I recently had a good friend and new rider ask me what I thought about giving his girlfriend a ride. I said "Sure, I'd be glad to". I think he meant something a bit different though.
Still, it got me to thinking. This would be a great topic for the Beginners Garage. One of the greatest experiences I have riding is riding two up with my wife on the back. The companionship is something truly special when a couple rides together. And the truth of the matter is that having a nice set of bewbies pressed up against your back just plain feels goooooood!
So I thought I'd start with some basics and then get into some more advanced commentary on two up riding.
The Pillion. (Aka, the Passenger. Aka, Baggage or Ballast. Aka, the Wife.) The Pillion is the most precious cargo on your bike. Whoever this person is, they have just placed their absolute faith in your riding skills. You no longer are responsible for your own safety, you are 100% liable for theirs. If you go down, THEY go down. And chances are, they are going to get hurt. Think about that and let it sink in.
Shelf the ego at the door. If you want to be aggressive, do it solo or take it to the track where you will only endanger yourself.Posted on: January 10, 2007, 11:03:17 pm
Chapter 1. The Pilot.
I’ve met many, many riders both young and old who have leapt at the chance to give their girlfriends or wives a ride. Some of these guys had been riding perhaps a week, a couple maybe had a month under their belt. I have seen them ride off, blowing shifts, stutter braking, stumbling along with all the balance of a newborn colt. I’ve seen it with Gixxers, Standards, and Cruisers alike. It spans all riding styles and types, spanning all ages and race.
Sadly, inexperience is the common norm.
As a new rider, I highly and strongly recommend that you do not give anyone a ride for the first 5,000 miles of riding. It takes time before one fully develops the muscle memory required to be confident and smooth on a bike. Clutch – Downshift – Brake – Turn In – Countersteer – Throttle control: All this takes time to master. It’s not personal and it’s not a question of maturity or raw skill: it’s simply a question of muscle memory and muscle memory takes time to develop.
When riding two up the Pilot must not only consider the basics of riding but also consider how their motions affect the pillion. On top of it, the pilot must consider the impact of every motion a Pillion makes. Trust me when I tell you: you do not want to have to worry about the basics when you have a Pillion squirming around on the back!
5,000 miles. It’s a nice round number. Besides, you don’t want embarrass yourself in front of your woman by riding like a twit, now do you?
As a Pilot, you want your Pillion to have a good time, right? It’s very important to give the pillion a pleasant ride that they will enjoy. Smooth is a word that describes the best roadracers in the world. It also describes the type of ride that your pillion wants too! Smooth means that your Pillion won’t be startled and scared! A scared pillion is a fidgety pillion and a fidgety pillion will affect your handling! So let’s take a moment and talk about things that aren’t smooth.
Whacking the throttle wide open on your Gixxer 1k is not smooth. It’s not smooth your S&S 120hp Harley. Be gentle on the throttle. Also note that with a pillion on the back of the bike the center of gravity is moved backwards on the bike making it easier to wheelie. A bike that might not normally wheelie could indeed flip you over with a pillions weight on the back.
Sudden and sharp braking. Unless you are in an emergency situation, please please please do all of your braking as smoothly and gently and as upright as possible. Firstly, it won’t upset the bike’s handling. Secondly, it won’t scare the pillion. Thirdly, you won’t experience helmet knock. Fourth, you won’t have a pillion sliding forward into you and ramming your nuts into the gas tank!
Sharp and fast turns are not smooth. Remember that YOU can see where you are going. Chances are though your pillion is looking around, enjoying the view, waving at other bikers and small children in cars. All of a sudden you jerk the bike left doing your best Rossi impression - You’re ready for the turn but the pillion isn’t. You lead left, she banks right due to centrifugal force. All of a sudden the bike’s handling is upset – not a comfortable feeling.
Be gentle and be smooth in all things. You will be happier and so will your pillion. Remember, you want the pillion to move WITH you, not against you.Posted on: January 10, 2007, 11:03:44 pm
Chapter 2. The Pillion.
