It wasn’t until we visited the BMF Show in Peterborough recently, that I really gave the subject of carrying a ‘Precious Pillion’ any thought at all.
Mind you, Ben does get around!
Having always carried Jeannie or Ben on the back seat, it is nothing out of the normal in the Walton household. However being introduced to a rather concerned lady by Sam & Birgit in the Adventure and Overland Touring area of the BMF Show changed all that. The conversation that followed about her husband carrying their young (7 or 8 year old) son on the back of his motorbike, started the old ‘grey matter’ churning.
“I always struggle, holding the handlebar with one hand, whilst turning round to give him a lift onto the back seat” elicited an immediate “No, don't do that” response from me, quickly followed by a clear and simple alternative.
It never occurred to me that having carried Ben as a pillion form the tender age of 5 years old I would have developed such strong opinions on the subject of ‘Precious Pillions’ . Listening to their plight of how “school” were vehemently against the idea of their son being a pillion on a motorbike both shocked and annoyed me.
How can a teacher possible advise against a parent taking their child on the back of a motorbike? As the conversation progressed, involving Ben & I answering numerous questions about Bens experience on the bike, it became quite apparent to me that this family were benefiting from our own personal experiences of carrying a ‘Precious Pillion’ and so the idea for this Blog evolved!
Bagging his first windmill
Number One -Taking 100% Responsibility
If anyone was to maliciously cause Ben any harm, I would gladly serve time! That is a fact not a flippant statement. Now if that is the level of care and protection I believe I am willing to go to for his wellbeing. Why would anyone believe anything would change simply because we are on two wheels? It doesn’t, not one jot!
As far as I am concerned it is MY RESPONSIBILITY to ensure my ‘Precious Pillions’ safety at all times! I don’t waste my time looking to pass the blame to other road users, it’s me, plain and simple who is responsible 100% of the time.
Now if you are not willing or able to comprehend and accept the above statement, my honest advice is “Do not carry your child, or anyone else's for that matter, as a pillion on your bike” and don’t bother reading any further as it will be of absolutely no interest to you.
Le Mans - France
Number Two - Get Trained Up
Having ridden motorbikes since 1978 I felt carrying Ben as a pillion would be automatically accepted by his Mum, Jeannie. I was wrong!
“What do you mean, your taking him to school, he’s not big enough to be on the back?” was the very first thing J said when I told her he that I was taking Ben to school on Mo. It never entered my head that his feet could not even touch the running boards of the Aprillia 125 Mojito Scooter I had at the time.
From Small Acorn's....
As it happened school was just around the corner and for a good year or so all was well until the Mojito miraculously evolved into a Triumph 675 Daytona. 9 months later the same miracle happened again (how lucky am I) and a Yamaha FJR1300 appeared in our garage.
Ben loved the FJR, it was big and comfortable. What became quickly apparent was Ben felt very much at home and safe on the pillion seat. The Givi Top-Box added an extra level of security but I will cover that later on in the Blog!
“Have you thought of getting some professional bike training?” came out of the blue one evening over dinner.
“To be honest I’ve toyed with the idea but done nothing about it, why do you think I need some?” I replied looking for honesty rather than an ego massage.
“Yes” Came the brutal yet honest reply, “If only to make me feel better” smoothing the edge’s off the dagger stuck in my chest!
You see no one wants to be told that they are not the best rider out there but I know from personal experience that enrolling on the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Bike Course was a revelation. It opened my eyes to all my shortfalls and that was after 28 years in the saddle. It changed my perspective of riding, helping to control the one thing on the bike that was not mechanical, ME!
Reading one of Nick Sanders books recently I spotted this phrase.
“Most motorcycle problems are caused by the nut that connects the handlebars to the saddle” (Anon)
I’m not perfect but having attended and passed the IAM Riders Course I felt and still feel far more prepared to continue carrying my ‘Precious Pillion’. I ride within my own personal ‘Safety Bubble’ and to be honest I do not want anyone inside it, no one what so ever. I regularly find spaces to pull over to let ‘Tailgaters’ and other people I do not feel comfortable with , pass by. I would rather arrive late, than not arrive at all- it’s that simple.
