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14th November 2003

Opinion: A New Point of View

Ever felt like you're not... quite... in... control? Emm's been getting a lot of that lately, and so would like to introduce you to a whole new perspective...

I have, recently, found myself looking at the world from a new perspective. Over someone's shoulder, from the pillion seat of a bike. This has given me time to reflect on many things - the colour of autumn trees, the quality of air in Englands' fine countryside, my pension, converting to another religion, checking up on my life assurance policies…

When circumstances allow, most of us would choose to ride their bike rather than be transported as a passenger. However, there are times when two-up makes sense -- such as there being no other way of getting two people from A to B. (One of your bikes is leaking all over the shed floor, perhaps.) Sometimes, it may be a case of simply deciding to save a few pennies by two people getting from A to B using just one petrol tank. (One of your bikes has just eaten a small mortgage payment by needing its wiring loom replaced.)

Any second now he'll have sweet-talked her onto the softly-sprung luxury that is a Jubilee's pillion pillow. Was this what happened to Emm?

But then there's that other reason… On dark moonlit nights, you transform into a masochistic, thrill-seeking mad thing, desperate for intravenous adrenalin rushes and new, but legal, ways to find an outlet for all that pent up aggression of the day. You hand your life over to someone who is already taking calculated risks on their own behalf to include the effects of adverse weather conditions, unreliable engineering, small furry animals crossing the road, crazy people in small boxes with four wheels and no recollection of the Highway Code or common road sense… you get the idea.

Not familiar to you? Ah - then you will be one of those 'I'll ride, you sit on the back' type people. For the benefit of those of you that haven't been 'on the back' for a while, let me jog your memories with the current Top 10 Topics that a Pillion Passenger Peruses….

1. 'Oh, what a joy it is getting your leg over.'
This should be the first thing on your mind when suiting up for a trip out two-up, as getting on the bike safely is an art form second only to the finer movements of a lesser known Outer Mongolian martial art. First of all, both you and the rider have to agree that the bike is stationary, stable and well supported. If it's not, then Mr G. Ravity steps in as you step up and the next step is usually to pick all three of you up off the floor. There also has to be a mutual agreement not to fix new obstacles to the back of the bike without telling your passenger first. Like sissy bars, top boxes, strategically placed bungees or (my personal favourite) camouflaged panniers which have a habit of turning the air blue, and your inner thigh several shades of mauve, green and aubergine…. to this I can testify only too well.

A white skirt? On the pillion of a Real Classic?2. 'Shouldering the burden of being upwardly mobile.
Ah yes, that unexpected surge of enthusiasm, usually in the presence of small Volvos with female pilots appearing from side turnings. The 'grabbing of a handful' by the rider more often than not translates into a sudden, upwardly mobile passenger. The end of this manoeuvre is signalled by the almighty 'thwack' of helmets colliding and the passenger briefly uttering a somewhat muffled prayer that both footpegs will hold up to the unexpected increase in downforce. There is no way to avoid this really, as you are mostly restricted in your ability to see into the future by not being able to see anything more than a large expanse of motorcycle jacket in front of you.

3. 'The Theory of Relativity and Black Holes.'
Speaking of views, if, like me, you tend to suffer from insatiable curiosity when not able to see where you are going, you will also have found that you should really keep your head ducked down behind the rider's shoulders at all times. Despite your helmet starting to vibrate with a resonant frequency of about 87dB to the pitch of E flat and a small Black Hole of tunnel vision appearing in front of you, peeking up over the rider's shoulder to see exactly what Warp Factor you've reached is not a good idea. In fact, my advice if you want to do this with any frequency, is to padlock your visor down before getting on the bike, as Warp 8 tends to take your breath away if you're not expecting a sudden intake of wind. Which brings me to another point. Perhaps not. RC doesn't need an 18 rating.

Poof Ran Pig End Tent4. 'Pigpen Tent DNA.'
Making anagrams out of BSI information written on the back of the rider's helmet is just one of a number of games that you can play to while away the miles. For those that need to know, there are 175 words larger than 3 letters that can be found within the two words 'Patent Pending.' Trust me. I know. I Spy, however is not so rewarding unless you have a fascination with the letters H or J. In which case, 'Helmet' and 'Jacket' are bound to be on your list of 'Most Wanted' items.

