If you get everything adjusted...
If you get everything adjusted to suit you perfectly, it can be like having a new motorcycle. It can be easier to ride, much more comfortable, and more fun.
Though motorcycles are mass produced, riders aren't. The fleshy component of the arrangement has poorer production tolerances amd may wear unevenly, which is why the mechanical part adjusts to accommodate it. It's unlikely that you were delivered from the factory perfectly fitted to your bike.
Since I usually ride motorcycles adjusted by other people to the manufacturer's standard settings, I know that it's possible to get along with that arrangement. Sometimes I even find a bike that arrives adjusted almost perfectly for me. Because I share those bikes with other people, I have observed that when a bike fits me perfectly, someone else usually has a gripe about it.
Some motorcycles beg for ergonomic changes. The Moto Guzzi California we tested a couple of issues back was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone who rode it until a Corbin saddle was fitted. With that done, the rest of the bike suddenly seemed to fall into precisely the proper places. The Corbin allowed you sit farther back on the bike, crowding the rider against the bars, tank, and pegs less than the stock seat, allowing you to cover all the control levers more comfortably. Without the seat change, we probably would have given the bike a lower ranking than we did. If we'd owned the bike, retaining the stock saddle would have meant that we never fully enjoyed it and were not as in control as we should have been. We felt awkward and less in sync with the machine. With some bike/rider combinations, it's possible to make equally dramatic changes without buying a thing. You can improve a bike radically by adjusting handlebar angle, the angles and play or span of foot and hand control levers, and other details.
You can get an idea of what you want to adjust by simply considering how the bike feels and fits next time you are riding down the highway. If it's the dead of winter, you can accomplish much the same thing by simply sitting on the bike in your garage and visualizing how the bike should be.
Close your eyes, fully relax,...
Close your eyes, fully relax, reach out and put your hands where they feel comfortable. Open your eyes and see where the grips should be.
You might try closing your eyes and reaching out to where you'd like the grips to be. Place your hands at the optimum angle and position, then open your eyes and see where they are relative to the existing grips. This will tell you where the bar should be for you and how a replacement handlebar should be shaped to work for you.
Imagine how the rest of the bike could be improved. Do you feel cramped anywhere, such as between the handlebar and seat? Does your butt want to climb the back of the saddle? How does it place your legs relative to the tank, engine, and footpegs? Would you be better off in all regards if you moved rearward a bit, or do you slide forward so that the saddle offers less support than if you were sitting back in the bucket? If so, you should investigate a new saddle. This was the case with our Guzzi test bike. The Corbin saddle moved us rearward, putting American-sized riders in a position that worked better all around, while providing better padding. If the standard accessory offerings are close but not quite right, ask about a customized saddle. Within the constraints imposed by the motorcycle itself, accessory saddles can be lower, higher, narrower, wider, have a rider bucket that extends farther rearward, or otherwise reshaped.
If everything except the handlebar position seems right, a less expensive handlebar change or perhaps rotating the standard bar in its clamps may suffice. If you are going to change the bar, remember that unless you have a windshield, a higher, wider bar will increase the surface you present to the relative wind and the resulting pressure. Most riders are more comfortable if they can lean on the handlebar slightly at high speeds to counter the wind pressure. Increasing width also increases your leverage and eases steering, but the outside grip may require a long reach in a full-lock turn. When in doubt, start with a bar that seems slightly wide but has an extended straight area at the end so you can cut it down to fit. Bars with lots of pull-back can also become awkward in tight turns. A vertical grip angle may require additional grip pressure because your hands want to slide down the grip, especially if it has a smooth surface. The final bar arrangement should allow you to ride with your wrists just about straight, make smooth full-lock turns, and ride without pain or exertion at high speeds.
Where else does it hurt? There will be some compromise, but many things can be adjusted. If everything feels right but the pegs, they can be relocated in many cases. Jardine's forward pegs and foot controls provide a stylish solution for riders who want to stretch their legs, but remember, getting your feet out from under you increases the weight on your butt. Moving the pegs rearward often makes your fanny more comfortable, but may kink your legs. Though there was a kit available to do this with early Viragos, riders of most other models will have to fabricate their own peg bracketry to move pegs rearward. Floorboards are another solution since they allow you to move your feet around.
With the new ergonomics in position, take time to carefully adjust the levers and other controls. Brakes are the most important. If you install new levers or other handlebar components, be sure that the brake lever doesn't hit anything else before it reaches the end of its travel when you squeeze it very hard. Also ensure that nothing can interfere with the brake. Consider the plight of a rider who changed both brake lever and throttle. It worked fine as he installed it, but one day, while riding at high speed, the combination of vibration and the high twisting pressure he exerted on the throttle caused the throttle drum housing to twist slightly, which placed the elbow for the throttle cable against the back of brake lever, jamming it. He got a nasty surprise when he arrived at a turn with no front brake. The ensuing crash broke the bike in half, but thanks to good protective clothing and some luck, he escaped with just a minor fracture and a good war story.
