Is motorcycle comfort even possible when you’re a passenger?
Or do motorcycle passengers have to perch on a tiny pillion seat, clinging to the rider in terror?
Believe me, we can do better than that!
Motorcycle comfort is totally achievable when you’re riding on the back to the bike.
Pillion passengers deserve to enjoy every minute of the motorcycle ride, too.
There are many ways to increase motorcycle comfort for passengers. Some pre-ride planning is a good place to start. Next, you make sure your gear will keep you safe AND comfortable. Some tweaks to the bike can also enhance pillion comfort. By making some small changes, motorcycle rides become as much fun for the passenger as the rider.
I used to think that being a motorcycle passenger meant being uncomfortable.
It was just part of the deal.
I’d get to the end of a ride, and ease myself off the pillion seat with a groan.
I’d have a sore knee, a cramp in my calf, a backache, and the start of a sniffle from sitting in the cold wind for hours.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The motorcycle pillion experience can be so much better.
Let me show you how to easily double your comfort levels.
By the end of a ride, you should be smiling as much as the rider is!
Motorcycle Comfort for Passengers
25 Ways to Make it Happen
Now, you don’t have to do everything on this list.
Start with the tweaks that are easiest for you, and go from there.
The comfort payoff is totally worth it.
Let’s start with a little pre-ride planning.
1. Eat light
Feasting like a Viking just before a motorcycle ride is not as much fun as it sounds.
Sure, a haunch of moose and a horn or three of mead seem like a great idea at the time.
But getting on a motorcycle after a big meal will make you very uncomfortable.
Suddenly, none of your gear fits.
And there’s no way you can pay attention to the road.
You’ll be wishing you could crawl into a pile of animal furs, and take a nap instead.
2. Protect your skin
You know how your face is often sore by the end of a motorcycle ride?
That’s because it’s probably been burned.
And there are two likely culprits.
It’s partly wind burn, and partly sunburn.
You can reduce windburn by keeping your visor down more often.
And you can protect your face from the sun by applying sunscreen every time you go riding.
You’ll find my easy tips on looking after your skin on a motorcycle over here.
Protect your face, and you won’t have chapped skin by the end of a ride.
3. Ditch the backpack
Riding with a backpack is like riding with a weight strapped to your back.
This is a bad idea for two reasons.
First, you’re adding extra, shifting weight to the back half of the bike.
That could affect the motorcycle’s handling (especially in corners).
And secondly, why strain your back when you don’t need to?
Motorcycles are built to take saddle bags full of stuff.
You can certainly strap a backpack to the bike without a problem.
You can tuck small items (like your wallet and phone) inside your jacket.
Everything else can go in the backpack and be strapped to the bike.
That way, everything is securely tied to the bike, instead of you.
After all, you’re not a snail.
You don’t have to carry your house on your back.
4. Bring a bottle of water
Out on a motorcycle, dehydration can set in quite quickly.
And often you don’t notice it – especially on colder days where you’re not openly sweating.
But dehydration directly affects your comfort levels.
It makes you feel more tired.
It becomes harder to concentrate on what’s happening around you.
It might be hours before you reach your destination, or stop for lunch.
So bring a small bottle of water with you.
Then you can stop for a break, and take a quick drink when you need to.
5. Think about road quality
The standards of road surfaces can vary widely.
Funnily enough, you really only notice that when you spend time on a motorcycle.
And sure, it’s worth taking a rougher road if you’re going to end up at a beautiful secret bay.
Or an off-the-beaten track café that bakes its own bread.
But for me, there has to be an incentive to take a rougher road.
I can do without feeling like I’ve been clinging to a jackhammer for hours.
6. Plan the route strategically
There’s another point to consider when it comes to roads, too.
It’s not just about whether the road features a pot hole every 10 meters.
There’s also the small issue of traffic.
If there’s a certain road that’s always choked with angry, aggressive traffic, suggest a different route, or even a new destination.
Crazy traffic driving at you is very stressful.
If there’s an alternative road you’re both more comfortable with, take that route instead.
OK, let’s move on to how you can make your motorcycle gear more comfortable.
7. Does your motorcycle gear fit right?
For years, I squeezed into leather riding pants that were just a LITTLE too tight around the waist.
After just a couple minutes on the bike, the waistband was digging so deep into my flesh that it was threatening to cut me in half.
