Tips for riding with pillion passengers

Carlton Boyce / 01 October 2015

Have a safe and harmonious trip with our guide to riding a motorbike with a pillion passenger.



Motorcycling is a multi-sensory thrill and the appeal is more than doubled with the addition of a trusted pillion passenger. 

The smells, sights, sounds and the freedom (as well as the acceleration and the cornering forces…) that two wheels bring will provide a world of shared memories to reflect on together when you hang up your leathers at the end of a road trip.

Idyllic? Without doubt. A source of potential conflict? Oh yes! 

But don’t worry, because we’re here to help.

Familiarization

Carrying a pillion will dramatically alter the way your motorcycle handles as it will increase the mass and change the centre of gravity. 

It also adds a load that will shift unpredictably at times, so you must take it steady for the first few miles until you understand exactly how, and by how much, your bike’s handling has been affected.

It will take your pillion time to understand their role, too. If they’ve never done it before you need to explain that they need to sit close to you, to mirror your body movements when you bank into a corner (they’ll probably instinctively try to stay upright the first few times) and tell them whether you want them to hold onto your waist or the grab bar at the back.

Short, low-speed rides will build their confidence in you before you do the pan-European grand tour you’ve been planning together for years.

Engineering in some compensation

You should investigate what the manufacturer of your motorcycle recommends with a pillion. Some will advocate adding a bit more pressure to your rear tyre or altering the rear dampers to compensate for the added weight.

You might also need to adjust your headlight’s aim, moving it down to stop you dazzling oncoming vehicles.

Communication

While you might not want to invest in a full helmet-to-helmet communication system, you do need to agree a way of communicating the basics like ‘I’m about to accelerate to overtake’, ‘you need to slow down’, ‘I need to stop’, and ‘do you fancy stopping for a coffee here?’

Smoothness

It’s always good to ride as smoothly as you possibly can but it’s doubly important with a pillion on the back. So accelerate, brake, and corner as smoothly as you can and try to remember that you know what you’re about to do while your pillion might not, especially as the only view they might have is of your leather-clad back! (Incidentally, it’s a great idea to tell them to look over your shoulder to help them anticipate what you and the bike are about to do as it’s amazing how many people wouldn’t think to do so.)

Oh, and if their helmet keeps banging into yours under braking that’s just Newton telling you that you need to be even smoother…

Low speed manoeuvres

Your pillion might not understand that low-speed manoeuvres are harder to accomplish than high-speed ones, so it’s worth explaining this and asking them not to fidget too much when you’re pottering along. It’s another counter-intuitive thing that you take for granted that they might not know.

Sports bikes and braking

If you own a sports bike it can be uncomfortable for you when your pillion’s weight is thrown forward under braking, leaving you to brace for both of you with your wrists. One way to overcome this is to suggest they use their hands to brace themselves against the fuel tank.

Coming to a halt

Once you’ve come to a halt, do you want your pillion to put their feet down on the ground or remain perched on their foot pegs? It doesn’t really matter which, but do tell them what you’d like them to do!

Finally, please try and remember that your pillion will feel completely helpless initially as they’ve relinquished control to you in an unfamiliar situation. If you take the time to build their confidence and trust you will both enjoy your motorcycling adventures much more!

Do you have any tips you’d like to share with us? If so, why not leave a comment below? 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.