New Rider: How to Ride With a Passenger

John Burns
by John Burns

This could be heaven or this could be Hell
—The Eagles

First, choose your passenger wisely. Over the last few years, it’s come to our attention that a large percentage of the population suffers from at least one form of mental illness, and you don’t want a crazy person on back of your motorcycle having a sudden conniption fit – not only because it’s probably dangerous, but also because you don’t want all that negativity harshing your happy place. Only allow people you’ve already established a base rapport with to climb onto your six.

new rider how to ride with a passenger, Not sure I d want me for a passenger
Not sure I’d want me for a passenger.

Even when that’s established, Bruce Belfer says no drunks or otherwise compromised persons allowed, which actually makes all kinds of sense. If a person falls off the back of your bike and gets hurt or worse, you could be in for many levels of legal hell. Worse, they could have a sudden freakout and cause you to crash.

Set the Stage

If your passenger has never ridden on a motorcycle at all, it falls upon you as captain of the ship to provide basic instructions:

  • How to board the vessel. On a sportbike or standard, it’s usually easier for the captain to get on first, then have the passenger place their left foot on the left passenger peg (or your peg if that’s easier, since both your feet are on the pavement) and swing up into the saddle. On a giant touring bike like the Yamaha Star Venture, you might find it’s easier to have the passenger climb on first with the bike on the sidestand – while you steady the handlebar with your left hand and offer your right to the passenger. Very chivalrous. Then you climb on.
  • No sudden moves or weight shifts! (Ask me about the time I was riding the first Yamaha FJR1300 in the country on a photo shoot when the fashion model on back shifted cheeks as I was attempting to turn around on a tight two-lane. Clonk!)
new rider how to ride with a passenger, Nice two up form on the Burgman 650
Nice two-up form on the Burgman 650.
  • There’s no need to lean into corners, just sit up straight like me and we’ll let the bike do the leaning for us (this means you, the rider, needs to refrain from hanging off like Marc Marquez – at first anyway). In corners, Jack Lewis says you should have the passenger look over your inside shoulder…
new rider how to ride with a passenger, and shoot pics with their phone
… and shoot pics with their phone
  • Keep your feet on the pegs when we stop unless you just need to stretch your legs. If you do put a foot down, don’t put your weight on it, since that might make me (the captain!) think the boat is out of trim and overcompensate. And don’t jump off when we stop till I say it’s okay to jump off.
  • Where to hold on. When starting off, around the pilot’s waist or shoulders. Once rolling along, maybe the grab handles if your bike has them, or some combination of whatever feels comfortable and confident that they’re not going to fall off. (If the passenger’s a kid, there are things like the Grip-n-Ride Belt to give them even more secure grippage.) The pilot’s jacket pockets can be good if it’s chilly or if the attraction is mootual.
new rider how to ride with a passenger
  • Relax and enjoy. It’s more comfortable to slouch a bit rather than sit bolt upright. Use your legs and feet on the passenger pegs to help absorb bumps, more like riding a horse than sitting in a car. Unless you’re on a cruiser or big touring bike.
  • Please refrain from rude gestures even if somebody else starts it. We don’t want any angry cars in pursuit.
  • Work out some hand signals or gestures beforehand, unless you’re a tech genius like Brasfield who has even people he’s barely met equipped with the latest communicators at all times. This can be really simple. Thumbs up is the universal sign for all is swell. Three taps on the left shoulder could mean let’s stop and talk. Un-prearranged sharp jabs to the kidneys means things are not going well.

As the Captain, your duties include:

  • Making sure the vessel is seaworthy and big enough to carry the extra weight. In a non-YouTube world, you’d even adjust the rear spring preload to accommodate the extra person.
new rider how to ride with a passenger
  • Already being a good and experienced rider. No way should you be carrying anybody on back of a motorcycle until you’re 100% in control of your vessel. Okay, 98%.
  • Extensive knowledge of how to use the clutch more than usual to facilitate easy starts, and smooth shifts that don’t have your helmets banging into each other – especially important if you gave the passenger your old Bell open-face. I remember being more impressed by not being able to feel the shifts when I’ve ridden on back of Jason Pridmore’s and Scott Russell’s bikes around race tracks, more than the outright speed. Smooth equals fast.
  • Just like the Man requires you to provide a flotation device for everybody on your boat, you need to have a good DOT helmet and at least decent gloves for your passenger – the minimum for a short blast around the block, more for longer rides. If your state doesn’t require a helmet, you live with idiots and should move. Show them the exhaust pipes, which will be hot!, and anything else the passenger shouldn’t contact. Don’t take anybody for a ride of more than an hour if it’s their first time unless they’re an ex-Marine.
  • Starting off slow from stops and no abrupt moves with the throttle (unless you’re on something like a Gold Wing with a backrest or Brent’s chopper, that the passenger can’t fall off the back of), and then you still shouldn’t do anything suddenly.
  • Riding gently and just like you instructed your passenger, no sudden moves, sudden changes of direction or hard braking. If you turn out to have an enthusiastic passenger, it’ll be great to build up to that stuff later. But nobody wants MotoGP right out of the box. If you “hang off” even a little, your passenger will think you’re abandoning ship and might panic. At this stage, you have the power to either launch somebody on a lifelong love affair with bikes or put them off forever.
  • Remembering you’ve got a passenger and are compensating for it by: allowing more distance for stopping, using more clutch and back brake to ride as smoothly as you can, putting both feet down at stops just in case there’s an unexpected weight shift.

In other words, as my biggest refrigerator magnet I didn’t put there reminds me every morning: Don’t Be a Dick. If things go great, you could wind up being as happy as the great Peter Egan and his wife Barb, who’ve been touring two-up since the ’60s and loving every minute of it if you believe them. Or even happier, like me: Everybody I take for a ride decides pretty quickly they want their own motorcycle.

new rider how to ride with a passenger
Join the conversation
2 of 11 comments
  • John Holcombe John Holcombe on Jun 26, 2018

    The two instances I remember. My first on a Cushman scooter; I was making a left turn and my passenger set up straight. The curb was low and no damage was done. Again, I had the 100# model on the back and at 125mph she yells "Can't it go faster?" I soon got a new girlfriend.

  • Mariofz1 Mariofz1 on Jun 26, 2018

    "If your state doesn’t require a helmet, you live with idiots and should move"
    hahahaha!!!!! Took me a while to recover. Thanks Burnsie !