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Two-Up or Two Down?

Two-Up or Two Down?
1/180th Aviation
Kansas National Guard
Topeka, Kansas

I was raised in the country, where the lack of immediate entertainment left most of us kids looking for hobbies. Mine was motorcycles. I started riding at the young age of 5, and by the time I was 8, I’d worked myself up to the Honda XR75.

We were fortunate to live where we did. The area had a lot of wide-open space and a neighbor who owned a bunch of land. Lucky for me, he also loved motocross and built a professional track on his back 40 acres. That would become my practice track, allowing me to progress my skills through daily rides.

As I grew older, I still enjoyed motocross, but I liked girls even more. And what do teenage girls like? That’s right, motorcycles! So, at 17, I purchased a GSXR 750. I knew the GSXR’s capabilities, so when I first got my hands on the bike, I told myself that I was just going to cruise it. That was short lived, though. As I became more familiar with the bike, my respect for it faded. I was soon curbing the bike every chance I got, doing wheelies on the interstate and bouncing through intersections on my front wheel. Believe it or not, I never laid down the bike, which only added to my lack of respect.

One beautiful summer evening, I decided to go to a party with friends. I knew there would be girls there, so I rode my motorcycle. At the time, the movie Top Gun had set the standard for personal protective equipment when riding a bike. According to Tom Cruise, all you needed was sunglasses. So that’s what I wore.

I hadn’t been at the party very long when one of my friends said she needed to go to the store a few miles away. Rather than have everyone move their vehicles so she could get out of the driveway, I agreed to give her a ride on my motorcycle. I never asked if she had ever been on a bike. In fact, I really didn’t give it any thought. (I later discovered she’d never been a passenger on a bike. That will soon play an important part of this tale.)

We left the party and headed toward the store. We were in no hurry, so the ride there was pretty uneventful. The ride back, however, was a different story. As we rode down the road at 40 mph, she whispered into my ear, “What does this thing got?” At that exact moment, a little devil appeared on my shoulder and said, “Let’s show her!”

I didn’t roll the throttle — I hammered it to the full open position. The GSXR didn’t let me down either, giving me all she had. Caught up in the moment, I didn’t realize I had already made several mistakes such as failing to account for the additional weight on the back of the bike. I was quickly reminded when the GSXR’s front wheel left the ground. Fortunately, I quickly regained control of the bike. That misstep should have been a sign that bad things were to come, but I ignored it.

The speedometer shot up the dial as we flew down the road. Despite the fact that it was dark outside, I was still wearing my Top Gun PPE, which is probably why I couldn’t see the approaching curve in the road. When I realized what was ahead, I went into a lean. I thought I had enough to make the curve, but this is where my passenger’s lack of motorcycle passenger knowledge and my failure to brief her comes into play.

As I leaned the bike into the curve, she did the exact opposite, leaning hard to the outside. This caused my bike to respond in a manner that wasn’t consistent with the hundreds of curves I had taken in the past. It quickly became obvious we weren’t going to make it, so I rolled the bike up straight so no one went top side. With limited options, the ditch was going to be our next destination.

As the bike shot into the ditch, my motocross experience helped but didn’t completely save the day. We entered the ditch to the sound of dual hydraulic brakes locking up and were immediately surrounded by a dust cloud. The rest is just of blur of sights and sounds as the bike made its way through the ditch. When we finally came to a stop, we were scared to death and thankful to be alive. I must have looked real cool standing there in that dust cloud, still wearing my sunglasses. Fortunately, no one was injured.

I learned some important lessons that day. Obviously, my thoughts on PPE and safe riding have changed drastically since my teenage years. I also gained a better understanding of how important it is that both operator and passenger are knowledgeable and comfortable with two-up riding. Had I worried more about safety than trying to impress a girl, I might have avoided an incident that could have seriously injured us both.


