A student on a recent rider course recently asked for some tips on riding two-up. I gave him a couple of tips. Then a few more. And a few more. I ended up giving him so much advice I realized carrying a pillion / riding 2-up is almost a discipline by itself and certainly worthy of a blog post in its own right.
Carring a pillion (passenger) is not covered in any training syllabus I’m aware of (mine included!) and yet it alters the handling dynamics of a motorcycle pretty severely. There’s also things you do by yourself that you should never do when throwing someone on the back, or that you should certainly do in a different order than the one you are accustomed to. I’ve carried plenty of passengers on all sorts of bikes over the years from my parents, to girlfriends, my mates and my kids. Here’s my tips for riding 2-up successfully:
Ride The Right Bike
This also appears in my Commuting Tips article, but if you are going to be carrying a passenger regularly, then involve them in your choice of motorcycle as they will be spending almost as much time on it as you will. That doesn’t mean you can only ride pillion on a GoldWing but your passenger should be as close to comfortable as you are. There’s no point lusting after that R1 if the missus is going to be perched like a parrot over the back wheel and is screaming to get off after 20 minutes because her legs have seized up. From a legal standpoint, you must also make sure your bike is designed to carry a pillion. If your machine doesn’t have a rear seat or rear pegs, your passenger-carrying plans should end here.
Brief Your Passenger
Before your passenger gets anywhere near swinging their leg over, brief them on a few simple rules and regs for getting on and off, cornering, do’s and dont’s etc. There’s no point you reading this entire blog post and absorbing all this good advice if you don’t share any of it with your errant passenger :-)
Tire Pressures & Suspension Adjustments
Check your manual for the correct settings, but all that extra weight will mean you’ll need more air in your tires and firming up your suspension. On modern bikes this is as easy as quick blast of an air compressor and twisting the pre-load handle up several notches. Tires and suspension are critical on a motorcycle – don’t cut safety corners by leaving them untouched before riding 2-up.
Mounting & Dismounting (Getting On & Off)
The drill for getting on and off the bike with a passenger is very different to the one by yourself. By yourself, you swing your leg over the bike which is nicely resting on its side stand, pick the bike up so it’s level and kick up the stand. You can’t do this with a pillion for several reasons. Firstly, the side stand is not meant to take the weight of the bike, you AND a passenger all at the same time. That is a huge amount of weight applied to a small metal stick. Secondly, try picking up the bike off it’s side stand with two of you on it – almost impossible. Or certainly an awful lot harder than when it’s just you by yourself. The process for getting on and off is simply thus:
Start the bike up and get on as usual, pick it up and raise the side stand. Place BOTH feet firmly on the floor and apply the front brake. You want the bike to be as stable and immobile as possible for your incoming passenger. Signal to your ride to saddle up. The heavier your passenger is, the more you will need to use your legs to compensate and hold the bike up. Your passenger should mount from the opposite side to the exhaust and placing their foot on the peg and swinging their other leg over. Make sure they are seated comfortably and are completely settled before moving off.
Dismounting is the opposite of mounting. Place both feet on the floor and apply the brake. Only then, give your passenger the ok to dismount. Have them get off the opposite side to the exhaust. Once they are fully off and clear, get off the bike as you would usually.
Passenger Engagement When Cornering
This should be a major part of your brief (above), especially to those who have never ridden on a motorcycle before. Explain how the motorcycle steers (by leaning) and that when the bike is leaned over, it is critical to not tense up, counter-lean or assist you by leaning too much. These can all have disastrous directional consequences on the motorcycle (never a good thing when in the middle of a corner!). The best way for any passenger to be is completely neutral. When leaning the bike over – make sure they stay as neutral as possible. This will keep the bike predictable through the corner and ensure you are not having to react to a twitch or counter lean from someone on the back.
Adjust Your Riding
Riding 2-up adds a lot of weight to your motorcycle. Be aware this will make it harder to balance, steer and handle. Accelerating will feel more sluggish and will take longer. Braking will require more effort and longer braking distances. Handling at low speed will be more difficult. You will not be able to ride like you do by yourself. Adjust your riding accordingly. Do not try and park the motorcycle with your passenger on the back. Have them dismount, then park it. No points are awarded for trying to look like a hero and you are far more likely to drop the bike with a passenger at low speed or parking which is not only embarrassing but often costly as well.
Leading into adjusting your riding is placing a premium on operating the controls smoothly and slowly. Jerking the controls or sudden throttle / braking causes the dreaded “helmet bump” where your pillion’s helmet smacks into the back of yours. Your pillion doesn’t know when you are going to change gear, slow down or accelerate so give them enough time to react and be as smooth as possible.
When you brake, especially fairly hard, your pillion’s weight will pile up behind you, placing a lot of pressure on your arms and wrists. This can be unpleasant at the same time you are trying to operate the controls of a heavy motorcycle. It can (in severe cases) cause you to lose grip on the bars. Again – adjust your riding, slow down and give yourself more time and space. With the extra weight, you will need it.
Your passengers should have the same level of protection that you have so make sure your passengers are wearing as much protective gear as possible.