It has been hellishy hot here in St. Louis lately, hence the lack of posts. Triple digits do not make for fun times outdoors on two wheels, or even working on the scoot in the afternoon shade. It was 108 degrees here yesterday. Everyone has been inside hugging their air conditioners and praying to the Gods of Freon that nothing breaks.

Still, I did manage a few evening runs in the last week, one of which checked off a scooter first for me: riding with a passenger.

Before I got the Vespa, I’d only ever ridden a PTW as a passenger. I liked to think I was a pretty decent cupcake, in general. I knew the basics of how not to get us killed, so I figured that when the time came for me to ride with a passenger instead of as a passenger, I’d have a good idea of how to educate that person. I’ve been putting it off – as a new rider, it seems like there’s still so much to learn and practice without unnecessary baggage – but out this week with some friends for a birthday, it didn’t seem like the worst idea in the world to let the birthday boy have a spin around the block on the back of my scoot.

My passenger had never ridden a motorcycle or scooter before in any capacity, so he gleefully hopped right on before I even got my helmet fastened, let alone the bike off the center stand. I promptly kicked him off, since I can barely rock the thing off the stand alone and wasn’t about to attempt it with 180 extra pounds on back. As I flipped out the footpegs and geared up, I gave him the basics:

  • Hold onto me or onto the grab bars
  • Keep your weight on the footpegs when we’re slowing, not on me
  • Keep your shoulders lined up with mine, especially in corners
  • Distract me and I’ll drop you, and it may not be an accident

I thought at the time that the biggest challenge would be in cornering. I knew enough to plan for extra stopping time and distance – no big deal with the minimal traffic – and wasn’t concerned if my acceleration wasn’t as peppy as usual. What I had failed to consider until the scoot was on and my passenger finally saddled up, was that standing still would be surprisingly tricky.

I am not a big person, which is no big deal when the bike is on the move, but at a stop I can’t flat-foot the GT200. As taught, I drop my left foot first, but I don’t like to lean all the way to get the sole of my shoe on the pavement. Instead, I drop the right foot almost simultaneously and have both feet down on my toes (that’s how I have to walk the bike when backing it up, and that’s why I destroy riding boots – photo evidence). Standing still is literally a balancing act.

For real, this is what happens to my boots.

I’ve gotten very comfortable with it solo, of course, but the added weight on the back was a wakeup call. As soon as he was seated, I started to wobble. Thinking it was just nerves, I made sure he had a grip and just took off down the block. The GT200 handled the added weight with no problem whatsoever. I was pretty conservative with the throttle, but the bike purred along as usual. At the first two corners we encountered, I had the right of way at the lights. I made sure to add on the extra braking time and sailed (fairly) smoothly through the turns, taking them pretty wide to minimize the lean. So far, so good.

The next light was red. I slowed and dropped my toes to the ground.

WOBBLEWOBBLEWOBBLEOHGODWE’REGONNAFALLOVER!!!

“Feet down!” I barked, and my much-taller passenger obeyed immediately, saving us from certain doom. Or at least drop. Had we leaned far enough to one side for me to get a foot flat, I don’t know if I could have held up our combined weight. But from the back of the seat, he could comfortably rest both feet flat on the pavement and help me balance the bike. I told him as we idled that this was going to be the new preferred stopping position, and the rest of the ride proceeded wonderfully and without incident.

Balancing at stops was something it had never even occurred to me could be an issue. As a passenger – and always the much smaller one on the bike by far – I was always instructed to put my feet on the pegs and keep them there to avoid distracting the guy at the grips and to not upset the balance. But in hindsight, everyone I’ve ever ridden with has been able to get the feet down flat at stops and maintain a much less tenuous control than I do. My height and the Vespa’s seat height don’t work perfectly together, but I’ve compensated with very sturdy boots and good balance. Now, it appears, I just had to figure out another way to hack a balancing solution: must have tall passenger.

I have to say, I’m not anxious to take another passenger anytime soon. It was fun enough in the moment but a little bit unnerving to feel that I was no longer the one in total control of the bike. I had to rely on my passenger to take an active role in balancing at stops (not just a passive role in holding on and not bothering me), which really runs counter to the notion that as the one at the grips, I should be fully responsible for what the scooter does. Maybe it’s a necessary paradigm shift and I just need to get over it, or maybe it’s just a gentle hint from the universe that I’m not quite ready to do more of that for awhile.