Motorcycle Floorboards and Heel Toe Shifting, Worth It?

Deciding on whether or not to install floorboards and a heel-toe shifter setup is going to be a very personal decision. Reading reviews, and how riders feel about them it seems to be split 50/50. They either love’em or hate them, not too much in between. So, with this in mind, I did some research to understand what is involved in selecting, and installing a full set, and why there is such a big difference of opinion.

So, just to be clear – what are motorcycle floorboards and heel-toe shifter?
Floorboards completely replace your footpegs with basically flat surfaces to rest your feet on. The heel-toe shifter is a flattened V-shaped lever that replaces your standard gear shift lever. This lever operates in a see-saw motion. You use your heel on the rear lever to upshift, and your toe to press down and downshift (as you would normally downshift). In some arrangements, you can still get your toe under the front lever and upshift.

How to Decide if it’s for You

The best way to decide if they are for you is to test ride a similar motorcycle with floors board and these shifters installed if you can. Spend as much time as you can testing. Only then can you get a real feel as to whether or not this will suit your needs.

Floorboards and heel-toe shifters do change your riding experience dramatically. Even if you’re a long time rider I would spend at least a day, in different riding conditions, to get a good idea of how they meet your demands.

Can I Upgrade My Own Motorcycle

If you have a motorcycle designed for touring then yes. A purpose designed touring motorcycle probably came with this as an option, if not there will likely be a few aftermarket kit options available. Popular big bikes tend to have them available too.
You could investigate OEM accessories, Harley certainly will have them, but you will pay more going through a dealer. Also, be on the lookout for anyone who may not want them and is selling used.

If there are units made for your motorcycle and model then the installation is very simple. Only requiring a few wrenches and an hour or so. Make sure your motorcycle will physically accept the units. This is classified as an easy DIY upgrade.

Since you a full set is relatively inexpensive it’s not too much loss if you decide to roll back the changes. And sell the floorboards and shifter as used parts to compensate for the original cost.

Why Install them?

There are good reasons that some riders love their floorboards and heel-toe shifters. And also good reasons why some don’t like them at all. Again it’s a very personal thing and changes your riding experience. Here are some of the reasons why other riders had these upgrades installed.

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Reasons to Install Floorboards

  • Comfort. It’s always more fun to ride a motorcycle you are comfortable on. Comfort is the main factor for going with floorboards.

  • Injuries and mobility challenges. If you have a leg injury, or you’re getting on in years, and have joint problems, then having floorboards gives you an infinite amount of foot and leg positions to stretch and ease your riding problems.

  • Foot support. A floorboard supports your entire foot, as opposed to resting your foot over a single footpeg that puts pressure across the middle of your foot.

  • Less vibration. Having well-designed floorboards will isolate vibration, which is great for comfort on short journeys or long tours. It’s tiring fighting against vibration, it wears you out over time.

Reasons Why Riders Install Heel-Toe Shifters

  • Having a heel-toe shifter requires fewer foot movements. The see-saw action of the lever only requires you to make downward movements to shift gears.

  • Injury or mobility challenges. If you have an injury or mobility problems then just having a pressing down movement may be a way to ride bikes again, as opposed to drawing your foot upwards under a single gear lever.

  • Ease of use. You’re ready and able to shift up and down without having to think where your foot has to be.

  • Bonus, the heel-toe lever doesn’t put a permanent divot in the top of your riding boot, from upshifting.

What to Look for in Floorboards

If your motorcycle is compatible with a floorboard upgrade then your next step is to decide on a few options and features you want. Here are a few pointers to get you thinking about your requirements.

  • Quality of manufacturing. A bit obvious, but high-quality construction and finish are not only pleasing to the eye, but it also makes sense where safety is concerned.

  • Vibration isolation. Some footboard kits come with rubber surfaces and floating rubber inserts. This helps with reducing engine and road surface vibration that gets to you.

  • Open or cleated floorboards designs maximize grip in wet conditions, they look more aggressive as a style option too.

  • Floorboards that have adjustable angles and elevations are a huge boost in the comfort factor, and they ensure your riding position is nice personal fit.

  • Spring-loaded designs will be safer in corners, if you do lean too far they can safely retract.
  • If you carry passengers, see if there are matching sets available too. They’ll thank you for the extra comfort on long hauls.

Highway Pegs

If you do not want floorboards highway (foot)pegs are an option. They are an additional set of footpegs mounted further ahead and up from your original footpegs, They allow you to move your legs and feet to a different position. This is a great bonus if you need to stretch your legs and rest them in a different position over the miles.
Just be aware that in this position you are further away from the brakes and shifter. It is not recommended to use these in heavy traffic because of this factor.

