Tips for riding a motorcycle with a pillion passenger

Carlton Boyce / 01 October 2015 ( 12 April 2018 )

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.

Allow some time to familiarise yourself to riding with a passenger

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.

Carlton Boyce

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Guide your pillion passenger through the process

Unless they are an old hand at riding on the back of a motorcycle, 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 on to 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.

Make sure they dress warmly too - a warm summer's day feels a lot colder if you're sitting on the back of a motorbike as it navigates country lanes, and you want your passenger to spend their time admiring the scenery (and your more than competent riding style) rather than shivering in their leathers.  

Find out how to prepare your motorbike for spring

Engineer 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.

Communicate with your passenger

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?’

This will go a long way to reassuring anyone who is a little nervous as well.

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 when braking that’s just Newton telling you that you need to be even smoother…

How to be a more courteous driver

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? Or is there any aspect of motorbikes that you're curious about or topics you think we should cover? If so, email us on web.editor@saga.co.uk

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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.