Motorcycle Riding Posture

St George Chiropractor

To avoid pain in your neck, arms, and back during your motorcycle ride, it is important to have proper body posture.  As a chiropractor in St George UT, I get to ride my motorcycle to work almost year around, and I am concerned about fellow riders and their posture.

Three Basic Postures

There are three basic postures while riding a motorcycle.  Each posture has variability based on the bike design and size of the operator.  The basic postures are Standard, Sport, and Cruiser.  Each has it’s pros and cons.  Rather than getting into a debate on which is best, let’s focus on how to avoid posture fatigue in each.  Our images come from Susan Rzepka Orion, certified MSF rider coach, who wrote an article for www.womenridersnow.com.

Standard Riding Posture

Credit: Susan Rzepka Orion of womenridersnow.com

Notice how Susan has a neutral upright position to her lower back and pelvis. Her arms and shoulders are relaxed and she can reach all the controls.

This posture is very neutral.  It keeps the back straight and the neck in a more neutral posture.  The shoulders and elbows are held comfortably on the grips without over reaching or over-extending the elbows.  Elbow are flexed, and forearms are parallel to the ground.

It is important that the shoulders be neutral.  If you have a small frame or you are riding a bike that is too big, the controls may be slightly out of reach for you.  This will cause you to lean forward or, worse, over-reach in order to gain access to the controls.  Prolonged over-reached posture can lead to shoulder injuries such as trigger points, thoracic outlet syndrome, and shoulder impingement syndrome.

Sport Riding Posture

Sport Posture demonstrated by Susan Rzepka Orion

Susan's sport bike posture shows us the forward lean and forward tilt of the pelvis. Notice how the head is in slight extension.

Sport posture looks fun and exciting but it can have the trauma on the body. In the sport posture, the body is in a forward lean, the feet are typically behind the knees, head is in extension. The forearms ought to be parallel to the ground. The wrists should be close to neutral.

At higher speeds, the weight of the body is supported by air pressure rushing onto the torso.  But at low speeds there is not enough pressure and the operator is supporting his upper body weight on the wrists, and by extending the lower spinal posture muscles.  Also the muscles in the top of the neck are supporting the head, which can lead to suboccipital headaches.  This posture can lead to injury in the wrists, creating ligament inflammation and nerve compression, like carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as strain to the muscles in the neck and lower back.  The nice thing is, the wind pressure keeps the upper body well balanced and the spinal muscles are less likely to fatigue.

The streets in St George UT are not built for sport bike posture.  Our speed limits are quite low (30-40mph), and it is tough to get enough air pressure to support the upper body.  Thankfully, the roads are well maintained so the bike operator does not have to deal with additional pressure injury on the wrists from bouncing through pot-holes.

This posture has the pelvis in extension, which can aggravate certain types of disc injuries.

Cruiser Riding Posture

Cruiser Posture to avoid rider fatigue

Cruiser posture has the feet forward, low-slung seat, and slightly higher grips and controls.

This posture has the operator is a slightly reclined position.  The feet are often forward relative to the knee.  The grips and controls are slightly higher.  The head is upright and neutral.  The hips and pelvis are relaxed, with the legs held close to the fuel tank.

This posture looks and feels comfortable, especially for older riders, and at lower speeds.  With the pelvis in a minimal flexed posture, there is decreased sacral base angle pressure on the L5-S1 intervertebral disc.

At higher speeds, riding without a fairing causes a huge increase in air pressure on the riders chest.  As a result, the rider must lean slightly forward to maintain appropriate grip on the controls.  This can cause some fatigue issues for the muscles on the front of the neck and abdomen.

Choose Wisely, Ride Wisely

Whatever your preferred riding posture might be, make sure you are taking appropriate steps to stay healthy as well as safe.  Remember to hold the wrists, shoulders, neck and low-back in proper alignment.  Doing so will not only reduce your risk of muscle fatigue, but it makes you a safer rider.

If you are having pain associated with your ride, then stop by our St George UT chiropractic office and let us fix you up so you can enjoy those summer days.

