Every time a motorcycle manufacturer tells us it has lowered the seat of a particular model to make the bike more accommodating for riders of all sizes, that’s bunk. Pure fallacy.
One size does not fit all. Lowering the seat may help short guys touch the tarmac a little easier, but chopping that distance to the foot pegs tortures taller riders, forcing their legs into an uncomfortably tight bend. Go for a long ride? Ah, no thanks, I’d rather stay home and rearrange my screwdriver drawer.
Face it; few of us are as compact as Tom Cruise or Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who at 5-foot-2 is the shortest rider in MotoGP. Fortunately, some street-legal bikes are comfortable for riders over 6-feet-tall. Here are six that I, a 6-foot-4, have come to appreciate:
1. BMW R1200GS
BMW’s perennial best-selling motorcycle, and for good reason. The big GS pretty much created the adventure-bike genre, and the upright seating position and effective windscreen of this go-anywhere Beemer make long days in the saddle feel short. The boxer powerplant exudes BMW tradition, but liquid cooling, fuel injection and sophisticated engine and chassis electronics bring the GS firmly into the 21st century. A bonus: If the GS ever tips over on, say, a gnarly dirt road in Patagonia, the protruding horizontal cylinder keeps the bike from falling flush with the ground, making it much easier to pick up.
2. Yamaha FJ-09
When the 3-cylinder Yamaha FZ-09 arrived in 2014, all the moto magazines went crazy over this naked streetfighter. With its snappy response and agile chassis, the FZ-09 indeed was the perfect hooligan bike. But when Yamaha made a touring version with hard saddlebags, firmer suspension and a tidy windscreen, a true star was born. The FJ-09, as it’s called, offered all the feisty fun of the FZ-09 but in a package with improved fueling, better suspension, superb practicality and excellent legroom. Yamaha’s Super Tenere also is a good fit for taller riders, but it’s significantly heavier.
3. Kawasaki Versys 650/1000
An all-new Versys arrived in 2015, and for the first time a 1,000cc 4-cylinder model was offered in the US. The 650, though, is more enjoyable. It’s lighter for easier around-town maneuverability, yet the parallel-twin engine boasts enough grunt for relaxed highway cruising. The Versys shines as a good everyday motorcycle, with a rider triangle (defined by the seat, handlebar and foot pegs) nicely suited for taller riders. Although the Versys 650, with standard hand guards, looks like it should work well on dirt roads, the tried-and-true KLR650—another Kawasaki that works well for tall riders—is much better for that type of duty.
4. Honda NC700X
To grow the two-wheeled market, Honda wants to see typical suburban dads riding again, as they did in the 1960s. To that end, the company has built the non-threatening NC700X, which boasts easy upright ergonomics and great practicality, thanks in part to a large trunk right where you’d expect the fuel tank to be (the actual gas tank is below the seat). More significant, the fuel-efficient NC700X is available with a dual-clutch transmission, which can function like a fully automatic gearbox. While we prefer shifting traditionally with our foot, DCT does eliminate a potential barrier to riding. Other Honda offerings friendly to long-legged riders include the affordable CB500X and new Africa Twin.
5. KTM 1190 Adventure/1290 Super Adventure
If you grew up riding dirt bikes and want a street motorcycle with that same agile feel, these KTMs can’t be beat. On dirt, these V-twin-powered Austrians behave like much smaller bikes, yet they gobble up interstate miles with ease. Besides a special ABS program that reduces stopping distances in the dirt, these advanced machines have multiple electronic modes affecting power delivery and traction control. Most important, taller riders will be right at home because generous suspension travel equates to a high seat. If the BMW GS is the Mercedes of adventure bikes, these KTMs are the BMWs. How’s that for a twist? (If you’re looking for a KTM more dedicated to pavement pounding, the feisty 1290 Super Duke and new 1290 Super Duke GT, both powered by a torquey 1301cc V-twin, also give tall riders the joy of comfortably clipping apexes.)
6. Ducati Multistrada 1200
Finally, an Italian. Although the Aprilia Caponord is a good choice, the versatile Ducati Multistrada 1200 gets the nod here because it’s similarly spacious but powered by the rumbly Testastretta L-twin with DVT variable valve timing that optimizes valve overlap to make power arrive earlier and last longer. Multifaceted Bosch electronics manage everything from cornering ABS and traction control to wheelie control and the four riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urban, Enduro), but this electronic wizardry is not what steals our heart. Rather, that 150-hp desmodromic engine does; one trip up through the gears on this Ducati and you’ll immediately understand.
Notice anything here? Yes, this personal list of motorcycles that are great for tall riders is mostly adventure-type bikes with upright seating. Indeed, ADV bikes are great for the long-legged, which may help explain why they’re so popular these days. While some cruisers from the likes of Harley-Davidson and Indian can accommodate big guys, most of their models still suffer from the low-seat syndrome. On a positive note, Kawasaki has developed the newErgo Fit system for its Vulcan S. Via adjustable foot pegs, seat and handlebar, the Vulcan is tailored at the dealer to fit riders of varying sizes. Kudos to Kawasaki for thinking of the Big Guys.