Many people have the idea that all a pillion need to do is “Get on, Hang on, and Shut Up”. I think I read that on a T-Shirt somewhere. A few centuries before, some really smart guy figured out that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. Anything that the pilot does on a bike has an immediate reaction on the bikes handling. Shift your body weight right? The bike turns right. Weight the left peg and the bike leans left. Absolutely anything your pillion does will affect the bike’s handling just as immediately!
My wife has developed an exceptional talent for being smooth on the bike. When she adjusts her position to get more comfortable, she does so in a way that doesn’t upset the bike. She moves smoothly and gently – not quick and fast.
There’s a lot that goes into riding pillion and it’s much more than simply sitting on the back!
Let’s start right from the beginning: Getting on the bike. Sounds easy, right? Many bikes, especially sport bikes, have 31.5” pilot seat heights. I’m 5’8” tall with a 31” inseam and most sport bike seats mean that I can only flatfoot one foot at a time, or balance on just the balls of my feet. So it is quite fair to say that in many cases the pilot is already at a leveraged disadvantage when the pillion mounts a bike. To add more to the challenge the typical pillion seat is a fair bit taller – perhaps as much as two inches higher than the pilot is. What this means is that the pillion exerts even greater pressure on the pegs when trying to get on. It’s happened to me on several occasions where I was caught just a bit off guard when the wife got on the bike – and I promptly dumped the bike on the ground.
It’s hard for me to actually describe the process of a pillion getting on the bike. My best effort is this: She should keep as much of her body weight over the seat as possible so as to keep the bikes center of balance as vertical as possible. She puts her left hand on your left shoulder, right hand on your right shoulder, left foot on the left footpeg, and as gently as possible, lifts herself onto the pillion seat in one, smooth and easy movement. She should also settle herself into the seat as softly as she can. Being smooth is valid not only for the pilot but also for the pillion!
Now let’s talk about the end: Getting off the bike. Use a curb. Seriously. A pillion seat often has even tighter footpeg accommodations than the pilot – can you say cramped legs? Also, if you are the normal couple, chances are that your woman is a fair bit shorter than you are. Remember that extra 2” of seat height? So she’s got short legs and she’s up higher on the bike (and she’s tired and cramped from that ride to boot!) – that’s going to make it just that much more difficult for her to slide off the bike gently. Go ride up to a curb – give your pillion the extra 6” of curb height to get off. Even better is if you can find a curb right next to a wall or a pole to balance against while using the curb height to her advantage.
Ok, so we’ve addressed getting on and off the bike. We’ve also talked a bit about equal and opposite reactions. Let’s talk about pillion position when in a turn: Here it is: super easy: She looks over the shoulder of the direction of the turn. If you are turning right, then she looks over your right shoulder. Yep, that’s it. Right turn, right shoulder. Left turn, left shoulder. Edited to add: Great point from AirborneXX: "My wife had a bad habit of adjusting her position just as we were coming to a stop. I finally got it through to her that it's ok to adjust when we're at speed, but for gods sake when we're about to stop or moving real slow don't move!"
So she’s on the bike. Now where should her hands be? There are five basic places for her hands. #1: use the grab rails on your bike (if comfortable). #2. Wrap her hands around your waist (may or may not be doable depending on how short her arms are or how big your belly is!). #3. On the gas tank. (very good under hard braking situations as it keeps the pillion off your back and from sliding into you. Unfortunately this is not always comfortable for extended lengths of time and also puts a LOT of pressure on the riders wrists. Also, it’s quite possible that her arms simply won’t reach around your waist). #4. On your thighs. (this is my wife’s preferred position when riding the twisties. She claims that she can tell what I am going to do by what my thigh muscles do. Left thigh tense, left turning coming up. On top of this, it keeps her body very close to mine, maintaining a more consistent center of balance) #5. Gripping the back of your jacket. Any of these are acceptable and all can apply in different situations. Experiment and find the one that works best for you!
Where her hands should never be is tucked into your pockets! I’ve read on more than one occasion of ladies who have had their wrists broken in accidents because they had their hands tucked in their pilots pockets.