Ypres - Belgium
Number Three - Gearing Up
One major issue I have found over and over again and that is the quality of children's protective clothing is not great. If you are a major biker gear designer please take a look at the quality of what Mum and Dad wear and make something comparable in quality for children. Believe it or not we parents WILL buy it.
Helmets are not a problem with the likes of Shoei , Arai & Nolan all producing brilliant helmets that fit smaller heads. I know that helmets can be expensive but what price do you put on you ‘Precious Pillions’ brains?
Children's Protective Motorcycle Clothing is available and some of it is of a high standard so please do not take my last statement out of context. However, what I have personally found is the gear is never 100% waterproof and I cannot find any Gortex or Kevlar kit that will fit Ben. There are companies out there like, Hein Gericke, Frank Thomas & J&S who supply children's protective clothing.
Boots are not an issue in respect to availability. Now Ben has turned 11 he is in a size 3 but I always buy one size larger in order to get two years wear as opposed to the usual 8 to 12 months we get from the clothing.
Gloves have never been a big problem as there is huge range available.
A good tip is to always check eBay before you start spending mega bucks on new gear. At best clothing will usually fit a growing child for between 8 to 12 months. Most little ones are not ‘bike couriers’ in any way and so their gear being sold on eBay is usually as good as new. That said, Ben’s gear always looks ‘well used’ but as long as the seller posts good pictures and is honest about its usage and condition you cannot go wrong. Whats a few flies between fellow bikers anyway?
Number Four - Preparing the Bike
Right then, so we’ve taken the decision to be 100% responsible, done the training, bought the gear now what can you do to make sure your ‘Precious Pillions’ enjoy their first ride.
Well I alway make sure Ben feels safe. It’s no good having him hanging on for dear life when by simply fitting a Sissi bar, back rest or, as I do, a removable top-box, you can change the whole experience for you pillion. All of these simple bolt on accessories provide a physical barrier and support ensuring yet another level of safety.
Other things I have done include, strapping a sleeping bag to each pannier top to create a comfortable ‘seat’ like area. This worked well for Ben when he was 8 through to 10. I’m now looking into attaching a couple of extendable bags to the top of my current panniers to re-create this environment but with added functionality. Being able to carry accessible food and drink for Ben on those longer trips will be a real bonus.
All set for the Normandy Beaches
Now be wear children do sleep, a lot! Ben has slept from Manchester to Birmingham on the back of the FJR and from Leeds almost to London on Mr T.
Now if your ready for it then it’s not a problem. My solution is simple. Buy two Grip Belts ( I use Oxford Grip Belts). I wear one Ben wears the other, I then fasten them together. Initially I used two locking carabiners but as he grew and needed more space I utilised two Quickdraws which I still carry on long rides (500 miles plus) as a back up.
Now I know what a lot of folk will be thinking, ‘That cannot be safe’ Well as I stated at the start I am 100% responsible for my ‘Precious Pillion’. Ben still snoozes on the back, as recently as this weekend returning from the BMF Show on Saturday, I just wish I had taken the Rider Grips with me!
You see it's a family thing!
Number Five - Communication
Last but not least, communication. I have been using intercoms on my bikes for the last 5 years. Jeannie & I like to discuss things when we are riding around. Ben chats but not a readily but I can always ask how he is.
Recently I have fitted a Blue Tooth System which has a massive benefit especially in services. Ben can stay in touch when I go in to pay for fuel or when he nips to the toilet. This gives us such a high level of add security that I would never return to a wired system.
Sleeping Bag & Tent
Creating a great 'Arm Chair'
Remember I mentioned the conversation about the the dad who struggled holding the handlebar whilst twisting round to help his son onto the pillion seat. Well my simple solution is don’t do it.
Let your Precious Pillion climb onto the riders seat as you would do then slide back. No more struggling or worrying about do I drop my bike or my pillion or worse still drop my bike onto my pillion. J climbs onto my bike and slides back without issue as does Ben. Give it a try you may just find it works for you.
As I said at the start the above views are purely meant as ‘Food for thought’ and are in no way intended as a ‘Must Do’ guide.
Things will go wrong, like bikes falling over in France whilst Ben was sat on the pillion seat, but if you can cover as many bases before you even start then in my humble opinion you will be better prepared to cope with anything which comes your way.