How to… ride pillion on a motorcycle – carole nash

It almost goes without saying that if you ride a contemporary sportsbike then you’ve not got the best tool for the job. With a tiny, thinly-padded pillion seat, a lofty knees-high riding position and little or nothing firm to hold on to, it’s probably best if you limit your two-up trips to no more than a few miles at most, and then preferably with a light, experienced and confident passenger.

With extra weight on the back your bike will handle differently, and generally the smaller the bike the bigger that difference will be. Tyre pressures should be checked and generally increased by a few psi. The rear suspension spring preload should also be upped a bit, or a lot, depending on the bike and passenger, and if you’re riding after dark then your headlamp beam(s) will need lowering or dip beam will dazzle while main beam will point to the sky.

Your owner’s manual will almost certainly have the relevant information for your specific model, so check the handbook and follow their instructions.

You may or may not have much in the way of spare kit for your passenger, but he/she needs to be in suitable clobber. ‘All the gear, all the time’ is the best advice but, as a minimum, this should be boots above the ankle, tough jeans (not pre-ripped), a motorcycle jacket, gloves and a decent helmet that fits. If you’re to be the pillion and your driver is dressed like pro bike racer but can only offer you an old open face helmet, then you might want to take an Uber instead…

If the bike has a top box or back-rest fitted, or if it’s a tall pillion seat, then when signalled to do so by the rider the passenger may first have to stand on a pillion footpeg for a leg-up, and then feed the other leg over before being seated. This places a lot of weight to one side of the bike so be sure the rider is fully ready before getting on.

With luggage fitted, the third and least common way is for the pillion rider to climb on first while the bike’s on the sidestand and manoeuvre him/herself back to the pillion seat before the rider does a slow ‘hurdle’ onto the bike and then heaves it upright off the stand. Be aware that this method can place undue stress on the sidestand, and it’s not a great idea to both climb aboard with the bike on the centrestand as it’s then nigh-on impossible to muscle it back onto two wheels.

The passenger should try to keep still and not fidget, especially at low speed. The slower the speed the more the driver will feel any movement and have to compensate for it. The passenger should keep both feet on the pegs at all times, even when stationary, and preferably hold on to a grab rail if fitted. If no grab rail or handles then hold onto the rider – something made easier if he/she’s wearing a pillion rider belt with handles.

With passenger aboard, the rider should drive as smoothly as possible, and if the passenger is a novice then be especially gentle while moving off from a standstill, and while accelerating, gear-changing, braking and cornering. A jerky gear-change or ham-fisted braking will feel ten times worse for the passenger. Always remember that your passenger doesn’t have handlebars to hold onto so he/she can’t brace themselves anything like as effectively as you can.

As already mentioned, the bike will handle, steer and stop rather differently with the weight of another person aboard, and the smaller the bike the greater those differences will be. The steering may feel lighter at low speed and generally less responsive, and the bike may be more prone to wheelies. The added weight will be much more noticeable at low speed, and you won’t have as much ground clearance in corners, or the same acceleration or braking ability, so anticipate further ahead and ride accordingly.

From the rider’s perspective there’s no doubt that a passenger (or rather the added weight of a passenger) dilutes the pure riding experience to a degree, depending on the bike’s aptitude for two-up use. On the plus side the more you and passenger do it the better you’ll both be at it, and a journey shared is one made all the more enjoyable at journey’s end.