Good Buddies

A comment posted on the BMW MOA YouTube channel raised an issue with which many riders are no doubt painfully familiar. The commenter mourned the loss of some long-time riding companions with whom he and his wife had enjoyed terrific compatibility, and for whom they had found no replacements over the past decade. While human beings are definitely not interchangeable, we naturally feel compelled to fill the voids left by cherished relationships in our past—often a dismayingly tall order. The post contained a novel idea: a compatibility questionnaire designed to help folks find riding buddies likely to be a good fit in terms of temperament, habits and priorities. I imagined something along the lines of a dating app, with algorithms developed to match riders based on such similarities. Swipe right to ride!

Mark during the press junket for the R 1150 GS.

Obviously, this is part of a more general problem facing all adults, not just motorcyclists. Ideally, one of the best things about youth is the way school presents us with a vast smorgasbord of friendship possibilities, all readily accessible on a near-daily basis. Later in life, the world of work may offer a similar array of socializing opportunities, but most jobs involve far fewer options and far greater complications when treated as sources of extracurricular connections. In my field of psychotherapy, I see this play out in another way. Whereas the relational fit between therapist and client is the most critical factor in how well therapy goes, people hunting a therapist have little or nothing to go on as they conduct their searches. Even a strong recommendation from a trusted source may indicate nothing meaningful about the resonance any individual will feel interacting with that specific clinician. Like I said, human beings are not interchangeable. While it’s certainly more promising to try a referral than to select someone at random from an insurance network list, the process still involves trial and error, and I caution seekers to view initial meetings as experiments, not commitments. Nobody is all things to all people, regardless of their talent or credentials.

Listen to this column as Episode 14 of The Ride Inside with Mark Barnes. Joining Mark on this episode is Tom Gary, President of the MOA Foundation. In Part 2 of their discussion, Tom gets gets deeper into the Foundation’s mission to improve rider safety, training and awareness. Submit your questions to Mark for the podcast by emailing podcast@bmwmoa.org.

Also in my work, I witness the distress of those who cannot find a satisfying romantic partner, although this is often a subset of their difficulties expanding a circle of friends. Despite the seemingly limitless connections instantly available online these days, establishing real-life engagement proves elusive for multitudes. Caricatures of social media culture can be amusing, but the dearth of genuine, abiding interpersonal relationships between flesh-and-blood human beings isn’t funny in the least. It’s excruciating for those lonely souls adrift on a sea of synthetic, illusory—and often destructive—pseudo-connections. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge bemoaned in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!”

Riding Together by Lynda Krivoniak. From the MOA Facebook group.

Helping people find fulfilling attachment is one of the core elements of my work. However, the only strategy I’ve found to have universal application (most people need their own unique methods) is to join existing groups that share an interest the person already has or wants to investigate. This approach provides at least one thing in common between the newcomer and the group, and that’s a better place to start than the random assortment to be found at a bar or other unfiltered hangout. Referrals from mutual friends are usually also better than potshots, but this process relies on someone else’s initiative and assumes the person has friends who know eligible others; the one in need can’t just unilaterally decide to collect a list of such candidates.

On one hand, motorcyclists are by definition part of a large community with both a common interest and tremendous variety. On the other hand, the people on tap in any specific location may be few and not aligned with a particular rider’s preferences. In a small town, there might be a little club of sport bike (or cruising, or dirt bike, etc.) enthusiasts with a web page showing their meeting and event schedule, but long-distance tourers (or any other category) may have no such publicized gatherings. Even when a rider finds a group, whether one with formal activities or a cadre who frequently end up at the same café or overlook, and they do the same general type of riding, there are dozens of variables that might still get in the way of comfortable, rewarding connections.

Are there others in the group with roughly the same skill level? It can be wearying, frustrating, and even humiliating, to always be the slowest or fastest person. How much time does the group spend chatting versus riding? The camaraderie among motorcyclists is one of the avocation’s biggest motivating factors, and some groups stop frequently to compare notes about the last leg of the outing, kick tires, or simply chat about whatever. Other groups spend only enough time without wheels turning to gas up, hit the restroom, and maybe gulp down a soda. What about other pragmatic issues, like how early the group usually heads out, how long a ride is considered a “good day,” and how unpredictably spontaneous or meticulously planned rides tend to be. All that—and plenty more—is before we even get to the unique mix of personalities within the group, and what, if any, sort of leadership exists. Finally, there’s no substitute for history; thoroughgoing compatibility still requires accumulated time together to cement connections securely, confirming across a variety of situations the favorable impressions made earlier and adding less obvious reasons to maintain affiliation.

Chris Tony and Michael by Michael Yang. From the MOA Facebook group.

When you consider all the requirements of an excellent riding relationship, whether between two people or among a larger group, it can seem amazing any such miracles exist, but of course they do. Nevertheless, the task of seeking out new connections can be genuinely daunting, especially for more introverted types who feel awkward among strangers. It’s important to set realistically limited goals. New arrivals are unlikely to endear themselves to an entire group at once. Conversing with a single other person is a perfectly legitimate achievement at a first gathering. In the absence of any organized meetings to attend, a rider might “go fishing” on the kind of roads or trails they like, pulling over to talk with any folks who’ve stopped to take in the scenery or stretch their legs. If they’re riding where you like to ride, a friendship might be in the cards. Fundamentally, this is a numbers game. Without exposure to many possibilities, one has little hope of finding a great fit. It will almost certainly not happen on the first attempt; perseverance will be necessary.

Getting back to the YouTube commenter’s notion of a compatibility questionnaire, I wonder what items such a tool might contain. I’m guessing a poll of riders would return suggestions for hundreds of possibilities. Simply putting them all together would likely yield a pretty low signal-to-noise ratio in the results, since they wouldn’t all be of concern to everyone looking for a match. This is yet another area wherein people differ. Not only would their answers to questions vary, but the questions they’d want answered would be different, too. A complex, and probably unwieldy, ranking system would have to be incorporated. Also, some folks may not be looking for a twin, but riding partners who are instead unlike them in certain ways. After all, variety is the spice of life for many people, and a diverse group can broaden its members’ horizons—stories are shared, curiosity is piqued, and explorations get planned and implemented with the benefit of veterans’ wisdom.

I love the idea of a “nifty little worksheet” for quickly determining who would make a good riding buddy, but I can’t conceive of any way to translate that from the theoretical realm to a practical application. There are just too many idiosyncratic aspects and intangible subtleties involved in the sorting process. As efficient as a questionnaire might seem, I suspect good old-fashioned verbal interaction is actually a more direct path to the desired treasure. I readily sympathize with the commenter’s grief and difficulty, and it’s a tragic fact of life some losses are ultimately irreplaceable. I encourage every seeker to keep looking, though. While diligence doesn’t guarantee success, abandoning the search does ensure no one will be found. Those presently enjoying the benefits of well-tailored riding companionship should count themselves truly fortunate, indeed.


Mark Barnes is a clinical psychologist and motojournalist. To read more of his writings, check out his book Why We Ride: A Psychologist Explains the Motorcyclist’s Mind and the Love Affair Between Rider, Bike and Road, currently available in paperback through Amazon and other retailers.