As a couple, touring two up is a hugely rewarding and once you’ve got over the initial unfamiliarity, it embodies the essence of teamwork, of compromise and gives and take. To combine a passion for travel and bikes with the person you love is an empowering and humbling experience and well worth the effort.
Behind every good rider…
The long overland trip is not just the province of solo riders; two-up couples of pretty much whatever age have successfully ridden around the world or trans-continental journeys. And whilst I rarely ride two-up now, when we started our motorcycle adventures, I was on the back.
Don’t think that because you are riding two up, you have to stick to tarmac roads. Whilst it might feel a bit unnerving to ride on unpaved surfaces, this can be done. Sure, it takes a lot more out of you and the rider, but it is not impossible. In 2003, Kevin and I completed the full length of the Dalton Highway two-up on the Trans Americas Guinness World Record™. Back in those days that was an 800-mile return journey on gravel and muddy roads. Whilst, I wouldn’t recommend it for your first time, the point is it can be done two-up.
If you’ve never undertaken a two-up journey before, then a good briefing from your rider before you start is essential. Kevin walked me around the bike first, so I had a basic understanding of the essential bits of the bike and we also discussed the modifications he was doing to the bike, to get it ready for carrying me and all our gear; that way I felt a part of it before I was even on the bike. We also made sure that I was kitted out well so that I didn’t suffer from the cold or wet or ill-fitting gear.
On and Off
There are two main ways to get on: keep your left foot on the ground and either swings your right leg over or you lean back and step across the middle of the seat.
The other one is to use the foot-peg a bit like a riding stirrup to hoist yourself up. Your method is determined as much by your height, weight, leg length, physical flexibility, size of bike and whether there are panniers.
I learnt never to get on or off until Kevin had both feet firmly planted and gave the OK. Once dismounted, I would always walk to the back of the bike where I would hold it as he got off; a small thing, but it really helps after a long day of riding.
Once on the bike, I remember my first tendency was to encircle Kevin like a boa constrictor, but this very quickly disappeared as I started to rack the miles up. Kevin felt no need to attempt to impress me with super speeds, wheelies, or knee down antics in turn, I followed his advice about leaning with the bike and not to fidget or make sudden movements when he was at slow speeds or coming to a stop.
My pillion riding became so relaxed that I didn’t even feel the need to hold anywhere, my arms loosened up to rest on my own legs, as my thigh grip naturally held me where I wanted to be and I would keep an eye on the road ahead to read what was coming and be ready to lean easily into the corners or naturally steady myself for junctions.
Sharing is Caring
As you get more experienced on the back, the more you can share the workload of the journey too. For me, this is what makes riding two up a special experience, especially when you are with your partner. Navigating, taking photos, feeding and watering the rider, a few massages (maybe not always appropriate!), paying for tolls and petrol, changing money at borders, keeping important documents, all become part of the pillion routine.
It is quite popular to use an intercom system, but equally many two-up riders don’t like it and create their own system of comms. We developed our own discrete signals and I became skilled at understanding where he needed his full concentration and I shouldn’t distract him.
- Get the rider to wear a small hydro pack (eg Camelbac) so you both have access to water and you can keep sweets, coins (for tolls) and other useful bits easily accessible in the pockets.
- Work out your communication. It is quite popular to use an intercom system, but equally many two-up riders don’t like it and create their own hand and/or squeeze system of contact.
- Agree on what the days ride is going to entail, approximate total miles, possible breaks and lunch point, so you set off with a similar expectation.
- Avoid being made to wear any rucksack; even one that you think is relatively light as it will get to your shoulders and back eventually.
- Have a digital camera handy in a waterproof pocket and practice taking shots on the move.
- Relish your solitude on the bike. You can use your time to plan for the future, mull over the past or just to blank out all the hassles of the modern world and think of nothing.
- If you are being expected to navigate, plot out the route before you start the day and get the map/sat-nav/smartphone lodged into position.
- It’s possible to do slow, gentle stretching exercises of arms, shoulders, legs, knees, back and buttocks, whilst on board to stop getting stiff or numb. Remember no sudden movements.