Motorcycle Touring Preparation - 2-UpTouring

Better With Both In Central Washington

For more than 10 years now I've made a point of adhering to an annual tradition with three of my good friends. Every year we embark on a weeklong motorcycle trip that includes . . . just the four of us. Sure, we all met through our wives, but what with kids at home and soccer games and orthodontist appointments to shuttle to, we never managed to find the time to include the gals on our jaunts. In the beginning the excuses were understandable: Our re-entry into motorcycling after a 25-year absence plus our domestic responsibilities meant these had to be guys-only trips. At least that's what we told ourselves to assuage the guilt of leaving the family behind. But now things are different-the kids have flown the nest and our obligations have melted away. And this year the gals announced, "We want to go, too!"

For the maiden couples trip, the men naturally wanted the experience to be first-rate for all involved. With more than a decade of road trips on big touring bikes under our belts, we guys understood all too well the potential for unpleasantries. Wanting to ensure a "let's do it again" response from our significant others afterward, we hunkered down for some serious prep and planning. We aspired to three things for our wives: to be safe, to be comfortable and to have fun.

The have-fun part came first in the planning process. On past guy trips we usually just racked up miles, stopping only for the occasional chicken-fried steak with extra gravy and a cold beer at the end of the day, always on the lookout for cheap motels with the requisite white plastic chairs out front. But we knew we'd be sleeping on the couch if we employed the same strategy on this journey. This time we chose a midpoint destination where we'd spend a couple of nights relaxing before the return trip-a scenic spot we thought the gals would enjoy and that presented other activity options, too. Once there we could take off on a day ride if we were itching for more miles or just kick back and enjoy the town. The place was Winthrop, Washington, a small, western-flavored hamlet just outside North Cascades National Park. This burg offered the right combo of great roads and an interesting center with galleries, cafes, a rustic hotel and options for day rides in the area.

With the turnaround location set, we planned the rest of the route. Because we'd been through most of this territory over the years, we borrowed judiciously from past adventures and selected a "best of" route combo to introduce the wives to long-distance touring. We would leave Portland and head east, meandering up the Columbia River Gorge on the lesser-traveled Washington State side via Highway 14. Always running just a stone's throw from the Columbia River, this amazing road passes through rough-hewn tunnels carved into cliffs, wedged in between rocky walls on one side and the mile-wide waterway on the other. We planned to take this route to where the Klickitat River empties into the Columbia, then jump onto a little-known road out of the gorge to the high plateau of central Washington.

With the route determined it was time to tackle the "safe" and "comfortable" parts of the mission. Having logged some 40,000 miles on past trips, we knew what worked for us and came up with a list of recommendations for initiating spouses to two-up riding.


Get the gear.
Protection for your passenger is paramount. For us this meant full-face helmets, jackets and pants with armor, gloves and good boots. If we took a spill I wanted my wife to be protected as well as or better than I was. We also wanted good conspicuity-bright colors with reflective materials. Because styles and options have improved immensely over the years (especially for women), there's plenty of gear to choose from that's protective and looks great, too.

Pre-ride rundown.
Before even leaving the driveway we took time to explain motorcycling basics. What moves, what's hot, where to hold on and what not to touch or step on-ever! We also practiced getting on and off the bike. I asked that my wife tap my shoulder and get an acknowledgement before climbing on, then put her left hand on my shoulder and left foot on the passenger footpeg and swing onto the seat. "Try not to use my upper body to pull yourself on," I told her. "Once you're on, don't get off until the pilot says OK." (Nothing tips over an 800-pound touring bike faster than a passenger who bails before you're set.) "When you're ready to get off, reverse the procedure-tap my shoulder for acknowledgment that I'm ready for the dismount."

Temper expectations.
I also made sure my wife knew about the motorcycle's movements: "The bike will lean in turns and that's OK. Don't try to compensate-just sit naturally. Look over my shoulder and through the turns; otherwise you will be staring at the back of my helmet the entire trip. It's OK to semi-stand on the pegs to raise yourself slightly over bumps. If you need to hang on make sure you grab my waist, not my shoulders or arms."

