March 24 2009 by Jason Fogelson
My wife Robin is the perfect passenger. She wasn't born that way. In fact, before we started dating, she had never ridden on the back of a Harley-Davidson, or any motorcycle for that matter. Robin was eager to try out the pillion, but she was a little nervous at first. We both were. Now, after years of riding together, we're like a well-tuned riding team, and Robin says that she gets as much pleasure out of the journey as I do. Here are some tips on how to build the perfect passenger.
1. Polish your solo riding skills first. Put some miles on, learn your bike, and make sure that you are totally comfortable in the saddle and in all conditions. If you don't know how to ride well, you have no business adding a passenger to the equation.
2. Make sure that your passenger has appropriate riding gear. Get a good quality helmet that fits. Gloves, over-the-ankle boots, a riding jacket and thick, long pants. A bikini-clad beauty is a great accessory, but not on a bike. You will probably find that your passenger has some very definite ideas about gear, and will enjoy shopping. Leave a copy of the Harley-Davidson Motorclothes catalog on the coffee table for her to discover. They've got some really great gear.
3. Make sure that your bike is properly equipped. A good pillion seat will greatly improve the quality of your ride, and your passenger's. If you have a touring bike, check into passenger floorboards. The more comfortable and secure your passenger feels, the more likely they are to want to ride.
4. Start out slowly. Before you plan that cross-country ride, take a few short hops first. Then pick a destination that will make for a good day ride - maybe a favorite lunch spot about an hour away. Consider these rides good training, and shake downs for a longer trip. It's much easier to turn around and go home from an hour away than to discover that it's not working two days into a week-long trip.
5. The passenger is the boss. This one is very important. Before I take any passenger on my bike, we have a serious talk. I tell them that they're in charge. If they are uncomfortable for any reason - if I'm going to fast, riding too aggressively, or leaning too far for their comfort - they just have to tap me on the shoulder, and I'll pull over immediately. A frightened passenger is one who will never get back on the bike.
6. Consider a communications system. One of the best motorcycling investments I ever made (besides my Sportster) was a good portable helmet-to-helmet intercom system. Being able to speak with my wife during the ride is not only fun, but promotes safety. I can give her immediate feedback - if she's leaning too much, if I'm going to be turning quickly or stopping suddenly - so that she is prepared, and never surprised by what's happening on the bike. And she can pipe music into her helmet, so she doesn't get too bored. I guess there's not too much to do on the back of a bike.
Motorcycle touring with a passenger can be even better than riding solo - if you take the time and care to build the perfect passenger. It makes the overnight stops a lot more fun, too.