By the end of a long ride, I was cranky, in pain, and feeling like a bloated hippo.
How ridiculous – and how fixable.
Of course we can swear to never touch another slice of cake.
But there’s something more practical you can do in the meantime.
Plan A is taking the problematic piece of gear to a clothes alteration service.
Have a professional let out the seams where you need it.
Or get those jeans that are too long in the leg taken up, so you stop tripping over them.
Or you can go with Plan B: buy gear in the right size that fits you right now.
8. Choose a full face helmet
I totally get why people like half face helmets.
They look cool, and don’t make you feel ‘closed in’.
But when it comes to comfort, they don’t really cut it.
A full face helmet is WAY more comfortable, because you can close the visor.
And that means:
- You have more protection from the wind (so you’re less tired)
- Dirt and bugs don’t blow into your eyes
- The flip-down tinted panel inside the visor works like sunglasses
- You can still see when it’s raining
- Small stones won’t hit you in the face, and
- You don’t arrive with rivers of mascara running down your cheeks if it’s raining
(And you might want to check my motorcycle makeup tips over here).
So yep, sign me up for a full face helmet every time.
Oh, by the way, all helmets give you helmet hair (happily there’s a way to fix it).
But in the meantime, a full face helmet makes the ride much more comfortable.
9. Layer your clothing
Here in New Zealand, the weather changes faster than the wind.
It’s sunny one minute, pouring rain the next.
We’ve learned the hard way that the weather has a mind of its own.
So it’s essential to use strategic layering.
If you head out the door in just a t-shirt under your jacket and then find the temperature has suddenly dropped 10 miles down the road, you’ll be freezing the whole ride.
But throw a thermal top and a sweater in the motorcycle luggage, and then it doesn’t matter what plans the weather gods have planned today.
You can add or subtract layers as you need to.
10. Get your socks under control
You probably don’t spend much of your life thinking about socks, right?
But when it comes to riding, they’re oddly important.
Hopefully you have a pair of riding boots you love.
But the best boots in the world are no good if you wear them with the wrong socks.
And socks are not as innocent as you think.
I’m starting to wonder if socks have their own secret rebellion movement going on.
They can easily go rogue if you let them.
Lately I keep choosing very disobedient socks.
They start out well behaved.
But 100 miles down the road, when we’re zooming down the highway, they’re suddenly bunched up under my feet inside my boots.
There’s nothing I can do about it then.
Oh, believe me, socks have plenty of ways of messing with you:
- Polyester socks make your feet sweaty, and stink up your boots
- Thin socks make sure your feet go numb with cold really fast, and
- Socks that are too thick make your boots feel a size too small.
So choose the right socks (wool or cotton, depending on the season).
Your feet will be toasty warm in winter and be able to breathe in summer.
Your boots will fit perfectly.
And you’ll be a lot more comfortable for the whole ride.
Getting geared up for a ride takes forever, doesn’t it?
There’s layers and zips and buttons and gloves and lost scarves to find.
Sometimes you need a miracle just to get out of the house with your helmet on.
So it’s easy to forget earplugs on top of everything else.
The trick is to keep a pair in the pocket of your riding jeans.
When you’re all geared up – and before you pull on your helmet – just roll them up and push them into your ears.
It’s worth the 10 seconds of effort this takes.
Sure, earplugs will help save your hearing in the long term.
But they also make the ride a lot more comfortable right now.
They’re a surprisingly effective layer between you and the wind.
Even with a quality helmet, after a while the wind starts to sound like the demons of Hell have formed a band.
They’re screaming all of their greatest hits right into your ears.
Earplugs help to turn down the volume on that hellish soundtrack.
What a relief!
12. Don’t forget your scarf
You know what it’s like to be yanking on layers of gear while the rider waits impatiently.
The bike’s purring urgently in the driveway too.
The sun’s just peeped out from behind a mass of grey clouds.
Let’s get going already!
In the rush to get out the door and on the highway, it’s easy to not bother with a scarf.
But this is a mistake.
It’s amazing how a simple piece of fabric can seriously increase your comfort.
A soft scarf wrapped around your neck and tucked down the front of your jacket just right is better than a crackling fire on a winter’s night.
A scarf acts as a windproof seal at the top of your motorcycle gear.
It makes sure any chilly breezes stay OUTSIDE your jacket.
When your neck is warm, so is the rest of you.
