On Being the Copilot

By Kent

Being a good passenger begins before you ever step up to the motorcycle. Although riding a motorcycle is more pleasant than driving a car, it is also inherantly more dangerous and requires greater concentration for safe operations. That means as a passenger you can help out by minimizing stress and distractions to your front seater. Start out by wearing appropriate protective gear and dress for the weather conditions - the light jacket that suffices for sitting on the patio won't keep you warm in a 60 mph wind. Your front seater shouldn't be worrying about you sitting back there with your teeth chattering, or what will happen if the two of you go down while you're only dressed for the beach.

Whether you mount the motorcycle before or after the operator will depend a great deal upon the configuration of the bike. Regardless of whether you get on first or second, make sure the foot pegs are down and your front seater is ready for you to mount. It's customary to mount from the left, and when swinging your leg over make sure you know the location of the exhaust and keep your foot and leg clear of it. Stay low and smooth in your motions to minimize your effect on the center of gravity because those few seconds while you are mounting up is the the most difficult time for the front seater to keep the the motorcycle upright. Once seated, keep your feet on the pegs until the operator indicates it's time to get off.

Once you're mounted up and underway, keep your body in line with the person in front of you. When cornering, don't try to control the motorcycle by leaning into the curve when you think you should, or worse trying to keep your body upright so you don't fall over. Just sit there and follow the driver's lead. The motorcycle will lean into the corner based upon the handle bar postion, counter-steering, and a bunch of other stuff beyond the scope of this writing. If you are keeping in line, then little correction needs to be made for your presense by the driver. If you decide to do your own thing, then the operator has to make adjustments to overcome your unexpected input (not a good thing on a corner). Turning your head to face the direction of the turn will normally keep you in position.

It's obviously a good idea to hold on to something. It can keep you on the bike, but it also helps to keep you in the correct position to balance the motorcycle. Holding on, however, doesn't mean a death grip around the chest of your front seater. Such a grip limits vision and freedom of movement, and forces his or her body to bend forward in a manner that makes operating the controls more difficult. It can also force your helmets to bump into each other which eventually becomes painful for the operator, and forces his or her head down making it difficult to see. Keep your hands on the hips of the one in front of you and you'll be welcomed back for another ride.

Sit still. Lean over suddenly at a stop sign, and before you know it you may find yourself under a very heavy motorcycle. In areas where traffic is heavy, there's generally an oil spot at the stop sign and the operators boots can easily slip. If you lean over unexpectly when running down the highway, your front seater may not have time to shift the balance of the motorcycle in time to compensate for your weight shift. You both may find yourselves heading for the ditch or into oncoming traffic if that happens. If you're hit by a bug, suck up the pain and stay as still as possible for the seconds it's takes to make a safe stop.

You're the copilot. Watch for danger; cars, dogs, deer, etc., and alert your pilot when you spot something. The extra half second you've provided may save your lives. Watch the road signs to help navigate. If you're on a group ride, pass the hand signals to the rider behind you so your pilot can keep his or her hands on the controls. Riding together is a team thing - you get the idea.

Lastly, towards the end of the day you will probably get uncomfortable. Some bikes have a pretty cushy back seat, but most don't and the front seater is probably far more comfortable than you. Your butt will hurt sooner, and if the motorcycle has it's rear foot pegs mounted on the swing arm, the arches of your feet will be hammered by the tire bouncing upon the road. Say something about it before you're ready to cry from the pain. It's not fun for either party if you're hurting.

Oh, and one more thing... Glad you're back there. It's an adventure worth sharing and I wouldn't have invited you if I didn't want your company.


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