How to Ride a Motorcycle with a Passenger
And especially when it comes to those who enjoy taking longer trips aboard their bikes, a significant passenger is almost doubling the fun. But riding with another person on the bike comes with a slightly different set of rules, and the purpose of this tutorial is to help new riders understand better what riding with a passenger means and preventing them from getting into unnecessary trouble.
Riding two wheels is already a risky business and making things harder is not helping anyone – operator, pillion, or other road users, so here we go!
Legal aspects of riding with a passenger are the first thing you should be concerned with. Are you qualified to ride with another person on your motorcycle? Is it legal for you to ride with a passenger? Is your passenger allowed to ride on a motorcycle?
As for your passenger's ability to ride on a bike, laws specify that kids (under varying ages) are not to be carried as motorcycle passengers. Even more, it is commonly accepted and sometimes imposed by law that a passenger's feet must reach to the foot pegs, for obvious safety reasons.
As for your opinion on the skill level, it's better to adopt a careful approach to the matter, as many accidents are caused by insufficient operator skills. Take things easy and everything will be alright.
Trust and communication
When someone hops aboard your bike, you take responsibility for that person. You're the one in charge and you're the one that person must entrust his or her safety to. You should trust that person and he or she must trust you. It's a two-way relationship which is also cemented by communication.
Even though the ideal pillion is the “sack of potatoes strapped to the back seat,” this does not mean that the passenger should act like a corpse. So you should be prepared to listen to questions and comply with demands, such as slowing down or riding less aggressively, stop for a leak or a simple break, and so on.
Always remember you're riding with a human in the back, and humans have fears, joys, and like to express them. Communication is essential aboard a bike, just like it is in the real life.
Riding with a passenger must not turn into a continuous chit-chat which could (and will) distract the operator's attention. Likewise, it's a very bad thing to quarrel while riding, or discuss subjects which require intense mental resources. A distracted rider is a dead or injured rider and, by all means, motorcycling is not about these two.
If you're taking your passenger for the very first time aboard a bike, make sure you choose an easy road and ride smoothly, possibly in a nice scenery. Making sure your passenger is alright every now and then is always welcome and builds up a lot of trust. If you still don't get the trust thing, please read this sub-chapter again.
Just like you yourself were about to ride a bike you've never seen before and would prefer it worked perfectly OK, your passenger trusts you he or she is throwing a leg over a secure machine.
Starting with decent tires with plenty of tread remaining and with no bumps and other defects, brakes working as they should, suspension capable to support the extra weight, and down to pretty much all the things you check before you ride solo. Brake fluid, gas, oil level, lights, and tire pressure.
Most manufacturers provide different tire pressure values for riding with extra weight, gear, or passenger, and you'd be a wise rider complying with those values, as they're there with a purpose. Some bikes have them printed on a label, and in other cases these values are to be found in the bike's operation manual. Memorize and utilize them!
You're not allowed to carry a passenger on a bike with no passenger foot rests. If you don't understand why this is, then you should abandon the thought of bringing someone with you on the bike.
Even sports bikes come with detachable pillion footrests: plan to have some girl aboard your Ninja, install the foot pegs! At the same time, consider the length of the ride: a superbike's second seat is not exactly engineered for riding with a passenger for 200 miles, whereas your girlfriend will still be happy aboard a Honda Gold Wing after 300 miles or more. Bear in mind you're responsible for your passenger's comfort, too.
Never ride with a passenger squeezed together with you on a single-person seat: if the bike has no two-up seating, there will be no passenger on that bike.
A well-prepared bike makes things easier for both of you and funnier, and that's how things are supposed to be.
If she's a passenger, she must be geared, and this goes just the same in case the passenger is male. A homologated motorcycle helmet is required by the law in most states and countries, and making sure your passenger is safe in this aspect is paramount.
For short rides, you may borrow a helmet form some of your friends in case you don't have one, but if you plan to ride with this person on a regular basis, it’s shopping time. For a good introduction on how to buy motorcycle helmets, make sure you read this dedicated Autoevolution guide.
