Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Motorcycle foot controls on cruisers - ergonomics do matter.


Motorcycle foot controls on cruisers - ergonomics do matter.

I can't sleep, so you're going to hear all about it.

If you recall from my blog entry a few weeks ago, I was dealing with a problem in my right foot which I assumed to be either a heel spur, plantar faciitis, or a heel bruise. The pain was so excruciating that I had to use crutches for a week and sit out four hockey games as well as the gym as I couldn't put any weight on that foot. Although that didn't stop me from riding the motorcycle, it did make navigating the store during high volumes of customer traffic a bit challenging at times.

When trying to investigate what started the pain in the first place, I narrowed it to one activity that I was performing when my foot became aggravated: I was riding a loaner cruiser from the motorcycle store (a 2006 Yamaha Royal Star Midnight Tour Deluxe to be exact) with forward controls.

Because of my height and inseam (5'5.5"/29.5 in.), forward controls (which, in non-motorcyclist speak, are defined as the footpegs/floorboards, shift, and brake lever placed so the legs are stretched in front of rider) can be difficult on bigger cruisers that are designed for taller people. In some test rides, I have been known to completely move my body from one side to the other to shift gears (left foot) and to apply the rear brake (right foot). In the case of the aforementioned loaner cruiser I was riding, I had to stretch a little bit to keep my foot on the bike's floorboards. That also contributed to some of the foot pain because the hyperextension of my leg to meet the controls forced the back of my motorcycle boot to press right into my Achilles tendon area. After a 60 mile round trip, I definitely felt that for a while. However, that wasn't what caused the most serious pain; it was the fact that I attempted to compensate for my lack of reach by straightening my entire right leg and resting my heel directly on the floorboard, probably aggravating my plantar fascia (the thick band of tissue that's connected to the heel) in the process.

I was able to prove that after riding a 2006 Honda VTX1300R home yesterday evening (my regular bike is getting its wheel bearings replaced in preparation for an 1800 mile round-trip to Nebraska this week). I noticed that my right foot began to hurt again when I stepped off the bike. This time, it wasn't in the heel but rather in the back of the foot right above my heel bone. As of right now, I can still put weight on the foot and walk normally. However, that area above the heel is a bit tender and I'm rolling the bottom of my foot over an aluminum baseball bat while I write this to keep the entire plantar fascia stretched out and relaxed to prevent further pain, just in case it decides to come back down there again.

With that being said, the reason why I can still walk on this foot this time around was because I did NOT change my foot position to rest my entire leg's weight on my heel by placing it straight down on the VTX's floorboard. By doing so on the Yamaha those few weeks ago I aggravated the entire heel area rather than limiting the pain to where my boot bent back and dug into my Achilles tendon area. I'm providing a more pictorial description of this below.

Note: I am writing this blog between the hours of 3:30-5:30AM so any graphics I have depicting my situation will be crudely drawn and will reflect my slightly wired state. Sorry.

If a cruiser-style motorcycle with forward controls is your everyday ride and you have this problem, there are a few possible solutions.

1. Change the boots. Relatively easy, right? However, if you're riding a motorcycle with controls that force you to reach and overstretch yourself, no footwear is going to make up for your tendency to put your leg in awkward positions to make up for the distance. Additionally, motorcycle boots are generally stiffer in the heel/Achilles tendon area on purpose - it provides support and protection for the ankle. For me, I don't want to sacrifice either of those. People who ride ergonomically-incorrect motorcycles with sneakers or flip-flops (sad, but true, and please don't do it) don't experience this problem because the low cut/lack thereof of the footwear allows the foot to bend backwards without any obstructions.

2. Change the ergonomics of the bike. For most cruisers currently on the market, the location of floorboards or footpegs is pretty static. If you're considering an aftermarket solution, there aren't many kits that are designed to bring the controls closer to the rider. In fact, most products that I usually sell to customers at the motorcycle store extend the controls out even further! For those solutions, you may have to turn to custom fabrication. However, if you are inclined, certain models of Harley-Davidson motorcycles do offer the option of a "mid-control" that brings the foot placement closer to a naturally seated position, which is more suitable for shorter riders like me.

Another common adjustment is swapping out the seat for another that brings the rider more upright and closer to the controls. That can work to a certain point, but if you're finding that you're banging your crotch into the tank while still trying to reach, this next option may do it for you.

3. Change the bike. I had to say it, didn't I? Unfortunately, finding a comfortable motorcycle to ride may involve changing the entire unit. As you ride and experience different situations in your many journeys on the road, you will learn what your needs, likes, and dislikes are about the machine you're on. Adjustments can be made, but there may be a point where it's not enough.

There is nothing that can replace finding a bike that fits you and your riding style. The solutions I've mentioned can offer a bit of relief at short distances, but when you're taking the long haul, it's the imperfections in ergonomics that will catch up later in the ride and possibly leave lingering I have right now.

When taking out a cruiser on a test ride, ask yourself the following questions while you are riding:
  • Do I have to over-reach or hyperextend my legs uncomfortably for my foot controls? (This works for hand controls as well.)
  • Do I find my legs constantly changing position to try to find a comfortable location for them?
  • Do I like the location of my foot controls? How will I feel in 100 miles? 200 miles? Multiple-day trips?
For me, this problem does not apply to any "standard" or "sportbike/crotch rocket" style motorcycles. On those bikes, the legs are either right below the rider as if he/she is in a naturally seated position or slightly swept back with the knees forward. The latter position has been known to be comfortable as office chairs have been made with that in mind. My Yamaha FJR1300 has a very natural seating position that allows me to do several hundred miles at a time with little/no foot pain. I also have the ability to stand on my footpegs to stand and stretch while the bike is moving, a luxury that not many cruisers allow because of the forward controls.

I am grateful to have the privilege to test ride various motorcycles to figure out problems like this. If you are a rider that is considering any bike, do what you can to try the bike out for a decent distance (I suggest 30-50 miles) to see if you and the machine are a good fit. Manufacturer demo days or renting a cruiser from a place such as Eagle Rider is another possibility. It could mean saving a few bucks and no thobbling around on a pair of crutches. Going to bed now. Good morning.