We love to ride. We live to ride. We know how it feels when the challenges of the world melt away under the rumbling peace of long rides down two-lane blacktops. At times, it feels like we can ride through a dozen sunsets and sunrises without stopping.
For some of us, however, our spirit of adventure is far more indomitable than our bodies will allow. We lie in bed at night dreaming of our next great ride, and in our fantasy we are supple and lithe, because in our mind we always default to the very best version of ourselves. And then morning comes. With a Herculean effort, we hoist ourselves out of bed and lament the passing of the guy who made last night’s fantasies look easy.
Many of us have never had back problems, and we want to keep it that way. We have to
take care of our bodies so they can continue to serve us for years to come. Riding for long periods of time, unfortunately, can take its toll on our lower back. Many of us know what that feels like, and many of us know how lower back pain and stiffness can dampen the exhilaration of a great ride.
It’s not that riding a motorcycle is to blame. The culprit is stress, which, in this case, is defined as anything that your body has lost the ability to adapt to, like sitting for long periods. In the same way that our backs have succumbed to the ravages of time by sitting at desk jobs, lifting improperly, poor posture, lack of exercise, and other bad
habits, sitting on a motorcycle for a length of time can contribute to back pain, usually mild, but sometimes frustratingly severe.
It doesn’t serve us to pretend that we’re invincible and immune, especially when the steps necessary to prevent back pain are so accessible and easy – and can actually make a trip on our bike more enjoyable.
First, let’s understand why our backs start to hurt in the first place. There are only a few causes of lower back pain and almost every one of them has practical solutions.
The spine is composed of 24 movable segments called vertebrae. In between each of these segments are discs that are composed primarily of cartilage and, if they’re in good shape, should contain a significant amount of fluid, acting like a shock absorption system. These discs serve double duty as spacers, maintaining distance between the vertebrae. As such, they provide ample room for the spinal nerves to exit the spine to do their job of innervating the organs and tissues of the body.
If any of these segments loses its mobility or position, the joints of the spine will sacrifice their ability to adapt to wear and tear, and they begin to dysfunction. Over time they’ll degenerate, leading to a condition called a “subluxation.” The degeneration that follows is known as osteoarthritis. That means that the discs will begin to wear down or bulge. The nerves will become irritated or pinched. And all of the muscles and ligaments that have worked so hard to try to maintain balance will now have to work even harder to try to prevent the whole situation from getting worse. That means tightness, spasm, and loss of flexibility. Unfortunately, the whole process tends to be self-perpetuating. The more stress on the system, the more the system breaks down, and the more we suffer for it.
“Fit” can have an enormous impact on your relationship with your motorcycle, potentially affecting handling, confidence, and general enjoyment. The tricky part is, when it’s right, you may never think about it. And when it’s wrong, you may not realize there’s a problem.
But it’s also important to know that motorcycles can be made to fit virtually any rider. Understanding these principles and guidelines will help you find your perfect fit.
Not sure if your motorcycle fits you as well as it could? Look for these five warning signs of an improper fit.
Reaching too far for the handlebar can affect your shoulders, neck, arms, and back. It can also make it tough to handle your bike properly in tight spaces.
Lower back pain can result from an ill-fitting seat, foot position, handlebar, or combination of all three.
A grip diameter that doesn’t match your hand size can cause fatigue.
A cramped riding position puts unnecessary strain on your knees, hips, feet, and back.
An inability to plant your feet solidly on the ground may leave you feeling a lack of control.
The secrets to finding the right fit lie in four key areas: The seat, foot controls, handlebar, and suspension.
Harley-Davidson offers a variety of seat heights and shapes to accommodate virtually any size rider. Consider these factors in choosing the one that fits you best:
Try Before You Buy
Ask your dealer about taking a demo seat for a spin before making this important purchase decision.
Repositioning your feet on the controls can relieve muscle tension, take pressure off the tailbone, and reduce rider fatigue.
How your bike’s handlebar feels and performs is affected by three main parameters:
Try Before You Buy
Ask your dealer about trying different handlebar styles on an H-D™ Fit Shop bike.
After exploring seating options, lowering the suspension is often the second step in helping shorter riders reach the ground comfortably.
Try Before You Buy
H-D ™Fit Shop Slammed Suspension Simulator Mats can help you feel the difference a lowered suspension makes.
How a motorcycle fits the rider is determined by the “triangle of comfort,” defined by the geometry of the seat/hips, handlebar/hands, and footpegs/feet. Suspension height and sidestand accessibility can also affect the equation.
Every Harley-Davidson® motorcycle places the rider in one of five basic riding positions:
These positions determine the triangle of comfort and can dramatically change how it feels to ride your motorcycle.
The good news is, with certain precautionary measures and relatively little effort performed consistently, we can begin to restore order to the system and begin to experience a significant reduction or elimination in the amount of pain and discomfort we feel. And look forward to riding pain free.
Let’s begin with the basics.
We ride Harley-Davidson® motorcycles for many reasons. It anchors us in a changing world; it gives us perspective; it gives us time with our friends and loved ones; it simply is who we are. We know that our time on the road is a sacred part of our existence. By riding safe and staying healthy – and taking care of our backs – we can continue to make memories and fill up photo albums for years to come.
The information in this article is presented as a service to readers of H.O.G.® magazine and does not represent any official position or medical opinions of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
A version of this post appeared in H.O.G.® magazine.