Jul 18, 2010

Passengers and Passengers

A while ago, I wrote a section of the MMSC website that was clearly not PC enough for the state folks. One of the things I suggested in the website was that those considering becoming a motorcycle passenger look at the motorcycle rider as someone who has his hands on the passenger's life support equipment. If you wouldn't trust that guy with your oxygen, you shouldn't get on a bike with the dude. I don't know when, but the site removed my comments and replaced them with something a lot less critical. The folks who promote motorcycling don't want potential customers to worry about piddly things like safety and reasonable precautions.

I'm getting a dose of my own medicine as I write the beginning of this column. I'm on my 2010 Rocky Mountain Tour with my grandson, Wolfgang. My kids are the most precious people in my life. Having one of them on my motorcycle is both incredibly fun and scary.

Considering all of my deficiencies, I'm a fairly confident rider on my own. I screw up, but rarely badly. When I'm into a long-distance solo trip, I take some chances on speed, location, isolation, and communications. I might change directions, go someplace I hadn't considered or mentioned in my original plans without notifying anyone. I might get bored on a long stretch of repetitive terrain and drop the hammer on the bike and ride flat out for a while. I don't ride at night much these days, but I might do that under some conditions. I get downright mechanical about my routines, especially maintenance. That goes to hell when I just ride somewhere with someone else.

With Wolf on the bike, all of the above becomes well-deformed. We call in regularly and I tell his mother where we're going next. I'm riding like an old lady, by my standards of speed, cornering style, and patience. The tires have serious chicken-strips with the side-nubs barely worn. I would have to call my riding style these last 3,600 miles "conservative." If you know me, you know that ain't braggin'. I'm cautious about where we camp or stay. I stick to the planned route as well as I'm able. We pass cool looking side-routes that I'd jump into without question on my own. We might have taken 200 miles of dirt roads this trip. My usual ratio would be more like 25-50% of the overall trip on dirt roads and trails.

I assigned maintenance to him, because it keeps him busy, gives me a little breathing room, and it's "educational." It takes one task away from my list and he is solidly responsible. He did more than a competent job of it.

Still, riding with a precious passenger is a load. Not the weight he adds to the bike. Not the extra emotional energy it takes to travel with someone else. Not even the fact that he's a teenager with a kid's wildly varying energy and interest levels. The load is the responsibility to take this boy to every place we've talked about going and doing it safely. Motorcycling is a risky activity. We all know that. Anyone pretending that riding a motorcycle is in any way as safe as driving a car is someone you shouldn't trust with sharp objects, significant financial assets, or critical decisions.

There are rewards, for sure. I suppose most risky activities have rewards. All of the ones I've indulged in have had upsides that made the risk worth taking; at least at the time. When you spread that risk to someone else, you have to step into another role, though.At least, you ought to. You should care enough about that person to lower the risk factors as far as practical, while still having some fun and getting somewhere. It's a different mind-set than solo traveling. In our case, it was more than worth it. We had a great, safe, adventurous trip and we both came back in one piece. Now, I need a nap.


  1. Glad you both made it. I hope it was fun!

  2. Tom,

    I couldn't agree with you more. The 'driver' has your life in her/his hands, & if you don't recognize that as a passenger, I guess you'd deserve to be part of the population cleanup by become road kill.


  3. I agree 100%. Good post! Even when driving my car, if I have family aboard I ratchet my caution and concentration up a couple of notches, I take safer routes, and I don't take chances. And now that my kids are teens I also use a car trip as an opportunity to point out to them what I am doing and why I am doing it in order to keep everyone safe.

  4. Molly,

    It's true. And it's scary how often people ignore this out of convenience, peer pressure, or foolishness. You see passengers of all stripes--adults, children, men, women, experienced and inexperienced riders--on the back of bikes without proper gear, with an obvious lack of training in the responsibilities of passengers, and in obvious danger because of the lack of skill or carelessness of the rider. It does seem like a Darwin moment, as brutal as nature may be.


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