Pillion Riders – What You Need To Know

It should go without saying that riding with a passenger on the back of your bike is a very different experience to riding solo. The entire dynamic of your riding experience changes, and it also requires a lot more skill on your part to make sure that the journey for your passenger is as smooth, and as safe as possible. Your bike will be carrying almost twice the amount of weight, which means steering, cornering, braking and acceleration are all affected. Passengers provide challenges for even the most experienced bikers.

Gear Up

Just because they’re a passenger doesn’t mean they shouldn’t wear safety gear, so make sure your pillion has a helmet, jacket, gloves and boots. Boots are especially important for a pillion passenger because their legs are more likely to come in contact with your exhaust system. In the event of an accident you need to make sure that your passenger is as well protected as you are.

Pillion Riders

Pre-ride Check

You should spend at least twice as long checking your bike over before taking a passenger out on the road or highway with you. Check your suspension, double check your tire pressures, make sure your brake pads have plenty of “meat” left on them, and that your tire tread depth is more than adequate. Carrying another person on your bike puts a huge amount of pressure on it, so make sure it’s up to the challenge.

Pre-Ride Tips

Never assume your passenger knows the rules of riding on the back of a bike, especially considering this is your bike. The smart motorcyclist goes through a quick pre-ride tutorial with every passenger, even if they’ve been on the back of a motorbike several times in the past. This pre-ride session is for the safety of everyone involved, so never skip it.

Points to cover:

  • How to lean with you when cornering
  • Show them where to place their feet
  • Using grab rails, or holding on to you
  • Show them how to get on and off the bike
  • Advise against wriggling around when you’re driving
  • Ask them not to wave their hands in front of your helmet to get your attention
  • Remind them that you can’t hear them talking to you at speeds above 50mph
  • Ask that they tap you to let you know if they need to stop urgently
  • How long your ride will be


If you’re lucky enough to have an intercom system on your bike then your communication needs are already taken care of. In the absence of an intercom system you’ll need to use a series of signals or gestures to help your passenger communicate with you. The easiest way to do this is to use a series of body taps to let you know what they need. For example:

Thumbs up: Everything’s fine

Thumbs down: Not happy

Two slow taps: Stop when you can

Three quick taps: Stop immediately

One hand on left/right shoulder: Look in this direction

Patting motion in front of your visor: Slow down


It’s best to keep this stuff simple when explaining it to a novice passenger. The main point to cover is that they shouldn’t sit upright when you’re cornering, but instead lean gently in the same direction as you. Just be very clear that the further into the corner they lean the more the bike will steer in that direction, so they should only lean when you do. One great tip is to ask them to look over your shoulder in the direction you’re cornering – this automatically forces them to lean over gently without thinking about it too much.

Becoming Smooth

If nothing else riding with a passenger will teach you a lot about your riding style, or lack of it. So, even though you think you might be as smooth as silk on the road, your passenger will let you know that your riding skills might need some improvement. How? By their helmet accidentally hitting you in the back of the head – the loud “clonking” noise informing you that you’ve braked too suddenly, accelerated or decelerated too urgently, or that your gear changing isn’t as clean as it could be. The fewer “head clashes” you have with your passenger the better your riding skills are, so riding with a passenger is the perfect way to test your skill level.

At any point in the journey you feel the need to abandon the ride and return home, then please do that. A passenger who is unwilling or unable to follow basic riding and communication rules is a danger to both of you. Also pay careful attention to how the bike feels during the journey – it may need to have the suspension adjusted for carrying a passenger, or your tire pressure might be off. If your bike doesn’t feel right then head back home and check it out.

Riding with a passenger can be lots of fun for both of you, but the more prepared you are the more fun your time on the road together will be.

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