That's an extreme case, but plenty of people ride around with handlebar levers that they can't comfortably reach and cover while holding the throttle. Just loosening the bracket and pivoting it around the bar a small amount may improve comfort and control. You should be able to pull the lever without bending your wrist or adjusting your grip on the bar. A few riders benefit from sliding the lever's perch away from the grip to permit them to engage the lever further outboard. The clutch-engagement point should be adjusted so that it engages where you have firm control of the lever (that it, not to far from the bar), but you also need to be able to fully disengage the clutch to make smooth shifts and reduce gearbox problems.
Some bikes, including most Kawasakis and Yamahas, have handlebar levers which permit you to adjust the engagement point of the lever. Ideally you should be able to slip the balls of your fingers over the levers while riding without dragging the brake. If not, adjust the levers or see what the aftermarket offers. Some companies, like Motion Pro (650/594-9600 ), offer different levers for the stock perches. The clutch should engage in the area where you have the most control. Throttle cables are frequently adjusted with too much slack, which leads to jerky inputs. Adjust the cable carefully and check it frequently. If throttle pressure is tiring, a slower-turn throttle may help. Avoid using softer throttle springs, which may lead to a stuck throttle.
If your shift lever is way...
If your shift lever is way above your foot, you should lower it, which on this Virago can be done by adjusting the linkage. Other machines may require you to reposition it on its spline. If one spline setting is too low and the next too high, you might consider bending the lever, which might involve heating it.
Foot control-levers also should be carefully adjusted. Many shifting problems can be traced to shift levers that are too high, low, long, or short (as well as poorly adjusted clutches). If you have to pivot your left foot, reposition it on the peg or otherwise move excessively from a comfortable position, you should raise, lower, bend, extend, or shorten the shift lever to fit you properly. If you miss upshifts, the lever may be too high; missed downshifts may mean it's too low. The brake pedal is even more important. You should be able to cover it comfortably. I tend to like brake pedals slightly outboard of the common position, which usually requires me to heat and bend the lever (which can often be done at an inconspicuous point). If you have to lift your foot to use the brake, as is the case on too many floorboard-equipped bikes, something is wrong (including priorities back at the factory). In many cases, you can fabricate brake pedals that work much better. Boots with large heels may also limit your foot-position options.
With the major adjustments complete, try to adjust the switches to suit you. In the case of the rear brake-light switch, this is provided for. Because I like to touch the lever, I leave a bit of slop before the brake-light switch closes. The light should come on no later than the point where the brake pads begin slowing the wheel.
Handlebar switches may be harder to adjust. Some have pins mated to small holes in the bar to locate them, and these pins should be retained if the wires are routed inside the handlebar to avoid having the switch turn and shear the wiring, which will blow the fuses. To adjust switches on bars with internal routing, you must drill new holes. If the wiring is external, you might just grind off the pins on the left one, though the pin on the right may prevent the throttle from moving its housing around the bar. The most critical pair of items -- the horn button and turn-signal control -- reside on the left handlebar of most bikes, and should be adjusted so you can reach either switch while covering the clutch lever. If you're dealing with a Harley or BMW, getting a balance between throttle, front brake, and turn-signal switch may be difficult or impossible.
Few things are more annoying than a windshield that puts its upper edge or an area of optical distortion right in your line of sight to the road ahead. One thing that is more annoying, however, is a windshield with fog, dirt or water droplets obscuring your view of the road. Those are the reasons we suggest that all riders cut their windshields down so they can comfortably look over them to see down the road. See the story on how to cut down whindshields in this site's "Tech and Custom" section.
Harley's current mirror style...
Harley's current mirror style is a poor design because the wide portion (actually, the tall portion) should be on the outside, where it can give a better view of traffic in the next lane rather than showing your shoulder.
I am amazed when I get on a bike that someone else has ridden before me to find the mirrors adjusted so that both are aimed squarely at the lane behind me. Though this is fine when traveling on a two-lane road by yourself, in the city I adjust the mirrors so that the inside edge of each just covers the lane behind and allows as much view of adjacent lanes as possible. This way, when something pops up unexpectedly ahead, a glance in my mirrors usually tells me if I can safely jump lanes. If I turn my head to look, I have to turn away from the hazard in front of me. Though I like to know if a car is tailgating or barreling down on me while I'm waiting at a light, I actually need to know what's beside me more. A mirror with adequately wide field of vision can provide coverage of both.
Billet aftermarket mirrors rarely provide an adequate field of rear view because of their small, flat lenses, and some stock mirrors are deficient as well. Nice rectangular mirrors (or something like Yamaha's tear-drop style) are much more useful. Make sure that the mounts and any joints are tight.
The end result of all this adjustment should be more control, precision, and comfort, since fatigue is a hazard too. A few riders have told me that adjusting their bikes turned unpleasant, awkward devices into sources of unexpected pleasure. Not every bike/rider combination will see such dramatic results, but virtually all riders will find some improvement.
For more articles on how to maintain and modify your motorcycle, see the Tech section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.