Riding With a Passenger

John L. Stein
by John L. Stein

Double your pleasure, double your fun; ride two-up instead of just one…

riding with a passenger

Motorcycle riding is so much fun, about the only way to make it better is riding two-up with your bestie. But not so fast there, cowboy (or cowgirl)! Just having a motorcycle endorsement on your license doesn’t make you a qualified captain of a two-passenger, two-wheeled land cruiser. Like playing in a tight band, riding two-up is an acquired art that requires timing, synchronicity, and practice, practice, practice. At least, to do it safely and well. Here are some Motorcycle.com tips for getting the most out of your rider/passenger debut performance.

Motorcycle.com thanks Yamaha for sponsoring this new rider series.


Another Rider Is Best

Our first choice of a passenger is – surprise! – another licensed motorcycle rider. That’s because since they already know how to control (i.e., ride) a motorcycle, they surely will possess the good sense to ride pillion. Right? If you ever transport both non-riders and riders as passengers, you will certainly notice the difference.

Lighter Is Better

The passenger’s size affects a bike’s handling. Large people can absolutely be great passengers, but since smaller passengers account for less percentage of the total weight of the motorcycle and rider, even if the passenger’s skills aren’t perfect, they won’t affect the bike’s handling as much. It’s just physics. (Pro tip: Adjusting your shock’s preload can help to minimize the effect a passenger has on the handling.)

riding with a passenger

Conduct a Pre-Flight Briefing

Just as boat captains bear responsibility for their passengers, they should likewise inform passengers of the day’s plan, explaining what to expect, what to do in an emergency, and so forth. We believe the same responsibility rests with the motorcycle pilot when carrying a passenger. Explain where you’re going, how you’ll ride, what the route is like, and what expected (or unexpected) situations may or could be encountered. Doing so isn’t OCD or nerdy – it’s respectful, safe, and smart. Also, giving the passenger a way to signal if they are uncomfortable with something is a good way of putting them at ease.

riding with a passenger

Last On, First Off

Usually, the best time for the passenger to mount and dismount is once the rider is already seated on the bike, with their hands on the grips and both feet on the ground. (An exception may apply to larger bikes firmly parked on their side or center stand. But even in this case, the passenger likely won’t grab the grips, which subtracts an important pair of leverage and control points.) So, when you’re going to ferry a passenger, suit up, climb aboard, and get situated – then invite the passenger aboard. Then reverse the process when parking.


Grip and Go

Not to get personal, but if you’re a motorcycle passenger, what’s the right way to hang onto the rider? Blunt opinion: Around the waist. This way you can move your body cores independently, but your body masses are generally unified. Centralizing mass in the motorcycle is central to the designers’ mission, and it should be essential for rider and passenger, too. On this topic, holding onto the rider higher, for example, around the chest or by the arms or shoulders, can be detrimental to their ability to control the bike in an emergency, so we don’t advise it. As an alternative to the touchy-feely route, plenty of bikes come with – or can be accessorized with – seat straps, grab handles, backrests and/or armrests. These can also help the passenger maintain their general position on the machine but don’t offer the same level of connection to the rider that the waist hold does.

riding with a passenger

Follow the Leader

The world has plenty of rogue actors already, and the passenger behind you isn’t going to improve global geopolitics by also dancing to the beat of a different drum while you’re in motion. They need to ride like you ride, which means lean into corners when you do, anticipate braking zones and stops, and lean forward/hold on appropriately while accelerating. In essence, the passenger’s duty and role – a serious one – is to keep in sync with the rider. See below.

Passenger Posture

Watch any road race or motocross or supercross event, and you’ll see how riders use their body mass – particularly their core and upper body – to help steer. Clearly, these body motions help initiate directional changes and control the bike. Wild! So, what’s this got to do with taking your bestie for a nice, easy ride? Plenty. If you and your passenger have different ideas of how to move (i.e., lean or move) in the saddle, two different controlling motions will happen at the same time. If they’re not in sync, chaos can result.

riding with a passenger

Look Ahead

The passenger will do a better job if they maintain a neutral seating position that lets them look ahead, just like the rider. This doesn’t mean hanging way out to the side to see past the rider’s helmet or shoulders, which can potentially upset the bike’s balance. The ideal passenger position results from a combination of the bike’s general layout including seat shape, and the rider and passenger’s relative sizes. To look ahead in a corner, simply have the passenger look over the rider’s inside shoulder. This will place the passenger in the perfect position without telling them to lean with the bike.

