Let me start by saying although last year I passed my CBT and have a lovely Honda Varedero to my name the last time I went pillion was on a Suzuki GS550 in approximately 1990. At that time I could still easily achieve the crab position (remember that which we always tried out on a sunny day on the lawn followed by the obligatory kart wheel). Now I am proud to say I can touch my toes; however my dreams of supporting myself in a position where I can arch my back as far as to enable me to see the grass behind me are long gone.
Anyway back to the pillion experience. When the other half decided he was getting a bike did he get a lovely armchair like goldwing? – no. Did he get a beast of a Harley with big wide leather seat? – no. What did he get? A tiny cheetah like R1 with less than a postage stamp for a passenger seat raised as if a dias to recognise the elevated stupidness status of anyone daft enough to try and sit on the back.
You are elevated above the rider and feel like you have a neon sign saying look at me and make comment on how uncomfortable I look!! The pegs for the pillion look as if your knees will touch your ears, made for a frog not a human. There is nothing and I mean NOTHING to hold on to. As a none too flexible 47 year old I could not get on the back from the floor, I am 5ft 8 not 6ft 10 so could just not swing it that high. It took me a while to consider the options from getting on from the back of my Navara to leapfrogging over the back using a springboard like Olga Korbett. In the end I used the rider’s pegs like a stirrup for a graceful mount any horse rider would be proud of.
Once on, the pegs actually felt ok, the seating position whilst stationery was quite nice. I was looking forward to a relaxing waltz through the countryside of North Notts. the advice I was given was to place one hand on the tank to brace for braking and one to hold on to my pilot for acceleration.
Ok we are about to set off. Hand on tank – check hand holding tightly to the waistband of my pilot’s bike jeans – check. As we slowly accelerate off the drive all is good. It feels like no time at all since I was on the back of a bike. The first slow braking feels quite hard on the wrist but it must be the placement of my hand this cannot be right. I love the feel of a bike holding the road and naturally leaning into the corners – woohoo this is going to be cool. Acceleration is not a problem taking the pressure off the wrists and allowing me to straighten slightly so I only partially resemble quadsmodo in a hunched hunchback stance while stooping over.
As we manoeuvre out into the main road we descend a slight hill and I am glad I have spent the last 20 odd years of my life weight training. The intense pressure on my wrist when braking and going downhill is almost unbearable. This is counterbalanced by the feeling of being on the back of a bikeoin a warm summer evening with the sound of air through the helmet, something akin to the way I imagine a bird feeling soaring on high.
As we move into the country roads the tension in my shoulders gets tighter and the position begins to take its toll. I can see the seam of my pilot’s leather jacket up close and personal but little else. If I raise my eyes I can see the sky or if I look to the side I can see the blur if the world going by out of focus. I close my eyes and just go with the feel of the bike. I don’t need to see anything to enjoy this moment but the pain get stronger especially on the wrists and to try to see anything ahead means twisting my neck into a position only a heron or snake could easily twist their heads into.
We have to stop after about 4 miles so I can jump off, shake out the wrist, manipulate my neck back into position; and progress through the chain of evolution you may see on a Tshirt – from the cowering stance of an ape slowly rising into a fully upright human being. Ahhh that was good. Now back on it, it must be me that hasn’t worked it out, they (whoever they are) wouldn’t put a pillion seat on a bike that wasn’t designed for it would they? So now I try both hands on the tank double the surface area half the pressure, right? Well it didn’t feel like it. Now at this point I just have to say the pilot was doing a great job. With my eyes closed and an uncertainty as to whether I could stop myself jettisoning forward under breaking or gravity I had full trust in the pilot and their skills.
On the open stretches where we could apply the throttle the only issue was not becoming a sail or parachute braking system. I achieved this by hunching down behind the pilot who disappeared when lowering position to avoid drag. This again forced me to stare at that seam on the back of the jacket. I took a moment to think of the seamstress in China, maybe, who had sewn such a straight line of stitches in the black leather, very neat I could never dream of having such ability. When opening uptake bike the feeling was amazing, the fluid movement of the bike from side to side, the air rushing past and feeling of flying second to none. Only too soon we had to return to a more urban area and braking.
We made it home and it was one of those times when you don’t feel able to carry on and see something through to the end but as soon as it’s done you seem to forget the pain and hardship and hear yourself saying,” that was brilliant we should do it again”.
In summary, pillion on a bike is brilliant, the feeling is not duplicated anywhere else in life. However, sometimes bike designers should admit a bike is a one person creature. The false impression that someone can comfortably sit on the back of an R1 is tantamount to a falsehood unde the trade descriptions act. The bike itself is a thing of beauty and the handling felt amazing, the way it held the corners and sprinted away like a cheetah on a hunt then moved into a graceful lope was a great feeling.
Will I go on the back again, yes I probably will but if I’m off to the seaside it will be in the car. Short exhilarating rides rewarded by a mug of team and a butty of some type may be a goer, day tripping is a no no.
The strength of core helped a lot I think so don’t avoid the ab workout if you are thinking of pillion. Lower back strength too helps. A little more yoga and flexibility would be beneficial to standing up after.
Can anyone suggest a bike that is good for both pilot and passenger??
Happy biking. Stay safe.