Body position in sporty riding: as close to you as possible. Have her lean into you, melding her body as close to yours as possible. The goal here is to become one body in turns. Why? Center of gravity and control. Pushed away, the center of gravity shifts over the back tire, causing the bike to want to wheelie. It also creates a delay in reaction times. Two bodies need to act as one.Edited To Add: Compliments to Zen Rider for this note: "In addition to your list, another thing (I do) is explain to the Pillion a basic set of hand and eye communications - two of the most important ones are as follows: 1) wait to mount the bike until I give you the nod to indicate I'm ready and in position to support the weight of the bike and the dismount; and 2), wait to dismount until I pat your leg indicating again that I'm in position."
If all this seems like a lot of work that’s because it is. An astute pillion does a lot of work on the bike and it can be quite fatiguing. As a pilot you should keep this in mind – pillions need a rest too.
Getting away from the work aspect of things, the pillion should also be given a couple of “little fun jobs”. Waving to other riders, taking pictures, enjoying the scenery – she gets the job of being the ambassador to the rest of the road. Give her the job of navigating too. Posted on: January 10, 2007, 11:04:33 pm
Chapter 3. Gear.
Commonly it’s the pilot who has the best gear. After all, pillions aren’t on the bike that often and many pillions just don’t want to invest a whole lot of money in gear. I have to admit, this was certainly the case when my wife (then girlfriend) and I first started riding. I really didn’t like it so I made it a point to take it easy on the bike. At a minimum the pillion must have their own helmet. For that matter I recommend that they buy the helmet with their own money – it’s a commitment thing. Hey, if they aren’t willing to spend $75 for a minimal helmet, then how can you expect them to take riding seriously at all (or, for that matter, how much they value their own noggin)? Remember that they must have a helmet that fits right – your old XXL HJC isn’t going to be a good choice for a Small headed woman. Get a new helmet and get it fitted right – it doesn’t have to be a Shoei RF1000 or an Arai Corsair – several manufacturers make very respectable dot approved helmets.
At a minimum: solid jeans, tall over the ankle boots, heavy leather work gloves, and a leather jacket are needed. My wife used my old heavy leather jacket for her first ride with me. By our second ride she had spent $80 on a closeout Fieldsheer jacket and another $60 on a set of riding pants.
The truth is that you can get fully outfitted in decent gear for under $350. www.newenough.com
is an excellent place to start: Tourmaster jacket and pant combos can be had for as little as $200, add another $75 for a helmet and $40 for gloves and you are off the races pretty darn cheap!
If your pillion truly enjoys riding with you, make the gift of gear. It shows that you care about her health. It also shows a level of commitment and responsibility – chicks dig that!
Chapter 4. The Bike & Suspension.
All bikes are not created equal. Some bikes simply handle two up riding better than others. Sport bikes (Gixxers, R6, CBR’s) in general are not all that comfortable for a pillion. High pegs, thin seats, tall riding position: talk about being perched like a bird! Obviously the basics here apply: Gold Wings, BMW’s, HD dressers pretty much own the raw comfort category. Of course on STN your chances of owning such a two-up monster that slim to none! Still, if you have a rather resistant pillion it might well be worth trying to rent a big bike like this as an enticement.
In the sportier category are the VFR’s, Sprints, RS’s, ZZR’s, etc. Bigger bikes designed for two up riding but with a solid sporting background.
In any case, a pillion’s comfort level can certainly be improved regardless of the type of bike one owns. A back rest, more comfortable seat, lower footpegs all go a long way towards comfort.
Obviously though, if you are going to give pillion rides, you pretty much ride what you own. Just remember that whatever bike you have, your real objective is to tailor your ride to what the comfort level of your bike is (from a pillion perspective). Just because you can real off 500 mile days on your super-sport doesn’t mean that your pillion wants to! Take it easy, especially on your first few rides. Take lots of breaks: every half hour depending on how sporty your bike is. Give her time to stretch out and relax. Or, at the minimum, pull over and ask her if she still wants to keep going or if she wants to take a break.