Before putting a passenger on the back of your bike, consider the following guidelines from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation:

Legal Considerations
1. All state laws and requirements for carrying a passenger must be followed.
2. Some states have specific equipment requirements. Examples: the motorcycle must have passenger footrests, passengers must be able to reach the footrests, and a motorcycle must have a separate seating area for a passenger.
3. The decision to carry a child, assuming all safety and legal factors have been considered, is left to the parent or guardian. Ensure that the child is mature enough to handle the responsibilities, tall enough to reach the footrests, wears a properly fitted helmet and other protective gear, and holds onto you or the passenger hand-holds. Check your state’s laws; a few states have set minimum ages for motorcycle passengers.

Operator Preparation
1. Passengers should be considered as a second “active” rider so they can help ensure that safety and procedural operations are correctly followed.
2. A passenger will affect the handling characteristics of a motorcycle due to the extra weight and independent motion.
3. A passenger tends to move forward in quick stops and may “bump” your helmet with theirs.
4. Starting from a stop may require more throttle and clutch finesse.
5. Braking procedures may be affected. Braking sooner and/or with greater pressure may be required.
6. More weight over the rear tire may increase the usefulness and stopping power of the rear brake, especially in quick stop situations.
7. Riding on a downgrade will cause braking distance to increase compared to a flat surface.
8. Extra caution is called for in a corner because of the extra weight. Cornering clearances may be affected.
9. More time and space will be needed for passing.
10. The effects of wind, especially side wind, may be more pronounced.

Motorcycle Preparation
1. The motorcycle must be designed to accommodate a passenger.
2. The motorcycle owner’s manual should be reviewed for manufacturer’s tips about motorcycle setup as well as any related operational recommendations.
3. The motorcycle’s suspension and tire pressure may need adjustment.
4. Care should be taken to not exceed the weight limitations specified in the owner’s manual.

Passenger Preparation
1. Passengers should be tall enough to reach the footrests and mature enough to handle the responsibilities.
2. Passengers should wear proper protective gear.
3. Passengers should receive a safety briefing (see No. 7 below).
4. Passengers should consider themselves a second operator and share responsibility for safety.

General Safety Considerations
1. You need to be experienced in the motorcycle’s operation and have a safety-oriented attitude before taking on the added responsibility of carrying a passenger.
2. Practice low-speed clutch/throttle control as well as normal and emergency braking in a low-risk area like an open parking lot, with a passenger.
3. Use caution in cornering and develop cornering skills over time to ensure passenger comfort and safety.
4. Use caution in corners as clearance may be affected.
5. Use MSF’s Search, Evaluate, Execute strategy (SEESM) to increase time and space safety margins.
6. Allow time for a passenger to adjust to the sense of speed and the sensation of leaning; speeds should be conservatively safe and reasonable until a passenger acclimates to the proper riding techniques.
7. Ensure passengers follow safety procedures:
    a. Complete personal protective gear is properly in use.
    b. Hold operator’s waist or hips, or motorcycle’s passenger hand-holds.
    c. Keep feet on footrests at all times, including while stopped.
    d. Keep hands and feet away from hot or moving parts.
    e. When in a corner, look over the operator’s shoulder in the direction of the corner.
    f. Avoid turning around or making sudden moves that might affect operation.
    g. If crossing an obstacle, stand on the pegs with the knees slightly bent and allow the legs to absorb the shock upon impact.
8. Allow more time for passing.
9. Be ready to counter the effects of wind.
10. Avoid extreme speeds and dramatic lean angles.
11. Be ready for a passenger “bump” with their helmet or with their whole body sliding forward during hard braking.
12. Have the passenger mount after the motorcycle’s stand is raised and the motorcycle is securely braced. Hold the front brake lever if the surface isn’t level.
13. Have the passenger dismount first.
14. Annually complete a Basic RiderCourse 2 – Skills Practice with a passenger.
15. Have frequent passengers complete a Basic RiderCourse so they can better understand the operator’s task.

  • 1 June 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 13464
  • Comments: 0