The Triumph of the… Passenger
Do you enjoy giving a passenger a ride on your Triumph? It has always surprised me how few riders do. After all, that was how my own motorcycle story began, with a very carefully done passenger experience crafted by a friend of my older brother’s.
I grew attracted to the idea of a passenger from the moment I purchased my first motorcycle in 1967. To a young man looking for a girlfriend, this seemed to be a fine idea. What better way to start a relationship than with the woman’s arms around you?
The girlfriend in college was a frequent passenger. Almost married her, and thank my lucky stars she broke our wedding engagement. Sometimes what seems tragic is actually an unrealized gift.
Out of college and starting my teaching career, I often carried a spare helmet with me, just in case. It took two years, but it worked…sort of.
Years later I wrote Motorcycle 101, (now Motorcycle 201 and available from Amazon has a paperback or e-book – gratuitous plug). I included a chapter on how to give someone a ride on your motorcycle. I was astonished when a good friend who was an MSF instructor and one of the most skilled riders I’ve ever witnessed told me she really enjoyed that chapter, as she had never had the nerve to offer a ride to anyone.
In 2007 or so I had a call at Cycle Barn from a Seattle Times reporter. She wanted to do an article on the rising trend of women riding motorcycles. She had never been on a motorcycle.
I had just the thing for her: a ride put on by our Harley-Davidson HOG chapter being organized and led by women. Perfect.
For the occasion I procured one of our Harley rental bikes. They all had backrests installed, which is nice for those on their first ride. I also got her outfitted with helmet and jacket and gloves, and she had remembered to wear sturdy boots.
At the rider’s meeting I introduced her to the twenty or thirty HOG members, several of them passengers, explained why she was there, and asked if anyone wanted to have the reporter as a passenger. Since she was attractive and single, I thought one of the men might leap at the idea, but most of them were older and married, so nobody did, which was not too surprising. So – up to me then.
I followed my own advice from my book and spent time explaining how a motorcycle operates, how the controls work, and how a motorcycle turns by leaning. She should lean as much as I do. And a few more tidbits.
I made sure the passenger pegs were down, unzipped the side pockets of my jacket if she wanted to use them for her hands, and made sure her helmet fit and was all snugged up. Then I got on and braced my feet firmly on the ground and had her climb aboard. So far, so good.
Then… I made a couple of mistakes.
I forgot that all HOG rides start with a single file line of bikes in the parking lot. Engines running and maybe being revved. A lot. Most of them with aftermarket exhausts. The result is music to a motorcyclist, and incipient terror for the reporter.
We left the parking lot, and at the first stop sign a woman rolled up next to us dressed all in black, with an open face helmet and one of those death-skull masks. I explained that this was Jane, one of our service department techs. At the second stop a chopper rolled up next to us and I explained that this was Shirley, and she had built the bike herself. I figured this would be great for her article.
Alas, the cumulative effect of all this was that the woman was terrified. As the roads opened up and the speeds increased (although HOG rides were never very fast in my experience), I noticed that my passenger had her arms clenched around my middle in silent desperation and legs clamped against mine in a death grip.
I became concerned that the next thing that would happen would be muscle cramps. Nobody but a pro wrestler could keep up that grip for long. Fortunately, she eventually realized it was all okey. I could feel her legs and arms release back down to normal, and she really enjoyed the rest of the day.
The result was a fine article in the Times with several interviews and pictures of the women, references to HOG and Cycle Barn, and almost no mention of me – as intended. Job done.
All of this came back to me last weekend on a six-hour motorcycle day with the lovely Nancy behind me on my 2020 Triumph Rocket 3. I realized that although I had given many people rides and written about how to do it, I had not spent enough time appreciating what a great passenger goes through on a ride.
Our ride was almost five hours of riding, with a break for lunch and one fuel stop. For that five hours Nancy was perched on the rather small Rocket 3 passenger seat, with the small back rest in the low position, because I had not thought to raise it. Fortunately, Nancy is runway-model slim, and claims she was perfectly comfy. Another advantage is that decades ago in an earlier chapter of her life she had ridden her own motorcycle to work for a couple of years, so she knows a lot about motorcycles. She may ride her own motorcycle again in the future…
But, on the other hand, and is this true of your passenger? Nancy had never been on the roads I used on this 200-mile day. She did not know where we were or where we were going. She did not know where the next stop for food or bathroom would be. I don’t have helmet to helmet communication because I don’t like it, so all she had was basic signals. One poke in my side means she would like me to stop at some point, two means she would like me to stop soon, and three means she needs me to stop immediately.
Occasionally I would pat her knee, and a responding hug meant she was fine. That is it for communication, and seems to be all we need.
On the more “interesting” sections of road, she could peer over my shoulder at an approaching corner and had to trust I was paying attention, would brake appropriately, and would be able to respond to frost heaves, sand, a rogue dog – whatever.
At the end of the day, she said she’d had a wonderful time and can’t wait to do it again.
I realized that my response would be far different if our roles were reversed.
Adding a passenger can add a lot to your motorcycle adventure, if you have the right passenger. But do spare a thought to what they experience. You owe them.
Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often… with a passenger.
Copyright 2021 David Preston
Links to all nine of my books are on www.davidpreston.biz on the right side of the page, although you may not be able to see them if using a phone.