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Common Tread

Tips for better two-up riding and a happier passenger

Jan 08, 2016

I have two qualifications to write this article: I ride a motorcycle a lot, and I am married to an awesome chicky who rides with me.

Jessica’s very comfortable having a greasy, tattooed longhair for a husband. I’ve blown more of our money on junky old bike parts than I can remember, and she’s never done anything but encourage such activity. She loves all my nearly-Aspergian chopper friends, and always pops out to the garage with a snack and beer for us. She's damn easy on the eyes, too. In short, I married your dream wife. Good for me, right?

Jessica also loves to ride. She has her motorbike license and has owned a few motorcycles of her own, but she really just prefers riding behind me on my bikes. I don’t blame her. She skips the awful commutes and is instead only on a bike going from fun place to fun place with friends to camp and see new, interesting destinations. I am happy to have her along, so I have learned how to make our trips easy and fun for us (her). These are not riding tips, per se, but rather strategies for anything longer than a short ride.

Here's mah favorite riding buddy. Hell, I guess just my best buddy in general! No, not the mustachioed guy. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Pack light

If you’re tripping two-up, you now have half the space and twice the shit. Be mindful that your pillion will want to pack whatever she wants to pack. We usually split saddlebags — one for her and one for me — but mine usually holds the tent groundcloth and stakes, rain gear, and tools. I can usually fit a couple of T-shirts and a toothbrush in there, but I definitely get the short end of the packing stick. The tent and bedrolls usually get packed onto the tail or six-pack rack. No big deal. I’m a tough cookie.

Involve your passenger in the ride

I usually give my wife a little run sheet or tell her the roads we’re taking. (Or I write them on my glove big enough that she can see them from the back seat.) This does a few things. First, it keeps four eyes on the road signs, lessening our chance of missing a turn. It frees me up to do a better job watching the road, and it also makes Jess an active participant in our tour, rather than a passive victim of my road trips.

When we were testing the Honda Gold Wing for September's bike review, my wife found us a really cool route to New York through Joisey. We saw a Flattie on this bar's sign, so naturally I had to stop. I'm glad she was the itinerary coordinator. RevZilla photo.
The other way to involve your passenger is to put that pillion to work! I’ll often put Jess in charge of handling logistics. Figuring out arrival times, camping locations, fun things to do, and good spots to eat are often details that can make or break a trip. Involving your pillion takes some of the pressure off the rider and makes the trip a shared responsibility.

Taking photos is another way your passenger can contribute. I’m spoiled because I have a million stills of me riding ZLA test bikes, but most motorcyclists never get enough pictures of themselves actually riding their bikes. For many, these are cherished photos, so I always have Jess behind the lens. She can use both hands to stabilize the camera or make adjustments to the settings, and we usually get some cool, backwards-facing shots that I would never ordinarily get on my own.

riding shot
I never would have this shot of my friends if my baby momma wasn't hanging off the back of a sissy bar. Photo by Mrs. Lemmy.

Accessories make the ride

Gear Geek John Strader has a lovely lady himself, despite the fact he’s pretty ugly. One of the ways he hangs on to his cutie is by using accessories to keep his passenger happy. Some examples? John employs a pretty tall sissy bar for Lauren to lean against. His bike also sports an aftermarket saddle with a wider-than-stock passenger section. His last item? “Com units have been really awesome," he says. "That’s a newer thing for us.” Sure beats writing directions on my glove or trying to figure out the message intended by the occasional poke in the ribs I get.

John and Lauren display their nearly invisible Sena 3S-W communication system on a pair of Biltwell Gringo helmets. Retro, meet modern. Photo by Lauren Correia. (See, I told you the passenger should be snapping pics!)

Be flexible

It’s not just you on the bike. Your passenger may have to pee 10 minutes after you just stopped. Inconvenient? Maybe, but this is a physical activity. Jess has bad knees. Sometimes we have to pull over and get gas so she can stretch, even though we just stopped 50 miles ago. I look at it as a chance to shoot some photos and double-check fasteners, fluid levels, and tires. You can get worked up over not getting to your destination ASAP, or you can ride freer than the Texas wind. The choice is yours, but I’m betting the wind doesn’t have high blood pressure.

Adjust your preload

Go ahead and be lazy. Don't bother setting up your bike for two people. Feel how mushy your already-tired factory shock(s) feel when you try to carve through a corner on your fully loaded heap. After you clean up from soiling yourself, get off the bike and crank up the preload.

two up riding the Gold Wing
You don't have to have brand-new matching gear, but as a rider, you should be sure your passenger is comfortable, especially if he or she is inexperienced. RevZilla photo.

Take responsibility for your passenger's comfort, especially a newbie

This article is geared to those of you with a long-term riding partner, but you may find yourself giving a rookie his or her first ride. That kind of passenger is totally different from your regular riding partner. They need to know everything, even the basics. If you have pipes that run near the passenger, let them know they're there and that they get hot! Remind your new riding buddy that he or she should be hanging on to you (or a grab handle) at all times. Similarly, feet stay on the pegs or floorboards at all times. Rookies sometimes forget that you won't let the bike fall over. Also, give some instruction on basic techniques, such as looking over the rider's inside shoulder in a curve.

When you are taking someone for a first ride — or a first ride in a long time — be a good motorcycling ambassador. Hot-dogging is fun, but you're more likely to leave your passenger scared, not impressed. A sedate pace to you may be terrifying to someone who has never been on a motorcycle before. Speaking of which, it helps to have a predetermined "high sign" so you know to pull over if the pillion begins freaking out.

Warn your passenger of an impending wheelie

Explanation is probably not needed on that one.

Even if you're not stunting, make sure your passenger is positioned properly and prepared for expected moves. If I'm planning to accelerate hard to pass a car on a two-lane, or turn up the wick and have some fun in a winding section of road, I’ll physically wrap one of Jessica's arms around me and she knows to take care of the other one. On some of my bikes with one-piece seats, she has a tendency to slowly slide forward, crushing my junk against the fuel tank. She knows that I will just slide her back with my butt to the right position. I’m not manhandling the poor gal — just communicating.

A nice destination can make an ordinary ride special. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Splurge when appropriate

Often, when riding two-up, wifey and I aren’t heading on some huge trip. Sometimes a 40- or 50-mile junket is the order of the day, and having a nice place to eat or a fancy destination gives us both something to look forward to. On our trips, Jessica is a camper and a half. The only times she's ever complained have been when I've started getting cranky, too. But if the weather turns bad or one of you isn't up to putting down a few hundred miles after dark, blow some dough and check into a hotel.

Have a good time

It might sound silly, but this gets overlooked. I’ll be frank: Most folks I see riding two-up are romantically involved. It’s far too easy to get snippy with each other or get concerned about your itinerary and just start an argument if you're not with someone you're really bonded with. For instance, usually on a bike I just follow my nose to get where I am going. Jess freaks out a little if we are lost. To keep the peace, I try to avoid that when she’s on the bike. (I got a GPS.) Lately, I also notice Jess tries to stay calm if we are… sightseeing. Each of us gives a little, and the result is two happy tourists.

To expound upon this final thought, the whole idea of bummin’ around with your sweetie is to enjoy the countryside, the bike, and each other. Don’t lose sight of what you love or why you love it, whether that’s motorcycling or the person on the back of it.