Sharing the joy of traveling on your motorcycle with a pillion can be just as exhilarating as riding alone, perhaps even more, but riding with another person on the bike also brings the added responsibility for your passenger, and a set of rules that need to be followed if you and your passenger plan to have a pleasant journey.
Respect the law
Depending on the laws of your country, make sure you have a valid driving license that allows you to drive a pillion; in some countries a learner’s license does not permit riding two-up. Also, take care of the age of your passenger as, again, in some countries law forbids driving a pillion below a certain age, or if they can’t reach the passenger pegs. Be sure to check this before setting out.
Choosing the right ride
It’s not going to be an easy ride if you plan to travel on a sports bike. Sport touring, cruisers and dual-sport/adventure motorcycles should all fill this task rather easily. If you do own a sports bike or something that is not so comfortable, plan for more frequent leg-stretching stops than you might normally. Remember that your passenger is sitting on a (probably) hard seat pad with high peg positions and is almost squatting. I hope I don’t have to mention that, if you by any chance don’t have a back seat, you should restrain yourself from even attempting to carry a passenger.
Check your motorcycle
Always make sure your bike is in good working condition before heading out—good tires with plenty of tread on them and adequate pressure for the new weight, good working brakes, properly setup suspension for the additional load, etc. Take special care not to exceed the weight limitations of the bike (GVWR – Gross vehicle weight rating) specified in the owner’s manual, or on the bike itself. The stories of crashes due to broken suspensions, disrupted motorcycle handling, etc., are something to think about…
Full safety gear for rider and passenger
All gear, all the time, for you and your passenger. And that means motorcycle helmet, jacket, gloves, pants and boots. Don’t even think about driving someone who you are responsible for without safety gear. Feel free to add some back protectors to the mix; you won’t need them, until (and if) you do.
In city driving, people tend to skip the pants and boots; just remember, denim pants will last only a few meters if you crash—and I won’t even mention knee protection. Also, don’t forget the passenger’s rain gear if you are touring multi-day. Be sure to bring along earplugs if traveling on highways. One thing I can highly recommend is motorcycle rider waist belt handles, this little gadget has helped me and my wife on our multi-day rides so much regarding comfort.
Keep everything smooth
Smooth shifting, braking and accelerating will bring you and your passenger a safer and a more relaxed ride, so be sure to keep an eye on that. Cornering clearance will also be affected, and there is no need to show off your knee dragging skills while touring/traveling—be safe. Be sure to practice low-speed clutch/throttle control in the parking lot with the passenger if you are not experienced with riding two-up. Remember, when riding a passenger you don’t dictate the riding pace, if the passenger is scared and wishes you to slow down—do it. Don’t scare your pillion; check your ego at the door.
If driving a first-timer, always instruct them before riding about the rules of being a passenger on a motorcycle. The more you prepare them, the easier and safer your ride will be.
Here’s a few tips:
• Passenger gets on the bike from the left side, after instructed by the rider, who sits on the upright bike and holds the front brake lever
• Start with your left foot on the left side passenger peg, holding on to drivers left shoulder for balance, step up and put right leg over the bike and on the right peg
• Always keep your feet on the foot pegs, even when the bike is stationary, unless the rider instructs otherwise
• Keep feet away from all hot parts, especially the exhaust pipes
• Restrain yourself from sudden moves and repositioning on the seat as that disrupts the bike balance. If adjusting on the seat is necessary, do it in a straight line and tell the driver beforehand
• Hold on to the rider’s waist, motorcycle handlebars or rider’s waist belt handlebars (last two are preferred)
• Ideally, the passenger is as close as he can be to the rider to reduce rear load
• If the rider is accelerating hard, lean forward a little as the rider surely does, and hold on
• During heavy braking, your weight will be transferred to the rider’s back and hands, so try to lean your hands on the gas tank if you can (depends on the bike), the driver is expecting it anyway
• Don’t lean into the corner or against it when cornering, just ride in line and relax. Looking over the rider’s inside shoulder will almost always give you the right angle
• If you are bumping helmets while riding, you are either sitting too close to the driver or the driver should be smoother in operating the bike
• Don’t get off the bike until instructed to do so, and do it in the same way you got on the bike (non-muffler side)
Deal with the new handling conditions
All the extra weight on the end of your bike is going to disrupt its handling, especially if you have extra luggage (side and top case). Fast accelerating or uphill driving will make your front wheel really light, so take special care so as not to accidently pop a wheelie. Take it slower from the start, but remember that, as you are going slower, the handling gets tougher because of the added weight on the bike, and we all know that speed keeps the bike upright. Braking time will increase so be sure to use your front and back brakes at all times. Also, be ready to counter the effects of wind, as you are now a larger object all-around.
Communication between a passenger and driver is crucial. Intercoms offer the best experience of communication, but a series of hand signals will also do—thumbs up for good, down for bad, two taps on the shoulder for stop, etc. You get the picture; devise your own and stick to them. Communicate. If you need to stop for a toilet break or to stretch your legs, let the rider know.
A few words of caution for wannabe motorcycle passengers. Don’t get on the bike if you don’t trust the rider, don’t know the rider, the rider is drunk or drugged (this should be common sense), or the rider does not have a valid driver’s license—it’s your life at stake.
Motorcycle ergonomics and safety are important, especially when riding with a passenger, so be responsible and do what it takes to enjoy traveling and to finish the ride safely.
What are your experiences with riding with a passenger, any great tips to share? Please write in the comments below.