How To Ride a Motorcycle With a Passenger

Passenger riding can be a lot of fun if you know what you're doing 39 photos
Photo: Honda
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Riding a bike solo is, for both rookies and seasoned riders, a very personal and exhilarating experience. It is, basically, why many of us get into motorcycle riding: to have the chance of being in control, all on our own, of a two-wheeled monster. But there are cases when we just have to take a passenger along for the ride, and that's when the dynamics of riding a bike changes.
For some, sharing the joy of riding with people other than the other bikers who ride by your side adds much more color to life. For others, it could be quite a hassle.

When it comes to those who enjoy taking longer trips on the backs of their bikes, a passenger almost means doubling the fun. But even for them, riding with another body in the back of the bike is subject to an entirely different set of rules, both legal and physical.

These new rules could prove particularly challenging for new riders, and that's why we thought we'd give them a heads-up of sorts into what it means to ride a bike with a passenger, in the hopes this could help you avoid getting into unnecessary trouble of any kind.

Legal aspects

Honda Gold Wing Tour
Photo: Honda
The first thing you should consider before setting out on a bike trip with a passenger on board is the first thing you should be concerned with. And the best way to make sure you comply with the written rules, there are a few short questions you should be able to answer: Am I qualified to ride with a passenger? Is it legal to ride with a passenger, on this bike, here? Is the passenger allowed to climb on the pillion?

At first glance, it may seem like the answer to all of the above questions is easily "yes," but things may differ in real life, depending on a series of factors, from the place you live in to the type of permit you have. For instance, if you have a learner's permit, it may be illegal for you to get on the road with a passenger, or you may simply not be allowed to do so on certain roads. So, before setting out on a two-wheeled trip, make sure you understand what the law allows you to do, and where.

Then, make sure the bike itself complies with rules and regulations. No matter where you are in this world, you are probably not allowed to carry a passenger if no pillion is installed on your motorcycle.

As far as the passengers themselves are concerned, the general rule is that kids of certain ages are not allowed to take on the role of passenger on a motorcycle. That doesn't have to do with age alone, but also with the fact that a passenger's feet must reach to the footpegs – height limitations are rare, because most bikes are made to accommodate most body types.

If you take on a passenger for the first time, make sure the first trip in these novel conditions are made on easy and known roads. Even if it's legal for you do to so, avoid going on complicated and lengthy routes.

As for you as a rider, no matter the skill level you believe to have, you should always make sure you exercise caution in all aspects of your ride. Take things easy and everything will be alright.

Bike condition

Harley\-Davidson Road Glide Limited
Photo: Harley-Davidson
The most important thing to consider when planning a safe ride (with or without a passenger) is the condition of the motorcycle.

Every time you set out for a ride, especially after a long winter, you should check every aspect of a bike. Looking at things from the ground up, you should make sure the wheels are shod in decent tires that offer plenty of tread and no bumps and other defects; you should check the brakes are working as intended and that the suspension system can take an extra passenger without issues. Make sure you also have a look at the brake fluid, gas and oil levels, lights, and tire pressure.

When it comes to this last part, tire pressure is particularly important when it comes to riding with a passenger. 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 suggested for a reason.

A must-have thing on a passenger bike are the footrests. These are crucial in helping the person in the back get a proper sense of stability, but they also help with making them more comfortable, especially during long rides.

A well-prepared bike makes things easier for both of you and funnier, and that's how things should be.


BMW R 18 Transcontinental
Photo: BMW Motorrad
No matter if the passenger is male or female, they must be properly geared for the ride. The list of must-have items includes a homologated motorcycle helmet, a jacket, and, as a recommendation, gloves and boots.

The helmet and jacket are there for obvious reasons, as they not only protect the passenger from the chills of riding a bike, but they also offer some degree of protection in case of a crash.

Motorcycle gloves, on the other hand, 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?

In case you're planning longer trips with a passenger, they'd better wear boots as well because, let's face it, the passenger will be almost as exposed to risk and elements as the rider.

If the weather is bad, make sure your passenger is also protected from the rain by means of waterproof garments or a pull-over rain suit or two-piece similar product. Waterproof gloves are a very good investment and will help both of you ride better and longer.

Safety briefing

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Photo: Kawasaki
If you're taking on a passenger who has never ridden before, you should instruct them on some basic safety matters. 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: they will surely learn a lot about what life aboard a bike is like.

First up, newbie passengers naturally tend to stay upright as the bike leans into a turn. They should learn to aid the rider a bit by going through the motions.

Then, the passenger must keep their feet on the footrests at all times, minding to avoid touching the mufflers lest burns or unnecessary damage to gear might occur.

Passengers must be relaxed yet keep firm contact with the bike, including through the hand grabs. 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.

You must also instruct your passenger about some things you need to do to properly operate the bike: 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 such maneuver. Instruct them to brace their 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 wise to instruct your passenger to get a better grip of the bike or you.

Trust and communication

Can\-Am Spyder RT Sea\-to\-Sky
Photo: Can-Am
When someone hops aboard your bike, like it or not, you take responsibility for that person. You're the one in charge and you're the one the passenger must entrust their safety to. Looking at the other side of the coin, you should be able to trust the person in the rear won't screw up the ride and endanger you both. It's a two-way relationship that is also cemented by proper communication.

Even though the ideal pillion rider is akin to a sack of potatoes strapped to the back seat, this does not mean that the passenger will act like a corpse, just along for the ride. So, you should always be prepared to listen to any questions they may have. More importantly than that, you should be ready to comply with demands, to slow down, to ride less aggressively, or to stop from time to time just for the sake of stopping or to satisfy some need.

It's easy to forget that the people in the rear of the bike are just that, people, with their own fears, joys, likes, and dislikes, and that's why communications is extremely important. You should not take things to the extreme, though, as a motorcycle doesn't allow the same level of chit-chat as a car does.

So, keep the chatter focused and intent to avoid distraction (which could be even deadlier on a motorcycle), don't fight and argue, and don't focus on anything else than on the ride itself. A distracted rider is a dead or injured rider and, by all means, so is the passenger.

Your riding

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Photo: Kawasaki
Riding with a passenger means more weight on your bike and this, in turn, means the motorcycle will handle completely differently. Being aware of this and learning how to adapt to the new conditions is critical.

The first thing you'll notice is that the bike is less stable at low speeds: 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 the bike experiences. It's not rocket science, but taking things slowly is the best way to go about this.

Finer clutch work and more throttle are now needed when starting from a standstill. Bear in mind that your machine's weight-power ratio has changed, and you're now riding a lazier beast: it will need more throttle and more time to reach a certain speed, and it will accelerate slower, so overtaking maneuvers are to be exercised with another mindset.

At the same time, another aspect is that your motorcycle will come to a halt harder than before. That's because more weight in movement means more inertia and impulse, and neutralizing these requires more force.

While your bike remains unchanged as far as braking power is concerned, extra care must be taken, as you'll need longer distances and more time to come to a halt. Knowing this is sometimes the thin red line between being safe and having a really bad day.

Finally, make sure you have your bike off the side stand and in a firm grip before allowing your passenger to step up. There's probably no sillier sight than a bike, rider, and passenger crashing into the parking lot at zero mph just because the operator was not ready to get the pillion on the motorcycle.

We all have to learn to ride with a passenger at some point, and it's just like the first time you get on a bike. Take it easy and work out your own rhythm. Ride far, ride together, and ride safe!
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