Consider the typical BMW jockey.
Though a substantial proportion of roundel riders find satisfaction in high speeds, long distances, and shaving their eyebrows against the ground while carving turns (or a combination of the three), it cannot be denied that the majority of their runs end in places where the sunset, the sunrise, the moon rise, or the stars are without parallel as romantic fire-starters. This is unimportant to those Beemer pilots who are engineers, like most of the guys I ride with in the Mac-Pac (the chartered BMW Motorcycle Owners of America club, located in eastern Pennsylvania), who would insist on converting romantic opportunity into data.
Others, like the musicians, artists and writers of that group know a good thing when the see one.
These individuals challenge the concept of riding alone as the best approach to biking. In my youth, the ultimate form of personal gratification on a motorcycle was achieved in a tent, after a day of emotionally stimulating riding, by sharing the event with a significant other, who’s riding leathers (scented with a fant trace of perfumed sweat) then doubled as evening wear.
While it is generally acknowledged worldwide that the BMW is a unique expression of mechanical perfection, it has a low ranking among motorcycles with established reputations of attracting potential significant others on site. (This is probably due to the fact it is the preferred vehicle of engineers everywhere.) As a result, Beemer riders who do not want to ride alone must start each trip with a companion. These companions come in two categories: those who have their own bikes; and those who must ride on the pillion.
Women who ride BMWs are most likely to have extraordinary skills, like superheroes. They will have lightening-like reflexes, incredible organizational abilities, x-ray vision (fully capable of finding the smallest character flaws in men), and an uncanny sense for detecting falsehood. (It’s odd how potentially significant others with these highly desirable qualities find men like myself utterly unacceptable.)
The second kind of companion -- pillion riders -- may have all of these qualities, but they are tempered with an unfathomable degree of trust. This works better for fast-talkers and snake oil merchants like myself. Yet this trust does require the rider to be thoroughly capable of transporting a person on the pillion safely, under all kinds of circumstances. If you are new at this or a re-entry rider, getting hours of practice with someone on the pillion can be tough, especially if the practice pillion rider is sane, sober, or not in coma.
I was a re-entry rider in the most basic sense of the word. In my case, “re-entry” referred to materials in space hitting the atmosphere at speed. Many of my bike trips ended with sparks and parts of the bike (notably the brakes) glowing red. One ride terminated in a huge hole in the garden. (I referred to this as a “near miss.” I was impressing the young divorcee next door with my turning ability, and missed the driveway.) It was impossible for me to find a willing participant required to gain valuable pillion-related riding experience. So I developed the “Jack Riepe Method of Learning How To Ride Two-Up -- By Yourself.”
One of the most challenging aspects of learning how to ride with a passenger is the addition and distribution of more weight on the back of the motorcycle. Slow turns and maneuvers that wouldn’t ordinarily cause you to think twice create new resistance, occasionally made more complicated by a natural tendency for the pillion candy to scream out in terror, or to grab you by the throat in moments of perceived unsteadiness.
My solution was to replace the unpredictable nature of a real pillion rider with simple weight on the back. This sounds easier that it actually is. My first experiment in this area was to load 150 pounds of free weights into my 1995 K75’s stock BMW top case, which was additionally secured to the rear rack with 50 bungee cords.
I took a few tentative turns, carefully noting how the additional weight was canceled out by the laws of physics. But I was amazed at how much additional braking effort was required.
A fast take-off at a traffic light, however, launched the top case backward. The weights gave the box enough mass to fully extend the bungee cords so that it reached the windshield of the car behind me. Sensing something was wrong, I tapped the brakes just hard enough to give the bungee cords the right degree of incentive to retrieve the case, which propelled me through the the windshield of my Parabellum fairing.
I do not recommend this method.
A marginally more successful approach was to tie three 50-pound bags of dry dog food onto the back of the bike. The semi-flexible nature of these heavy-paper containers gives you more options with fastening them onto the luggage rack and the frames that normally hold the side bags. Fifty-pound bags of dry dog food can be purchased just about anyplace for a few bucks, and you can donate them to the local animal shelter when you are done.
Roaring out of the driveway, I couldn’t help but notice how the more uniform distribution of the weight on the bike greatly contributed to its handling. The two 50-pound bags that were tied down low -- to simulate lower body weight -- gave a more accurate representation of a rider’s legs and lower torso. I took off for a 75-mile test run through varied traffic conditions.
A light drizzle started to fall and the water-soaked bags yielded to vibration at the lash points. They tore and began dumping dog food on the road. By the time I got back to the garage, I had a pack of some 18 strays hard on my trail. One bag of dog food was the kind that made gravy when mixed with water. Half my bike was covered in brown soup and smelled like liver. While dogs can apparently snack on the fly, they have to stop to take a dump. All 18 found my open garage handy for this.
Not inclined to give up, I went with “Plan C.” The wilting economy has been hard for a lot of retailers, and many are going belly up. One such ill-fated company sold me a mannequin right out of their front window. About 5’8” tall, the terra cotta woman was exactly the right height and weight for this specialized application, with pose-able arms and legs to boot!
The mannequin made the perfect pillion rider. It enabled me to design the "ideal" woman,
dress her up like I preferred, and add the perfect fashion accessory -- a gag -- to minimize criticism.
(Illustration by Loren Ellenberg -- Click to enlarge)
For once in my life, I could design my ultimate dream-girl pillion rider. I outfitted her in designer sweat pants and a tight halter top. Using a kid’s paper transfers, I gave her a “tramp stamp” tattoo that spelled out my name in bold letters. She came with a reddish-brown wig that I combed into a pony tail. The mannequin sat tall in the saddle and I used five or six coils of rope to secure her to the top case. There was only one thing missing. Since this had become pure fantasy, I tied a gag around her mouth to remove myself from criticism.
We were on the road ten minutes later.
This was pillion-practice realism’s finest hour. I cut turns tighter than a violin string and was able to experience the closest thing to having a real passenger aboard. Sitting in traffic, some folks waved and guys blew their horns. The mannequin leaned with the bike and behaved perfectly. Things were going exceptionally well when I noticed the flashing red and blue lights of a police cruiser, attempting to pull me over.
The cop got out of the car, carrying the mannequin’s head, which had come off when I hit a bump.
“I think this is hers,” said the cop, handing me the missing part. “I heard it was nearly impossible for you Beemer riders to get a date but this is really pushing it, don’t you think buddy? What kind of engineer are you?”
This story appeared in the current issue (May 2009) of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America's Owners News. It was supposed to run with an illustration by a very talented artist, Loren Ellenberg, neice of the Jim Ellenberg I occasionally ride with. The story ran in a very artistic presentation, though in a small, gray-colored typeface that some found difficult to read. I have opted to re-run that story here, with the original illustration.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)