Boiled, Peeled, and Thoroughly Mashed

(A Pillion’s View … of the 2005 WVAM France Trip and beyond)

“Pillion? That’s just sitting on the back and taking it easy, no?”

One of the first pieces of advice I was ever given about how to be a good pillion was ‘pretend you’re a sack of potatoes’. Well you can call me Maris Piper, because I’ve just completed a 1300 mile trip across five countries (and one duchy) – behind someone who, had I been less than chipper, would have been the first to give me a good roasting.

Having heard great things about the annual WVAM trip to France I had a feeling it would be a lot of fun, and it was! Not only did I have the chance to witness some really first rate riding skills and learn a lot about bikes, but I made a personal voyage of discovery (a cliché I know, but it’s actually true!) … and met a lot of new friends, too.

It was only my third journey of any real distance. The first was back in the winter of 1978 when I went from Edinburgh to Skye on the back of a large Honda, hopelessly ill-prepared for blizzard conditions and subzero temperatures. My fearless companion and I had to break our journey overnight at a youth hostel in Crianlarich and when we looked out the next morning the Honda had disappeared under a snowdrift. But we dug it out and on we went. Pretty foolish, looking back, but an adventure I’ll never forget.

Then in April of this year I was lucky enough to ride with WVAM — to the Eden Project in Cornwall. This was a real education for me. Twenty-seven years on from my first long pillion ride I discovered that muscles and joints aren’t quite as resilient as they once were! And again, adverse weather: driving rain, strong sidewinds…fog, even! I realised that there was a lot more to riding pillion than just ‘sitting on the back’! How nice it would be, I remember thinking, crouched behind the back of my poor soaking partner, to make a trip like this in warm sunny weather.

Well I got my wish in France, as we motored through sunshine in a boiling 34ºC — an interesting new sensory concept in leather! It was… hot. Very hot.

Any fears I may have had about adjusting to the left hand drive version of the pillion experience just didn’t materialise, as I recognised almost immediately the difference in attitude towards motorcyclists by French road users. A lot more consideration there. I found myself feeling even more relaxed then at any point riding in the UK. So much so that I began to imagine how easy it might be to become drowsy. Not a good idea! I discussed it with my (equally hot) pilot and in the absence of any Autocom we worked out a system of signals to check continuing ok-ness. There ensued much squeezing and poking, but hey! It all added to the fun…

It was great comparing experiences with other pillion riders and picking up tips on survival. A group day out in the Ardennes forests on winding roads with great surfaces gave me my first proper taste of cornering at speed and helped a lot of things click into place. Oh, and the scenery was simply beautiful — ask any pillion!

The trip concluded with a 600 mile marathon ride back from Germany — 100 of them on deadly dull Belgian motorway. All I’m going to say about that is, to ride pillion on the back on any motorcycle (incredibly, even one one as comfortables as a Ducati ST4s. No, really!) for more than 12 hours in one day you have to be a) reasonably fit and b) bonkers. (The author is impeccably qualified on both counts — Ed.).

In conclusion, I’m convinced that, fun though pillion riding is, it’s not the be all and end all. No siree.

I WANT MY OWN BIKE!

Anyone know where I can do basic training in Edinburgh?

They said it would happen….

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