Dr. Andrew White
Motorcycle Chiropractor St George UT

Lifan 250 Dr White St George Chiropractor

My ride: Lifan TMS250 Cruiser

 

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13 Responses to “Motorcycle Riding Posture”

  1. john says:

    Hi, I had a spine fusion, lumbar, a few months ago. Before I could ride forever without getting sore or tired. I took the bike out a few times, kawy 1600 classic, and the last time I was messed up afterwards and have been taking it easy since then. I wore a back belt, but I am worried I may never ride again, especially my fav bike the mean streak with ride a bit firmer. I am looking for a serious brace that will stop me from putting weight on the spine, can you help me.

    • apwhite says:

      @John, stop by the office with the bike (so I can ogle). I will see how you are positioned on the bike (legs, feet, arms, and hands). Maybe there is a way to modify your riding posture slightly in order to reduce the strain on the lower back. Sometimes, a modified length on the handle bars, or new seat can make all the difference.

  2. Dr White, Thank for the article on motorcycle riding positions. I might be looking for some neck muscle stretches and exercises. I had recently started to have neck and shoulder pain, even to the point of a few left hand fingers going numb. I have seen my doctor, yesterday, it’s not heart related. She thinks it probably muscle strain, xrays yesterday but the results are not back yet. I am a 52 year old male and started riding again about 1 1/2 years ago, a sport bike. As expected, until my ride stamina was built up I would have some muscle fatigue now and then but nothing I was worried about. Up to this point I had not notice any back or neck pain. Only with in the last month or so I notice a little neck(at shoulder level) and shoulder pain that seem to a little worst each week and my motorcycle riding seems to irritate it. Over this past weekend I woke up to neck, shoulder and arm pain bad enough that I couldn’t sleep or even rest. Sat & Sun were horrible. My doctor has started steroid treatment and I am lining up some physical therapy. My request to you is possible recommendations of good exercises and stretches that might help us from getting muscle fatigue or neck and back pain. Thanks for any help you can provide.
    from Lexington,Ky.

    • apwhite says:

      Neck pain when riding can really slow a guy down. Sounds like you are doing the right steps in having the pain examined by a professional. X-rays are a good diagnostic tool. Hopefully, your physician will be able to provide a proper interpretation of them for you. Exercises tend to be injury specific. Since I have not examined you, I can’t provide a recommendation for a course of treatment. But I can tell you that your physical therapist will know. They do a great job with muscle rehab and stretching. I know it sounds boring to do 30 minutes of stretches each day, but follow the PT’s recommendations and you will see some improvement. Are you taking any statin drugs? They can cause muscle fatigue as well. Check out this article: http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/side-effects-of-statin-drugs

      • Dr White, I am not taking any satin drugs. The only thing I take on a regular basis is B-12 1000mg per day. I am now on a few medications to help with my current issue. Prednisone (steroid) for inflammation, Lortab for paid as needed and Cyclobenzaprine (muscle relaxer), all medium to low doses. Yesterday was my first visit to the Physical Therapist. Now I have a few exercises to do a couple of times a day. Corner Pec Stretch, Seated Row,Shoulder Extension and Seated Chin Tucks. The examination and first round of exercises irritated everything a little, as expected. The pain in my left arm/upper back/shoulder when I lean my head back has eased a little already.
        I have been trying to relate this neck/shoulder issue to some event. But it built up slowly so I think it is now due to our office move in mid June. My new workstation ergonomics may be the cause of this issue, so I am adjusting it. Lowering the keyboard to about elbow height and raising the monitor.

  3. Rory Brown says:

    Thank you for this very informative article.
    I currently ride a sports bike 15 x 2 miles to work and back 5 times a week and also 6 x 2 miles 4 times a week to the gym.
    For quite sometime now I have serious pain in my left wrist at the tip of my ulna which seems to have spread into the back of my hand too almost at the wrist beneath my index finger.

    I lift heavy weights and have done so for many years however with great form as I a also a fitness instructor but have since realised that the pain is so much more intense whilst riding my bike and would really appreciate some advice and possibly what you feel the name of the problem is such as arthritis carpal tunnel etc.

