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.
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.
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.
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.