A well setup motorcycle increases safety, reduces fatigue and boosts rider confidence. In this post we will look at setting up the handlebar, levers and foot pedals correctly for riding pavement as well as offroad.
The ‘correct’ setup will be different for everybody and depends on your bike, your body and the terrain you will be riding. If you setup your bike right. you will get better feedback from it and you will expend less energy when standing on the pegs or when sitting down. A good setup allows you to go further, safer.
We will get our motorcycle setup from top to bottom, starting with the handlebar. Rotating the handlebar forwards or backwards, influences two things:
- The position of the throttle and levers relative to your body
- The way you turn the front wheel, and therefore how stable or unstable the bike will feel.
When riding long stretches on pavement, moving the bars closer to you makes the ride more comfortable. The controls will be closer to your body so your arms do not have to reach as far. The bike will feel more stable and be a bit slower to respond to steering inputs. This helps a more relaxed riding style on pavement. However, when standing up, the controls on the handlebar can become too close to your body preventing you from a solid standing position required to deal with offroad challenges such as potholes.
So, when riding offroad, you are generally better off moving the handlebar forward a bit more, effectively reducing the stability a bit. This way the bike is more agile and responsive to your inputs when riding on changing terrain. In addition, you will be more stable standing up with the controls moved forward. The compromise of course, is that the arms are stretched out more when sitting down. Moving the handlebars forward too much, the front of the bike will start to feel very unstable.
So, what is the correct position? That depends on the bike, the terrain and your preference. For me, I have a setting that I use 95% of the time, both on pavement as well as offroad. As that is what a typical riding day looks like for me. But, if I am out on longer trips, I will move the controls towards me on the days that require a lot of pavement to get to the good offroad spots. Once there, I will change the bars for offroad riding.
A great way to find the setup that works best for you, is to experiment. Set the handlebars a certain way, then go ride a known track or do some exercises with your bike and see how it feels. Make sure you test both standing up and sitting down. Rinse and repeat until you found what works best for you.
Clutch and Brake Levers
The position of the levers is an important part of motorcycle setup because it greatly dictates how stable you are when standing up. Since you should have one or two fingers on each lever at all times, that leaves the rest to wrap around the grips. If you depend on a strong grip in order to be standing up, you will wear yourself out very quickly. A better way is to rest the palms of your hands on the grips to keep your balance when standing. Then, with the levers rotates slightly lower then horizontal to the ground, you should be able to reach the levers with one or two fingers, while resting the palm of your hand on the grips.
Rotating the levers downwards too much causes you to rotate your hand too far forward so you can no longer lean on your palms for stability. This then leads to white-knuckle grip to keep yourself stable while riding. A (sudden) deceleration of the bike (hitting a pothole or a patch of loose sand) increases the risk of your hands rotating/sliding forwards off the grips and you going over the handlebars to eat dust.
Rotating the levers too far up gets your wrists in a very uncomfortable position while riding. When that happens, I get very cold hands and fingers and a tingling hand. YMMV.
Similar to my handlebar setup; I mostly have the levers set in 1 position. Only when I change the rotation of the handlebar, will I change the position of the levers as well.
Finally, many motorcycles allow you to change the distance of the levers from the handlebar. Have a look at your bike to see if you can set that up as well. As said, you should be able to operate the levers with 1 or 2 fingers, while holding on to the grips with the others. So, you should be able to reach the lever with your index finger. But not too close that you have to squeeze the remaining fingers into the grips when operating the front brake or clutch.
The Foot Pedals
The final controls to your motorcycle setup are the pedals. On road bikes, the foot pedals are usually set (way) below the pegs. This is a comfortable position to be in when riding sitting down. But not the best when standing up. If you have to rotate your foot forward in order to brake or shift, your boot looses its grip with the pegs reducing your stability when standing up.
So, in order to stay stable while shifting and braking, the pedals need to be rotated up. On many adventure bikes, I notice the pedals being level with the pegs. However, I prefer to have them slightly above the pegs. This has three advantages:
- With stiff motocross boots on, I feel a little bump when I move my foot forward, letting me know where the pedal is without engaging the brake or accidentally shifting gears.
- The brake pedal needs to have a bit of slack before engaging the rear brake. This way, the rear brake activates (slightly) with my boot horizontal on the peg and pedal, further reducing the need to rotate too far down when braking.
- On the left side, it allows me to scoop my toes under the pedal without having to rotate my toes outwards in order to get them underneath the pedal. This reduces the chances of my toes getting caught on rocks or other obstacles and hurting myself.
The downside, again, is that this setup is slightly more uncomfortable when riding on pavement, sitting down. Especially when sitting, shifting up requires me to fully lift my foot up. So, when I am looking at riding on pavement all day, I will usually change the shift pedal downwards to be about level with the peg. It can be done by removing just one screw and rotate the pedal on the spline.
Final tip: If you find a motorcycle setup that you like, consider marking it somehow, so that you can quickly change between “presets” if you like. I have done this for my handlebar by writing dots with a non-erase marker on the handlebar and triple clamps. If the dots on the two line up, I know I have a setup I like.
Find the right setup for you requires you to spend some time testing what works best. Setup your bike, do some riding and adjust if necessary. Our article with slow-speed exercises is also a great way to see if your controls are in the right place. The proper setup for your offroad riding can really help you reduce fatigue and increase confidence. If you have additional tips to setup your bike, please share them in the comments.
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