5. 'Favourite Characters from the Adams Family - Lurch.'
You're coming up to traffic lights, filtering to the front of the queue, and you pull up alongside Young Mr Pocket Rocket. Oh dear. You know what's going to happen next - and there's no way to prepare for it. You just have to hold on extra tight and squeeze anything that comes to hand. (Careful. This, in itself, can be Hazardous to Your Health.) Huuuurl yourself backwards and crack out three applications for whiplash as you noddy backwards and forward trying to catch up with the pendulum swing of the bike as it goes through into second gear and then forces you to luuurch back again as you try to keep up with the tail light of the small plastic jobbie that has faded to a pinpoint in the distance.

You can insert your own joke about being glad to see the back of The Toaster6. 'Trigonometry, Weights and Measures'
The art of being a 'good' pillion rider, I have been told, is simply to shut your eyes, sit still and hang on. This way, when the bike starts to go into any pitch away from the perpendicular you are able to 'go with the flow' rather than become a gyroscopic disadvantage for the pilot in front of you. Sometimes expressed in that immortal phrase… 'Oooh - that's an interesting angle of lean, dear.' Personally, I find that thinking about Isosceles triangles, quantum physics and the theory of centrifugal forces tends to avert my attention briefly from the sparks leaping up off steel toe capped boots. I have also been led to believe that pillion passengers increase road-holding and therefore improve a bike's stability and handling. This, too, is something to cogitate as exhaust systems scrape on roundabouts and car headlights appear not such much in the corner of your eye as blindingly close to your head despite it being firmly fixed between the shoulder blades of your pilot.

7. 'Housework'
There's nothing quite like a bit of polish. Fond of recycling old clothes as dusters, I have a Led Zep t-shirt somewhere that does wonders for my ample mantelpiece. However, after detailed analysis of my knees recently it has come to my attention that one of the major hazards of being a pillion rider is the fact that your knees stick out 2˝ inches further than the rider's. This leads to inevitable dusting of hedges, the back panels of Ford Fiestas, wing mirrors on 4x4 vehicles, brick walls when parking…

8. 'My Success on The Riverway Distance Diet.'
A new way of reducing your overall perceived body mass, used mainly at short notice to assist with getting through those uncannily small gaps that the bike seems to be aiming for. It's mainly body-part control - it's up to you to pick your own body-parts. I would recommend anyone starting out on this mass reducing exercise to begin by squeezing elbows, knees and sphincter muscles all at the same time. This should, of course, be accompanied by the deep bellowing of that unmistakeable signature cry of the 'Riverway Distance Diet' - 'Fa-aaar Canal!!'

9. 'Hot Legs.'
Exhaust Systems. Are Hot. And Boots Melt. 'Nuff said.

And finally...

10. 'Interesting Hand Signals.
I'm currently setting aside a part of each journey to work on a system of easily understood hand signals that can be instantly read by both rider and pillion alike. To date we have:

  • Tap on left shoulder - left turn coming up
  • Tap on right shoulder - right turn coming up
  • Hand waving towards front of bike - straight on please
  • Hand pulling gently back on either shoulder - slow down please
  • Squeezing knees - it's okay to go a bit faster - this can also be interpreted as 'Oooh that was fun, overtake something else!'
  • Flailing gloved hand smacking back of helmet - 'Oi, you moron, that was not funny, and I don't think I packed spare underwear in the panniers.'

    As a final thought for all 'riders': most passengers dismount with a certain amount of relief after the enjoyable journey / adrenalin rush / trip from hell, at not having had to concentrate on the road and traffic around them. We should be thankful. But it may just be worth noting that the amount of numb-bum-ness experienced by us passengers (I believe) is usually directly proportionate to the number of times our rider partially turns their head and mumbles words of wisdom at us, expecting complete comprehension of every 'Mnmph, mnoogle, mnum mphnum and Mnockboggle?'

    'Yes, dear.'

    (Nod head. Thwack Helmets. Shrug shoulders when he's not looking).

    The AMC Club are such sociable sorts that they have refined the method of 'buddy riding' to an art, and now dare not leave home without a chum apiece.

    Perplexed Pillioning?

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