Guest Writer: Rider As Passenger

Jeannine has been a passenger since she was very young.
Jeannine has been a passenger since she was very young.

Finally! My daughter, Jeannine has submitted her first post. She has so much to contribute, being a longtime rider, recent MSF RiderCoach, track day control rider, industry professional, and of course my daughter.

Let’s see what Jeannine has to say about those times when she finds herself on the back of a bike, instead of in control behind the handlebars.

Being on the back stirs thoughts and feelings when you're a rider yourself.
Being on the back stirs unique thoughts and feelings when you’re a rider yourself.

Ever since I became a licensed motorcyclist, riding on the back has been a challenge because I’m not in control, eek! I also wonder what being on the back says about me as a rider to the general public. Although these are generally taken as negatives, I’ve learned that there are benefits to spending time as a passenger.


Riding on the back of a motorcycle, especially as an educated rider, means giving up a lot of control. For starters every motorcyclist knows the risk of swinging a leg over, so what about accepting the risks when someone else is controlling the handlebars?

When you get on the back,  you better be willing to trust them to make decisions that will protect both of you. When you look at the helmet (hopefully) in front of you, can you say you trust them with your life? If not then get off.

Especially as a rider, giving the control to someone else is the ultimate display of trust, something many people aren’t willing to do. It seems the more educated about riding you are, the more trust is required to get on the back. Ever see a girl jump on the back with some guy she just met? She probably has no real understanding of the consequences. There are only a handful of people I am willing to ride with and each has thoroughly proven their abilities, both through raw skill and the risk-evading decisions they consistently make.

Ken follows Jeannine on the track early in her riding career.
Ken follows Jeannine on the track early in her riding career.

What does it say about me as a rider?

The stereotype is that women and kids ride on the back. As a female rider, something tells me I don’t want to succumb to those expectations. If we pull up to a gas station and people see me on the back what will they think? It doesn’t likely cross their mind that I too am a competent rider. Imagine the look we get when passenger and rider switch!

Even as a rider I am often mistaken for a guy and I DO enjoy proving them wrong. Just the other day someone told Dad “That’s a really nice bike your buddy has”, imagine his surprise when the response was “That’s actually my daughter”. Although I have learned to care less about the opinions of the public, it’s always an itch in the back of my mind.

Is the passenger missing out?

My short answer is no, you are simply experiencing the ride differently. Imagine all those phenomenal views that you can’t fully absorb while you’re also paying attention to the road. On the back you can actually look around without having to worry about the oncoming car or the upcoming hairpin turn.

Being a passenger can be a terrific learning experience. photo: OnTrackMedia.


While sitting behind another rider, pay attention to how they handle traffic, negotiate curves and anticipate hazards. Use your time on the back to improve your own riding. It doesn’t mean you have to, or even should, handle a situation in the same way, but take advantage of the learning opportunity. Ask yourself if you would do something differently and then analyze why and how your strategy might turn out better.

Have you been a passenger lately? How does it feel?

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2 Replies to “Guest Writer: Rider As Passenger”

  1. Wow, Jeannine, you really nailed so much in that short post — about the gender of riders, the assumptions people hold, and the value of the experience as passenger when you’ve always had the controls. I took the back seat just last week for the first time in about three years (and only once before that). And who took the controls? Your Dad, the amazing mentor/teacher/coach/all around motorcycle guru. Let me explain.

    My husband, Tom, and I started riding in 2011. We bought our WeeStroms and then took the MSF training down here in Connecticut. Pretty cocky, eh? We were both in our late 50s then and I knew I would be bored silly riding on the back so I insisted on my own bike from the start. I had never ridden a motorcycle before.

    We’ve done over 22,000 miles so far (Nova Scotia, across country, West Virginia, and lots of local riding) but a few particular situations on the road continued to really cause me great anxiety — particularly hairpin turns that are ascending to the right. Argh! I would always end up in the on coming lane, stopped, or worse. So this spring when I saw Ken’s note about day long training, Tom and I decided to sign up. That’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    After our initial talk over breakfast at Elmer’s General Store in beautiful downtown Ashfield, we hit the DPW parking lot. No messing around. Right into those turns. Oy! Ken has so much insight and an amazing range of ways to explain how to do something. I was turning, making the largest S Boxes in history. So, at one point, he said in his gentle but commanding way, “Okay, scoot back and I’ll drive.”

    What! He wasted no time as the terror struck. I scooted back, he got on, we rode the smallest, tightest turns I had ever experienced. I was sure we were going to die! But he just kept going around in these beautifully controlled smooth turns with me on the back. I probably didn’t breathe even once. Well, he stopped, got off, and gave me back the controls. I was in shock. I had no idea my motorcycle could turn like that. What an experience!

    I can’t say that I immediately could maneuver like a master, but the sensation of moving confidently through a small turn, feeling the energy of the motorcycle, the physics of motion, was a real eye opener. Wow.

    We’ve gone back to our own parking lot a couple of times since and I am so improved — more to the left than the right but both are so much better. The day after our lesson, we rode up the north entrance to Mount Greylock and down the south, with the nice little hairpins, and I handled them better than I ever have. Tom made us turn around and do the south road a couple more times. And each time, I felt more control.

    During the day long training with Ken, we rode up to Vermont and, through our helmet communicators, he worked with both of us on our technique in many different riding situations. We’ll never ride curves the way we used to. Even though we had the general outside inside outside concept, Ken had a way of giving us an even deeper understanding how to read the road and place ourselves in the best possible position for safety and visibility. Wow.

    We’re off to Oregon for a three week gallavant this summer on our bikes. Seeing all the hairpin turns on the maps I feel much more prepared to meet them with safety and confidence thanks to your Dad. Thank you, Ken.

    Spending a day (or half a day even) with Ken for a rider at any level will be so valuable. If it’s crossed your mind, do it. You’ll be so glad you did.

    Thanks, Ken. And keep posting, Jeannine! Ride on!

  2. I will never forget my first riding experiences as a teenager with my buddy who was a few years older than me. I was a fearless passenger, leaning with him into the turns, begging him to go faster, pass cars, and do all the crazy stuff that teens do. We were unstoppable.

    Then, I got my license and my own motorcycle. I dropped off my bike at the shop one day, and I rode passenger with him to get home. We rode about 30 miles, and when I got off, I swore I would never ride passenger again. I can still see his crestfallen face when I told him that. I actually have ridden passenger with him again since then, but I will always remember that feeling of utter lack of control on the back. What used to feel safe now felt like a roller coaster ride. It’s all relative, I guess!

    If you like being a passenger, consider taking an experienced rider course with your pilot. I did this with my wife Amy and we both learned a tremendous amount. The most important thing was how to control emergency situations together, allowing me to have maximum control during heavy braking, for example, without worrying about how she will react.

    Great column Jeannine!


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