Understanding the Motorcycle Passenger's Pain

Is your passenger comfortable?

Motorcycle Cruiser passenger
Is your passenger comfortable behind you?Photography by Dean Groover

On the boulevard of life, there are riders and there are passengers. Riders who want to bring a friend along will probably suffer less themselves if they have a little sympathy for the back-seater's plight. Those of us up front get to savor the wind in our face, the almost-flying feeling while leaning into a corner, and the sensation of our powerful, throbbing mount's response to our every nuance. However, for the person perched on the pillion with no control over what happens next, it's more like the rider's helmet in the face, the almost-dying fear of leaning into a corner and the relentless vibration that leaves them wishing for a new ass. A passenger's suffering increases when the rider chooses a saddle because of its sleek style, or offers up a seating position with the footpegs six inches below the saddle, or makes tire-smoking starts with nothing behind the seat to give the passenger a fighting chance of staying aboard.

Although a relative novice in the arcane rites of passengering, Motorcycle Cruiser’s Art Director, Brandi Centeno, bravely accepted our invitation to come along on our four-day ride aboard the Black Baggers. We were impressed that after her first five hours, most of which were spent dragging floorboards through the Tehachapi Mountains, she could still manage a smile, albeit slightly strained.

Her preferences were very clear after one ride on each of the bikes (and the BMW that came along). She was wary of the Convertible when she first saw it and, if anything, it proved worse than it looked. Not only was the seat narrow with no backrest to restrain her, the footpegs cramped her legs and she was crowded right up against the rider’s back. The rear suspension also bottomed out on large bumps, adding an uncomfortable thump to the ride.

The lack of a backrest and somewhat narrow look of the Road King’s saddle also worried her, but the comfortable and spacious (for her 5-foot-5 frame) riding position of the King more than made up for those shortcomings. The suspension accommodated her and the capacious bags absorbed her gear. The Road King was her second-favorite ride.

The wide, flat saddle and backrest of the Silverado looked inviting, but the saddle proved to be nothing special and the riding position was almost as uncomfortable as the Convertible’s. Like the Convertible, it also bottomed out occasionally with her aboard. An added detraction was the relation of the right footpeg to the exhaust system. When her foot was in a comfortable, or perhaps the least uncomfortable position, her heel was resting on the top muffler, which made her foot hot and left an ugly melted-­rubber mess on the pipe’s chrome.

The Tour Classic also appeared to welcome her, and to Centeno’s relief, it actually did. The saddle and riding position were the best of the bunch, and the backrest was appreciated as well. It was roomy and had enough suspension to keep most bumps comfortable. Although it vibrated more than the others, it still wasn’t enough to annoy her.

Because of the small pillion pad of the R1200C that came along, she shied away from the BMW for the first two days of the ride, but finally consented to ride it as far as breakfast on the third morning. To everyone’s surprise, the BMW—mostly because of the footpeg position—actually suited her better than the Convertible or Silverado.

But in the end, there were just two categories of bikes for Centeno: the Tour Classic and all the rest. Once she confirmed her initial impressions with a second brief sampling of the other four, Brandi never wanted to ride anything else. And after a two-hour stretch on the Royal Star, her smile wasn’t a bit strained. If you are buying one of these bikes and plan to do most of your riding with a passenger, the Royal Star Tour Classic is a great way to avoid a pain in the rear.