Precarious Passenger | MEGAPHONE

Observations From the Back Seat

Elsewhere in this issue you’ll read about BMW’s K1600GTL Exclusive, a motorcycle equipped to offer its passenger the utmost in luxury.

Ducati also has an exclusive bike that was specially developed to accommodate a passenger, but comfort didn’t factor into the equation for the MotoX2 machine. A thinly padded seat molded into the carbon-fiber tail section and a grab handle bolted to the tank is all you get on this 240-hp Desmosedici GP13 MotoGP bike.

I didn’t recline in the K16’s Barcalounger of a back seat, but I did get the opportunity to slot in behind former MotoGP racer Randy Mamola on the MotoX2 machine for a lap of Laguna Seca prior to last year’s MotoGP race.

I figured I was prepared for the ride. Randy is a professional, after all, and I’m an experienced track rider. I was calm when I hopped on the bike, but the butterflies started flapping in my stomach when Randy fired up the Ducati’s thunderous V-4. Randy carried a multi-gear wheelie off the line and then charged into turn two faster and deeper than I’ve ever dared, and I’ve turned dozens of laps at Laguna. Muscle memory allowed me to do the right things—keep my weight off of Randy and lean into the turns—but it was an assault on my senses. Mentally, I was coming unglued.

The rest of the lap was a blur of power wheelies and terrifyingly intense braking performed at ridiculous lean angles. I crashed my car into a dirt embankment when I was 17, but even that impact pales compared to how hard we shed speed on the Desmosedici. I screamed out loud when we dived over the hill into the Corkscrew, and by the time we banked through Rainey Curve I was ready to tap out. It took all the strength I had left to stay put when Randy did his signature stoppie on the front straight.

My MotoX2 experience was an extreme scenario for a passenger, but even a normal street ride can be unnerving. For those of us with experience at the helm, getting on the back seat is uncomfortable for the simple fact that we’re relinquishing control, and in doing so all the dangers of traveling on an inherently unstable and physically vulnerable machine become obvious. And that’s for those of us who know what to expect. For the uninitiated, the sensations we riders relish—those of quick acceleration and leaning through corners—can be quite frightening.

These issues were on my mind when I hooked a ride up 25 miles of Los Angeles freeway on the back of Associate Editor Zack Courts’ long-term KTM 1290 Super Duke R. Zack was riding very carefully—short shifting, braking gently, and turning slowly—but the movements still felt quick and abrupt to me. That’s just the way it is when you don’t have the bars to hold onto and aren’t the one manipulating the controls. I was Zack’s passenger because we were on our way to pick up a rented BMW R1200RT from MotoQuest (motoquest.com) that my wife Loren and I would ride to Portland, Oregon. My brief experience on the back of Zack’s bike was an excellent reminder of what it’s like to be a passenger, apt considering Loren was about to spend several days in that role.

These experiences with Randy and Zack reinforced for me the right way to ride with a passenger: just like you’re on wet pavement. That is, smoothly, with extra distance allotted to accelerating and braking. I scared myself silly on the back of the Desmosedici, but I knew (or thought I knew) what I was getting into. That’s a different kind of relationship than what you want with your passenger.