Pillion riding

Taking a passenger on your bike means accepting a lot of responsibility. It works the other way too: riding as a pillion passenger means you can have a profound effect on the controllability of the motorcycle.

Taking a pillion

On the upside, having someone ride with you means you share the fun and experience. They might even help navigate and keep an eye out for hazards.

On the downside however, you have such things as potential distractions, the effect on bike handling and agility, and the likely need to adjust things like suspension preload and headlight aim.

Riding with someone you know, preferably another rider or experienced pillion, makes life easier. You never know how a stranger will react. Either way, every ride should start with a briefing.

Briefing

It is always worth reminding passengers of the essentials: how to mount and dismount, only get on or off when told, no feet down, no wiggling about, etc. Take novices or less experienced pillions through the sensations they are likely to experience: leaning when cornering, acceleration, braking etc.

Ask them to:
  • look over your left shoulder for left bends and vice versa, to better move in unison and minimise helmet clashes
  • look where you look
  • mount and dismount only when you indicate it's okay
  • sit relaxed and as part of the machine, so they avoid leaning into or against banking angles
  • keep their feet on the footrests at all times
  • place hands on knees, around your waist or gripping the rear passenger handles.
Work out some basic signals:
  • point to something of interest
  • raise a left thumb to ask, or indicate, all is well
  • use the left hand to simulate a talking mouth when you want to talk
  • rider taps the passenger’s left knee as a signal to hang on because you want to accelerate
  • passenger taps rider’s left thigh to signal danger
  • passenger hits rider’s right thigh as a signal to stop ASAP.

 

And always make sure your pillion has full protective gear and that everything is done up properly. With less experienced pillions, ask to check their helmet chin strap.

These tips are included in rider skills coaching courses you can take to make your ride [and that of your pillion] more enjoyable and safer. Click here for information on course providers near you

Technique

Getting on

As your passenger mounts or dismounts stand with both legs on the ground. On a slope, engage first gear as a brake and hold the bars.

If the pillion perch is high or the bike has panniers, light pillions should mount as if mounting a horse, using the left footrest to step up and swing their right leg over, while holding onto your shoulders. If the footrest isn't strong enough, they'll have to slide their right boot over the passenger seat from the left, following it until seated.

A low seat lets your passenger either stand on the left and swing their right leg over the rear of the bike, or slide a leg over the seat. Parking next to a kerb helps.

Seating

Passengers should sit close to your back, especially when starting and stopping, riding at slow speeds or in wet conditions. You may occasionally bang helmets, but that's better than a passenger moving around.

Riding

Keep it smooth. Nothing you do should be sudden, whether a change of direction, braking or acceleration. Make every move easy to predict by your passenger and flow through bends.

If your passenger slides into you under braking, resist using your upper body with knees gripping the tank. Minimise any bracing with your arms.

Riding as a pillion

As a pillion, you can have a major effect on the handling and stability of the motorcycle. Your job is to minimise it. The best way you can do this is to effectively become part of the machine - locked on, stable and making no movements in any direction. That way, you’ll have no more impact on the motorcycle’s handling than a large top box.

Under normal braking and acceleration you should be able to sit with your hands on your knees, just using your stomach and back muscles to counter any force. In hard or downhill braking and uphill acceleration, holding a rear grab handle is best, but there’s still a lot you can do by bracing your legs and leaning slightly. Try to avoid sliding forward into the rider.

Whatever you do, do not try to ‘lean in’ when cornering and do not stay bolt upright as the motorcycle banks. Just stay locked into position as though you are an extension of the machine.  

Find out about Ride Forever coaching

These tips on riding to different conditions are in our on-road rider skills coaching courses you can take to make your ride (and that of your pillion passenger) more enjoyable and safer. Booking is easy from our coaching page:
Ride Forever on-road coaching


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