Sometimes, motorcycling is just too much fun to keep to yourself. Group riding is one way to enjoy it with others, but riding with another person is another way to share the experience. Riding two up requires extra attention, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. Let’s take a look at how to ride a motorcycle with a passenger.
This is the most important element by far. Your passenger needs to have complete trust in you, because you are in absolute control. It’s a lot different than jumping into someone’s car, for reasons that should be obvious. Trust is easier to foster between people who know each other, so if you’re taking on a passenger who doesn’t know you so well, you must be even more careful to actually earn (and keep) their trust.
Don’t be afraid to actually tell your passenger that if they don’t trust you completely, they shouldn’t ride with you. That should demonstrate how serious you are about making it the best experience possible. At the same time, be sure that you can trust your passenger to follow your lead and to basically not be a careless nut. In short, both parties must be trustworthy and trusting, but the onus definitely falls more on the person in control.
Gear…or Lack Thereof
This is a tricky one to cover. If your passenger is someone familiar and ends up riding with you regularly, then it’ll be much easier to get them to purchase proper riding gear (i.e. helmet, jacket, gloves, boots, and actual riding pants). Make that happen. Even if your passenger is occasional, they should purchase decent riding gear. There is certainly adequate stuff out there that doesn’t break the bank.
One-time rides are problematic. You’ll need to plan ahead as much as possible. If not, and/or if proper gear can’t be loaned, then they’ll have to come as close as possible. It’s not the most attractive prospect, but if that’s what it comes down to, then the person in control of the motorcycle has an even greater responsibility to keep the passenger safe.
Riding Mechanics: The Rider’s Side
Along with what is coming up in the next section, it’s a good idea to talk your passenger through the points in this section as well. Make sure you’ve grasped all of this first, though. You definitely cannot ride the same way you would by yourself. First and foremost, slow down. Everywhere.
When accelerating, take it easy because you’ll have more weight over the rear wheel and your bike will have an increased tendency to lift the front wheel. When braking, give yourself more room (read: start braking earlier). On the bright side, the extra weight over the rear wheel will give you a little more braking stability, so learn how to use that. Cornering should be done with care because you’re now working with less ground clearance (extra weight = extra suspension compression = hard parts reaching lower).
U-turns present a special dilemma because generally, you want to shift your weight to the outside peg. It might not be comfortable for the passenger to do this, but it should be done to the greatest extent possible. Give yourself extra room to perform the U-turn if you can, and look all the way through the U-turn just before you start it. It’ll feel stiff and unnatural compared to a solo U-turn, but it can certainly be done.
You are now carrying extra weight, so everything you do in terms of control input should reflect that. More room, more time, smoother inputs. Simple.
Riding Mechanics: The Passenger’s Side
We’re covering this before mounting because you absolutely want to go over everything before the ride. The bottom line is that your passenger should stay as stable as possible, and the best way they can do that is by mimicking your movements as closely as possible. Advise your passenger to stay on the balls of their feet to make it easier to re-position themselves so that they can be as in sync with your movements as possible. Your passenger should refrain from transferring any of their weight to you.
Hand placement is a major element, and it really depends on the type of motorcycle. For example, if you’re on a full-dress touring bike, then your passenger has it made with arm rests, an upright position, and lots of padding. Otherwise, standard placement entails the passenger’s hands on either side of the rider’s waist. Under braking, passengers can move their hands to the rider’s lower back, but only the lower back because pressure higher up will make things difficult for the rider.
If the motorcycle is equipped with a grab bar or two, then the passenger can use those as a hand hold, but as long as they can prevent their upper body from swinging back and forth excessively and are comfortable mimicking the rider’s motions from what will feel like a relatively detached position. Grab bars are a better hand holding option under braking than the rider’s lower back.
The best overall place for a passenger’s hands, however, is actually on the fuel tank. This placement offers passengers the best overall stability because they can constantly and independently manage their own body position and weight distribution very easily. This also gives the rider the room to operate the motorcycle without having to worry about any weight transfer from the passenger. There is just about as much physical contact as there needs to be. Hands on the fuel tank isn’t always a practical solution (it might not work on something like a Goldwing…just a hunch), but default to this hand placement whenever possible.
Your passenger should refrain from leaning too far to either side of you if they want to get a look at what is ahead. This will disturb the bike both in terms of aerodynamics and weight distribution. Instead, they should instead act like they are taking a peak over your shoulder.
Again, talk through everything in this and the preceding section before you actually go for a ride.
Your passenger should only mount after you have started the motorcycle. If you need to back up out of a parking spot, do so first. For stability, always have both your feet on the ground. Get your passenger to mount the bike from the same direction you would (i.e. from the left side of the bike). If your passenger can comfortably swing their leg over the bike, place their right foot on the right passenger peg, sit, and then lift their left foot onto the left passenger peg, then that’s fine.
That isn’t always possible, though, so there is an alternative. Lean your motorcycle slightly to the right, and have your passenger step on the left peg with their left foot. At the same time, have your passenger place their left hand on your left shoulder and their right hand wherever they feel it may offer the best stability and chance for a boost (grab bar, seat, etc.). From there, your passenger should essentially stand up on the left peg, swing their right leg around until they find the right foot peg, and then sit down. Basically, this can be likened to mounting a horse.
First of all, remember than this is the only time a passenger should take their feet off the foot pegs. As with mounting, the rider should have both feet on the ground. For dismounting, the passenger simply has to reverse the process they used to mount the bike. It should be more or less intuitive. There’s nothing complicated about this.
In fact, there’s nothing that complicated about riding with a passenger at all, despite all the details we have covered. Play it calmly and safely, and it should all come together with little effort, and the rider to passenger relationship can easily develop into something telepathic…and a whole lot of fun.