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Cruiser motorcycles act as a bit of a canvas for riders worldwide. They take a bagger, standard cruiser, or chopper and put their own spin on it. One such common cruiser motorcycle treatment is the addition of a “sissy bar” attachment. So, just what is a sissy bar, and what does it do?

A ‘sissy bar’ is an antiquated label for a backrest or support that can double as a cargo attachment surface

Problematic name aside, a sissy bar is a practical addition to a motorcycle like a Harley-Davidson or Indian cruiser. Specifically, it’s the oft-detachable upright structure be the rear fender and the struts on the rear of the frame.

Traditionally, the “sissy” part of the label refers to “sister.” It was a support meant to keep your passenger from sliding off the rear of the bike and add a backrest element. What’s more, the simple shape of traditional bars added a mounting surface for bags, tents, and other equipment. See, many Harleys and Indians, more often cruisers than baggers, lack factory cargo capacity or backrests for a passenger. However, an iron upright on the back of the bike allowed riders to sash bags to their rides. 

For instance, many veterans, after purchasing a cruiser, would attach an upright bar. It was a solid, straightforward mounting surface for the famed “sea bag” many veterans received during training. Today, aftermarket companies make roll-top backpacks that will slide right over an upright bar. 

A rider hits the road on a motorcycle with a sissy bar.
A rider on a chopper with a sissy bar | Sue Thatcher via iStock

What’s more, there’s no uniform standard for the shape or size of a sissy bar. In some cases, like modern Harley-Davidsons attempting to preserve a more understated, almost factory look, shorter rests are a popular option. For instance, modern Milwaukee Eight Softail models have no shortage of aftermarket quick-detachable (QD) backrest options.

However, owners who want to channel the classic look of the choppers of yesteryear have options as well. For example, paired with ape hangers, a tall, iron arch-shaped sissy bar can allow a Softail Street Bob or Evolution Sportster to adopt a classic aesthetic.