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A Novice's Guide to Being a Good Motorcycle Passenger and Enjoying Yourself Along the Way

Updated on October 9, 2011
Narrow, scenic roads provide the best riding.
Narrow, scenic roads provide the best riding.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Reluctant would be the best word to describe what I was feeling. That and nervous. And a little bit scared. I had never been on a motorcycle for more than an hour-long trip, and here I was embarking on a week-long motorcycle adventure with my husband. Covering almost 2,000 miles from Phoenix, up the California coast to the wine country, and home over the Sierra Nevada's and into Las Vegas, this wasn't a trip for the faint of heart. Question was, was it for me?

I put a smile on my face because this trip was something my husband had been planning for months and was beyond excited about. Motorcycling is his passion, and I want to be a part of that. So here I was, jumping in with both feet.

Being new to this activity, there were a few important things I learned almost immediately. I wish someone had shared these suggestions with me before my first trip. If you too are a novice, the following is a list of my suggestions for making the most out of your adventure. It is by no means comprehensive, but it's a starting point.

Tips and Hints

1. Perhaps the most basic thing about motorcycling is getting on and off the bike. As a passenger, you need to make sure the driver is prepared for you to mount and dismount every time. Don't surprise the driver by getting on or off before he or she is ready. The driver needs to have both feet on the ground or you risk knocking the bike and the driver off balance.

2. After getting off the bike, wait for the driver to dismount before opening the side bags. I made the mistake of opening one of the bags immediately, unbeknownst to my husband, and as he dismounted, he kicked the top of the bag. Not a good thing. He loves his Harley and scratching it is a serious offense. Thankfully, no harm was done (even the second time I made this mistake), but it could've turned out differently. I may have been walking home.

3. Once on board, you want your presence to be as inconspicuous as possible. This means you need to move with the bike and the driver. On turns, look in the direction of the turn and lean ever so slightly into the turn. At first, your instinct may be to lean away from the turn, feeling that may counterbalance the bike. Bad idea. You need to make your body move where the driver's moves. Not doing so makes it harder for the driver to control the bike and maintain balance.

4. Of course you'll be wearing a helmet. Having an intercom system between driver and passenger is almost essential. Not only will you enjoy the ride more, as you can point out things of interest along the way, you can also communicate when you need a break, want a drink of water, or whatever. Get it installed enough ahead of time that you can practice using it. Some come with bluetooth and ipod capabilities, but using them on a moving bike takes a little getting used to.

5. Speaking of helmets, be sure to wear yours a bit before the first day out. They take a little getting used to. Even getting them on and off takes a little practice. Plus, the cushioned pads inside the helmet will begin to form to your head the more you wear it, making it more comfortable over time.

6. If you have medium-length or longer hair, it is more comfortable to wear something over your hair before putting on your helmet. That keeps your hair smoothed back and prevents that funny feeling when your hair gets crunched in a weird position. I wore a stretchy band (sort of reminiscent of an old tube top) made of lightweight fabric that I pulled up and over my head. My husband found it for me at a Harley store. Besides smoothing back my hair, it protected it from the wind. (If you leave your hair loose on a motorcycle, be prepared for a mess of tangles and a lot of damaged hair!)

7. Keep your camera handy. On our first day out, I carefully packed everything in it's place, only to have to stop within 30 minutes to dig out the camera. Motorcycling typically takes you on some scenic routes, so be sure you capture those amazing shots. You can tuck your camera in an easily accessible pouch, in a jacket pocket, or just hold it in your hand.

8. For safety, you will want to wear leather gloves. That can make it hard to manage your camera, however. I suggest you get a pair of gloves that don't cover your fingertips, or the kind that fold back so you more easily manipulate the camera.

9. Speak up! Passenger seats are often less comfortable than the driver's seat. That means you may need to stop more frequently for breaks than the driver might realize. Don't just "tough it out" like I was tempted to. Stop, stretch your legs, and enjoy the views. Motorcycling is not about the destination. It's about the trip. Some of the best moments come from the unexpected stops and the surprises you find along the way.

10. Resist the temptation to bring all your "cute" clothes and pack light. When motorcycling, practicality and safety win out over fashion, especially because space is at a premium. That's not to say there aren't cute motorcycle fashions out there, but if you're like me, at the end of a long day of riding, you won't care that much what you look like. You'll just want a great meal, hot shower, and a soft bed!

And in the End...

I can't say I am a totally converted "motorcycle mama," but after our week-long trip, I better understand the appeal of seeing the country on two wheels. It is amazing how much more you notice. You definitely get a better feel for the weather and you notice an amazing variety of smells. You aren't going to read or nap, like you might in a car. You have time to think and ponder. You travel the smaller roads and highways and stop in small towns you might otherwise drive right by.

The planning for the next bike trip has yet to begin. It is, however, only a matter of time. Next time I won't be reluctant, or nervous, or even scared. I will know what to pack and how to be a good passenger. And I will have just as much fun as the first time. Probably even more. I'm thinking Rocky Mountains?

Yep, I think I might like this after all.


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