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.