(If you prefer to watch the video, scroll to the end!)

We’re on the M50 motorway. It feels like we’re doing 200 kilometers an hour – in reality we’re probably doing 80! We’re on the inside lane so cars and trucks are hurtling past at speed.  I don’t want to look but can’t help noticing… the wheels on those really-big-trucks are REALLY, REALLY, big.

It makes me want to shut my eyes, but I don’t think that’s a good idea! You see I’m on a motorbike.

I’m sitting pillion behind my husband on his BMW 1200 RT and we are off on my very first motorbike trip. So NO, I need to keep my eyes wide open, and my hands closed firmly around the grab rails beside my rear.

I’m holding on tight (when I say tight, think vice-like clamping motion and you’re close). There’s no way I’m letting go! These handrails on either side of my butt are the only thing keeping me on the bike. If I let go, I know what will happen. I can see it clearly.

Actually, it’s all I can see in my mind’s eye, over and over again, replayed in slow motion… I let go, I fly through the air, I land with a thud, dddrrrum…dddrrrum… (that was the sound of one of those trucks with the REALLY big wheels).

No – I am very sure about this. I need to keep my eyes wide open, and my hands locked tight on the rails beside my rear.

Allow me to share some background information:

I love my husband very much. We have been together a very long time (in other words, this is not me trying to impress a new lover). And for many years now, he has dropped hints as big as elephants about how wonderful it would be to have us both riding off into the sunset on his motorbike.

ME! The person who packs the proverbial kitchen sink wherever I go. It is no accident that I drove a Volvo V70 estate for years, nor is it an exaggeration to say that it was regularly packed to maximum capacity.

Yet somehow, because I love my husband as I do, I find myself sitting on the back of his motorbike with four days luggage in a bag not much bigger than the glove box in my beloved V70…


I’m on the bike and my stomach lurches every single time we round a bend. There’s a scary, sickening, sucking sensation whenever a truck passes by. And then there’s the wind! Do you know how much wind there is when you’re on the back of a motorbike on the motorway? And did I mention that I’m scared? Let me clarify it for you – I’m terrified.

Before we set off, there was lots of helpful advice from other riders and their pillion partners.

“Relax”, they said.

“Lean in”, they said.

“Follow the rider”, they said

…. to the A-type, control-freak ME, who considers it a breakthrough if I relax on holidays, never mind on the back of a frigging motorbike! Their ‘helpful’ suggestions fall on deaf ears, mostly because I am too busy listening to the sound of my own internal dialogue trying to talk myself down from this narrow ledge of near madness!


This is insane!


“This is insane”, “Why did I ever agree to this”, “What if I die?”, and similar ‘helpful’ questions scream at me inside my head.

Instructions about what to do or how to ride weren’t going to help. I KNEW everything I was supposed to do (did I mention the OCD levels of research I’d done?).

A lack of information wasn’t the issue here.

It was the unadulterated terror that I’m going to die!

Not because of a lack of faith in my husband’s riding skills but because I’m afraid my own terror will make me react in such a way that the bike will wobble or swerve or lose balance in some way. On a bike weighing 276kgs of cruising comfort, the rider prefers to be the only one influencing the ride!

And then, there was ‘performance pressure’ to be sure… the friendly, grinning faces of the other riders and their pillions, willing me to have a great time so I could join them on other trips in the future. They all looked so relaxed and chilled, and they made it look so easy. No pressure on the girl who hates to disappoint others or let the side down, no matter what.

Now you’d think I didn’t want to do this…but I promise I did.

Since making an intentional, life-changing decision in my early 20s, I refuse to let fear stop me doing things.

And while I didn’t know if I wanted to ride pillion long-term, I was certain I wanted to overcome the terror thoughts that were happening inside my head. And so the battle to overcome fear had to begin.


Twenty minutes into this ‘big adventure’ and I know I can’t do it – not this way. We had three days of riding ahead and this was just too hard. Something needed to change. In case you haven’t noticed, I talk to myself a LOT and so I needed to have a word!

This trip was supposed to be about having fun, and adventure, and connection and about overcoming fear but it could be none of these things while I was terrifying myself with my thoughts.

I needed to change my thoughts and so, I talk to myself some more.

I know (with my left-brain-logic) all the things I’m supposed to do on the bike – how I need to communicate with the rider, to move with the bike, not to lean over too much to one side etc. But let’s face it, knowing the steps to a dance doesn’t make you a great dancer, just as knowing the notes on the piano doesn’t make for a great tune. There’s something more, something else I’m missing. More than this logical information, which simply isn’t enough to distract my reptilian brain from doing what it does well – terrifying me to keep me safe.


Slow and ease and flow…


I need to move my body to what I call ‘slow and ease and flow’. If I can do that on the bike, it might help. I’m thinking frantically now. How can I move to that other ‘right-brain-creative’ part of me where flow and ease comes easy? Where my West Cork memories are kept, where I go when I watch my bird feeders or notice a beautiful sunrise, where I go to create my stories for Toastmasters. And so, I force my thoughts to these happy places and my whole body relaxes, just a tad to start, but it is a start.

Here on the bike, just for a moment, I’m able to relax. Then we go around a corner and I get scared and need to hold on tight again. And then I remember once more and allow my body to move from terror and tenseness to curiosity and the possibility of calm.

It takes work, and effort, and will. My biology responds quickly in both directions – I get scared and go rigid or remember calm and can soften. It becomes a game inside my head once I stay curious and eager to learn. Potholes (or humpback bridges) change my biology (aka tension, faster heartbeat, terror thoughts) whereas switching to flow (I imagine a move to the right side of my brain) allows me to relax and take in information outside of the confines of my skull.

It would be lovely to be able to say that by the time those four days were over I was fully at ease on the bike but that simply wasn’t true. Like most things in life, practice was needed, and there’s always a messy middle. But I was determined that fear wouldn’t stop me, regardless of whether I wanted to ride pillion long-term.


Many trips and much practice later, I am at my happy place on the back of the bike. These days, I use my knees to hold on so that my hands are free to take photos as we weave our way through country roads.

And instead of terrifying thoughts, I listen to the tinkling sound of raindrops on my helmet. Instead of scenes of carnage, I see views of rolling hills and beautiful countryside from my vantage point as pillion. I smell the scent of the sea long before I see the waves. I can create stories and possibilities and flow.

I doubt I’ll ever be a ‘natural’ pillion – childhood trauma has meant that hyper-vigilance comes easy for me. But humans are incredible, and we can choose to never stop learning more useful ways of being. And I love staying curious and eager to learn how I can be present and experience each day outside the confines of my skull. Life is impressive. It would be a shame to miss it.

Wishing you a life outside the confines of your skull.

Ashleigh Xxx