Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Definitive Guide for Motorcycle Passengers

I am the passenger
And I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backsides
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, the bright and hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight

The Passenger -Siouxsie and the Banshees

1923 BMW Series II R 32
Story by Jim Foreman.

Since the very first motorcycles were produced, one of the first accessories added was a passenger seat.

Inviting a passenger to ride with you is rather straightforward.  There is no limit of people who want to experience the excitement of riding a motorbike.  Many of those passengers are even going to be future motorcycle riders.   Others are content being the pillion.

There are three elements or responsibilities to successful riding with a passenger.  First is getting someone to ride with you.  Second is what the pilot needs to do to ensure a great experience.  Lastly, what the passenger must do to make for a safe and fun outing.

Getting Someone to Ride With You

2016 BMW R 1200 RS
For some, this is the easiest part.  As an attractive single man, a conversation with a woman will invariably include riding my motorcycle.  From there, it's a high probability that she will desire and even ask to take a ride with me.

Ask any 19-year-old who just bought a GSX-R or R6.  They’ll admit it’s to pick up girls.  It works until they crash a short time later.  Sadly, many young women are just as stupid as the young men who try to pick them up.  A beginner with a huge ego and libido on overdrive is not a promising start.  Add a 600 or 1000cc supersport, with no training, gear, license, or insurance and one easily sees a fast lane to disaster.  It’s important to note that not all 19-year-old riders do this.  Many do get proper training, license, insurance, and become excellent riders.
A very unwise combination

Many potential passengers have been brainwashed into believing that even standing near a motorcycle will result in possible death.  Other times, partners or significant others don’t share the enthusiasm you have for riding.  Lastly, there are those who simply don’t have the confidence that riding with you won’t lead to a crash or worse.

All of these rejections boil down to fear.  Sometimes that fear is rational and justified, other times not.    One example of justifiable concern is after twenty something years, you decide to go buy a motorcycle to relive your wild youthful days.  The last bit of training you had was your uncle saying, “Don’t crash, OK!”  Another source of rational fear and doubt is when you arrive and your bike is all scuffed up, you’ve been drinking, or you brag about recent crashes.

The irrational fear is something entirely different.  There are levels of irrational fear from mild to extreme.  If the fear is unrealistic, it’s best to smile and forget it, at least for now.  Be pleasant and ask kindly.  If the answer is no, just say, “Whenever you change your mind, I’d love to share this with you.”  Then without any sadness or disappointment, gear up and go for a great ride.  Do wave and smile as you ride off.

If it’s your partner or child, it important to never be negative and always express the fun and beauty you experienced.  Build in them a desire to want to ride without nagging.  Nagging never works, it just annoys the other person.

For those with only a mild fear, mention a recent training course you took and how much better a rider you’ve become.   A sure-fire motivator is a photo or stories of a recent trip where you experienced incredible and beautiful things.  In every case, it’s your calm, confident, and non-desperate demeanor that will have the most success.

Sometimes, with your child, the other parent may have, for any number of reasons, filled your son or daughter's head to not go riding with you.  For six years, my daughter would not ride with me.   One week before Father’s Day, I casually asked her if she’d like to ride and she said, “Yes.”  She immediately got a big hug and then proceeded to gear her up with an armored jacket, helmet, gloves and knee armor.

My daughter, excited about riding
We did a short back-road ride for about half an hour, and then, we came back home.  When she got off the bike, she was jumping and smiling and asking when we could go out again.  We’ve been riding together, ever since.

Initially, her mother was furious.  Adjectives hurled at me included childish, irresponsible, a bad example, and reckless.  My response was to send a couple of photos of our daughter all geared up and smiling big with a beautiful backdrop.  After the initial outburst, her mother has mellowed out and has not brought it up since.

Your Responsibilities as a Pilot

OK!  You were successful in arranging a passenger.  It is entirely within your power to make the ride a great and memorable experience or a terrible one.

Foremost, please have at least 1000 miles of safe, recent riding under your bum before you think about taking on a passenger.   Any less and one is really too inexperienced to handle themselves on a bike, yet alone a pillion.

A good start is to ask if they have a helmet.  Some will and this is a good sign.  If they don’t have a helmet, do NOT go into your garage and dig out the old, stinky helmet you used to wear with a scratched visor, and it’s lining falling apart.  Now, what about states that don’t require a helmet, you may ask.  Make sure you are both wearing a good DOT helmet, period.

For me, any passenger I take with me will wear a helmet, jacket, gloves, long pants and boots.  Hiking boots work well, and most people have them.
Good reason for a full-face helmet

If your passenger does not have a helmet and you do not have a new or very lightly used helmet that will properly fit, meet at Cycle Gear or a local store with a large selection of helmets.  HJC makes pretty good DOT certified helmets.  Often they are less than $100.00.  It’s not necessary or recommended to go out and buy a Schuberth or Shoei helmet for a first-time or occasional rider.  If your passenger becomes a regular rider, then certainly get the top-tier kit. 