    Thank you in advance of your reply
    Kind regards
    Rory

  4. Gautam says:

    Nice article. But what other precautions need to be taken apart from correct riding posture?

  5. Al BLADES says:

    I HAVE A BACK PROBLEM FOR YEARS BUT I RIDE A SPORTSBIKE. DOOMED?

    I have flat feet and have had back pains since my early 20s (now 33) in one vertebra, even though my neurologist (I live in Indonesia) says my back is straight and I do not have a hernia (yet?). I do get strong pains since I bought my first sportbike. Thing is: I like sportsbikes, I have grown out of softer, standard bikes.

    IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO PREVENT THESE PAINS (INCLUDING SURGERY) WHILE KEEP RIDING MY BELOVED ONE?

    Any help would be SO appreciated…

  6. Seth says:

    Heya Doc! I live outside Chicago. Do you have any colleagues out here? I’m gonna be 37 in a month, learned to ride last year and I ride a road king classic. Its super comfy unless I ride for longer than 30 minutes. then I get a stitch in my left shoulder right below my neck. I wear a full modular helmet when I ride and I’m thinking my bars might be to short causing my neck to crane a bit for lack of a better word.

    I stand about 6’3 and I’m about 270, so I was thinking about getting some short ape handlebars (like 12′s) to replace the stock bars which will give me some pullback. I wanna get a riders backrest as well.

    I was thinking this as I don’t get this stitch or pain when I’m in a car.

    Hit me back if you can. Thanks!

    • apwhite says:

      My dad rides a Road King. He loves it. I know he has taken a 6 hr ride on it without any discomfort. He has standard bars and no backrest (other than my step mom).
      On my bike, I have standard bars. For you, I’d look at the backrest before the ape grips. Do you have any buddies with ape grips that you can test out?

    • Aaron says:

      Hi Seth,

      Im a strength and conditioning specialist. I specialize in program design for post-physical therapy clients. Is it possible the pain in your shoulder is from a weak lower trapezius muscle? I don’t think the ape bars would do much. When you reach forward, the bottom of your shoulder blade rotates forward and upward. This creates tension in your lower trapezius and rhombiods. Over time, as the tension/stretch is maintained, the muscles get weak and develop trigger points. I think you may want to instead look at some scapular retraction exercises, such as stick ups, horizontal pull-ups or what I call the shoulder matrix, Y’s, T’s, W’s & L’s. Check out this blog post I just published.

      http://trackdayfitness.com/2013/08/10/the-simplest-things-for-the-biggest-improvements/

      I think you’ll find face pulls to be a great exercise for the lower trapezius and rhomboid muscle groups.

      Good luck!

  7. Wayne says:

    Hi,

    I’m in my 50′s and ride a sportsbike, a Kawasaki Ninja. Last year after a day trip I found I couldn’t get up after dinner due to intense pain in the front upper left leg. I was able to walk it off and finish the trip. Since then, even after short rides the pain occasionally becomes unbearable and I’m unable to get off the bike. After a minute or two the pain goes away and I’m able to dismount and walk 100% pain free. It’s like there’s a switch and the pain is either a 10 or a 0.

    I have lowered the footpegs, and put bar risers on. This helped a lot. I also find if I keep my heels on the pegs instead of my instep the occurrence of the pain is less frequent.

    I started riding in my teens and maybe 5 or 6 years ago I began again on dual sports bikes. The riding position (near fetal) position on this Ninja sports bike is likely the culprit.

    I also find that I get a similar pain when sitting on a chair with my feet tucked back. I think it’s strange that it’s only one leg that gets the pain.

    Any insight would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Wayne

    • apwhite says:

      The Ninja is a great bike. My daughter rides a 250. It is easy to work on and solidly built. I’m not sure I’d be happy on one though. I am not yet 50, but it is a bit uncomfortable for me. The pain you are describing sounds like an anterior capsular ligament pain. It is very similar to a synovial impingement. Basically the joint capsule is getting compromised and causing irritation. Good thing yours goes away after a short stretch.

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