Not everyone is born to ride. It may be difficult for those of us who were to understand, but some people honestly prefer to sit back and let someone else take them for a cruise. This can be fun for all involved. The passenger (or "pillion," as we call them) gets to experience a motorcycle without learning to ride, while the rider gets to share their passion for riding with them.
Of course, there's a right way and a wrong way to go about this. The wrong way is what I experienced in middle school, hopping on the back of a friend's dirtbike while he ripped wheelies around his yard. The right way is what we'll be focusing on here.
It should go without saying, but we'll say it anyway. Make sure your pillion has the same quality riding gear that you do. They're taking the same ride as you, therefore assuming the same risks. They should have equal protection. Imagine the guilt you'd feel if you dropped the bike and walked away unscathed, but your pillion got some nasty road rash.
Prepare For The Extra Weight
While I've seen people take a pillion on a Honda Grom, I wouldn't recommend it. Even on a larger bike, the weight of that passenger is going to drastically affect the performance and handling of the bike. Be prepared for that. The added weight will impact acceleration, braking, and suspension. Make sure your brakes are in good shape to help stop a heavier load, and that your suspension is set up for the additional weight. Many bikes also recommend increasing the rear tire pressure for a pillion. Check your bike's specs and make sure your pressures are set correctly regardless. Obviously, passenger footpegs are also a must.
Don't let your pillion hop on until you're ready and tell them so. Make sure the passenger footpegs are down and have them get on from the left side. Use your legs to brace the bike. I also like to hold the front brake through this process to stabilize it further.
When you're ready, give them the okay to get on. Normally they should just swing their right leg over the bike, just like you do. If you have a top trunk, backrest, or something else in the way, you may need to figure out another way. Especially if this is your pillion's first time, expect them to not know what they're doing, since they haven't learned the routine yet. Just keep the bike vertical and brace it with your legs and the front brake until they're on, with their butt firmly in the seat and their feet on the pegs.
In most cases, your pillion will need to hang onto you. Normally they grip you with their hands and arms, but some prefer to use their legs if you're up for that. Having a grip on you will help them not feel like they're going to fall off the back when you accelerate, as well as brace against you under braking so you don't smash your helmets into each other.
Depending on the bike, your pillion may have other things to hold onto, like a luggage rack or grab handles made for the job. On a touring bike, they might not even need to hang on at all unless you're braking hard. I've had people so comfortable on the back of my Honda PC800 with a top trunk for a backrest that they never needed to hang onto me at all.
Even slight movements from your pillion will impact how your bike feels. This is particularly evident when turning. Inexperienced pillion have the tendency to lean the opposite direction of the turn. Before departing, instruct them to stay as straight as possible while simply looking over your shoulder to the side you are turning toward. That tiny amount of extra weight to the inside, plus the consistency in their movements, will give you all you need to adjust your steering inputs accordingly. Their job is to stay put and let you handle the work of maneuvering the bike.
Even a small passenger adds a significant proportion of weight to the bike. Expect this when braking. The bike will take a longer distance to stop, and the brakes will require more effort.
When you stop, have your pillion keep their feet on the footpegs. You obviously need to put a foot down, but it's not necessary for them to as well. Besides, your pillion putting a foot down will upset the balance of the bike unexpectedly, which could cause you to tip over.
At the end of your ride, ask your pillion to wait to get off until you let them know you are ready. Once again, brace the bike with both legs and use the front brake. Have them dismount the same way they got on toward the left side. It's the same as getting on the bike, except in reverse.
- Ask your pillion not to turn around or make any sudden movements. These will upset your balance, be distracting at minimum, and could cause a crash at worst.
- Avoid high speeds or excessive lean angles.
- Bluetooth helmet communicators are a game-changer. Rather than using hand signals or yelling at each other incoherently at speed, you can have a normal conversation with each other inside your helmets. This way your pillion can tell you if they need to stop to use a bathroom or yell at you if you're going too fast.
What are your go-to tips when carrying a new pillion? Tell us in the comments below.