Motorcycle gloves are the next thing on the safety chart, as they will protect your passenger's hands even in the silly, and most often, funny tip-over in the parking lot. Why scrape your skin against the asphalt when you can be safe just by wearing gloves?
This goes for city rides, where we'd say jeans and a thin leather or denim jacket could do. Even so, riders are doing this at their own risk, as jeans will tear up and expose the body in less than a second, in case of a crash.
If you plan longer trips with a passenger, then he or she must wear the same protective gear as you do. Boots, jackets and trousers, leathers, whatever is homologated for the purpose. Your passenger will be almost as exposed to risk and elements as you are, and it's critical to be well geared up.
If you're starting to ride with a passenger who has never ridden aboard a motorcycle, you should instruct him or her on some basic safety matters.
New passengers have a natural tendency to stay upright as the bike and you lean into a turn. Cue the “sack of potatoes strapped to the seat” theme. You passenger must keep their feet on the foot rests at all times, minding to avoid touching the mufflers lest burns or unnecessary damage to gear occurs.
Passengers must be relaxed, yet keep a firm contact with the bike, hand grabs and all. You should definitely instruct your passenger to avoid making any sudden moves or turns, as they can negatively affect your ability to operate the bike.
It's been more than once when tragedies happened because of passenger getting scared as the bike leaned into a curve and suddenly stood up, so it really pays not becoming this kind of statistics.
You must also instruct your passenger about some of the things you do, even though they seem natural to you: holding on when throttling away, trying to avoid constantly knocking helmets when rolling off the acceleration or braking, and so on.
Speaking of braking, it is extremely important that your passenger does not push you over the tank and bars during a more powerful brake. Instruct him or her to brace with the hands against the fuel tank in such cases, or with at least one hand, the other grasping the hand grabs.
When riding on bumpy roads, it is also a wise decision to instruct your passenger to get a better grip of the bike or you as you warn about an incoming obstacle. After having ridden many times on fire roads and off the roads with a pillion, I prefer to just announce her to hold on really well until we're at the end of the road and remember to step wide in case we come to a halt and laying the bike is the only solution.
Your safety depends on the pillion's actions as well, so the better prepared your passenger is, the better your ride will be. You can also consider having your constant passenger take a motorcycle safety course: he or she will surely learn a lot on what life aboard a bike is like.
Riding with a passenger means more weight on your bike and this, in turn, means your bike will handle completely differently. Being aware of this and learning how to adapt to the new conditions is critical. If you want to ride with a passenger, you have to learn how to ride this way.
The first thing you'll notice is that the bike is less stable at low speed: given the added weight, keeping it upright will be a tad harder, and if you're not a muscular rider, extra care is to be exercised. The machine will turn differently and the shifting weight through the curves will be the next thing you'll notice.
Take it easy and learn how things work anew: you'll have to adjust everything, from leaning to the amount of countersteering. It's not rocket science, but taking things gradually is the best way, as the bike is now eager to catch you wrong-footed.
Finer clutch work is now needed, as well as more throttle when starting from a stop. Bear in mind that the weight-power ratio of your machine has changed and you're now riding a lazier beast: it will need more throttle and time to reach a certain speed, it will accelerate slower so overtaking maneuvers are to be exercised with another mindframe.
At the same time, one of the critical aspects is that your motorcycle will be harder to stop, more weight in movement means more impulse, and neutralizing this impulse asks for more opposing force.
While your bike remains unchanged as far as brakes are concerned, extra care is to be given to the matter, as you'll need longer distances and more time to come to a halt. And knowing this is sometimes the thin red line between safe and not safe.
Finally, make sure you have your bike off the sidestand and in firm grip prior to allowing your passenger to step up. There's probably no sillier sight than bike, rider, and passenger crashing into the parking lot at 0 mph, just because the operator was not ready to have the pillion getting on the motorcycle.
In the end. Riding with a passenger is a thing we all have to learn at some point, and it's just like the first time you got on a bike. Take it easy and work out your own rhythm. Ride far, ride together, ride safe!