A full-face helmet is highly recommended.  If there is a protest or a comment that the ‘party lid’ half-helmet is fine, suggest that bugs hitting one's face don’t taste or feel good.  If anything were ever to happen, you’d want their whole face and head protected.

In one instance, my passenger met me, at her door, holding her helmet but wearing short shorts, a baby-doll tee, and sandals.  She looked stunning, and I offered a pleasant kiss upon first seeing her.  I asked her if we could take a few photos to remember the day.  I put the motorbike on its center stand and had her sit in different poses, on the bike.  Her roommate was asked take some photos of us together both on and around the bike.  After the fun with the photographs, I calmly smiled and said, “That was a great idea dressing like that for photos.  Now, let’s get dressed for the ride.”  She hesitated for a brief second, smiled and said she’ll be back in a few moments.  When she reappeared, she looked incredible in jeans, jacket and hiking boots, and I told her so.  I even asked for another photo of us and the bike and one of us riding off together.

Many first-time pillions only understand being a passenger by watching movies, TV or notice women wearing skimpy outfits.  That's all they know, so they come to believe this is acceptable.  Without ever being negative, I say, “Yes, they do reveal a lot of skin.“ I express, “If anything were to happen, I want you to have the best chance of being uninjured.   Then I'll add that nothing looks more attractive than a woman in good riding gear.”  A quick browse to the Dainese or Held website women’s section will prove your point.
Dainese Woman

For the first ride, it’s imperative that it be short, fun, and interesting.  The first trip should last 30-60 minutes.   You want to leave your passenger asking for more rather than complaining that it was boring, or too long.   If your passenger is experienced, she'll probably have her own riding gear.  You both can decide, later, to extend the ride.  Stop for a break after a short time and ask how your passenger is doing.  Make sure they are comfortable and happy on the bike and with you as a pilot.

Before you take off, take a minute or two to tell your passenger what to expect.

First-time passengers hear these simple instructions when riding with me.
  1. Keep away from the muffler.  It’s hot and will burn quite quickly.
  2. Please ask before mounting or dismounting the motorcycle.  Do it as if mounting a horse.
  3. Indicate how you prefer they hold on.  I prefer they grip me so I know where they are and can feel what they are doing.  The ‘girlfriend’ holding your chest or waist, or ‘backpack’ is perfect.
  4. Look in the direction that we're going.  It will put you in a good position.
  5. Explain leaning and how they need to lean with you.
  6. Indicate some simple taps or signals to communicate, as it will be difficult to hear.
  7. Have Fun!

As the pilot, it’s critical that you don’t make the following mistakes with a passenger.
  1. Don’t ride like a jerk or show off.  Wheelies are a very bad idea!  Scaring your passenger will only get them not to like you and regret their decision to ever ride with you.  It will also guarantee any romantic intentions that might have existed will be lost forever.  Mellow out and ride a little slower than your solo-riding pace.  With a passenger, it will take longer to slow down.  The bike will also react differently than you are used to.  Be Smooth and your passenger will respond warmly.
  2. Don’t do an epic ride on the first or second outing.  Your passenger is likely not used to being on a bike for so long.
  3. It’s advisable not to ride with anyone else the first couple of times.  When there are others, egos tend to be fueled.  Riding with others will result in your passenger feeling awkward, at best and angry at worst.
  4. Don’t talk too much when you take a break.  Listen five times for every one time that you talk.  Your passenger will want to express how they feel.  Let them.  Don’t brag.  Simply and positively express how they’re doing and make simple corrective suggestions, if necessary.
  5. Don’t put ‘the moves’ on your passenger.  Even if you two are already romantically involved.  There is enough swirling through their head without the added nuisance.  If there is a romantic desire, pursue it at the conclusion of the ride.

Being an Excellent Passenger

Being a passenger on a motorcycle is a compliment and an honor.  Good riders don’t just take anyone on their bike.  Whether it’s your first time or your twentieth time, it’s important to recognize that every pilot is different.  It’s important for you to sync up with their unique riding style and be as neutral as possible.

Being an excellent passenger starts with having a great attitude.  If you’re not in a good mood and ready to have a great time, don’t do it.  You will be experiencing new and exciting sensations.  How you react will depend entirely on your mood.

Care about your safety.  Even if you’re not prompted to by the pilot, wear long jeans, a sturdy preferably leather jacket, hiking boots, gloves, and a Helmet.  Most of the time, the rider can help you with these items.  Don’t be afraid to visit Irv Seaver BMW or a gear store like the Dainese D-Store or Cycle Gear to pick up some moto apparel.  Remember, nothing looks more attractive than a passenger in well fitting riding gear.  Some riding gear is so stylish that people choose to wear it when just going out on the town.

Here are some ways you will be an excellent passenger.

  1. Listen to the pilot’s requests and follow their instructions.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  3. If the pilot grabs or taps your leg or hand it means you are doing a brilliant job, not that they’re trying to feel you up or get fresh.
  4. It’s OK to give the pilot a hug if you are happy or they completed a complex move well, in appreciation.
  5. Look in the direction you are traveling.  Keep your body close to the pilot and lean as they lean.  It may seem awkward at first, but it’s important.
  6. Try to use your feet and body to keep from putting too much weight on the pilot while braking.
  7. Be gracious.  At stops go in a buy both of you some water or a snack.
  8. Have Fun!

