Riding a motorcycle requires a bit of skill and adding a passenger makes it even more challenging. New riders may want to wait a while before attempting to ride two-up.
There is a lot of liability involved in taking someone for a ride on a motorcycle. The only thing keeping you upright is a combination of physics and rider skill, and skill is the only thing under your control. Adding another person can almost double the amount of weight the bike carries dramatically changing the way a bike handles.
That being said, learning to ride a motorcycle with a passenger is way to share your experiences. Sometimes, motorcycling is just too much fun to keep to yourself. Riding two up requires extra attention, but it is absolutely worth the effort. Lorri Carney, a motorcycle instructor since 2011 with Team Oregon, offers her thoughts, advice and tips on 2-up motorcycle riding.
Getting Your Motorcycle Ready for a Passenger
1. Carrying a heavy passenger on a small motorcycle can be hard work. A bigger and more powerful motorcycle usually handles a passenger easily. In addition to the extra weight, a passenger changes the center of gravity and how the bike rides. Make sure your bike is set up to handle the extra weight. Trying to carry an additional full-size adult without ensuring the bike is set up for it is never a good idea. Also the added weight will impact acceleration, braking, and suspension. Make sure your brakes are in good shape to be able to stop with a heavier load, and that your suspension is set up for additional weight.
2. Your bike will require someplace for a pillion (passenger) to sit and a place to put their feet.
3. If you're only carrying a pillion over a short distance, there's no real need to adjust your motorcycle. If you will be going long distance, it's worth your while to adjust your motorcycle's suspension and tire pressure to handle the extra weight. If you will be doing the adjusting yourself, be sure to check with your MOM (Motorcycle Owners Manual). MOMs know everything (at least about your bike)!
4. Backrests are a desirable feature for a passenger but not required. If the bike has a top case, this can double as a backrest. Some larger bikes have large backrests and arm supports. These allow the passenger to relax and feel secure without holding onto the rider. Smaller backrests may simply be there to prevent the pillion from sliding off, not as a place to rest their back.
5. Next important item is the seat. An ideal saddle is comfortable, wide enough to support your passenger and deep enough front to back to give them room to adjust their position without crowding against you, the rider. A narrow seat can be uncomfortable and make the passenger feel less secure. It should not slope rearward and any slope to the front should be very minimal to keep the pillion from sliding into the rider. Some cruisers and touring bikes have a raised passenger seat. This may permit the passenger to more easily see over the rider. Nearly all motorcycles can have a passenger seat replaced with a more comfortable one.
6. Having a place for your passenger to put their feet can be an issue. If your bike doesn't have passenger pegs, check the manufacturer's recommendations for adding them. If they don't recommend it, choose a different bike. You will also need to check that the pegs do not cause the pillion to bend their legs in an uncomfortable way. They will also need to be able to support themselves on their legs, especially over bumps. Floorboards can offer more flexibility for them and are available for many cruisers and touring bikes.
Getting Your Passenger Ready to Ride
1. Be an excellent example and wear your own safety gear.
2. Starting with a helmet, it is the most important piece of safety gear. At a minimum, it should be a helmet that meets the DOT (Department of Transportation) standard. Even if it is not required by law because if something goes wrong, a helmet can stand between your passenger's death or life spent hooked up to machines. Proper fit of a helmet is immensely important. One that is too small can be uncomfortable or even painful. One that is too big can come off mid-crash. If the helmet doesn't have a face shield, they should wear impact resistant and shatterproof glasses or goggles. A helmet really is essential. It will protect you from a real life-destroying event.
3. Anyone riding on a motorcycle should be wearing safety gear that fits appropriately. If your passenger plans to ride with you regularly he or she should purchase proper riding gear. They might need you to go with them to help with informed opinions on type and fit. You can find adequate gear that doesn't break the bank. If your rider is a one and done type passenger, ask about the riding gear they plan to wear what you'll have to supply. You will need to plan ahead, hopefully borrowing gear from friends or relatives. Remember the person in control of the motorcycle carries the burden of the responsibility to keep their passenger safe.
4. Both of you should wear long pants. Even a minor tip-over can leave uncovered legs scarred for life. Jeans would be the bare minimum as any kind of acceptable job of protection. Heavier clothing is better, and pants designed for motorcycling have armor over joints. We can grow back skin, joints may have to be replaced after a crash.
5. If they don't have gloves, you should supply some. Even a pair of heavy leather work gloves will suffice if they fit properly. A snug fit is important, so they don't come off if things go wrong. Fingerless gloves are not adequate protection against abrasion during a crash. Gloves should always cover your entire hand.