The riding experience just got more comfortable.
13. Bring rain gear
If there are rain clouds looming, you don’t need to automatically cancel the ride.
Here in New Zealand, the skies can threaten rain all day, and never mean anything by it.
The weather gods are just having fun with us again.
Then again, the opposite can easily happen, too.
The sky can be a dazzling blue one minute, and turn a bruised dark grey the next.
Suddenly the rain is pelting down, and you’re soaked to the skin in about 3 minutes.
So we usually pack some wet weather gear just in case.
We leave it in the back bag, or tie it onto the outside of the bike.
We have some very light plastic pants and jackets that weigh practically nothing and squish down to take up no room at all.
And the key thing here is to pull over as soon as (or just before) the rain starts and get that wet weather gear on – quick.
Once the skies have opened, it’s too late.
Yep, we learned this the hard way.
Standing by the side of the road in a howling gale trying to pull flapping plastic pants on over wet jeans is not what I’d call fun.
And why bother then anyway?
You’re already dripping wet.
15. Pack a spare set of gloves
While we’re talking about rain, make sure you tuck a spare set of gloves into the luggage, too.
They’re light, they’re squashable.
You won’t even know you’re carrying them.
And if the sky does decide to throw buckets of water over you, you’ll be so glad you brought them along.
Dripping wet gloves are surprisingly depressing.
They make your whole body feel cold – especially when you add the wind factor.
But with a spare pair at the ready, you can avoid the misery of forcing your icy fingers back into clammy, wet gloves.
You’ll have warm dry hands for the ride home.
Are you getting some good ideas here about increasing motorcycle comfort?
Let’s turn next to making the motorcycle itself more comfortable.
15. Throw a sheepskin on the seat
I never go on long motorcycle rides without my trusty sheepskin.
Never, ever, ever.
This sheepskin is nothing fancy.
It’s not custom made, or specially fitted to the pillion seat.
It’s just a medium sized piece of sheepskin I put across the seat and tuck under the luggage strap.
But wow, does it make a difference.
It adds an extra layer of fluffy comfort that means I can ride for hours, and jump off the bike still smiling.
And of course, you can always…
16. Upgrade the seat
Some pillion seats seem to be second cousins to decals.
They feel like slightly fancier versions of stickers.
You can just imagine engineers at motorcycle factories peeling stickers off some backing paper and pressing them onto the bikes they assemble.
Sure, this’ll pass as a seat, they say with a chuckle.
Except it doesn’t!
A pillion seat needs to be comfortable.
On our Indian Scout, we replaced both our seats to increase the comfort level.
The original passenger seat was much thinner and harder before the upgrade.
And sure, it requires a small investment.
But it’s an investment in your comfort levels.
You do some serious hours in the saddle, so that saddle has to be comfortable.
17. Add a backrest with a leather pad
A backrest and leather pad also make a huge difference to motorcycle comfort for passengers.
But you don’t have to fit out the pillion seat to look like your favorite armchair.
I wouldn’t recommend adding a cup holder and a TV remote.
That’ll make the bike a laughing stock, and lead straight to divorce.
But a backrest with a soft supportive pad is comfortable without being embarrassing.
It gives you the option of leaning back a little, and changing your riding position.
And it makes you feel more secure, as there’s a backstop right behind you.
18. Replace the foot pegs with floorboards
Most bikers love changing up their motorcycles, adding something here, removing another part there.
It makes the bike more individual.
It lets them fine-tune the details to fit their riding needs.
In the spirit of customizing the bike to suit your needs, you might want to look into replacing the foot pegs with floorboards.
We’ve done this on our Triumph Thunderbird.
It’s our touring bike, and so we spend long days eating through the miles.
We have floorboards for both the rider and passenger, and they’ve made the world of difference.
With foot pegs, you can’t really move your legs around.
Your feet need to stay in one place.
But with floorboards, you have a small platform instead.
You can move your legs forward and back, and stretch as needed.
They’re a life saver on long motorcycle trips.
19. A windscreen reduces wind fatigue
Adding a screen to a motorcycle can help you stop getting beaten up by the wind.
We have a medium sized one on our touring Triumph motorcycle.
It’s just the right size and shape to help us to cut through the wind cleanly.
Even on a really windy day, it creates an invisible cocoon around us.
Instead of being blown around on the road, it’s like being in an escape pod hurtling through space.
