November 8 2012 by Jason Fogelson
But that stretched out riding position is not for everybody. In fact, for long distances and for sport touring, that stretched out riding position can be as uncomfortable as time on the rack was during the Inquisition.
If you really want to enjoy your time on a bike, and -- even more importantly -- you want to feel good while you ride and after your ride is over, you need to address your bike's ergonomics.
According to the International Ergonomics Association, "Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theoretical principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well being and overall system." In other words, proper ergonomics help your bike fit you better so that you can operate it safely and efficiently.
Some of your bike's ergonomics are fixed, but you'd be surprised at how many adjustments you can make without affecting any permanent or major changes to your ride.
I just finished an ergonomic project on my Sportster, Manny. I changed a set of buckhorn handlebars out for a flatter, wider set of drag-style bars. I was unhappy with the angle that the buckhorns required from my wrists -- I knew that I'd be more comfortable with a simpler, straight grip. The change has transformed my riding experience. I now lean forward a little bit to reach the bars, reversing the slouching riding position that the buckhorns created. I can ride farther without back pain, and I feel more connected with the bike's front end. It's like riding a whole new bike. I only wish I had changed out my handlebars years ago.
When changing out my handlebars, I paid particular attention to the position of my hand controls. When controls are twisted too far forward or rearward, it can force you to hyperextend your wrists or compress your wrists in order to operate your bike. Over the course of a ride, this can cause discomfort. Over the course of a riding life, it can cause serious damage, including carpal tunnel syndrome. Adjusting your hand controls properly takes just minutes, and involves nothing more complicated than loosening and tightening a few screws.
Another change that you can make is to the location of your footpegs. On most Harley-Davidson motorcycles, kits are available for normal, rearset and forward control layouts. Rearsets are rare, and not a great match for most Harleys, but some people like that sportbike riding position. Forward controls are incredibly popular -- and ultimately very uncomfortable for long distance riding. Having your legs stretched out in front of you, supported just on the pegs, turns out to put stress on your thighs and lower back. The "normal" peg position, right under the knees, is very natural for most riders, and provides good control. I like a slightly rearset position, about even with my mid-thigh. That way I've got enough leverage to rise out of my seat when I need to, over bumps and railroad tracks, but I've still got a comfortable, non-aggressive position. I also like to add a set of highway pegs out front, so that I can change position during my ride.
Just about anywhere your body contacts your bike can be adjusted to improve ergonomics. Seats can be swapped out to change the reach to the ground; grips can be cushioned to change diameter; footpegs can be replaced with floorboards to give you more support.
Don't leave that bike sitting because it's uncomfortable -- fix the ergonomics, and ride the wheels off that thing.