6. Motorcycle jackets are specifically designed to make them more comfortable while riding. They provide better protection in a fall because of the materials they are made up and the integrated armor over the joints. But if one isn't available, a jacket made of solid textile is better than nothing, such as a denim jacket. A garment made of lightweight fabric is not sufficient protection.
7. Real motorcycle boots are nice, and also provide armor over ankle joints, but any solid shoe that covers their foot and ankle will give some protection. If the footwear has laces, make sure they are tucked in so they can't flap around and get caught in the rear wheel, drive belt or chain. This might cause a crash, but it will certainly injure your passenger.
How To Ride with a Passenger
1. Trust is the most important part of riding with a passenger. They have to completely trust in you because you are completely in control of safety especially if they don't know you well yet. You must earn their trust, and be careful to keep it. If your passenger doesn't trust you completely, don't be afraid to tell them that they shouldn't ride with you. You also need to be able to trust that they will not do anything that compromises the safety of either of you.
2. Some riders may not slow down and be more careful to accommodate an inexperienced passenger. This could be scary for the passenger and may ruin motorcycles for them.
3. Smoothness ALWAYS counts when it comes to riding a motorcycle.
4. While carrying someone on the back of your bike, slow down all of your input. There will be more weight over the rear wheel making it doubly necessary to go easy when accelerating. The motorcycle won't accelerate as quickly with the additional weight, but the front end will be more likely to go skyward if you jerk the throttle. The key here is smooth acceleration.
5. Braking will be your most noticeable differences. Stopping distances will be longer and require more braking force, especially if you need to stop in a hurry. It is important to plan your stops well in advance and begin braking sooner than you would if you were riding by yourself. With additional weight, stopping distances will increase so you will want to start braking earlier because it will take longer to stop smoothly. The good news is that the extra weight over the rear wheel can provide a little more braking stability.
6. Cornering should be done carefully because the extra weight of the passenger will compress the suspension and now you will have less ground clearance than you are used to. Hard parts of the bike may scrape the ground in corners. You may want to warn your passenger before heading out for your first ride together. Also inexperienced passengers have the tendency to lean the opposite direction you're turning. An easy solution is to tell your passenger to look over your shoulder to the side that you're turning. This will cause them to lean just enough to be helpful without fighting the turn or being "over helpful" all of a sudden while right in the middle of the turn.
7. The key to making the ride pleasurable for both the rider and the passenger is to stay smooth. You may even notice that you have become a better rider even when you aren't riding two up.
Helpful Tips and Pointers to Give Your Passenger Before Riding
1. If this is their first time, they might not know how to get on the motorcycle. Ask your passenger to wait until you tell them you are ready before they try to mount. Have them approach the bike from the left side, the non-muffler side. Make sure the passenger pegs are down and the motorcycle is completely upright with your legs braced to keep it that way before your passenger gets on the bike. The bike may seem more stable when it is on the kickstand, but it will actually be harder for you to straighten it up once it has the extra weight.
2. Instruct your passenger to hold on to you tightly. If they have a loose grip, they will be more likely slam into you when stopping and also feel like they're going to fall off when you accelerate. You might not like this technique, but it's way better than feeling like your passenger could slip. While holding on, your passenger should refrain from transferring any of their weight onto you. The usual placement of the passenger's hands is on either side of the rider's waist.
3. Let your passenger know to keep their feet on the foot pegs when you come to a stop. Your motorcycle is at its most vulnerable to tipping over when stopped because you won't have the help of momentum to keep you upright. Their attempting to put a foot down can throw off your and cause the bike to fall down. When coming to a stop or slowing down, your passenger should stay as stable as possible. The best way they can do that is by copying your movements as much as possible. You might tell your passenger to stay on the balls of their feet to make it easier for them to be in sync with your movements.
4. If you aren't using helmet to helmet communication devices, you and your passenger should discuss alternate ways to communicate with each other while riding. A system of taps or hand signals and what they mean. It might not be possible to communicate vocally over the sound of the wind while in motion.
5. At the end of your ride, ask them to wait to move until you let them know you are ready. Just like when they were mounting the bike, you will need to brace your legs to keep the bike upright. Have them dismount the same way they got on toward the left, non-muffler side.
Lorri Carney has saddled up since 2006 and in that time owned six motorcycles, her current ride a 2015 Triumph Tiger 800 named Gwendolyn. After five years of riding she joined Team Oregon as an instructor, one of the best decisions she's ever made.