Tomfoolery – Your Passenger Is Your Responsibility

Tom Roderick
by Tom Roderick

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.

Companies such as 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.

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.

Tom Roderick
Tom Roderick

A former staffer who has gone on to greener pastures, Tom Roderick still can't get the motorcycle bug out of his system. And honestly, we still miss having him around. Tom is now a regular freelance writer and tester for when his schedule allows, and his experience, riding ability, writing talent, and quick wit are still a joy to have – even if we don't get to experience it as much as we used to.

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2 of 12 comments
  • Howard R. Paul Howard R. Paul on Jan 24, 2014

    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's coming to a town near you...even if you fall over in a parking lot...and for those that think that your girlfriend/passenger/friend won't sue you...let's just say it's not something you want to find out the hard way...

  • Joseph Gordon Woods Joseph Gordon Woods on Feb 05, 2014

    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.