A Matter Of Trust.
I reckon the best pillion I’ve ever had would’ve been Daka. He was a wiry sort of bloke, maybe 5’11” who weighed next to nothing. He was a rider himself, rode a GPz-1100 B2 as I recall.
Alas, he was a bit naughty on one or two occasions and the powers that be told him he couldn’t ride (or drive) for a rather lengthy period of time.
Due to his enforced pedestrianism, I’d wheel around to his place at Loganlea sometimes on my K2 and give him a lift to work. He was good to have on the back, he knew how to get on and off a bike without wobbling it all over the place and quite often I didn’t even feel the bike settle on the suspension when he did get on.
A couple of times on the way to work, I had a lit smoke come around in front of me, it wasn’t a tailor-made either.
Daka had rollie manufacturing down to a fine art off the bike, and could roll a smoke one-handed in a few minutes. Rolling a smoke while riding along at 110 km/h (70 mp/h) wasn’t really much of a challenge for him, he just had to use both hands.
Sometimes on our 60km (38 mile) trip down to Southport, I’d look in the mirror only to see him asleep on the back. Only his legs and core supported his weight, he rarely if ever held on to the grab rail, or me. I never had to compensate for him when we were cornering and I never had to tell him what was about to happen.
He just knew, and he trusted me and my ability as a rider.
I haven’t spoken to, or seen Daka in nearly 20 years, but was reminded of him when I was writing last weeks post, specifically the bit about trust.
Trust is a three-way street, I mean, have you ever thought about how much trust you put in your machine?
Those two-wheel sleds are designed to go, stop and do everything in between. We put a lot of faith into the engineering that goes into their design and trust that they will do what they are designed to do.
I read somewhere once that a bike will out perform its rider almost every time it’s on the road, it’s only the rider that limits the bikes performance.
So what about your pillion, who do they trust?
When they get on your bike, they put all of their faith in your abilities and trust that you won’t do anything stupid. They put their lives in your hands every single time they get on the back, and I’ll freely admit it’s not something that I could do easily again after so many years being on the steering end.
I tip my hat to anyone that rides pillion regularly.
Who else do you reckon needs to be trusted?
Even though they can’t reach the ‘bars or manipulate the levers, pillions can have a great deal of influence on how a bike behaves. The most obvious influence will be the extra weight.
Extra weight has the effect of loading up the suspension, which makes the bike react differently to what you’re probably used to when you ride alone. Even if you’ve dialed in the suspension to cater for this, the additional weight will still have an effect on the bikes handling.
It’s not just the additional weight either. Things like, if your pillion sits bolt up right will make the bike feel top-heavy. If they tend to lean back, on a back rest for instance, it can shift the weight and make the steering feel lighter.
If a pillion leans into a corner more than the rider, or sits up in a corner when they shouldn’t, it can have a devastating effect on where the bike ends up. Even a simple wiggle at the wrong time to get more comfortable can upset a bike, making it difficult to control.
So what makes a good pillion?
Daka was obviously a great pillion, but he knew bikes because he rode one himself.
A rider can do things to make the whole pillioning experience a pleasurable one. Like working out some hand signals before you set off. That way both of you know what to expect when you get a tap on the leg or back.
Hand signals don’t have to be too elaborate, something like:
- A tap on the riders right shoulder means the pillion is set and ready to go after mounting the bike.
- A tap on the pillions right leg means you can get off now (dismount).
- The rider tapping the pillions left leg and pointing to the riders waist means pay attention/ hang on (corners coming or hard acceleration/ braking etc…)
- A tap on the riders left leg might mean can we stop somewhere.
There are others too:
- A quick jab to the pillions ribs with the elbow. Don’t sit up in the corners!
- Frantic belting on the riders helmet by the pillion… Slow down, oh boy are you going to cop it when we stop, I’m catching a cab home you maniac.
OK, so the last two are tongue in cheek, but you get my point.
One of the biggest problems most new pillions have is that they tend to head-butt the rider, and this is as much the fault of the rider as it is the pillion.
On one hand the rider needs to be smooth when accelerating, changing gears and when on the brakes. While the pillion needs to brace themselves with their knees (squeeze in) and use their core to control their upper body.
Where a pillion holds on to a rider can have an a major effect too.
Putting their hands up high on the riders torso or shoulders will put extra weight on the riders arms and wrists when going down hill or slowing down, making it harder to control the bike. Effectively the rider is holding not only their own weight, but the pillions weight as well.
If the pillion has to put their hands anywhere it should be low down on the small of the riders back or holding the grab rail. This way if there is some weight transfer, it’s not all focused on the riders upper body.
Pillions need to be aware of whats going on around them at all times and not drift off into “Oh look at the pretty view” land. This is especially true in traffic or when riding a mountain road.
I think the key though, is for the pillion to remain relaxed, trust the machine and it’s rider. Let the bike move under them and don’t panic if they feel a bit of a wallow or if the bike tips into a corner a little more than they expected it to. The rider won’t do anything to put their pillion or themselves in a dangerous situation intentionally.
Likewise, the rider has to trust their bike, their own abilities and that their pillion won’t panic in a tricky situation. Its a matter of trust all around really.
P.S. For the record, I gave the smokes away when The Pillion In A Million was born and have only picked them up once since for “educational purposes” when she was 16… but that’s a story for another time.