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Common Tread

What is a sissy bar?

Jul 26, 2018

The sissy bar is an extension on the rear of a motorcycle that rises above the rear fender. They can be anything from a short hoop to a towering spire. So why might you want one?

Sissy bars hold the fender to the frame

There's no "one story" of the sissy bar, as it appeared at different times on different bikes in motorcycling history. The bar originally existed as the lowly fender strut, which was necessary to hold the rear fender up.  Struts or a bent metal piece connected the fender to the frame below, and that was pretty much all it did. The struts were later extended and connected for stylistic or practical (luggage-lashing) reasons. Racers favored short hooped units, as their handle shape was convenient for loading and unloading race bikes, especially brakeless competition machines like the Harley-Davidson CAC.

A custom motorcycle with a sissy bar.
Just a little hoop to hold the fender and a plate on this custom. Photo by Lemmy.

Sissy bars hold people

If you’re carrying your favorite passenger, it’s not a bad idea to provide a back rest or handhold of some kind. Pillions don’t get much for seating amenities on most motorcycles, but a moderate to tall sissy bar lets them at least lean back and get comfortable. Some sissy bars offer a leather back pad for extra plush factor. A short bar at least offers a passenger handhold, which is required by law in some places. (Laws might also govern the height or construction of a sissy bar, so check your local regulations before installing if you care about that kind of thing.) Some say the ultra-tall sissy bars came from laws requiring handholds for passengers. "Oh, you don't see a passenger handhold, so my bike's not legal now? Don't worry, Officer, I'll put something on there..."

Harley Davidson Softail Slim with sissy bar
A sissy bar-equipped 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim. Note the mounting plate on the fender. Nitot photo via WikiMedia Commons.

Sissy bars hold stuff

Sissy bars offer a solid mounting point for all kinds of cargo, too. In the beginning, riders with hardtail bikes needed a place to stow their gear. Extended fender struts were just the ticket. Stacking gear up instead of adding wide saddlebags also keeps the motorcycle narrow. There are still consequences from piling on your stuff up high, but it’ll lug your duffle just fine.

Two custom motorcycles with sissy bars.
A brace of sissy bars on the road. The left bike uses the sissy bar to hold its exhaust. Photo by Lemmy.

Strapping cargo to the sissy bar might have the added benefit of creating a backrest for a lone rider. Lean back on your bedroll and bask in the sweet, sweet lumbar support. Dedicated sissy bar bags and tool pouches are no-brainers, but why limit yourself? You wanna put lights on it? Flag holder? Bottle opener? Plate hanger? Go for it. Pretty useful for a bent tube, huh? Sometimes, a sissy bar will even be used to support extra-long pipes on a custom build. And of course, you can hang a helmet on it when the riding’s done.

Easy Rider Captain America with sissy bar
One of the most famous sissy bar bikes of all time: the Easy Rider "Captain America" (replica shown). Joachim Köhler photo via WikiMedia Commons.

Sissy bars look cool

Love it or hate it, the sissy bar is a motorcycling icon. It might even be art, depending on the intricacy of the design and fabrication. The visual weight of a sissy bar often makes a motorcycle "look right" by balancing the lines of a funky front end, for example.

A custom motorcycle with a sissy bar
They've been called sissy bars, attitude sticks, and (many) other things. Photo by Lemmy.

People have been putting sissy bars on their stockers and customs for decades, and they aren’t going away any time soon.