Communication for Two-Up Motorcycle Travellers by Sue Duncan

Welcome to Thoughts from the Road. Here’s Sue Duncan on the importance of communication for motorcycle travelling with a pillion…  

Sue Duncan Thoughts from the Road
By Sue Duncan

By Sue Duncan

Motorcycle traveller - 2wheels2panniers2up

Sue and Graeme Duncan from New Zealand are two New Zealanders riding around the world two-up on their motorcycle a few months at a time. 

Follow their adventures:

Facebook: @2wheels2panniers2up

The Importance of Communication for Two-Up Motorcycle Travellers

Travelling with your partner two-up on a motorcycle for extended periods is a completely different beast to travelling on two bikes or even in a car.

We recently finished our second long trip two-up, and in that time were completely apart for maybe a total of 48 hours out of 18 weeks! At home you have breaks from each other daily by going to work, shopping, errands, friends and so on.

If you’re on two bikes, then you also have that physical separation while riding. But two-up,  you are in a tiny physical bubble on the bike, and usually pretty near each other a lot of the time you are off it too.

This reality of 24 hours a day, seven days a week for multiple weeks on end can test even the best relationship. Throw in the often testing and frustrating situations of international motorcycle travel and it can result in a potentially explosive outcome.

Our original motorcycle trips were only for three weeks, so our first long bike trip of four months brought to light issues that we didn’t expect – but needed to be resolved. Luckily, we managed to sort most of the issues out from the first trip before embarking on the second. And here’s the two biggest lessons we learnt…

Communication is key and trust in the rider.

On our first big trip, my audible reactions to things from the back seat became a huge source of issue. Graeme would hear me gasp, swear, or make some sort of reactionary noise and think I was not trusting his ability to be in control and keep us safe.

In actual fact, I trust him far more on the bike than I do when he’s driving the car! I have the utmost trust in his riding skills otherwise I wouldn’t be there. I wasn’t able to explain my response suitably and it became a real problem.

Eventually, towards the end of the trip, he understood that the responses were my way of dealing with surprise. I was often in my own little world, maybe dozing or I just didn’t have the preview of a situation that he did by being on the back. It would suddenly be brakes on, a swerve, some riding nuance, that he alone could see and prepare for, but I was often oblivious, and so I would respond to the unknown.

On our following trips he knew and understood this, so it was no longer an issue.

As the pillion, you must trust that the rider is going to do whatever they can to keep themselves safe and as a result keep you safe. If you don’t trust their riding skills or style, then embarking on a long trip is a bad idea from the get-go.

Communication plays into lots of areas of travel. If you are having an off day, and that happens on extended trips, make sure the other person knows. If you need a few days off the bike, then discuss it and make a plan to achieve that. It might not be that day but something suitable can be sorted for in a few days. Turn the intercom off if you are likely to voice things in ways that won’t be helpful too. A couple of hours of silent time can help you explain something better later. It’s important to both know when to turn the intercom off to give yourselves some breathing space too.

Here’s a few more tips we’ve picked up along the way. Find and develop a routine for unpacking and packing each day, because it’s time consuming and will help alleviate some of those stresses.

Make sure you talk through things before you leave home too, like how you’ll sort accommodation for instance. One of you may be organized and that will be a struggle if the other likes to just wing it each day. Discuss how long you’ll ride each day, how often you’ll take rest days, accommodate a few little things that will make the worrier a little less worried and don’t just leave it up to one person, have a plan – together – that you’re both happy with.

Then just get out there and have fun, you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime together.

Sue Duncan

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Thanks for checking out this Thoughts from the Road column on communication while travelling two-up. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on riding with a pillion and communication that we recommend you read next. 

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