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12 rules for riding with a pillion

12 Golden Rules for Riding with a Pillion

Riding with a pillion takes a little adjustment – for both the rider, and the motorcycle passenger!

These ground rules for riding safely with a pillion come from the founder of IJustWant2Ride.com, Warren Massey…

Let’s start by assuming you have the motorcycle skills necessary to ride with a passenger.
If you’re scaring yourself when you ride, you don’t need a pillion to scare as well.
You want your passenger, especially if they are your significant other, to want to ride more … not be put off motorcycles forever…

That said, I do have some personal rules for my pillion.
There’s a big difference between giving someone a ride around the block and your long term motorcycle passenger, but all should be considered when loading up the bike with someone other than yourself.


riding with a pillion

Riding with a Pillion: 12 Rules That Work for Us!

 1.  The motorcycle passenger wears all the gear, all the time

Even in an area without helmet laws you should consider this, especially for someone who has not ridden before.

Give them that sense of protection beyond your riding skills.

2.  Hold on to me – not my clothes

I’m sure we’ve all known a person who just wants to just rip the clothes off our body … but doing so while riding a motorcycle is not the right time.
Tell your pillion to hold on to you, or the grab rails if the bike has them.


motorcycle pillion holding on

3.  Try hard not to ping

Pinging is when your passenger hits the back of your helmet when the motorcycle slows down.
I talk about this with my pillion before their first ride, and the payoff has been dramatic.

4.  Getting on or off the motorcycle

Tell your passenger NOT to mount or dismount the motorcycle unless:

  • you have both feet firmly on the ground
  • both hands on the handle bars, AND
  • you let them know they can now move about the cabin freely.

5.  Sit still at slow speeds

Tell your pillion to really try not to move around during slow speeds.
In particular, they should sit still when stopping at, or leaving from, a traffic light.

Balance is very important at slow speeds on a motorcycle.

6.  If your pillion needs to talk…

They should tap your shoulder on the side they wish to talk.
You can get back to them as soon as you can … please leave a message at the beep.

And if they want to show you something, have them tap on the side they want you to look, and then point.


motorcycle passenger communication

7.  If your pillion gets scared

Of course, you’re NEVER going to scare your pillion (are you?) …
BUT an alarmed pillion should close their eyes, hold on and try not to move.

When the event is over they can tap the rider, and ask him to pull over.

And when fully stopped and dismounted, the pillion should proceed to smack the rider (just joking).

Riding with a Pillion Can Make a Two-Up Team

8.  Practice power/emergency stops

This is aimed more for your permanent motorcycle passenger then the “once around the block” pillion.

Make sure both you and your pillion know what it feels like to brake hard – very hard – before you really need to.

9.  Practice low speed maneuvers

Similar to the emergency stop, it pays to know how the bike is going to handle with both you and your passenger at slow speeds.

And if you’re going to be packing the bags for a long trip you might want to practice “fully” loaded as well.
Some low-speed figure 8s in an empty parking lot will show you a lot about how the fully loaded bike is going to respond out on the road.

10.  Set up the bike for a pillion

While every motorcycle is different, they all need to be adjusted for the additional weight of a pillion.

Check your suspension pre-loads to make sure they’re going to handle properly.
Not too much is worse than bottoming out over and over again … plus it’s hell on your tires.


set the motorcycle up for the pillion

11.  The motorcycle passenger should be invested in safety

Get your pillion involved in the safety aspects of riding with you.

For example, it could be your pillion’s job to check tire pressure before the ride and be part of the Search, Evaluate, Execute (SEE) strategy that you learned as part of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation training.

Talk it over, and decide who’s responsible for what.

12.  Consider doing a rider’s course two-up

I have not done this myself, but I do think it is a good idea.
I bet I’ll be surprised by what I learn when I get around to it.

That might seem like a lot of rules for riding with a pillion.

But I bet that most of us do at least half of the things on this list without even thinking about it.
That just leaves the other half of the list to deal with!

If you have some rules for riding with a pillion, feel free to post them in the comments below!

Warren Massey has been riding since he was 5 years old. He’s the founder of IJustWant2Ride.com and hosts the weekly motorcycle internet radio show The Dawg House.

(Photo credit: Warren Massey)

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    Due to illness I’ve been pillion rather than pilot this month and one thing I realized that we needed was a signal to say “I need to stop S SOON AS POSSIBLE” . This was necessary the day I started being ill (but hadn’t yet realized it was the start of food poisoning) – I just knew that I might need to get off the bike before a designated stop because I had a touch of nausea. (We were on our way home from a weekend – if I’d been at home I wouldn’t have gotten on the bike).

    A couple of weeks later we went for a short ride. I started as pilot but after about 50 kms felt a fatigue beginning and was wary that my reactions might be affected. So we switched. I was a happy pillion for a while until I got a painful and sudden cramp in my hip. I tried to ease it by stretching out my leg but that just made it worse. So I used the “STOP ASAP” signal that we had devised 2 weeks prior – and it worked. He stopped the bike as soon as he could and I was off and easing out the cramp within minutes of it kicking in.

    So – I’d add an emergency signal to the list.

      Great job Liz keep up the good work

        Brilliant suggestion, Julie – what was your signal, I wonder?
        And thanks for the kind words, Jaye!

    I know a lot of people who seem to want to scare pillions, as if thats a badge of honour. Myself I always looked at it as another way to get someone else into motorcycling.

    Good article, recently had my 75 year old mother out for a spin (I bought a much used BMW R1100Rt and she wouldn’t get off until I took her out) and although she moaned about having to wear a helmet (it was a headscarf when she used to ride with my dad) I took it easy and she loved every minute 🙂

      Fantastic, Mark! You’re so right; why would you try to terrify a pillion when you could potentially bring them over to the bike side instead? Love the story about your mum!

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