Everyone who aspires to ride a motorcycle dreams of riding off into the sunset – or at least a nice dinner and a movie – with a friend or a date riding on the back. Unfortunately reality is never as easy as fantasy. Many motorcyclists think riding two-up is simply a pain. Many passengers think riding two up is scary…and a pain. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Some things are a bit of a pain, but they’re for your own good…such as gear. A passenger needs the same level of gear on a motorcycle as you do. That means helmet, gloves, jacket, boots. If you’re just going local around the city, the only exception I might make is boots: sneakers or shoes might be okay for short local trips as long as they’re not loose fitting or slippers (don’t even think about flip flops!) But that’s just my personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt and think for yourselves when it comes to your passenger’s safety.
This means you need a spare helmet that will fit your passenger (and stay on in a crash). If you know who’s going to be riding with you regularly, it makes sense to get a good helmet for that person. But even if you don’t, and you want to take passengers, you’re going to need a spare helmet (or two! Depending on the sizes of the people you date!) There are many good brands (like HJC) that sell good helmets (in terms of safety and protection), at outrageously low price points – (the CS-12 is a good full face that can be found for under $50!) You’ll also need a spare set of motorcycle gloves and a good textile motorcycle or cow-hide leather jacket. If your date owns a leather jacket, that will do for city-trips as long as it’s made of thick cow-hide (or something equally durable) and not some soft fashion leather (e.g., lamb skin). But just in case, you might want to pick up a second riding jacket for yourself that you can wear and use for passengers (textiles and mesh riding jackets can be just the thing for summer months). You’ll also need a bungee cord to wrap all this onto the back seat of your bike when you go pick your date up.
The part many motorcyclists don’t like about carrying passengers is not the extra gear, but the actual riding itself. It can be a major drag (and even a danger) carrying an inexperienced passenger on the seat. But you can help fix this with a little pre-ride communication and practice (both for you and the passenger). What many people don’t realize is that it’s hard being a passenger on a motorcycle – and the sportier the bike, the harder it is! It not only requires attention and balance, it requires a great deal of trust in the driver. This is great stuff for couple’s therapy!
The first time you hit the brakes (even if you’re reasonably smooth) carrying a passenger, chances are they will slide forward and push you up against the tank (and probably knock helmets as a result). The very first thing a passenger needs to learn is how to center him/herself on the bike so that doesn’t happen. Ask them to use their legs to squeeze, but also to put weight onto the pegs to help keep in place (this also helps to lower the center of gravity on turns and braking). On most bikes you can ask the passenger to stand straight up on the pegs for a moment, and then sit straight down – this will help the passenger find the proper sitting position. Also tell them to put their weight on the pegs when going over bumps and while braking. This will help the passenger to keep from smacking into the back of your helmet or pinning you up against the tank.
Some bikes have a grab bar behind the passenger seat. Although some riders recommend that their passengers not-use the grab bar, it works for many people. For sportbikes, some passengers reach around and hold onto the tank when braking, to keep from pressing up against the driver… It depends on the size and shape of your bike to see if that’s feasible: it doesn’t work on most naked bikes and standards, but works fine on smaller sport bikes with big tanks.
Anyway, the point is, the passenger needs to develop some riding skills in order to stay on the bike and ride safely.
- Here are some tips for the passenger:
- Wait for the signal before getting on or off the motorcycle
- Keep your feet on the pegs at all times (be careful not to touch the hot exhaust!)
- Sit still as possible, especially when stopping or turning
- During turns, lean with the motorcycle. Look over the inside shoulder of the operator during a turn.
Even more important, however, is your skill in operating the motorcycle. Competition racers can smoothly take passengers around the racetrack – upshifting, downshifting, and hard-braking beyond anything you would encounter on the street (Jason Pridmore is known for this… See video of Chris Ulrich).
So here are some general tips for riding with passengers (ala MSF):
- Be extra smooth in braking and accelerating (it can be harder for passengers to hold on)
- Take turns slower and use less speed/lean angle. The extra weight works the suspension much harder and diminishes the handling of your bike.
- Give yourself extra room for turns – the bike will feel quite different!
- Communicate with your passenger (at stop lights) to make sure they are comfortable and okay
- Take it easy on the speed (if you ever want the person to speak to you again) – don’t exceed the passenger’s comfort level – don’t do this.
With a good passenger, and good communication, riding two-up can be even more enjoyable than riding solo – it can also make you a better rider…but it requires a bit of teamwork and trust… Which may be good things to look for on a friend/date anyway.