style and what a difference. Now I’m thinking about trying hubby’s Street Glide.

  15. I completely agree—it is about the right fit of the bike to you. Once that has been accomplished, get to a parking lot and practice your skills. And lastly, take an experienced rider course where you will work with your bike and coaches who can help you fine-tune your skills.

  16. Here’s the thing; the main point of the short riders article is what it beats around the bush about: The more upright you can keep your bike when moving it around by hand, or at a stop, the more the tires support the weight of the bike and the less you have to deal with yourself. Your legs do the work when your seat is on the bike, but when you’re walking it around or sitting on it at a stop, the better your reach and your confidence in keeping it upright, the less weight you have to deal with. The more you lean it because you’re nervous or don’t know how to position yourself, the more weight you have to deal with, which can result in a spill and a loss of confidence.Also, working hard at the gym always helps, whether you’re riding or not. Feels great, too!

  17. I agree with the other comments to a point but if I stop and the bike tips past a certain point because I misjudged the road surface, I definitely need upper body strength. Sure, in a perfect world that would never happen, but firsthand experience says it’s not a perfect world and neither am I.I was riding a Yamaha FZ6 which I think is top heavy and a fuzz to tall which contributed to the problem. I broke a lot of plastic on that bike while stopped. I don’t think it would be such a problem on a bike with a lower center of gravity but if you ride a top-heavy bike…lift weights!

  18. The answer is air ride suspension. With it, I can lower or raise the bike to what I want. The adjustment can be done as you ride. When reversing, just lower it down. The center of gravity decreases making it very easy to handle the weight. Hope this helps.

  19. As an occupational therapist, I know that your upper body strength is just as important as your lower body strength when operating a machine that weighs more than you do. Understanding the physics and dynamics is paramount. Saying your legs are the most important is ridiculous.When you’re static, yes, your legs need to be strong. Dynamically your upper body needs the strength and endurance to control the machine as you’re riding, turning, and cornering. Your body and mind need to work together to control the overall ride.If you can’t hold it up at the light, the bike is too high. Your legs are too short. So you need your arms and entire upper body.You can ride a trike with pride. The objective is safety, not your legs.

  20. I use my legs to hold up my bikes, and make sure my wheels are lined up, “squaring” handlebars as I stop. My upper body strength helps control and direct the handlebars. Core strength helps a lot, especially when standing on the pegs on rough roads, except for when I’m on a bike that has pegs too far forward to allow me to stand.

  21. Why don’t you simply buy a motorcycle that “fits” you instead of riding something that makes you uncomfortable?

    1. Not many people can afford to buy and sell motorcycles until they find the one that fits perfectly. Often you just don’t know how a motorcycle is going to feel until you put some real-world miles on it.However, there have been some good suggestions here from other readers about changing things on the motorcycle that will help obtain that better fit.

  22. I agree. It is about your legs but handlebar placement can make a big difference. I added pullback risers to all three of my bikes to get my handlebars where they needed to be to make handling my Harleys easier. Also, don’t forget rocking your levers up a little to compensate for smaller hands. If you angle the levers up, your hands will be less fatigued and better able to pull them in (brake and clutch) with more of your fingers touching them.

  23. I have a Harley-Davidson Road Glide and have the same issue but noticed a big difference when I got more upper body strength. Part of it too was getting used to having a bigger bike. Once you get stronger in your upper body you will feel a difference and be more confident.

  24. The first answer is pretty on-point. It’s about legs and center of gravity! Most pavements are angled, and at traffic lights and intersections there are unequal parts due to heavy traffic, not to mention the occasional oil or diesel spill.For me, as a short rider, it’s essential to be able to put both feet flat on the ground. You can lower and/or narrow down the seat, lower the suspension, buy heightened boots, whatever it takes. Why? Because you may be alright countless times, but to drop a bike is no fun, period! But most of all, it intensifies your self-esteem as a rider, thus as a person.And for handling while riding, it’s not about upper body strength. It’s about countersteering and handling at low speeds with the proper head and eyes technique, using a little rear brake and if needed, feathering the clutch in the friction zone.Remember golden rule #1: Never hurry.Ride like you’re invisible.And last but not least, riding a bike is no competition (unless at a racetrack). You don’t need to outperform other riders, you get your butt home safe.

  25. Balancing the bike and keeping it upright really comes from the legs and lower body. A shorter rider should adjust the seat height to get the most flat-footed stance possible.As for upper body strength, this was perhaps not so much of an issue for me as handlebar placement. I benefited more from adjusting my handlebars (changing the style, shape, adding pullback risers) so that my arms were no longer fully extended and my hands where brought closer to my body. This increased my confidence and control of the bike.

  26. I don’t think I’m “holding up” the bike, I’m balancing it. Legs are more important for sure!

  27. The question is confusing. I take it the reader is asking how to keep her monster bike from tipping over at stops. It’s not her upper body that does this—it’s her legs. Needs more leg days at the gym or a bike that actually fits her.

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