It’s definitely not your sister’s favorite watering hole.
What Is a Sissy Bar on a Motorcycle?
The sissy bar is a metal bar that mounts to the rear of the motorcycle and extends above the rear of the passenger portion of the seat. The original function of the sissy bar on motorcycles was to supply a mounting position for the rear fender. It was nothing more than a fender strut.
In the late 60’s bike builders started extending the sissy bar and using it for lashing luggage, or just making cool designs.
These days many motorcyclists use sissy bars simply because it gives the passenger something solid to lean against while riding. Others install them because they are stylish, or allow them to mount luggage racks or flag holders.
Whatever your preference, the sissy bar has been around awhile, and we don’t see it going away anytime soon.
Here is a Gasbox Bolt-on Chopper Sissy Bar on a 2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Sportster.
Why Is It Called Sissy Bar?
The sissy bar gets it’s name as a bit of a “dig” toward the user. Originally the sissy bar was often referred to as the sister bar as a reference to your sister riding on the back of the bike. In the early 1960’s some states initiated laws that mandated the use of a bar on the back of a street motorcycle for safety reasons. At the time bikers were not a group that really concerned themselves with safety. Bikers started referring to the bars as “sissy” bars because they were not happy about having to comply with the new law.
The sissy bar term stuck and is still the common term used today although in certain chopper culture groups, the sissy bar for motorcycles may also be referred to as the bitch bar, or the bitch stick. Yeah, here we will call it a sissy bar.
History of Motorcycle Sissy Bars
A short version of a sissy bar was originally found on early motorcycle race bikes. The fender strut was extended just over the back of the rear seat because it created a good hold position making it easier to load and unload bikes in and out of transport vehicles. This is how the Harley Davidson sissy bar came to be.
It wasn’t until the early 1960’s with the introduction of the sissy bar laws that the sissy bars we are so familiar with were created.
In response to the new laws some of the bikers started making ridiculously tall sissy bars as a form of protest. These tall custom sissy bars later became part of the ic chopper look we know today. They used a variety of materials to fabricate these custom sissy bar designs such as tubing, rod iron, plate metal and even welded chain.
Page 32 of the California Choppers catalog from 1972 shows a wide range of sissy bars available for custom motorcycles.
The sissy bar gained more popularity when the bicycle industry introduced wheelie bicycles like the Schwinn Sting Ray. These bicycles had an elevated seat that also used an extended sissy bar. This elevated seat allowed the rider to change the weight distribution making wheelies a cinch.
The sissy bar remained popular through a good portion of the 70’s gaining popularity with the release of the movie Easy Rider featuring the popular Captain America chopper ridden by Peter Fonda.
This Double A Chrome Plating ad in the back of the March 1972 issue of Big Bike Magazine advertises custom sissy bars sales, as well as springer front ends and other chopper parts of the era.
Over the years motorcycle manufacturers have developed bikes with and without sissy bars depending on the model and use.
Harley Davidson® for example has produced many bikes in the Sportster® line that do not have sissy bars and other models like the Dyna® that do. You can still find a Sportster® sissy bar through the aftermarket, or you can make your own.
Today’s motorcycle sissy bars are known more for their function than their form. Modern cruiser motorcycles often come standard with a padded sissy bar giving passengers a good handhold as well as a place to lean against when riding.
George Keeler's 1968 Harley-Davidson XLCH using a Gasbox DIY sissy bar kit to help mount his fender to his frame.
Sissy Bars Can Be Used to Mount the Fender to Frame
When you are building a custom bike one of the issues you will face is figuring out how to mount the rear fender.
A custom build is exactly that, it’s custom. There are many ways to accomplish the build but how you decide to get there is up to you. It seems simple but depending on the type of bike you are building you may be trying to achieve a certain look.
Kevin Ludwig rolling in the deserts of Baja California, bag fully loaded for a weekend get away on his custom sissy bar.
For example, many custom bobbers use a rigid style (hardtail) frame and often the rear fender is placed less than a ¼ inch above the rear tire. The sissy bar allows you to mount that rear fender to the frame exactly where you want it. Depending on the style of the build you are going for, a sissy bar may be the answer.
This tough-as-nails Harley Shovelhead built by Zylstra Choppers uses the ic sissy bar to help mount the rear fender on this hardtail.
