Common Tread

How to be a good riding buddy

Dec 13, 2017

Bein’ a good riding buddy ain’t easy, but it’s worth doing.

The guys I ride with most often generally have some traits that I dig, and I like to think I try and be a good rider in kind. Getting along is not accidental; keeping everyone around you happy is a constant task. To be good at that task, you have to know what to look for in your friends — and yourself. Here’s some things you can do to be a good ride pal (and qualities you may want to look for in others.)

Goober Gustafson
Goober Joe Gustafson from Cycle World is a great friend, a conscientous riding partner, and all-around jackass. Is it any wonder I love to ride next to him? Photo by Nelson and Riles.

Be cool

Forget sunglasses or having lots of Insta followers. I mean just chill out. Riding a motorcycle is supposed to be fun. If you break down, so what? It’s a chance to drink beer in a new town. If you miss your turn, maybe you’ll find a place you’d rather be instead. Freaking out over things that are often well outside your control is literally no help at all. My friends have waited on me while I fixed bikes roadside, shared beers when I limped into camp, and puzzled out where the hell we were on the side of some gravel goat path. Don’t forget that you’re in the middle of a great story you’ll tell for years. Who gives a shit about that punctured tube? The order is mindset, then skillset, then toolset.

Ride the same ride

We’ve all heard someone say, “Ride your own ride!” That’s worthwhile advice, but when you’re riding with someone, being on the same page is critical. Spurg said, “You have to want to ride the same amount of miles at the same aggression level. You have to know if you’re sleeping in a hotel or in the dirt. Are you gonna get Red Bull and peanut butter crackers at the gas station, or are you having a sit-down lunch?”

This might be the most important tip in the article.

Photo stop
Spurgeon and I have a nasty habit of farting around and not covering enough miles during daylight, then twisting the wick to grind out big distance in too little time. Oh well. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Another important point to cover is fuel stops. Even if you can burn 300 miles on a tank, if your buddy’s chopular peanut tank only gets 70 miles before he’s running on sailboat fuel, guess what? You’re not going 300 miles between fuel stops. Some people like to break up the riding, others are irked by it. Finding a like-minded riding pal prevents irking.

Watch out

Just as you watch your own six, look out for your buddy. My good friend Nate has pulled up alongside me plenty and motioned at me to follow him… only to pull up to a gas station where he informed me I was riding inconsistently and needed to treat myself to a Red Bull. (And a requisite Tijuana Mama.) Return the favor when possible — make sure nobody rips off your pal's sled while he’s off taking a whiz, tell him if it looks like his pack is loosening up, and “close the door” on that guy in the Forester trying to jam him up in the zipper merge.

road hazards
Knowing how your riding partners will react to unexpected situations greatly improves the ride. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Be predictable

I lay down heavy mileage with people I trust at freeway speeds or better running two abreast. (I may occasionally sneak up and pinch a buddy on the tuchus, just for a little "gotcha!") We don’t necessarily ride like that all the time, but it’s a good illustration of the level of trust you need to have in your bud doing what you expect him to do. Not everyone I ride with is a road angel, but I know without a doubt how they’ll react to a given situation. It’s not so much that they’re super-skilled as they’re a sure bet. (Most are very skilled, too, but that’s not the most important part.) Pothole? Asshole taking a left across your lane? Kick-only bike just ran out of fuel? I know what to expect with each of my friends in those scenarios, simply because they are reliable and measured in their actions.

Gas
It's polite to share. Photo by Lemmy.

Buy fuel

Multiple bikes can easily stack up at a fuel pump. Play Big Spender and buy your friends a round. (They’ll appreciate it and get you back later, and you’ll all save time.)

Wait at turns

I don’t care how many riders you are with, how well you know the road, who has a GPS, or how short a hop it is. Hang back. Travel until you have to do something other than simply go straight. Not everyone has a smartphone or a map, and if someone breaks down, it’s liable to be a long walk or push.

The best reason, though, is because you’re supposed to be watching your buddy’s back. If your pal drops off, pull over. If he’s not with you within a minute or two, the reason is sometimes due to a wreck. Sometimes those critical minutes between the headlight disappearing from your mirror and getting the ambulance there is the difference between having another ride in the future with your buddy or not.

Looking back
Perfect form, fellas. It's bad to see your pal go down. It's real bad to not see him go down and not be there to help. Photo by Lemmy.

Help

Do you know how to plug a tire? Does your phone still have a few bars? Does your saddlebag still have some room for that night’s beer? Just like in real life, life on the road is easier with some assistance. If you can do something nice when someone else is in need, it’s often repaid when your buddy is in a better spot than you are. Having different skills, different spares, and different snacks in your bag and being willing to share all of them goes a long way.

Clear your calendar

Riding buds
Ride motorcycles. Eat Gummi Bears. Have fun. Photo by Lemmy.
The guys I ride with most often are the ones most willing to drop everything, pack a bike, and roll. They’re not unpopular, they just like riding and they like me. Of course, I have to return that favor as best I could. (Nate will read this and shake his head at all the times I have stood him up at the last minute. I guess I am not really that good of a riding buddy.) People grow old and unable to ride, and others stop walking this earth far sooner than we might have supposed. Friendships take work and effort, they don’t just happen. Find the time.

Be the riding buddy you want to ride with.