Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Learning How To Ride Two-Up -- By Yourself

Motorcycling is the pursuit of life through motion, sometimes at speed, during which the sum total of one’s existence is defined in the conflict between centrifugal force and gravity. Most BMW-riding cognoscenti claim this is best regarded as a solitary pursuit. Even riding in a group, the decisions made by each rider reflect a solitary analysis of the road, weather, traffic, and other elements that impact safety and personal gratification. Yet the last category, personal gratification, is not by any means the least significant. It is exploring the parameters of personal gratification that we discover serious challenges to the notion that motorcycling is best enjoyed alone.

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?”

Author's Note:

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)


dave said...

I was about to venture over to Indy to look at a K1300GT as a replacement for the Goldwing - BUT - after reading your latest installment and watching the video clip there is only one logical conclusion.
Apparently only the shiniest Harley will do, especially since I am not an engineer :).

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dave:

Real men get the ladies regardless of the bike. I highly recommend usinf the "battered baby seal look" as a no-cost substitute for sincerety.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.


Unknown said...

Mr Jack r:
I'm still hung up on that part where the top box is stretched back to the car behind sort of like a sling shot. Actually when I saw your title I was hoping to learn some technical pointers.

You should turn this post into a cartoon, I'm still chuckling to myself . . .

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

You definitely need help if you are under the impression that I could offer anyone serious technical points. "Twisted Roasds," is exactly that. However, I will have a serious ride report and a "First Person" interview with a famous rider next week.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

sgsidekick said...

Terrific read, as usual! I'd've loved to have been there to see you receive the mannequin's head from the cops; I'm sure that would have been worth paying for!

Unknown said...

Mr Jack (small)"r" :

I also wanted to say something about that mannequin's head but modesty prevented my fingers from reaching the keyboard.

Instead of a porcelain mannequin, you should consider a latex model, one piece where the "head" does NOT detach. When you need the weight of a pillion, you merely FILL with Water, and when you reach your destination you empty the water and fill with Air. This way the mannequin could serve double duty (if you get my drift) . and after a long SOLO ride by yourself, who wouldn't need a little self satisfying company (JMHO)

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Grandad 43 said...

Jack, what a great piece of fiction.
You should take a look a movie entitled "Mannequin" as you would find a similar mind at work.

Grandad 43
PS 14

redlegsrides said...

I really have to pay more attention to the byline in the MOA articles Jack, I had read that article and while reading your blog posting thought that someone had stolen your stuff! Imagine my chagrin to discover it was your article in the MOA ON and I had not noticed.

As an aside though, my loving wife finally, after almost three years of my riding a motorcycle solo, told me she wanted to see how it felt to ride behind me as pillion. We just went around the block, at a slow putt, so no exciting events to report. However, it's a start. The bike, my R80 sure felt weird with my wife in the back....maybe we'll try the 1150RT next time she's feeling like as she put it "leaving our sons as orphans". I think she was kidding, or perhaps voicing her appreciation of the risks one takes on a motorcycle or more than likely commenting on my riding skills. : )

Electra Glide In Blue said...

You BMW guys I tell ya, I had to look it up "pillion", and this caught my eye...
Pillion-riding is associated with terrorist or criminal attacks in some South Asian countries.(duh)
Your post still has me roll'n on the floor........

Allen Madding said...

Another great tale. You should tip the artist handsomely as she portrayed you in a much slimmer manner leaving the casual reader without the notion that you could become stranded half dismounted from the bike in a parking lot.

I am shocked how ever to read that a Hondapotimus rider would even momentarily contemplate trading in the two wheeled version of the family minivan for a BMW or a Harley.


Anonymous said...

I can just see them for sale on-line and at all the motorcycle shops now. Heck, the MSF is probably trying to contact you now to place an order for their new Two Up Class.

The blow-up model might be a good idea as well, the mouth also serving as a deer warning whistle.

Reminds me of an Unknown Hinson song called Polly Urethane.

Ride on,

cpa3485 said...

Jack , sometimes you just wear me out.

Cpgnoscenti? Are you kidding? There's another damn word I felt inclined to look up in the online dictionary. I especially liked the part about the dogs eating on the fly. Too funny, another classic!

And thanks for putting me on your list. I go through life pretending I could even come close to your writing ability.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Electra Glide In Blue:

I'm glad my practical riding tips had the desired effect. In the future, I will cover things like practicing jumps in the driveway (using the neighbor's cat) and the art of the self-tattoo.

