Tomfoolery – Your Passenger Is Your Responsibility

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You ain’t Spiderman, but Uncle Ben is talking to you. “With great power comes great responsibility,” he says to Peter Parker in the 2002 movie. Had Peter been giving the lovely Mary Jane Watson a ride on his Spideycycle, Uncle Ben may have issued the same advice.

A motorcyclist owns no greater responsibility than when someone’s residing atop their bike’s pillion – a time when you literally have the life of another person in your hands.

Riding With A Passenger

As motorcyclists, we understand the emotional fulfillment motorcycling provides and willingly accept the inherent dangers attached to the activity. A passenger, especially a first-timer – caught up in the excitement of the endeavor and lacking the experience and knowledge of appropriate motorcycle etiquette – will require tutelage to ensure a fun and safe motorcycling experience.

Whether it’s an impromptu ride around the block or a planned date, take the time to explain motorcycling dynamics. For us, leaning into a corner is a sensation bested only by sex. To the uninitiated it feels like falling. Instruct the passenger on how to remain neutral and lean with the motorcycle – not to either fight the lean nor to invoke the lean.

Motorcycle Tank Passenger Handle

Companies such as Motorcycle-Grips.com make passenger accommodations safer and more comfortable. Naturally, you should make sure your passenger (and you) are better equipped with protective gear than the pair posing in this studio shot.

Different style bikes require different passenger involvement. For example, sportbikes demand that both rider and passenger lean forward. To help alleviate the weight the rider must withstand, especially under braking, instruct the passenger to brace themselves by placing both hands on the fuel tank.

Most passengers lack proper riding gear, so substitutions that provide basic protection (long-sleeve jacket, jeans, shoes that cover the ankles and gloves) might suffice. Hopefully, you have a helmet that properly fits your passenger’s noggin and insist on its usage, even if you’re in a state where it’s not mandatory.

Funny Motorcycle Passenger Photo

Yes, it gets hot and sticky in summertime, but sweat is preferable to skin grafts.

Once underway it’s up to the pilot to balance the levels of excitement, fun and danger. Keep tabs on your passenger’s mental limitations, as their threshold of fear may be well below yours. There’s no need to go crazy fast, pop unexpected wheelies or purposely try to scare someone. You’re an ambassador of the sport, and if your passenger has a bad experience, they’re likely to become just another civilian with a bad disposition in regards to motorcycling.

As the bike’s operator, you should mentally prepare for changes in how your bike’s going to react to having the additional weight of a passenger high and to the rear of the motorcycle. Stopping distances get lengthened, steering transitioning slowed, etc.

If someone chooses to become a motorcycle passenger, they are accepting personal responsibility for their actions, but their choice to partake in the activity is largely based on their trust in your skills to operate a motorcycle and your decision-making process – that includes not taking risks that’ll unnecessarily put them in harm’s way. In other words, there are no excuses; it’s on you and you’re the one who’ll have to live with the consequences if anything bad should happen.

So please, ride fast and take chances, but only at your own expense, not that of your passenger’s.

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  • DickRuble

    I have noticed that on recent sportbikes the pillion seat is significantly elevated with respect to the position of the driver. Could someone explain to me how this improves/benefits road handling when riding two-up? This seems to be a relatively (15 years?) new development. Older (pre-2000?) bikes all have a closer to the horizontal seat. I saw not too long ago a middle aged guy with his wife/gf coming to a stop at a red light, on a sportbike, right across the intersection from me, and I swear I could see his eyes bulging out when he stopped and the weight of his partner shifted on him.

    • http://motorcycle.com/ Tom Roderick

      Elevated passenger seats are a matter of form over function; a styling exercise of modern sportbike fashion trends. Regardless, sportbikes are built for speed, not comfort, and most passenger accommodations are nothing more than an afterthought.

    • Jason

      Sportbikes generally have higher exhaust pipes than other style of bikes. With higher pipes come higher passenger pegs and naturally higher seats. Take a look at the couple on the Ducati. If her seat was the same height as his where would her right leg go?

      • DickRuble

        Is that raised pipe necessary?

        • Jason

          Yes and no. Does the exhaust need to be that high? Probably not. However, if you put the passenger pegs at the same height as the rider’s pegs there would be no room under the pegs for the exhaust. The exhaust has to be high enough that it will not touch the ground at extreme lean angles. The grip of the tires should be the limiting factor for max lean angles, not parts of the motorcycle touching down.

          • DickRuble

            “My wife and I move together on the bike because she is scanning the road ahead just like I am.” — My passenger leaning in the turns or scanning the road for me is that last thing I want. Sounds like the recipe for staring really close at the asphalt, which is even less interesting than the back of a helmet. My questions were more rhetorical than anything; the raised pipes (beyond a certain point) are just an unnecessary fad. To save a few pounds and for the sake of looks, manufacturers resort to ridiculous perches instead of seats. Sport bikes of ten fifteen years ago were still sport bikes, but had a bit more practicality engineered in.

          • Jason

            Raised pipes and seats have been around since the modern sportbike was invented. The Ducati 851 pictured was first made in 1987. This isn’t anything new. If anything sportbikes are getting more practical. Bikes from the 90′s like the Ducati 916 and Kawasaki ZX-7R were torture racks with a long reach to bars no higher than the seat. A current CBR1000RR is a touring bike in comparison to my old 1996 ZX-7RR

            As to my wife scanning the road ahead. Two pair of eyes are better than one. We have been riding together for 20 years and it is much easier to ride with a good passenger than react to the road ahead than one that sits there as dead weight.

          • DickRuble
          • Jason

            The CBR1000F stopped being a top shelf sportbike the day the CBR900RR was introduced in 1992. The CBR1000 continued on as what we would call a sport touring bike. If you are looking for a sporty bike with better passenger accommodations there are plenty of options today. Off the top of my head: Kawasaki Ninja 650/1000, BMW F800ST, Honda VFR1200, Suzuki Bandit 1250, Yamaha FJR1300.

    • Kevin Duke

      If you’re buying a motorcycle and intend to frequently carry a passenger, most sportbikes – especially repli-racers – do it poorly. Most lack a properly supportive seat, legroom and secure grab handles. Unless your passenger is uncommonly accommodating, best to shop another category.

  • Howard R. Paul

    Bottom line…if your passenger is injured by your riding actions…( actually if she’s injured at all and you happen to be the pilot )you are responsible, and liable…think lawsuit…it’s coming to a town near you…

  • Joseph Gordon Woods

    A good reason for the higher passenger seat is that it normally holds a female and she is usually shorter than the guy in front. With the higher seat she can see over his shoulder and that’s a big help in anticipating what is coming.