Get your signals straight.
To ease on-bike communication we developed body signals. If my wife squeezed me with her legs, it meant "I don't like what you're doing" or "You're going too fast." Her thumb pointed down to the road signaled, "I need a break/want to use the restroom." Tapping my shoulder and shaking her fist was a sign for "Something is wrong." We also established pilot-to-passenger signals. If I tapped her leg, then pointed straight up and twirled my finger, it indicated I was going to accelerate or some other "hold on" maneuver. Of course the gesture of just patting her leg meant "I'm glad you're along." To solidify communications we mounted Bluetooth intercom units on our helmets. They're easily installed and removed, and being able to chit-chat really added to the experience.


Dress the part.
Because this ride was during the heat of summer we picked mesh jackets and pants for our passengers to provide protection while keeping them cool. And instead of our usual full-face helmets we opted for flip-ups for their convenience; after all, we'd be sipping drinks and discussing the ride at stops. The current modulars are almost as quiet as full-face units and offer the comfort of a helmet without sacrificing (too much) safety.

Rig your ride.
A decent passenger seat and backrest help. In anticipation of my wife joining me on trips I traded in my solo-seat cruiser a couple of years ago for its touring counterpart, with a comfy back seat and a rear trunk with integrated passenger back and armrests. For her it's like our La-Z-Boy at home!

Check Mother Nature.
While that usually means packing rain gear, preparing for heat is equally important. Mesh gear can keep you cool, but the extra airflow evaporates perspiration, which can dehydrate you. My wife kept a fanny pack around her waist complete with water bottle and drinking tube so she could easily sip while en route. The pack also kept necessities like sunglasses and lip balm accessible while riding.

Passenger or not, some things are always the pilot's responsibility. One of these is to be smooth. This means smooth acceleration, braking and turning. Keep helmet-bumping to a minimum. Be sure to pack the bike to keep the CG (center of gravity) as low as possible with the passenger and all that extra gear. You'll likely be riding with almost twice your normal load, so also check and adjust your bike's preload for the extra weight.

We're Off!
With the equipment procured and passenger education complete we headed out. Following the Columbia River as it turns north, we quickly found ourselves in the Yakima Valley. This is fruit country: The roads here are lined with apple, peach, apricot and assorted other fruit orchards. Every few miles there were roadside stands offering up these sweet, juicy treats. The weather was hot, so stops at these oases were welcome. Nothing beats biting into a fresh, juicy peach on a sweltering summer day!

By late afternoon we rolled into Winthrop. We had aimed for no more than five hours a day in the saddle but had already exceeded that getting to town (mostly through 100-degree heat). The gals were real troopers; even though they were exhausted, we heard no complaints. Our small hotel in the heart of downtown had a total of six rooms overlooking Main Street with a cantina downstairs. After checking in we spent the afternoon exploring the town, knocking down cold drinks and sampling the local cuisine.

The next morning some of our party took off on a day ride into North Cascades National Park. Others, still tired from the previous day's ride, opted to take the short run up to Sun Mountain Lodge for a nice breakfast and leisurely stroll around the grounds (with fantastic views of the Cascade Mountains). Having a base destination with options to continue riding or just relax worked well; we were all rejuvenated and ready to pile on the miles when we pulled out of Winthrop.

For the return leg we rode up to the east flank of Mount St. Helens and the National Volcanic Monument. This infrequently visited side of the mountain is the farthest away from major highways and population centers. Interesting destinations like this helped break up the day and satisfy those who didn't find miles in the saddle to be the prime reward for the trip.

When we got back we tiptoed anxiously around our wives, finally getting up the nerve to ask them, "So what'd you think? Want to go again?" To our great joy (and relief) the answer was "Yes!" The planning and preparation had paid off; everyone had a great time, was safe and comfortable, and most importantly, we all wanted to do it again. Doesn't get any better than that.

Bluetooth Intercom
Jackets, Pants And Other Gear