BY EGLE GERULAITYTE
You think riding pillion is easy? Think again! Lynda Lahman and Beth Young have been riding, overlanding, and competing as pillion riders for years now; we talked to them about relationship nuances, keeping warm, and staying alert on the long stretches.
– What’s the hardest part about being a pillion passenger?
BETH: The most difficult aspect of being a pillion rider is having complete trust in the driver 100% of the time. Most of our time is spent off – road which requires even more trust. The difficult, changing and challenging road conditions require me to understand my partner’s body language and verbal cues. This requires a strong relationship and friendship with your pilot.
LYNDA: When we stopped competing I found myself getting bored on the back and feeling sleepy more often. I never felt sleepy when we were in events (competitive scavenger hunts essentially) but just sitting became hard over time. That’s when I realized it was time to get on my own bike; not due to need to be in control but a need to be more engaged.
– How do you handle team dynamics? Often, pillion riders get cold quicker than the pilots; a lot of women say they get hungry more often, too… little things like that can cause tension!
BETH: Ah, yes. I tend to take better care of myself on the bike than my partner. I wear warmer gloves, more layers if needed. Since my driver is my husband I understand him better than he sometimes understands himself! He will push himself to exhaustion if I let him. That could get us into some pretty dangerous off-road situations like he would not have the stamina to get us back safely. I know when he needs to eat, hydrate or may be overheating and encourage him to stop and hydrate, eat or cool off. Because I am watching for the guy that will get us where we are going, I make sure I am in good shape first. This allows me to care for his needs and to help keep him in prime shape and thus keep us safe.
LYNDA: I wrote a lot of articles about this! What I recommend is that the person driving gets the final say on all matters related to the safety of the bike: when to stop due to fatigue, what roads he feels comfortable driving on, speed, etc. After that, if he wants it to be successful he should learn to listen to you regarding comfort. He is riding in a bubble of air that you aren’t in, and the temperatures are very different. I’d get cold well before Terry, and we both had to learn that I had to speak up and he had to listen. I got more heated gear than he needed (pants, jacket, gloves and even socks) because I’d freeze. We wired the bike, so I had full control of my gear. I had snacks I could feed him while riding (he got hungrier before me) but also ones I could eat when I got hungry. As pillion, I could take care of getting those things while he kept his eyes on the road.
– Do you ever miss some alone – time? Riding pillion often means you and your partner are together 24/7!
BETH: At times, but I have never been a rider myself. Well, unless you counted a few years as a mini bike rider. We do have full-time jobs, so we are apart most of the week, and riding together gives us great quality time. We share and have learned so much about each other while on the bike!
LYNDA: We live in 380 square feet in an RV and both work at home! But I need a lot of downtime despite him being my favorite person to be with. So downtime was something I had/have to ask for, whether silence on the bikes or spacing out at home. If we stopped for the night at a hotel or camping, I’d just ask for time to read, take a bath, and so on. He gets it because he’s introverted so doesn’t need a lot of conversation.
– Can riding pillion improve your riding?
BETH: I don’t ride on my own.
LYNDA: I cannot emphasize how much I learned without realizing it riding over 140,000 miles on the back. I learned how the bike handled in a huge variety of situations, what I didn’t need to be scared of and how it reacted in rain, slush, and heat. I learned how Terry thought and made decisions, and much more fully understood how the bike worked. I have an internal sense of riding in the wind, of passing semis in different conditions, of hitting gravel, and so on. I still had to learn a lot when I got on my own, but I feel like I started ten steps ahead of someone who had never ridden pillion.
– Have you ever experienced ‘pillion prejudice’?
BETH: I have not. When riding on a touring or sports bike, it never bothered me. There were just too many people that rode two – up. Switching over to a big adventure bike and riding in dirt three years, yeah, I felt maybe people thought that I should be riding on my own. But we can do almost anything that solo riders can do and go anywhere they go. After three years, I just don’t care what other riders think about us riding on one bike!
LYNDA: The long distance community has never treated any pillion as ‘just a passenger’ and often holds them in higher esteem since they can’t imagine riding there themselves. But I do think there are a lot of folks who are dismissive, call it the ‘bitch seat’ and pressure you to ride on your own. My pressure was more internal than external although I had a couple of friends who kept asking me why I didn’t get on my own before I did. But there are a lot of women who just prefer being with their partner and have no interest, for a variety of reasons, for riding solo.
– What’s the best thing about being a passenger?
BETH: That’s a great question. I am a type A personality and have an extremely demanding job. Being a passenger allows me to disconnect, be in nature with the wind in my face. I love nothing more than riding 2Up. I feel exhilarated, refreshed, and at ease after a great day of riding. Any rider knows that feeling, right?
LYNDA: We’re going to Europe for over three weeks in May, and I will be on the back due to many reasons, including cost. But a lot of my friends who ride solo opt to do the same when in foreign countries for similar reasons: I can be the navigator in strange places, I can help more with signage and language issues, I can be a second set of eyes, and I get to take in the scenery in a different way than when I am the one driving. I can look longer, in more detail that I can when driving. I also like the connection with Terry when we are on the same bike, the physical closeness.
More about Beth’s off road adventures: 2 Up Together and Facebook
Lynda Lahman has a private practice as a Mental Skills Coach helping athletes, including motorcyclists, break through mental barriers to reach peak performance, get back after injuries, and find pleasure in their sport. She is now the only person to complete the eleven-day Iron Butt Rally as a pillion (twice) and as a solo rider (once). She is the author of four books; her most recent release is ‘The Women’s Guide to Motorcycling’. Lynda wrote a regular column in the print version of the Iron Butt Magazine.