Opinion: Along for the Ride

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The couple on this FJR1300 knows what's up.

I recently met up with friend and occasional CMG contributor Matt Bubbers for a motorcycle ride. He on his new Triumph Scrambler 1200, and I on the Kawasaki Z900RS Café I’ll be reviewing. Jeff Wilson had offered to show us around his stomping grounds in the Hamilton area, but had taken his new (to him) Bonneville apart and like Humpty Dumpty he wasn’t able to put it back together again.

It was a scorching hot, humid summer day. Matt and I were both outfitted in full gear, and also mildly foggy from our respective previous evening’s festivities. We were still committed to meeting up, but we decided to stay in the city and keep the riding to short stints; stopping to enjoy a cool beverage in the shade to catch up and talk shop. The topic of relationships arose, and Matt said his girlfriend is actually interested in the prospect of going riding with him. As a novice rider on a new motorcycle, he wants to gain more experience before taking her along for the ride. I think that is a smart decision.

Driving home from work on the first nice riding day we had last Spring, I came upon a couple midway through an on-ramp who had just gone down. Hard. Neither were wearing proper riding gear and it was clear that rider error and inexperience were to blame, along with excessive speed and target fixation. Bloodied and in shock, he also admitted that it was his first time riding with a passenger. The running weight of the older Ninja 500 he was riding would be under 182 kg (400 lbs), so adding the weight of his girlfriend on the back would unquestionably throw off the balance and change the riding characteristics. They had to find out the hard way.

Considering he hadn’t ensured she was wearing proper riding attire, nor properly judged his speed in a curve, it’s also likely he hadn’t instructed her on how to be a good passenger. As the owner and operator of the motorcycle, that is his responsibility – not hers. More than once I’ve arrived to pick a friend up for a ride and sent them right back inside to change. Demanding jeans, closed toe shoes and a denim jacket at the very least, I provide gloves and a full-face helmet before walking them through what to expect.

This past week I took a friend out for her first ever ride on a motorcycle. That bruised and battered couple appeared in my mind as I prepared her for how and where to sit, what to hold onto, and how best to predict my actions and conduct her movements accordingly. “You’re likely going to headbutt me a few times,” I told her, “But try to pay attention to get a sense of when I’ll be shifting gears and braking.” Sure enough. After the first time her helmet came in contact with mine, she got the message.

I also made sure to regulate my speed and inputs accordingly. Carrying the added mass of a passenger provides an excellent lesson in balance and precision. Clutch release, acceleration, braking distance and handling will all be affected. Being conscious of these things encourage you to be a smoother, more meticulous rider. An added benefit is that you get to experience the excitement of someone going for their first motorcycle ride. If you handle yourself accordingly, they may even want to go a second time.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Dustin.
    I have just a couple of thoughts to add. One, denim is nearly useless as an abrasion-resistant material (I know this first-hand after a crash with jeans). Not much different than bare skin (ouch). Two, it’s worth mentioning that with a passenger it’s usually essential to increase rear suspension pre-load (and associated rebound damping) to prevent the dreaded unbalance front to rear.
    Thanks.

  2. Similar to the author, I have a similar image that haunts me whenever people ask if my wife is ever a passenger on my bike (not that she’s expressed any real interest). The daughter and son-in-law of the superintendant couple in our first apartment after getting married rode together. One summer evening, they were both killed in a collision not far from our apartment building, leaving a small child without any parents. I’ll never forget the effect the event had on the poor woman’s mother. I didn’t have any children (or a bike) at that time, but when I started riding, I swore I’d never put my own parents and in-laws in that same position.

  3. Really cool article. Especially the headbutting tip.
    People riding with a passenger for the first time don’t really expect that and it startles them when it happens.
    Riding 2up is a way of life in countries like India where motorcycles are commuter vehicles.
    I’ve been riding for a sizeable chunk of life both in India and Canada. And I’d never take the chance of having loved ones ride with me without proper gear.
    ATGATT for life.

  4. I believe that when you get your license in Quebec, you have to wait 2 years before you can take a passenger. Also, there are classes you can take to learn how to safely ride with a passenger. Makes sense!

  5. I have always ensured that my passengers are properly attired, when they get behind me, especially those who are having their first ride. After taking one pretty friend for her first ride, she asked if she could wear a skirt to which I replied “I know the risks I take when I throw a leg over the seat, doG forbid I have an accident & your pretty little legs will NOT be so pretty” Needless to say, she wasn’t allowed to ride behind me dressed like that.

    My current lady is an excellent passenger & the first summer we were together, she was ATGATT. After that first season, she was able to ditch the armoured pants, but jacket, boots. denim pants & gloves are standard. Her gear is also every bit as good as my own gear

  6. I always tell new passengers to just relax and try to keep their head at the same angle as my head. They often want to either lean over extra far into a curve, or stay upright into a curve. If I just ride smoothly and considerately, they can think about leaning over as I do, and then it all clicks and becomes second nature.

  7. The better solution is to simply find people to ride with that have their own bikes. Getting to ride with my g/f on her own bike is the best of all worlds.

    PS. Good news, the Bonneville is back in full operating order! 😉

    • Not always an option. My wife enjoys being a passenger, but has no interest in riding her own bike. Having seen her on a bicycle, I think that’s a wise idea. She’s a great passenger, and if she didn’t ride 2-up with me, we would not have had a couple great European holidays, plus riding in Canada and the US. My priority is t have a bike that’s fun and comfortable for both of us, and is set up to carry the load of 2 people, luggage and gear.

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