I remember my first pillion experience well. Mainly because it didn’t end very well. I was 16 years old and riding a Peugeot Speedfight 50cc scooter with my cousin as pillion in Greece. It was a hot summer’s day and I was not wearing the right gear, like the ignorant teenager I was. We were riding through the mountain when my cousin pointed out a house on the right. I remember momentarily gazing away from the road.
When I focused back I noticed some gravel in the middle of the road and in a very inexperienced manner, I slammed on both brakes. The scooter flew one way and we both went flying in the other direction. Me first and my cousin (who was a bit heavier back then) landed on top of my then gangly-self. Lying with my face in gravel, we got up, luckily escaping with a few cuts and scrapes. Never doing that again. I spent the rest of the summer with a plastic chair by my bed so I could rest my arm away from the sheets that it kept sticking to.
14 years later, I’m armed with a slightly larger capacity bike (my KTM 125 Duke), with more brains than my younger self (hopefully), wearing protective gear and with my most prized possession as pillion. My mother.
I’m was a little bit nervous, but not because I thought I couldn’t do it, these were good nerves. I know the 15bhp bike well and my mum is nice and light (54kg), this was an easy job. The question was, could Doris the Duke hack it?
The first task before mummy Alice and I head to the shops, way before we even get on the bike, was to discuss with mum how to get on the bike and for her not to get on until I tell her to do so. I’ve seen mum get on the back of dad’s Fireblade, she almost stands up tall to take a seat. Also, I believe it’s good practice to discuss with a pillion if they haven’t been on a bike before, to lean when you lean, whether they’re going to hold on to you or the bike, etc. etc.
The rear footpegs were dusted off and she get on, no drama. Everything instantly felt a bit more rigid and like a small chimp had jumped on my back. The rear axle load for the Duke is a maximum of 228kg, with a maximum overall weight of 355kg. Now given that the combined weight of myself and mum is 107kgs I knew the 124.7cc machine shouldn’t have much trouble. We set off and rode through town. The moment I needed to use my brakes, mum would tap my helmet with hers. Then again. And again. And again. They were gentle taps and I was in fits of laughter at the fact mum couldn’t control her head movement. Seriously, I wasn’t braking hard at all. With all my off roading experiences lately I’m a pro at two-finger gentle braking.
Handy Sena bluetooth communication
What was reassuring for both of us was we could speak to each other using our Sena Bluetooth communication systems. Mum could also hear my laughing hysterically at her when she was knocking my lid. To encourage to stop doing so, I could communicate whilst riding some suggestions. I told her to squeeze her knees onto me and use her hands to gently push away. When I was about to brake the next few times, I was able to alert her and the knocking quickly stopped.
The Senas also came in useful when letting mum know when I was going to turn so she could lean with me. I recommend if you’ve got a pillion, get a Bluetooth intercom. They are the best invention for bikers.
Getting up to speed with a pillion
Through town having a pillion the 125 Duke is no problem. Reaching 40-50mph is actually quite swift. I could still easily nip out at junctions and roundabouts without putting anyone in danger.
However, getting to 70mph is a big sluggish so a pillion on the motorway is a definite no-no. Dual carriageways is fine, the bright orange bike and LED headlight stands out too.
I usually commute to work on the 125, which means joining the A1M each day. When I hit an incline the bike drops from 70 to 65 quickly. Imagine with a pillion? I wouldn’t even risk it. But for a 125, a pillion is doable around town. The turning circle and counter steering are hardly effected. In fact, after a few minutes I forgot mum was there. Until…knock. Yeah, there were still a couple of those from mum.
I didn’t have to make any adjustments to the bike’s suspension as our combined weights didn’t affect the bike’s stability or visibility either.
We were out on a dry day, so stopping distance wasn’t affected much and when I did have to stop my feet weren’t flat on the ground and I was able to come to a stable stop when necessary. One good thing about having a pillion on the Duke was the side wind affected me less. Usually side wind and especially over the month of October when the winds were extra strong, the light 137kg machine moved massively.
Overall, it was a pleasure to have a pillion on the Duke and a much better experience than with the Peugeot. There really isn’t much this updated-for-2017 Super-Duke-R in disguise can’t do.
From the pillion's perspective...
Here's how it felt for my mum:
- Riding with Maria was like any other of my pillion experiences
- The seat is slippery. I kept sliding forward and she noticed compared to other bikes I’d been on this was the Duke’s seat was the hardest to stay in one place. (Maria didn’t notice the sliding movement).
- Once on the pillion seat, I noticed a constant vibration and at higher speeds it was worse. However it wasn’t uncomfortable.
- Other experiences: In comparison to my other experiences, on the Yamaha MT-09 it was smoother and like sitting in an arm chair. On a 2007 Fireblade I felt more stable, but the seat was less comfortable seat. And although the KTM pillion seat is highly slippery I liked the position of the seat because I was higher up than myself and could see above Maria. It was a pleasant ride as I could see.
- Footpegs: Grip was good, legs fell perfectly for my knees and was able to hold on to Maria with ease.
- Generally a smooth ride, comfortable on turns yet when braking I kept sliding forward and bumping Maria’s helmet.
- Sena communication: Very useful as a pillion to know what the rider was going to do. Felt more secure and safer in a way.
For more on the KTM 125 Duke visit our MCNFLeet17 section