Thank you for reading my tripe and for leaving a coment.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

A lot of people missed my byline on that piece, which is why I decided to rerun it here -- along with that classic illustration which did not make it into print.

In truth, my pillion will forever remain vacant. I wouldn't put anyone at risk that way, and no one in their right mind would vounteer.

Thanks for reading and for writing a comment.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Grandad43:

As you are aware, there is never a dull moment here. I tried to dress Stiffie up like a mannequin and that came to a bad end. Pick a weekend and let's ride sometime in June.

Thanks for being a loyal reader and for sending in a comment.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sgsidekick (Tena):

It is always nice to hear from you. This story was different in that it was the mannequin that lost her head. Generally, when it come to hot women pillion riders, I lose mine.

Thanks for reading one more time and for putting your views online.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Allen Madding:

The artist sent me the illustration, cashed the check, and entered the witness protection program. Actually, she's a cute little number who figured she could take shots at the fat man with impunity.

She was right.

Thanks for reading my tripe and for sending on your viewpoint.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Torch:

You're almost as sick as Bobskoot. Can you imaging getting a vinyl doll and filling it up with water? It would surge and sag with each motion of the bike. Yet there is some satisfaction in the vision of Bob sitting up there in the Great White North, surrounding himself with cameras and blow-up dolls.

Thank you for reading and for sending on a nice note.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear CPA3485:

Here's my secret for great ride reports.
1) Get on bike...
2) Find hot female biker...
3) Follow her into bar...
4) Buy her an ice cream soda...
5) Ask her if she can tune up a K75 and if she would regard such a request as an unnatural act.
6) Write story.

The truth is that these damn things write themselves. How do I join your scooter club?

Thanks for reading this drivel and for writing in.

Fondest regards,

Conchscooter said...

I am trying to think of a line that involves a headless stiffy, but it just slipped the bungee cords and got away.

Baron's Life said...

In the real world, we call it Bitch riding...(More appropriate)
This was and is a very funny read, well executed. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conch:

Why is it a certain percentage of riders -- always men -- see things in sexual terms. While nothing makes me feel more relaxed than to deliver a good, pounding ride, throbbing with expectation, as my headlight probes forward, it is still just about the ride.

Thank you for writing in.

Fondest regards,


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Baron's Life:

I am delighted that you found some inner peace in my story, and pleased that you found it competently written.

Thank you for writing in and for continuing to read this tripe.

Fondest regards,

John said...

My wifes first ever motorcycle ride was on the back of my R60/6. I was dragging the engine guards on the entrance ramp to 395. When we got to our destination she was smiling ear to ear. I knew I had a keeper.

mtlcowgirl said...


You are no doubt the only male of the species I know whose idea of bliss is falling asleep in a tent as opposed to waking up in one.

I live for your posts.


Anonymous said...

Just checking.

Lauren Ellenberg said...

1) "Whose" not "who's"
2) You misspelled my name.

Otherwise, I'll keep the "don't put heavy objects in the tail-pack" in mind, as I just bought one for my Ninja today.


Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

I like the way you think of solo female riders! As one, I'll share my views with you when we met. Be preapred.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Loren:

Detals were never my strong point. Ride your bike over here to my house, and bring your Uncle Jim with you. I will cook up a storm for you guys and we can discuss the fate of thgis blog at the same time.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sojourner Rides (Sharon):

I look forward to meeting you in Tennessee. I will be the one with a bag on.

Fondest regards,

irondad said...

I can't believe that you have such imaginative ideas and yet can't figure out how to make money with them.

For example, you could arrange to give lady bikers their last ride. From morgue to grave. At least their heads shouldn't fall off.

Don't female drunks need a ride home? I bet a lot of them would even like the idea of being bungee corded to the bike. You know,
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me." Ball gags would prevent criticism.

You could arrange for doctors to send their constipated lady patients to you for a ride. Riding with you would scare the crap out of them. It might even be covered by Medicare!

Think big, man. When you're demented like us, the possibilities are endless.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Irondad:

A note from you is like getting a two week vacation at the seashore. The last time I encourage a drunk woman to get on the back of my bike was in 1976, when I was riding "The Widow-Maker," a deadly Kawasaki H2 750 Triple.

We were coming back from a saloon, roaring along in the dark, on a winding river road, full of deer, and she covered my eyes saying, "Guess who?"

I guessed quick with my elbow. That was Laura the Animal.

What a weekend!

Fondest regards,
Jack "r"