Sissy Bars Are Great for Hauling Gear & Bags
As early as 1913 Harley Davidson® was producing V-Twin motorcycles that incorporated a luggage rack that mounted over the rear fender via a fender strut. This allowed riders to strap luggage or other items to the back of the bike for transport.
If you have ever taken an extended trip on a motorcycle you know how difficult it is to take all of the necessities you need to accommodate being on the open road. Camping gear, clothing, food, tooth brush, beer, whatever your needs are. Sissy bars provide the perfect place to strap your stuff.
Chris LaCour on his Yamaha XS650 chopper, the sissy bar loaded with all of his camping gear and also lending much needed back support.
Originally bikers would wrap their gear in canvas tarps or bags to protect their gear in case of rain or wet weather conditions. These days there are a variety of sissy bar bags constructed from water-resistant materials to do the job.
Strapping those bags to the sissy bar for transport is still a very common practice. This is usually a much better option than trying to bungy something to your seat that can slide off the bike and just disappear. Leaving you in the middle of nowhere, with no gear (or beer).
Tyler and Julia riding in style and comfort on a rigid Harley Sportster chopper. Note the small blanket for a little extra comfort and multi use.
Sissy Bars Are Comfortable for Passengers
In the 1930’s bikers were putting leather pads on top of the rear luggage racks creating a place for passengers to ride. If you have ever ridden one of these older bikes you know riding in the driver position was rough. Riding on the luggage rack was brutal, but that was the way people traveled for many years.
As motorcycles evolved, they started to develop to accommodate the needs of the riders. This included the needs of the passengers. Passenger seats and sissy bars with backrest started to come standard on certain cruiser bikes and the comfort of the passenger started to become a consideration for motorcycle manufacturers.
See how this sissy bar has a padded seat going all the way up? They call these a King and Queen Seat and the sissy bar is giving all of the support.
Riding on a motorcycle as a passenger can be difficult. Without a sissy bar you have to hang onto the driver or the seat itself. Depending on the driver and the terrain, this can difficult and is definitely not a comfortable way to ride.
Sissy bars are for all passengers alike! They help transport humans around safely and add some comfort to the ride.
Sissy bars for motorcycles give the passenger a firm place to lean against and hold onto. Depending on the style of the sissy bar the passenger may have a pad to lean against, or a good hand hold to help keep them stable. This is a much more comfortable position than having to lean forward especially when the driver needs to get a little aggressive with the front brake.
This crazy long chopper by Angelo from Buffalo, NY uses this high sissy bar to not only hold all his gear for camping but show off some of his craftsmanship skills with a welder and separate his bike from the crowd.
Sissy Bars Can Be a Form of Unique Self-Expression
Over the years the sissy bars have been a focal point of expression for the bike builder. Custom sissy bar designs can be simple or extravagant. They can be built for comfort, purpose, style or a combination of all three. The use of different fabrication methods combined with a variety of materials make designing a cool sissy bar a fun part of building a bike.
Staci Wilt and her custom Harley Sportster has a simple yet unique sissy bar that gives her bike function and style.
The design options are simply endless and over the years builders have used the sissy bar to express themselves in unique ways not often duplicated elsewhere on the motorcycle.
Sissy Bars are Cool
Ultimately sissy bars are cool! They offer a variety of benefits on a motorcycle and they can be fashioned into a unique form that stands out from the rest of the motorcycle.
Sissy bars have so many different functions which just makes them super cool!
It is interesting how inspiration can be developed from adversity and sissy bars on motorcycles is a great example of how that can happen.
Trey Guidry using his sissy bar to help balance while he kicks over his Slabside Harley Shovelhead
Photos of Custom Sissy Bar Designs In Action
The sissy bar is an extension on the rear of a motorcycle that rises above the rear fender.
Sissy Bars Secure the Fender to Your Bike’s Frame
Some sissy bars give your passenger something to lean back on.
Sissy bars can help with securing your gear.
Extended sissy bars allows you to carry more at once.
Mount a rear motorcycle fender with sissy bars for extra comfort on the road.
The sissy bar makes a motorcycle cooler.
Sissy bars offer secure mounting for riding with your stuff.
Sissy bars are fantastic for storage.
We hope the next time you see a cool sissy bar on a bike you will remember the history behind the part and be able to view it with a whole new perspective.
Scroll down and leave a comment at the bottom of this article:
Do you have a sissy bar on your bike?
If so, how do you find it most useful?
Or, if you don't like sissy bars, tell us why!