Backseat Rider

by Deborah Hoet

"Boy, do I know THAT look" he said to my friend as I limped across the parking lot toward the bikes, helmet in one hand and jacket in the other. We were at Furnace Creek, Death Valley and had traveled from the other side of Yosemite through Tioga Pass and were on our way to Las Vegas before we would call it quits. It was just getting dark and we hadn't had a meal in about 10 hours.

"My wife won't ride with me anymore. It looks like I am gonna have to pay someone to sit on the back of my bike and tap on my helmet and ask, 'Can we pee yet?' "

My friend Anton had just purchased a '94 BMW R1100RS in Murphys, California. It was that or buy the one in Michigan. If he bought the one in California he got a cross country ride out of it . (Anton would never ship a bike. He likes Iron Butt Motels). I had agreed to go along for the ride and we flew out from Philadelphia to ride it back. He wanted the company. I wanted a new experience. This was Thanksgiving week.

Just 5 weeks earlier I had returned from a cross-country solo journey on my 94 K75 that lasted 3 weeks. The Guggenheim Art of the Motorcycle exhibit in Vegas was the excuse for the trip. It was my first time out west and I had fallen in love with the place. Being out of work with a leg injury from going to a dirt bike school had me sitting home bored. Ride a motorcycle…even pillion. Gotta be better than this. Sign me up!

Over the years I have met a lot of male riders who would say how cool it was that I rode and then would lament to me that their wives won't ride with them anymore. They offered various explanations from having kids to her back and legs hurt. But mostly it was "I really don't know. She just doesn't seem to enjoy it much." I hate to admit even I silently wondered if they weren't just being too soft. It's a motorcycle, right? I mean, so what's not to love??

So here I am, beat, exhausted and saddle sore and once again am hearing a male rider say his wife won't ride with him anymore. Now this was only on day #1 of our journey back, but I already had a new perspective on this concept.

Now I realize that some people are risk takers and some aren't. And some people like bikes and some don't. As a matter of fact there doesn't seem to be any middle ground on that one. You either get it or you don't. When people find out I ride, they either think it is really cool and will admit to secretly always wanting to do it or look at me like I am insane and will be at the emergency room donating my organs soon.

But women who actually get on the back of motorcycles with men cannot fall into that category of non-risk taker. They get it. That's why they got on in the first place. It looked like fun. So what happened? Why aren't these women still passengers? And why don't they go on to ride their own bikes?

On my cross-country trip it took 3 days and 1800 miles from Philadelphia to Denver for me to reach the same degree of saddle sore that took just 1 day and 585 miles to reach as a passenger. I was beginning to understand the popularity of those sofas on wheels (you know, the ones with matching rider and passenger). The ones I had formerly poked fun at. Note the past tense.

This was NOT a good omen of things to come. I was seriously wondering if I had made a huge mistake as I limped across that parking lot with helmet and jacket in hand. We still had 2900 miles to go. Ugh.

In all years time I have been riding, I have only seen a male as a passenger twice. Now this is not to say all you guys would never consider it..of course you would! You are opened minded. But how many of you have actually ridden any length of time as a passenger? See….

I believe I can say with absolute certainty that had my introduction to motorcycles been as that of a passenger, there is no way I would have stuck with it. I was fortunate enough to get my own bike outright after riding as a passenger only once. But that is not the case with most women. I can't help but wonder if more women would be riding if they weren't turned off to bikes after experiencing passenger status.

Many women do go on to ride their own bikes after starting as a passenger. Maybe it's because they hated being a passenger. Or maybe it was because they had such a good experience on the back that they decided the front has to be just as good or better. And some women are perfectly content to be on the back forever. That's cool…whatever works for you.

I am only addressing the situation of those fellows whose Significant Others WON'T ride with them anymore and offering a possible explanation. I had the unique opportunity of crossing out beautiful country twice last year..on my own bike and pillion and because of that I gained a new perspective of and respect for the passenger.

Guys, do you really want to know why your wives won't ride with you any more? Really? Well, spend a few thousand miles back there and find out first hand or read on and get a clue.

So, you think you are a good rider? You shift smoothly and accelerate and decelerate evenly. You don't screech up to turns at the last second and shoot her forward on the seat. Your helmets don't click. Think again. Even the slightest movement is felt in an exaggerated way by the passenger. Yes, read that again. Back and leg muscles must suddenly tense and release and tense…again and again to hold the body position. This is especially true without a backrest but even so with one. But all I have ever heard on the subject of movement is to teach the passenger not to make any sudden moves. Someone needs to teach the rider how to avoid jerking the passenger around. The less skilled the rider the greater sense of balance and skill needed by the passenger.

It is MUCH more physically demanding to be on the back of a motorcycle. She is NOT being a baby. Her knees are taking stresses they never have known. More weight is placed on the arches of the feet on the footrests back there than as a rider. Passenger seats, with few exceptions, are not made for real people. The bones in my butt started to feel like someone was performing root canal on them without the benefit of anesthetic.

Windscreens have one function, i.e. to shield the rider and divert wind from 3 sides directly ONTO the passenger. All that wind does several things. It creates in incredibly lower wind chill (and I mean COLD!). I was using electrics on the back, but when we switched I didn't need them. It was a HUGE difference in comfort level. This constant increased wind turbulence also forces your helmet into your face so hard it makes your chin hurt. Now that your earplugs no longer fit because of the changes with the helmet they start to feel like nails in your ears. Your neck begins to ache from trying to keep your head from blowing all over.

And then there is the view. Yes, one can look around a bit more. If you don't mind one third of the view blocked by a head and a kink in the neck from trying to look around it.

The only, repeat only, advantage to being a passenger is the ability to go to sleep to relieve the boredom. Unless having time to memorize the states and their capitals in alphabetical order counts as one.

For those of you who have abandoned riding, please don't judge the sport by passenger experience. Now this is strictly one person's opinion, but I feel that compared to riding your own bike, being a passenger really sux! This riding stuff really is a lot of fun. Riding is a rush. It's a challenge and does incredible things for your self-confidence. It is freedom and independence like never before. No more asking if you can stop and pee!

I do not regret my foray into the world of the passenger. It truly was the adventure I had sought. But I am hoping, that like childbirth and Iron Butt rides, with the passage of time, the pain will be forgotten and I will be left with a couple of good stories. I don't regret it. Nor do I wish to repeat it either. But I did spend quite a bit of time wishing Anton had bought an LT…especially one with heated seats. If he had, I probably wouldn't have written this article.Back Seat Rider