These second set of footpegs are usually mounted directly to the motorcycle on either the frame or crash bars if you have these. The benefits are less cost and you get to keep your standard pegs and shifter. Also, it isn’t such a radical decision to make and doesn’t change the look, or originality of your bike.

Bonus tip – I sometimes use the passenger footpegs, as poor-mans highway pegs. Stretching my legs back to reach them. This can look a bit weird, but it gives me a nice stretch and a change of position. So does a few standing knee-bends off the regular footpegs while riding.

Floorboards Pros & Cons

  • Practically endless foot positions, resulting in less stress on long rides.

  • Potentially less vibration overall and the vibration that gets thru is spread over a larger area of your foot.

  • They are safer when weather conditions get wet. A foot can easily slip off a peg in slippery conditions.

  • It’s not a permanent upgrade. They can be removed so you can always go back to your standard foot pegs and shifter, and you’ve only lost a few dollars.

  • Floorboards give your motorcycle a classic retro look.

  • Floorboards can scrape the pavement during turns with high lean angles.

  • They do reduce the bikes lean angle, so limited space U-turns may take more room to accomplish.

  • They can be a relatively expensive accessory, especially if you have a less common ride.

  • It might not be easy to try before you buy. And it could take days to decide if you like this different style of riding or not. So if you are undecided they could be a bit of a gamble.

  • It’s a very personal decision to change the look and vibe of your bike. Floorboards don’t lend themselves to a sporty look.

Heel-Toe Shifter

As the name implies this shifter is operated by your heel to upshift and your toe for downshifting. The heel-toe shifter is like 2 standard shift levers used together on the same gear shaft, at a near 180-degree positioning. They usually look like a flat V-shaped from the side view. The heel-toe shifter acts in a rocker or see-saw motion.

Heel-Toe Shifter Pros & Cons

  • Shifting gear is generally easier, there’s hardly any thinking behind gear changing, so it makes for a relaxed, enjoyable and lazy ride.

  • You can wear oversized boots with thicker socks, a huge bonus in cold weather.

  • You can always use the front of the lever for normal shifting. Some two piece design you could potentially remove the rear leaver and just use the front going back to standard operation.

  • Shifting gear becomes more of a ‘stomping down’ motion all of the time. This feels less sporty and precise, especially if precision is what you’re used to.

  • Forceful ‘stomping down’ can put added pressure on the linkages and bushings, causing possible issues. For example, Honda Gold Wing GL1500’s has a long unsupported shift shaft and heavy use of heel-toe shifters has been blamed for premature wear and eventual binding.

  • Designs that require added linkages, to reach the gear shift shaft, may lose some preciseness or feel. And the added complexity means one more item to inspect and maintain.

  • Having a heel-toe shifter basically inverts the motion of an upshift, which may be hard to get used to.

  • The rear shifter can limit your foot position.

Typical Costs

If you do decide to go ahead with either of these upgrades, here are a few things you have to keep in mind, and an estimate of the typical cost.

First, make sure the kit or upgrade, for both the floorboards and the heel-toe shifter, are compatible with the make and design of your motorcycle.

Buying good quality, name brand, of both floorboards and heel-toe sets can start at $200. And fitting passenger floorboards can add another $100. So not too bad at all. There are high-end units that can reach $800.

There are low-cost units that start at under $30, but ultimately you get the quality that you pay for.

Wrapping it Up

There folks who love and those who hate floorboards and these shifters. There is no other way to decide which side you fall on than ride with a setup for some time. A test ride, at a minimum, is needed before you buy. If you decide later on that they are not for you, it’s not a permanent mod to your ride, and you will be likey to sell them pretty quick used.

Related Questions

1) Do I Need to Install Both Floorboards and Heel-Toe Shifter? No, you don’t need to install both, but they do go nicely together. If you decide to only install floorboards your single shift lever may need to be repositioned at a higher angle. This will allow your foot to get under for upshifting.

If you only install a heel-toe shifter, which will be more feasible to use, you will probably have to keep lifting your foot on and off your footpeg with each gear shift. This may not be as comfortable as it could be with having a footboard installed too. Just the shifter is less than half of the upgrade.

2) Can I Put a Heel-Toe Shifter on a Sports Bike? Yes, you can. There are modified designs that look like 2 standard shift levers combined. Your shifting foot sits in between the 2 levers and cradles your foot. So your upward foot movement shifts as normal, and your down movement pushes on the lower shifter.

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3) What are Electric Shifters? Electric operated shifters replace the foot lever with an electric actuator, and move the shifting controls to the handlebars. These give mobility-challenged riders the chance to ride and take in the pleasure of the open road.