Leave Extra Time and Space

When weight is added to a vehicle, acceleration slows and cornering and braking potential decreases. Due to the latter points, when carrying a passenger (or luggage for a trip, for that matter), the rider should allow extra time and space for emergency avoidance maneuvers, especially while in traffic or riding in formation with other motorcyclists. In a potential moment of crisis, extra time and space are what you need. Build it into your ride plan, and it’ll be there for you at the right moment.

riding with a passenger

Take It Seriously

If you’re ever lucky enough to ride in the right seat in an airplane, you know that while flying is enjoyable, general aviation isn’t a fun-and-games proposition. Same goes for motorcycling – and for the “copilot’s” (passenger’s) responsibilities while onboard. Riding is serious business, and riding shotgun is (sorry to be frank here) not the time or place to mess around, soar like a bird, or shimmy to Spotify’s best song ever. Enjoy the time, enjoy the view, enjoy the experience – and do your part to make it safe.

riding with a passenger

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Join the conversation
  • Bil77874241 Bil77874241 on Nov 16, 2023

    I always have the passenger get on and off while the motorcycle is upright, but I leave the Kickstand down, even though it's not on the ground. If for some reason I have to throw some weight to counter a wrong move by the passenger or my feet slipping, I want to be able to throw it towards the kickstand, as a safety catch.

    Also I see all of the pictures in this article showing the passenger looking to the inside of the turn, or the low side of the turn. Everything that I have read prior to this article and my feelings and experience in all the years of riding..(57 years so far). I think the passenger should lean with you, but look over the high side of the your helmet. It keeps their weight better centered and they aren't "steering you" into the turn. I've been riding for 57 years, and have had all sorts of passengers. Some who want to grab your belt and twist your waist to try to steer you. Some that want to lean away from the turn.! I've had women who weighed 80lbs be the worst riders and girls who were over 250lbs be the best passengers. So that thing about choosing a lighter passenger doesn't hold water.. Of course you do have to leave a little extra room and have some good elbow strength for those emergency stops with a heavier passenger.

    • See 1 previous
    • Bil77874241 Bil77874241 on Nov 17, 2023

      Sloppy.. You are right about the weight when you have to do a panic stop. Which is why I said you need to have some good elbow strength for the quick stops. But I had 2 female friends who were not small. I'm guessing one was 160lbs and the other closer to 250. They both mounted and dismounted the bike with their weight over the seat when they stepped on the pegs, so they didn't upset me at all getting on or off. As far as balance, whether fast or slow, I hardly knew they were there. And I've had some passengers who were less than 100lbs who were horrible! And I've had everything in between. My Electraglide and my Softail Deluxe both have Driver Backrests on them, so I don't have the issue of the passenger pressing up against me, at the seat/waist level. So they aren't cramping me. I feel them touching my back but not really pushing against me unless I stop quick and get the Helmet Bonk.. Anyway it really does depend on the passenger themselves.. Some know how to ride and some don't.

  • Peter Peter on Nov 16, 2023

    My "second rider" of the past 16 years is also my dance partner. While I sometimes tire of hearing her enthuse, "It's exactly the same lead-follow as in ballroom dance!" I'll have to admit she's the best second rider I've ever enjoyed. One thing we did that greatly added to our skills and confidence in tight parking lot situations was taking (two-up) MotoMark1's low-speed cornering skills class, facing the Thousand Orange Cone Challenge familiar to most motorcops.

    Great photos of the couple on the sport-tourer accompanying this article (above); synchronicity perfected. Makes me wish we were out there right now, slicing up the wiggly bits. Sigh...