20. Suspension is adjustable
When the bike’s suspension’s wound too tight, hitting a road bump can feel like being punched in the kidneys.
And with two of you on the motorcycle, sometimes the suspension needs a little tweak.
Talk to the rider about whether this small change will make you both more comfortable.
OK, let’s talk about how to increase motorcycle passenger comfort during the ride itself.
21. Take a break now and then
Unless you’re on a very short ride, you’ll need to stop occasionally to stretch.
We’ve done some riding in the north west of Australia, where the roads are stick-straight, meltingly hot, and almost totally empty.
You don’t see another soul for hundreds of miles.
And so by the time you stop, you can hardly move, because you’ve been sitting in one position for hours.
That’s not ideal.
Unless you’re riding through an endless desert in the blazing sun with no shelter in sight, make sure you stop and stretch.
It gives you a mental break too.
You get back on the bike with a wide-awake brain, a body that’s miraculously stopped aching.
22. Your attitude makes a huge difference
I’ve seen plenty of motorcycle passengers who are clearly, openly, having a truly awful time.
They look like three year olds teetering on the knife edge of a major public tantrum.
That means something’s very wrong!
Being a motorcycle passenger is supposed to be fun.
It’s not an endurance test.
It’s not about suffering in sulky silence.
You shouldn’t be hunkered down, waiting for the ordeal to be over.
If someone’s invited you to ride with them, that’s a gift.
It’s a rare opportunity to go roaring through the world with someone you like and trust.
What could be better than a sunny Saturday ride with your favorite person?
There’s zero reason to scowl.
23. Humans need food
When you’re out on a motorcycle, the day quickly becomes all about the ride.
The wide endless road, the warm breeze, the rolling green hills.
That wonderful feeling of freedom.
And the joy of forgetting about the daily trivia for a couple of hours.
By the time you notice you’re hungry, you’re REALLY hungry.
You forgot to think about food until now.
Flying along through the world, you’re probably not thinking about burgers.
But you need to stop regularly to refuel your body as well as the bike.
If you’re hungry, you get tired.
You lose concentration.
You start getting cranky.
Stop for a snack and drink often along the way.
24. Deal with smaller details on the fly
When you’re zooming down the road, you’ll often notice little things are annoying you.
You don’t need to wait until you stop to fix them.
- Adjust the vents on your helmet
Let cool air in on a hot day, or shut out a freezing chill by opening or closing the vents on the top and back of your helmet.
- Fix the “seal” at the top of your jacket
Are you broiling in all your gear in the summer time?
Undo the top two buttons on your jacket and let some air in.
And if you’re freezing, that means the wind has somehow found a way through the layers.
Pull up your scarf and try tucking it into your helmet strap.
- Make the rider your personal windbreak
If the wind is howling, crouch down a little behind the rider.
He’s already taking the brunt of the gusts (thanks, honey).
- Lift your feet to avoid puddles
You’re already watching the road for hazards, right?
You’re sure to spot a big puddle of water on the road up ahead.
You don’t need to close your eyes and brace for getting soaked from the thighs down as you splash on through.
Lift your feet a little off the pegs and avoid most of the splash back.
Little changes like this can make you more comfortable right away.
25. Bathroom breaks are necessary, not embarrassing
Yes, many of us ladies have dainty little bladders.
We’re not trying be annoying when we need a bathroom break every 10 minutes.
We’re just made differently.
That’s the reality.
So if you need a bathroom, speak up.
It’s much easier to stop at a diner than have to find a local hospital when your bladder bursts.
Of course, you can also be strategic about how much you drink along the way, too.
Three cups of coffee and bottle of water at lunch will guarantee a bathroom emergency about 5 minutes down the road.
Maybe stick to one coffee, and a little water at a time.
That way, by the time you DO need to stop, it’ll be time for a break anyway.
Motorcycle Comfort for Passengers IS Totally Possible
There are plenty of practical ways to increase your comfort levels as a motorcycle pillion.
You don’t need to be cold, or cranky.
You don’t need to suffer through the ride in wet clothes on a tiny, rock-hard pillion seat.
Because when you’re comfortable, the motorcycle experience suddenly becomes fun.
You’re now grinning with delight as you zoom through the world with your favorite person.
That’s clear proof that you’ve mastered the art of motorcycle comfort.
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