Riding as a passenger, or pillion, on a motorcycle combines exhilaration with some fright, at least for some people.
You can think of it like a roller coaster ride, in some respects. You have no control and you're simply along for the ride. But instead of being strapped in waiting for the brakes to release, a motorcycle passenger has some degree of responsibility to prevent a crash and keep the rider, or pilot, from overcompensating and making an error.
In the second of our two-part series on 2-up motorcycle riding, Lorri Carney, a motorcycle instructor since 2011 with Team Oregon, who has ridden as pillion and as pilot with a pillion, offered these tips and advice for a motorcycle passenger to allow for a more enjoyable experience.
1. Before going on a two up ride, you should be confident the pilot has quite a bit of experience riding already. It just might not be a good idea to get on a motorcycle with a newer rider. Never pressure a rider, new or otherwise, to take you for a ride if they aren't comfortable with it.
2. If you have never ridden or rarely ridden before, the rider should go through a number of details with you. Such as, no sudden movements. Especially when at a stop or going around a curve. Bikes are most stable when moving in a straight line. Your movements should match the rider's movements. While riding, teamwork is the key to a pleasurable ride for both of you.
3. If the rider hasn't already done so, it is good to go over a few tap or hand signals before you start. Make sure that you both agree to the signals and what they mean. It is nearly impossible to communicate verbally (without helmet to helmet communication devices) while riding because of the wind. You should arrange to stop 20 minutes into that first ride to discuss how the ride is going for you.
4. If you don't know how to get on the bike, ask what side to get on from and when you should mount up. Ask whether you can use the rider's shoulder or arm to steady yourself as you mount the bike. Most important, ask how to know that the rider is ready for you to mount.
5. Don't try to put your feet down when stopping. This may unbalance the motorcycle and cause the rider to drop the bike with you on it. When the rider comes to a stop, just leave your feet on the passenger pegs.
6. Find out where the rider would like you to hold on at. You can either hold onto the rider or the handholds, if the motorcycle has them. During acceleration and braking, make sure to brace yourself, keeping your body tight to the pilot. This will also keep you from moving around and banging into the rider while braking.
7. NEVER ride without protective gear. If you are unsure what you will need and how to put it on, ask the rider. Remember, in the event that something goes wrong, you will be in the same danger of injury as the pilot.
8. Know that riding with a passenger requires a bit more skill than riding solo, so a new rider won't have experience and these issues may present a challenge to him or her. Questions you will want to ask (and some preferred answers) before saddling up:
- "How long have you been riding?" (at least a year)
- "How did you learn to ride?" (riding for years or took a state sponsored rider-training course)
- "How much riding have you done with passengers?"
- "Do you have a motorcycle endorsement on your license?" (yes. ask to see it)
- This is a very important! A rider who has not obtained a motorcycle endorsement on his driver's license is either not serious about riding or doesn't think they have enough skill to pass the test.
- "Are you insured?" (yes)
- "Do you ever drink and ride?" (Never)
9. You will want to start with a short ride to see if you feel comfortable with the rider's riding proficiency and the motorcycle itself. Find out what ride is proposed for your first ride. If it is a day-long ride somewhere you might ask to go on a shorter ride or two before taking that long ride.
10. The pilot should agree to end the ride on your terms. Even to the point of turning around and going back. If you are absolutely unable to continue the ride, even to return home, the rider should wait with you until a friend can pick you up in a car or a taxi arrives. If you are frightened by the experience, regardless of the reason, this provides you a safe out.
11. After going over all the pre-ride stuff, it is now time to get on the bike. Wait until the pilot is stable, with the bike upright and both feet on the ground and signals you to get on. They should also engage the brake to keep the bike from rolling. If the foot pegs are not already out, you will need to pop them out. Get on by stepping on the near foot peg first, then swinging your leg over onto the other.
12. Once your feet are on the foot pegs, that is where they should remain for the duration of the ride, until it is time to dismount. At a stop, the rider should be able to support the bike without your help and you should keep your feet on the pegs. If you want to put your foot down at a stop, you should warn the rider beforehand. While riding keep your weight distributed evenly between the pegs and your seat. This will feel more stable, especially over bumpy or rough roads.
13. You should ask what the rider wants you to hold on to. If the bike has a large backrest or luggage to lean your back against, you may not need to hold on at all. On bikes without those things you should hold on to the rider at the waist with at least one hand. If there is a large grab rail around your seat, you can hold onto this with your second hand or hold onto the rider's waist with both hands. Do not hold on to the rider's shoulders or arms, it may interfere with control of the bike.
14. Ask the pilot how they prefer to take corners with a pillion. Your body position will influence steering, lean angle and will affect the rider's control of the bike. The best advice I ever got was to "turn my head and look over the shoulder of the rider in the direction of the turn." This will cause you to naturally lean into turns as the bike does. It is not necessary to lean more than that. It is super important to not suddenly shift your weight in the middle of a corner. Many are uncomfortable with the bike leaning in the corners. If you lean against/away from the corner then the rider must lean the motorcycle even further to make it around the turn. It is important to remember that leaning too little, too much, or when the rider doesn't expect it can make it very difficult to control the bike. Be aware that some bikes, with limited ground clearance like cruisers, may drag while cornering. This may startle you if you aren't expecting it.
15. During heavy braking or quick stops, you may be pressed against the rider. If you have a grab rail use it to take some of the pressure off the rider. While braking you can move your hands to the rider's lower back, but never higher up. If the motorcycle has grab bar(s) you can use those as a hand hold. While braking, grab bars are a better hand position than the rider's lower back.
16. Motorcycles can accelerate more forcefully than cars, which can cause a problem for you if there is no backrest. It might be difficult to get a firm hold on the rider with your hands and you can only hold on so-tight with your legs. If this is an issue for you, make sure to tell the pilot so acceleration can be done gently. The rider should be able to transition smoothly from a steady speed to slowing or accelerating. That will give you time to react. Paying attention to traffic around you can also give you a heads up to what actions the rider may have to make. It's not uncommon for your helmets to bump when speeding up or slowing down. This is usually not your fault, but the rider's. It can be fixed by the rider handling the bike more smoothly.
17. Especially for this first ride it should also be just you two. Riding with a group, puts pressure on the rider to do as the group does. Riding with a group can also create additional distractions.
18. You absolutely must assert yourself any time you aren't comfortable or enjoying this experience, even before you get on the bike. If the rider or the bike make you feel uncomfortable, stop things before they get worse.
19. When it's time to get off the bike, only do so when the rider tells you it's okay. Just jumping off unexpectedly, before the rider is ready, can cause them to drop the bike! As you are dismounting watch out for hot exhaust pipes. That is one of the reasons to get off on the left side, to avoid those extremely hot pipes.
There is a lot of preparation that goes into getting ready to take a passenger on the bike and to be the pillion. With some careful preparations beforehand, the two up experience will be enjoyable for both parties.
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.