Take into consideration the type of rides that a new pillion might enjoy. Straffing the twisties like Rossi is likely to turn off your pillion from ever wanting to get on the bike a second time. Go slow, perhaps consider just making a quick Ice Cream run somewhere. Much like a marathoner, one needs to build up to longer rides.
As an aside suggest to your pillion to wear some kind of gel-seat bicycling shorts. These may well help improve their comfort.
Riding with a pillion often has a pretty dramatic effect on the way a bike handles. The extra weight overloads normal rear shock settings. For that matter, many riders haven’t even taken the time to properly set up their suspension for solo riding in the first place. I’m not going to bother to explain how compression damping or rebound damping works. But what I can tell you is that once you have set your compression and rebound damping you do NOT need to adjust them at all for two up riding!
In two up riding the only adjustment that you need concern yourself with is Spring PreLoad. In short, spring preload controls how much static sag you have on the bike. Or, in simpler English, how much your bike “squats” under rest. Properly set up a sport bike might have around ¾” to 1” of sag. That provides a nice, firm ride for control. Add another 145# of pillion and that ¾” of sag can turn into as much as 2” of sag. Now you’ve eaten up a significant portion of the shocks travel meaning that it can be much easier to bottom out the shock or even cause damage to shock seals through overtravel.
The easiest way to manage spring preload two-up is trial and error. Depending on your shock, try adding a couple of full turns to preload to a remote adjuster. Or, if you have a stepped shock collar (common as an OEM shock) dial in a couple more steps of preload. Go for a test ride: make adjustments as needed.
But just to reiterate all you should need to do is adjust the spring preload.
Chapter 5. Communication.
No, I’m not going to talk about bike communication devices. Yes, I’ve got helmet to helmet communication, but my wife and I learned to communicate very effectively without needing it at all. 30,000 miles together will do that. I made my wife the navigator – I had enough on my hands managing the bike so I figured that she could use mini-maps and the like. It’s worked out exceptionally well for us on moto-tours and it gives her something else to do.
So here are some specific navigation commands:
1. A single tap or long squeeze to the bicep of either the right/left arm: “move a lane over to the right/left”
2. Two taps or two long squeezes to BOTH biceps simultaneously, “Second Exit”
3. A series of quick taps to the bicep of the right/left arm: “Take the first exit on the right/left”.
4. (if doable) A series of taps on the gas tank: “find a restroom”. If you can’t hit the tank see #6.
5. A series of hard taps on the helmet: “Slow down!”
6. A serious of hard taps to the helmet that don’t stop until the rider stops “I need off, NOW”.
Well, if you’ve read all this, then perhaps there is still hope that you too will not only have a wonderful time riding two up, but more importantly, your pillion will want to come back again and again! After all, the real point of riding two up is for two people to have some fun together in a sport that tickles both your fancies.
Remember, A good ride is ANY ride you come home safe from. A GREAT ride is one in which you can ride the bike again.
Ride safe.The wife speaks!! "Another thing to think about is that this is just like being in the saddle. When the rider is braking, use your thigh muscles to keep from slamming into the rider. The same when he takes off; hang on with your legs and thighs. The rider might feel the squeeze a bit, but it's better than slamming him into the gas tank. When you're going over bumps, put some downward pressure on the pegs so that your bottom comes slightly off the seat. This will save on having it feel like your fillings are going to be knocked out. But remember... all of these movements are NOT big, or fast. Think minimal movement, minimmal impact on the riders balance - and that's a good thing.
Most important of all, don't be afraid to tell the rider if something isn't working for you. I had to tell my husband about the curb, because he couldn't really see how I was getting off the bike. The wall thing was his idea, but I certainly told him how wonderful it was to have something to hold on to while I hopped off on one leg, and now he tries to find one each time we stop. Let the rider know if you're too tired, or need a break. Don't be a hero! Better to have a few more stops, than to be miserable. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.
That's all I can think of for the moment, except to say, I love it. Between riding my own bike, and riding as a pillion, I'll take pillion almost any day."