Riding Tips: Taking a Passenger

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.

The Gear

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 Ride

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.

  1. Here are some tips for the passenger:
  2. Wait for the signal before getting on or off the motorcycle
  3. Keep your feet on the pegs at all times (be careful not to touch the hot exhaust!)
  4. Sit still as possible, especially when stopping or turning
  5. 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):

  1. Be extra smooth in braking and accelerating (it can be harder for passengers to hold on)
  2. Take turns slower and use less speed/lean angle. The extra weight works the suspension much harder and diminishes the handling of your bike.
  3. Give yourself extra room for turns – the bike will feel quite different!
  4. Communicate with your passenger (at stop lights) to make sure they are comfortable and okay
  5. 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.


9 responses to “Riding Tips: Taking a Passenger

  1. Hello i am getting my first bike this fall and have totally decided on a honda cbr600 hornet 2004 is that really a good bike to start on for commute i like the right ups and low maintainence

  2. Hey Tyler,

    Is the cb600 a good starter bike? It’s basically a naked bike with the f3 engine – the newer ones have the cbr600rr engine…

    There are 2 schools of thought on that – lots of experienced riders don’t think it’s a good idea to start people off on inline-4s. These guys will usually recommend ninja 250’s, 500’s, or the SV650 (v-twin) as the biggest choice in starter bikes.

    This is great advice – most people learn to ride well and get comfortable more quickly on these types of bikes…

    BUT…guys like Keith Code (who know a thing or two about riding) recommend starting off on older 600s… The rationale is: It’s light enough for most people to learn on, and it has enough power so that you won’t get bored of it after a few months.

    If you’re of the latter school of thought, then the Hornet is an excellent choice. No fairings to worry about damaging, good ergonomics, fast, reliable… I don’t know why we don’t see more of them on the street.

  3. great write up… my gf is studying the technique

  4. Maybe because its a bit slower and more expensive than an SV650? But much sexier with that undertail exhaust.

  5. When riding with my boyfriend we go fast, but sometimes his helmet starts to shake really bad and I know its the way I am sitting or something, It doesnt happen all the time, just sometimes. Any tips on what I need to do in order to keep this from happening…please!


  6. Hey Misty – it sounds like your boyfriend’s helmet is not fitting right. So that could be the problem…so it’s not you dear, you’re perfect.

    Many people wear helmets that don’t fit right or fit too loosely…because it’s easier to find comfortable helmet if it’s a size too big, it’s easier to put on and take off – and for full face helmets, you can put on sunglasses on (with a properly fitting helmet, you usually can’t get sunglasses on because of how it fits around your ears.)

    So maybe he’ll want to keep the old helmet for cruising around town – but maybe he should get a more performance oriented helmet for the fast stuff. Every helmet make and model seems to fit a little differently (even when they’re the same brand) – so you usually have to try a bunch on before you can find one that’s fits right.

    BTW – jump on over to our new site: http://www.citybikerblog.com


  7. Best Advice for beginners. Choose a used bike that doesn’t cost too much and if possible less than 600 cc’s. You will crash sooner or later and nobody wants to be making payments on an unrideable pile of smashed bits.

    Ride that bike for a couple of seasons till you get some miles under your belt before considering a newer or more powerful bike.

    600cc bikes are NOT beginner bikes. They are built for racing and are twitchy beasts on the road. Learning to ride on a 600 is like learning to fly in a CF18. People learn to fly in Cessna’s for a reason.

    The idea that you will grow out of a slower bike and become bored is pure BS perpetrated by people trying to justify a bigger/fast bike they know they are not ready for.

    I raced an SV650 for several years, winning races and a club championship on it and I never approached the limits of that bike. I can assure you NO street rider ever will exceed the limits of any bike no matter how small it is.

  8. Boyfriend and I have been riding the Dakar 2up casually around our beach town of Pensacola, Fl for about 2 years. I grew up on an 80 and he’s grown up on every bike known to man. Lol. He is about to fly up to Cleveland to purchase a GS and wants me to come with. We will fly there, ride to Montreal, through Virginina (to stop in his hometown) and back down to Pensacola over the course of 4 days. This will be my first long distance bike ride (have never been on a bike without getting off for more than 2 hours) and I am feeling just a bit terrified. I have never liked being 2 up because I’m not in control of the bike. I’m a whopping 95 lbs and 5’5. This is a once in a lifetime experience that I refuse to pass up but I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot of anxiety and a lot of back pain. I’m thinking medication will be a must. I’ve always been a good passenger but the thoughts that go through my head are pretty bad. What can I do to chill out!? Experienced one wreck 2 up when I was about 7 riding with my dad. Been hard to trust it since. :-/

    • Hi Crystal, I think there are just a handful of things one could do to make a long 2-up voyage less stressful and painful… One is more frequent stops early on. After the first day I think you won’t have any anxiety left – but for the early part of the first day there’s no reason why you can’t stop for breaks every couple of hours, eat a sandwich, take in the scenery, stretch. Two, walkie talkie headsets, like Scala Rider. It’s an absolute necessity for long trips… Even though most of the conversation will be “get ready to lean left,” “get ready to lean right” – it gives you a little more control because you can communicate with the pilot. Three is Motrin (Not aspirin or Tylenol), because Motrin is an anti-inflammatory, it helps with post ride soreness…

      Since your boyfriend is such an experienced rider, I think you’ll be fine after the first few hours… A long trip is exactly like a short trip – that keeps going on đŸ˜› so there’s nothing to be particularly stressed about once you have prepared everything you need to bring.

      Hope you take lots of scenic pictures – and post a link to it here, or at http://www.citybikerblog.com!

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