Jail Time?
September 14, 2016
Biting the Bullet
September 21, 2016

Debbie-Profile-Pic-01

Debbie Shah - The Back Seat Rider

Adventure riding two up is all about team work. Ask Debbie Shah, she's been co-pilot across half of Africa and knows a thing or two about how to ride pillion through deserts, rivers and everything in between. If there's one thing she's learned on her travels, when the going gets tough, really tough, this would be so much easier on my own tough, you've got to stick together.


Appostrophe-01
There is an undeniable magic to disappearing into the wilderness on two wheels carrying the bare minimum needed to survive off grid, off line and off the map and one reason the joy is so great is that all the niggles of daily life are left behind. Or are they? What happens when you bring your loved one along for the ride and the chosen route is thousands of remote off-road miles laced with plenty of technical sections, accommodation is a tent, there is a severe lack of toilets, water is scarce and the staple diet consists of Snickers bars and dry rations?

What if you and your loved one are not only sharing a tent, but a motorcycle too? Almost all adventure riders we know think this would make for a nightmare ride, but for us this isn’t a recipe for disaster but a truly tried and tested formula on four continents that not just works, but is a source of shared discovery, amazing adventure and much hilarity.

Of course, it goes without saying that two bikes and two riders with at least vaguely similar abilities would be an easier option most especially with luggage distribution, yet somehow the additional challenges unique to two up adventure riding, the skill set required by the rider in difficult terrain and the real financial benefit of using just one bike, especially when travelling on different continents, makes this our first choice when planning an adventure and it opens up a whole world to me, fearless pillion but novice rider, that I would otherwise never get to experience.

We love it, and I must admit we are slightly addicted to beating the odds of staying upright riding technical sections with two people on board a heavily laden machine. It usually works out better than expected – but not always. A couple of summers ago we rode 9 countries in Africa from South Africa up to Kenya, mostly off road. It was a last minute trip that we threw together when invited to join two other riders and within two weeks we had sold our KTM Adventure, bought online a well set up Tenere in Johannesburg, left our small business in a friend’s capable hands and hopped on a plane to collect the as yet unseen and un-ridden Tenere before navigating 14,000kms of some of the best riding to be had anywhere. It was fabulous and aside from some slightly scary sandy sections in Namibia we handled everything two up with ease. Until Zambia that is, when we hit a 70km stretch of nasty sand north of North Luangwa national park.

Any rider who has ridden a large, heavily laden motorcycle through sand knows it’s not easy. Throw on a pillion who suddenly develops a sand phobia and toys get thrown out of the cot pretty fast. Except in this case it was the pillion that was thrown out.


Around mid morning and several tumbles by all 3 bikes I spied the only vehicle we would see for the next 14 hours, a tiny pick up travelling at about 5kph overloaded with full oil drums of fuel. We were so remote that the track only led to one place so I hopped in the back lightening the load for my rider who shot off down the track like a ball from a canon yelling ‘freeeedoooom’ not to be seen again for several hours.

Unfortunately the pickup drove about 200 meters and then sank up to the axels in sand, leaving me to walk for several kilometres through buffalo ridden country until the other riders found and rescued me. What heroes! Luckily this is the only time I’ve been abandoned but we learned a valuable lesson that no matter what, we need to stick together for the sake of both safety and harmony.

Unfortunately the pickup drove about 200 meters and then sank up to the axels in sand, leaving me to walk for several kilometres through buffalo ridden country until the other riders found and rescued me. What heroes! Luckily this is the only time I’ve been abandoned but we learned a valuable lesson that no matter what, we need to stick together for the sake of both safety and harmony.

If the going is really too difficult two up then the pillion can walk if it’s a short distance, or we find another route. In all the thousands of miles we have since ridden there have been plenty of short walks I’ve taken, but only twice have we had to turn back and find an easier route.

There is no doubt that two up the level of difficulty experienced by the rider in technical terrain is a multiplier with size, weight and limited body movement combining to exponentially increase both the challenge and the expertise required. It’s a whole different universe from one up riding yet the tougher the terrain the more we enjoy it - add in river crossings, snow capped mountain passes, an endless desert landscape or the wildlife dotted plains of Africa and we love it even more.

What makes our adventures work for us is our commitment to exploring beautiful and remote places, being prepared to figure out how to ride difficult sections and taking the absolute minimum baggage. Gary is an exceptional rider and loves the challenge of taking us from A to B so he really has the hard work; I take charge of route planning and navigation, we jointly set up camp and while Gary checks the bike I start a fire and get water on for coffee. We cook dinner together and afterwards sit around the fire watching the stars and discussing the day’s ride.

It always amazes us both how different our experiences are considering we are on the same bike and have ridden the exact same trail. It also reinforces our own personal code not to invest in any form of headset communication - our time in our helmets is our own. Spending 24/7 together is great – as long as we get this escape time – and it makes for some wonderful evening conversations.

For us both it’s the continuous challenge we enjoy and if we were to give any advice it would be; be prepared but don’t over plan – once you get on the road the journey will take care of itself - but if you do get stuck – or abandoned - in a difficult location, with a broken bike, or in the middle of buffalo and tsetse-fly ridden country take heart (and pictures) – it’ll make a great story and one day you will laugh about it. Really. You will.

Appostrophe-02

Riding pillion is just about sitting back and enjoying the view. Isn't it?

"There is no such thing as being a passive pillion, in particularly rough sections I stand on the pegs with my legs providing extra inches of travel and on slippery shale hairpin bends I weight the outside peg improving traction - while tightly closing my eyes to the sheer drops we ride precariously close to; on steep climbs I push my weight forward against the rider while in sand we keep the weight low and as far back as possible allowing the front to come up for control – a technique we’ve grown more comfortable with since our Zambia experience."


 

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