Take a Friend for a Motorcycle Ride

By Chuck Hawks

One of the best ways to expand our sport is to take a friend for a motorcycle ride. Naturally, as riders and enthusiasts, we want our passengers to enjoy their first, and subsequent, rides. To help ensure this, ride smoothly, considerately and safely. If their helmet bumps yours when you accelerate, shift gears, or brake, it is your fault, not theirs. You are not riding smoothly.

Motorcycling can seem scary to an inexperienced passenger. They have heard plenty of stories about how dangerous motorcycles are, so they are probably nervous before they even get on the bike. Once the ride starts, everything will seem foreign to them. The 360 degree visibility, the wind against their bodies, the feel and sound of the bike, the fact that it leans into corners and the fact that they feel exposed without the cage to which they are accustomed, all conspire to make the motorcycle seem to be faster and more dangerous than it is. Be aware of this and ride accordingly.

Ride (I hate to say it) defensively. Let that car cut in front of you. Merge gracefully, not aggressively. Try not to be the first vehicle across an intersection when the light turns green, and so on. Ride with restraint. Try to make your passenger feel secure.

Never take chances. As awful as it would be to wreck your bike and injure yourself, think how much worse it would be to injure your passenger. Would you like to spend the rest of your life with the realization you did something stupid that made someone an invalid? Think about that before you "show off" on your motorcycle.

You don't need speed, acceleration, or to clip apexes to impress your passenger. Act confident, be courteous to your passenger and other motorists, and ride conservatively; that will impress them. Consider these common sense suggestions:

1. Let them know what to do (and not do) to be a good motorcycle passenger. I have a short piece on my Motorcycle Page titled "Tips For The Motorcycle Passenger, Or How To Get Invited For Another Ride" that tells how to be a good passenger. Explain it to them. Feel free to print it out and give them a copy. I go through this little ritual the first time I take any passenger for a ride, no matter how experienced they claim to be. Better safe than sorry, as I have personally learned from unfortunate experiences.

2. Make sure that they are properly dressed for the ride, in terms of both comfort and safety. People who have not ridden before do not realize how hot or how cold it can be on a motorcycle, so help them dress for the ride. Also help them dress for the crash we hope will never happen. Be prepared to loan them a good helmet that fits correctly and ensure that they are wearing adequate protective clothing. This should include, at a minimum, boots that protect the ankles, decent gloves, durable pants, an abrasion resistant jacket, eye protection and possibly hearing protection. (A package of disposable foam earplugs is a cheap courtesy.)

3. Take it really easy for the first part of the ride. Ride like a "little old lady" until you sense that your passenger is starting to become accustomed to the sensation of being on a motorcycle.

4. Be especially alert and plan ahead to avoid situations that might call for hard braking or evasive maneuvers. These will alarm your passenger, who won't know what to do, and might cause you to lose control.

5. Don't demonstrate your motorcycle's acceleration, especially from a standing start or in first gear. For goodness sake, don't burn out or wheelie. Your passenger has probably never been on a vehicle with the acceleration of your motorcycle and it will scare them to death, not thrill them, if you demonstrate it. They will feel like they are going to fall off the back, even though they aren't. In addition, to risk being pulled over by a cop is definitely un-cool.

6. Stay within the speed limit, or at least close to it. In general, I suggest a five MPH guideline. This means never exceed the speed limit by more than 5 MPH when carrying an inexperienced passenger. In any case, it is safest to drive at the speed at which the rest of the traffic is traveling, neither passing a lot of cars or being passed by a lot of cars.

7. Don't pass slower moving vehicles on a two-lane highway unless there is enough room for an economy car to make the same pass. (Your motorcycle can pass cars like lightning, but your passenger doesn't know this, and it will scare them silly if you pull out to pass with less space than they themselves would allow for their car.)

8. Don't lane split, even if it is legal in your state. Your passenger is not accustomed to lane splitting and they will think it very dangerous (even though statistics prove it is not.)

9. If you frequently ride with the same passenger and you have become comfortable with each other on the motorcycle, it is probably a good idea to practice emergency braking and swerving maneuvers together. (If you have any doubt about your ability to perform the following emergency maneuvers solo, stop right now! Practice alone until you are confident of your ability. If you don't know how to do these maneuvers safely, you either haven't taken a motorcycle safety course, or need a refresher course. Take one immediately, before you hurt yourself or someone else!)

Okay, now that you're ready to continue, ride to a big, empty parking lot where you can practice emergency braking and swerving. Do it just as you did in your motorcycle safety course, only now you will be doing it with your regular passenger. Start slow and gentle (from, say, 10 MPH to a normal stop) and gradually work up in five MPH increments to maximum effort braking at about 30 MPH. Repeat the process, practicing emergency swerving. Then combine the two, swerving and then braking, at gradually increasing speeds up to at least 20 MPH. It's kind of stressful, but the reward will be increased confidence for both of you and you will be a safer riding team for having done it. Someday it may save your lives.

In summation, we want the passenger to enjoy their motorcycle ride, to appreciate the beauty and freedom of the experience and to come back for more. We surely don't want them to leave with the impression that motorcycles are dangerous vehicles that should be banned from the public roads, or, Heaven forbid, even more severely regulated by the government. Take it easy and make a friend for motorcycling.

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Copyright 2000, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.