You’ve all seen us on the highway in front of you, dressed in black leather, holding tight to our husband or boyfriend, pressed up against our backrests, long hair streaming out the back of our helmets. It might seem like we don’t have a care in the world, dubbed “fender fluff” as if we’re merely decoration. Passengers have the best view on the ride and much less responsibility than the motorcycle rider. However, there were still a few things I needed to learn when Frank and I started riding our Harley.
The first thing Frank told me when I jumped on our Road King was that communication was key to safety. Before he took off, he always checked to see if I was ready. When we stopped, I always checked with him before dismounting the bike. After clunking helmets together a few times, I realized that I needed to plant my feet on the floorboards and brace myself against his back when we stopped suddenly, or shifted gears. Therefore, I needed to be alert and aware of what was happening on the road so I could be prepared. Also I needed to be still, sit behind Frank’s profile, and not influence the balance of the bike.
Passengers realize these basics as they get more miles on their Harley. As we rode, I started wondering about other riding situations. Jim, our HOG chapter manager, helped me with some questions I had about passengers. Riders take riding safety courses, but passengers don’t have the opportunity. The first question I had was about curves. Many riders use body English, or lean deeply into tight curves. Jim told me that riders should not use aggressive movements like that with a passenger. Instead, they should both ride neutral with the bike, meaning your body centerline is equal to the bike’s centerline. However, the passenger should look over the rider’s inside shoulder as they go through the curves.
When they get ready to park the bike, I wanted to know whether it was better for the passenger to get down before the rider backs the bike into a parking space. Jim told me it depended on the situation. It is safer and easier to park a bike without a passenger, but if it is safe and more expedient for the passenger to remain seated, the passenger should wait. If there is a long line of bikes waiting to park, the passenger should get off.
On long rides, I had always thought that passengers got colder than the rider because they weren’t actively doing anything. Jim didn’t have any confirmation on that, but encouraged both the rider and passenger to wear heated gear as it keeps them both more comfortable and alert.
Passengers play an important part in the safety of a motorcycle ride. We need to pay attention to what is happening, and be prepared to react with the rider. When the rider and the passenger work together, their synergy makes them more relaxed and confident when challenging the open road.