Reader Story: An Experienced Rider Takes to the Back Seat

Why all riders should be a passenger at least once

By Cheryl Soloff, Hendersonville, North Carolina

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While I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, no one in my family rode motorcycles or had any desire to know about them. My father was interested in aircraft, so he got his pilot’s license. My family was fortunate enough to be whisked away many weekends to travel somewhere in our plane: Canada for Canadian bacon, Block Island (off the coast of Rhode Island), Amish country in Pennsylvania, and many other fantastic places.

Cheryl with her usual ride, a Harley-Davidson Road King.

However, I knew from an early age that I loved motorcycles the sound, the look, the vision of freedom, and the dare-devil desire that it instilled in me. I started riding with the kids who had dirt bikes on my block when I was 5 years old and have loved it for 37 years. With encouragement from my family, friends, and new riding buddies I have ridden many different brands and many different types of motorcycles with many different clubs and organizations. I deeply support anyone who is interested in learning how to ride a motorcycle at any stage of their life because I know the immense positive impact it has had on my life.

I was the activities officer for Fort Lauderdale HOG (Harley Owners Group) for four years. It has a very large membership. To this day, I feel honored whenever someone asks me to help them learn how to ride, give tips on being a better rider, or am asked about maintenance issues. You are never, ever too old to learn!

Cheryl at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, riding her Harley-Davidson Road King.

I started visiting Western North Carolina five years ago with Fort Lauderdale HOG a few times a year. I rode on my 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King (Stage II kit, radio, MP3, lots of chrome and most importantly a HD Sundowner seat). We would leave Fort Lauderdale at 6 a.m. and get to the Murphy, North Carolina, area at 6 p.m. We would ride a few days for eight hours a day and then back home. It wasnt something I ever thought Id be able to do, but I love being on the bike so much, it didnt matter how long the journey was. I just wanted more because I was hooked. After selling my awesome 1996 Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Springer so I would have some money, I moved to Western North Carolina last year from South Florida, and now I can call these mountains my new carving ground.

The last weekend in April 2009 was the first perfect weekend weather in months. It was time to ride. Unfortunately, my Road King was not feeling well and she was not able to go out, but I didnt want to miss out on all of the events happening within two hours of me like the Cherokee Survivors Motorcycle Rally in Cherokee, North Carolina, Thunder in the Smokies in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and the Hayabusa Bash at the Deals Gap Tail of the Dragon.

Cheryl with her friend and driver, Mike.

So, I called my friend Mike to ride on the back of his bike. Since it was he and a few other friends who are responsible for my mad mountain riding skills, I knew Id be safe on the back of his bike. Because I am a product of Mikes tutelage, he was shocked to hear that I would be willing to intentionally be a passenger on his Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide Classic. I asked him if he would ever be a passenger with someone who rides just what he does and he said, “No way!” But I was ready.

My last two memories of being on the back of a bike was being “fender candy” (yes, actually sitting on the fender with no pad) since thats the look apparently I was going for at 25 years old, or riding on the back of a (new at the time) 1998 Harley-Davidson Classic leisurely through Northern New Jersey towards Upstate New York.

Being a passenger is just as important as being a rider; your actions have consequences, so I knew I needed to just go with it and not freak out. We started out in Murphy, North Carolina, heading towards a benefit ride in Helen, Georgia, via the Richard B Russell Scenic Highway over Blood Mountain. Not only was the ride incredible, but also there was almost no other traffic. We then rode to Blue Ridge, Georgia, and then southeast to Suches, Georgia, on Route 60. Route 60 was just repaved last spring. Dont you just love the smell of fresh paved asphalt as you are trying to carve your tire pattern into it? Then, on the way home we stopped by the Two Wheels Only Motorcycle Resort and Copper Head Lodge.

In the beginning of our adventure at the first brief rest stop Mike asked how I was doing, all I could say was, “Are there any bugs in my teeth?” The entire time we were riding I was smiling from saddlebag to saddlebag. When I gave him the thumbs up to go all out, he didnt believe me, but we soon took off.

On the last leg of our ride, thats just what he did, go all out! The first few times the floorboards would scrap, I puckered a bit, but when he nailed a 4-inch road reflector/delineator with the kickstand, I puckered a lot. As terrifying as it was, I was so totally into it and the incredible adventure-park ride effect that it had. But, instead of only lasting three minutes it lasted six hours. Sounds like the same premise on why they invented Viagra!

Cheryl and Mike participating in their local toy run collecting toys for kids.

I suggest all of you go for a ride on the back of your friends bike and see how he or she sees the road, where he sets up his turns, how he scans the landscape. It is a fascinating lesson. You will be witness to people who know what they are doing and people who do not know what they are doing. We all need to share the information, always learn new ways on how to handle our machines and teach someone how to correct a bad habit. It makes us all happier and safer riders.

