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The Perfect Passenger

Motorcycle Passenger Safety

The Perfect Motorcycle Passenger

Much is written about motorcycle safety centered on the operator, equipment and road conditions but I have not seen much written about passenger or co-rider responsibilities and the skills necessary for safety while riding two up.

I purchased my first motorcycle when I was 12 years old with paper route money and rode off and on much of my life. We decided to sell our Gold Wing 12 years ago and concentrate on raising the kids, promising each other we would return to the sport when the kids were grown. In March of this year we picked up our '07 Honda Gold Wing from the dealer to begin enjoying life as motorcyclists again now that our baby was 18. Within 3 weeks I had taken the MSF Experienced Rider's Course to brush up on skills. We spend a great deal of time talking together about what it takes to be the "Perfect Passenger". We regularly talk about my expectations for her during routine and emergency situations and her expectations for me as she places her life in my hands. We also discuss, via the intercom, particular sections of the road or events that happen as we ride, considering what we did right and what we could do better the next time something similar is encountered. This brings me to the tale of the "Perfect Passenger".

We were riding with a group of 8 other motorcycles the first weekend of August '07 enjoying the twisties in southeast Oklahoma. We had just negotiated a 15mph uphill switchback to the left followed by a 50 yard uphill run to a 20mph right hand curve. We were riding #4 in formation which placed us on the inside of the lane. Although "singled up" for the twisties the 5 bikes in front were experienced riders and we were, for the most part, maintaining formation lane placement with increased following distance allowing each rider to use the whole lane when needed. We had ridden this road and particular curve the other direction that morning so I knew it was not overly extreme but it did have a decreasing radius as the turn progressed.

I don't know our exact speed as we entered the turn but the entry was perfect. I looked into the curve checking for gravel, leaned in, set the line, and rolled on the throttle. We were on a rail, the bike handling like it was meant to and life was good. Right up until that small area of the blacktop that for some reason had a slight negative camber push that stood the bike up straight. Our line instantly went from right to all wrong as we were ejected towards the back of the curve on a 45 degree angle to the proper direction of travel, towards the guard rail and a several hundred foot drop. Training and parking lot practice kicked in as I immediately thought to stay off the brakes, look where I wanted the bike to go instead of where we were headed and increase counter steering. I corrected the line through the curve but we were left running the yellow line and dragging the peg so hard my right foot was pinched between the peg and frame. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic as I shifted more weight to the inside, looking more like a sport bike rider on the track with my knee out than a geezer on a Gold Wing, hoping to stand the bike up a little because the pressure on my foot told me there was enough weight on the peg to affect traction. As I began to stand the bike up, the decreasing radius of the turn resulted in our drifting slightly into the oncoming lane so I had to lay it back over, again to the sound of grinding metal, completing the turn in our own lane. As we rolled out safe and sound I hear my wonderful wife of 26 years say; "Sweetheart, what was THAT?!" referring to the maneuver not the sound of lost metal.

This is the point of my story; through all of this I never noticed her on the bike. I have always bragged on how she is the perfect passenger and on this day she proved it. She stayed relaxed, looking over my inside shoulder and never tensed up which has negative affects on handling. She never spoke during the event and remembered the things we always discuss; let me control the bike, stay relaxed and no matter the situation we must both continue to ride the bike for the best chance of surviving an emergency.

It was interesting to find out the #2 rider in our group experienced similar results for the same reason but he was out of sight around the turn making me unable to benefit from watching him through the curve.

We discussed the event, what went wrong and what I could have done differently. Did I enter the turn too fast or on the wrong line? Hindsight says yes, but if not for the abnormal pavement we decided no. Did I look hard enough at the road surface in the turn? Hindsight says no, but without going back through the turn to try and detect the imperfection who really knows. Together we decided I had been riding within the limits of the bike and my skill, within the limits she had set for twisties as a passenger and agreed to file the incident away as one of those things that no matter how hard we try can still bite us from time to time. This incident reinforced the importance of training, practice and our commitment together to continue developing our skills.

For this event, and a few others not mentioned, I award my wife the "Perfect Passenger" merit badge. In 4 months I/we have logged over 14,000 miles, over half riding two up, on the interstate and twisties. We have ridden the Tail of The Dragon and the surrounding area together, enjoying it immensely by communicating and riding as a team. She has started riding parking lot practice with me to help polish the skills required to keep both of us safe. We have an agreement to speak openly with each other about events and conditions surrounding our rides without either taking offense. My wife is and should be my best/hardest critic because she is, after all, my co-rider and the "Perfect Passenger".