There are several key things that a passenger should not do or avoid.

  1. Don’t be a diva or complain.  Nobody likes that.  If you are too negative, you may find yourself taking a cab home.  As mentioned above, it’s preferable that you mention any concerns.  If the pilot is a jerk or not interested in what you have to say, arrange for your own ride home.
  2. Don’t make sudden moves.  The bike requires balance.  Any sudden moves can upset that balance.
  3. Don’t lean opposite of the pilot.  It will put added strain on the pilot and is more likely to cause the bike to crash.
  4. Don’t be a know-it-all.  It’s cool that your dad or uncle rode and blah, blah, blah.  You’ll be instantly ignored if you try to act like the smartest person in the room.  Yes talk and ask questions but don’t act like you have all the answers.
  5. Don’t forget to thank the pilot at the end of the ride.  If you’re inclined, offer to take the two of you out for a drink or meal in your car.


Personally, Most every passenger experience has been great.  Everyone listened to my simple instructions, looked and leaned as I leaned and were exceptionally gracious after the ride.

On occasion it proved smart to wear my Oxford Riding Grips, a special belt with grab handles, to make it easier and more comfortable for my passenger.  Alternatively, some sportbikes have passenger handles mounted around the gas cap ring and they swear it works. Other options like Cycle Handles work well, too.

Several friends were invited to share their experiences being a passenger.  Here’s what they said.

Rocio Duran at the Korean Friendship Bell
Rocio Duran  –For years, Rocio’s mother would caution her against motorcycles.  It’s not uncommon for moms to do this even though their own experiences were probably positive when they were younger.
About two years ago, Rocio’s best friend, Nick Chan, also a rider, asked if she would like to go for a ride.  Rocio accepted.  Nick made sure Rocio knew about safety and gear and insisted that she wear a thick jacket, long pants, boots and a helmet.  He was able to provide a helmet for her to use.
The first trip was about an hour, and Rocio loved it very much.  Nick was an excellent pilot and made her feel safe.  They continued to take longer distance trips together for over a year.
When asked if there was any romantic intention with Nick, she said, they were and remain great friends, but no romance.
About the same time, Rocio began as a passenger, she also started attending bike nights with the Los Angeles Motorcycle Riders (LAMR).  Over the next few months, Rocio went and bought herself a helmet, armored jacket, gloves, and moto boots.
By the time all her moto gear was assembled, Rocio decided to take the MSF Basic Riders Course and get her license.  For the last six months, She has been riding a beautiful 2010 Kawasaki Ninja 250.  She rides primarily for commuting to and from work but is planning longer distance trips, for pleasure.
Recently we rode together, and she proved to be an excellent rider with a great attitude and sensibility.

Laura Ruddy in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Laura Ruddy  -Laura and I became acquainted through the BMW MOA.  We are both on the younger end of the age spectrum, of the group, and shared many similar interests outside of motorcycling.  Laura is originally from Mesa Arizona but has lived in Germany for the last ten years.
Recently, on a visit stateside, we met up, and I took her out as a passenger four or five times.  I knew she was an experienced passenger, so longer trips were not a problem.  Laura owns her top-tier moto gear.

Instantly, Laura proved to be a riding muse.  She was like a $10,000 suspension job on my bike.  She would keep her petite frame light on the bike and lean, perfectly, into corners as I did.  Laura’s actions would settle the bike going into a corner and give me the added traction to take a more aggressive line.

After Laura’s stateside trip, She invited me to join her in Germany for three weeks.  Every day we rode through Bavaria, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Czech Republic.  Each time we would ride, our synchronicity would get better to the point where we knew exactly what we were thinking and how each of us was feeling based entirely on non-verbal communication.

(L-R) Sean Ruddy, Ian Ruddy, Laura Ruddy, and Jim Foreman
Many times, Sean, Laura’s husband, and her son Ian would also ride with us, on another bike.
Laura has evolved to become a 10 out of 10 pillion rider.  She can handle everything from a romp to the market or a day of laps at Nurburgring.  It’s reasonable to say I’m a better rider because of Laura Ruddy.

Though Laura has her ‘M’ endorsement and can ride, she prefers to be the passenger.  Lucky for me!

The things Laura loves, aside from Star Wars, her husband, and son, are motorcycles and a dunkel bier, and Germany.

Again, Many thanks to Irv Seaver BMW for their support of this blog.  Do stop in for the absolute best BMW Motorcycle deals, apparel, parts, and service anywhere in Southern California.

It would be wise to avoid riding with these kinds of riders.

Some inadvisable passenger riding techniques

Happy memories riding with a passenger
Gina Cardenas and Elaine Chang riding with the hero motorcycle cops of Santa Paula.

Jim Foreman and Laura Ruddy in Italy

Jim Foreman and daughter

©2015 words and photos Jim Foreman

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