I need to invent a completely clear motorcycle helmet so all of the back seat riders can enjoy what we take for granted. The sightseeing I was able to do as a passenger was phenomenal. Because when I am in the riders seat, Im not looking at anything except the road in front of me, which is just as pretty.

Being in the wind, whether it is riding alone or with many friends, it is ultimately only you who can experience what the road has to offer. So dont waste another minute!

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9 thoughts on Reader Story: An Experienced Rider Takes to the Back Seat

  1. Hi Cheryl,I too live in Hendersonville and ride my own bike. I agree with you that it is awesome to be a passenger if you’re riding with someone you have complete trust in. Sometimes I think those of us that are use to being drivers make terrible passengers. Drop me a line if you guys would like to meet up sometime.

  2. Hi, Old friend. Great to read your story. Would love to catch up!

  3. Very good story. I ride my own and have also been a passenger on a number of occasions. I was a passenger only when my bike was out of commission. I can't say that I enjoy being a passenger because I either make myself go to sleep so I don't see what I don't want to see or am on edge the whole time. My riding style is different from my husband's. I guess from riding behind him on my own bike gives me a view of his riding style that is the same as when I'm on the back of his bike and I don't like it. I don't like the loss of control and am always applying the brakes that don't exist on the back of the bike. I also have this tendency to want to put my feet down which I can't.

    He has dropped the bike with me on the back of it and I've been behind him when he has dropped his bike. Unfortunately, what I think of as his overconfidence in his riding skills caused him to have an accident in June while riding on gravel. He wasn't hurt, but his bike was. We love the NC/GA/SC area for riding and have had many vacations in those areas and have one planned the end of August in the mountains of GA. We have been to all the places noted in Cheryl's article and can say they are some of the best riding areas. We, too, plan to retire and hopefully move close to, but not in, the mountains of NC or SC. There are way too many good roads and just not enough time to ride all of them.

  4. I was quite interested in reading your story Cheryl when I saw the title of this article. I have been riding for eight years on my own ride (Road King Custom) and have experienced riding as a passenger in the past year. I didn't enjoy it as much as yourself, although the difference in scenery and the sightseeing was more involved. I was so much more in tune to what the driver was doing, thinking and planning for the next maneuver, that I didn't find being a passenger so pleasurable. I am thankful for my own two wheels and take it out whenever possible.

    I also want to say that BRP, Maggie Valley, and Deal's Gap is the area of my dream retirement living location. I hope to make it come true someday. Enjoy yourself out there riding the most beautiful motorcycle roads this country has to offer. Hope to be your neighbor someday in NC.

  5. I own and ride my own bike too and like you also my husband and I rode from central Texas up to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive last September-October. I rode in the passenger seat all the way and left my ride in the garage at home. It was the best vacation ever! I never had that much fun in my whole life on any other vacation and that's a huge statement coming from me. I've never been able to sleep sitting up ever, but on that trip I went to sleep in the back seat several times (I was comfortable and wedged in between my tall backrest and my husbands in front of me and the armrests on each side – I couldn't go anywhere). Anyway, I love your story and it sort of mirrored mine.

  6. Love the color of the bike and love your story! One must resort to drastic measure when one's bike is not feeling well. Sounds like you knew just who to call to fix your ailment!

  7. There are times I do like to ride in the passenger seat and there have been times I have been forced to ride in the passenger seat because we had a bike break down. I can honestly say that for short rides, the passenger seat is OK, but I don't care much for it. I really like to ride my own. While I have complete trust in my partner, let's face it, after you have ridden your own, it is hard to go back.

    One thing I can say is that I always pick up more tricks and tips in the passenger seat. My partner has been riding baggers for many years and this is my first year with one, so every trip I learn something new.

  8. Wow, I too have done the same on the back of my husbands Ultra Glide. I took my own bike to Sturgis a few years ago (a 2007 H-D Sportster 1200) and one day I decided to climb on the back so I could get some pictures and really see the gorgeous veiws! Wow, it was fantastic. I loved the freedom of the wind in my face without having to keep my total attention on the road. I had a great day and we got some fantastic pictures we would not have otherwise gotten on this trip.

  9. As a long-time rider and a very infrequent passenger, I can tell you I learn a lot every time I find myself sitting pillion. It's been years, but when my bike broke down miles from help and a good friend (and fellow MSF Instructor) shuttled me 50 miles to get my trailer on the back of his 'Wing, I really enjoyed getting the passenger perspective – once I learned to stop steering with the back foot pegs!

    I think in many ways it is harder to be the passenger!

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