Jenner, rec.motorcycles, August 18, 2002.
There is nothing like getting a ride on your friend's brand new
bike on a beautiful summer day. They come by to show off their new
ride and, next thing you know, you are climbing on the back, headed
out for a summer evening ride to dinner. Maybe you have ridden on
the back of a bike before, maybe you haven't. Maybe you have ridden
a motorcycle before yourself. Most of the time, though, passengers
This is the first of two installments on buddy riding. This article
we will be talking about passengers. The next, we will be talking
Passengers are usually at the mercy of the rider's good sense,
or sometimes the lack thereof. Many passengers don't know better.
So much is written on riding a bike, so many classes are offered
for riders, yet very little is offered for passengers.
With that, here are my suggestions for passengers:
Wear Good Gear
As a passenger, you are just as vulnerable as the rider. If the
rider decides to take an asphalt nap, it's beddy-bye time for you
too. Don't accept crappy helmets, while the rider of the bike is
in the very best leathers and replica helmet. You need good gear.
Good gear consists of a SNELL/DOT approved helmet (full face is
really the best), a long sleeved leather or Cordura jacket, at least
jeans, heavy leather long fingered gloves, and boots that cover
your ankles. These are the minimum requirements for riders to take
the MSF course. They are a good idea for you too. Dress for the
weather. Nothing will take the joy out of a ride by coming home
miserable, either from the heat, cold, or wet. If your rider doesn't
care about this, I suggest finding someone else to ride with, someone
who will make sure you are dry and warm on that cool morning. So
now that you know what to wearÜ
Don't get on or off the bike unless the rider says they are ready.
The best way to dump you, your friend, and their bike is to leap
on or off the thing when the rider isn't expecting it. Do not stand
on the foot pegs to mount and dismount like you are getting off
a horse. I have seen a foot peg break off when a pillion stood up,
put all their weight on one peg, and tried to step off a bike. To
get on, lift your leg over the seat and scoot on, placing your feet
on the pegs to settle into place. To get off, your best bet is to
slide your hips over, set a foot down, and step away from the bike,
pulling your leg over the seat, or around the back.
How to Sit on the Bike
As a passenger, sit on the seat, with your feet on the passenger
pegs. Keep your body upright and look ahead. You can place your
hands on the hips of the rider or around their waist. You can also
hold onto the grab bars on the tail section if that works for you.
Another method is to reach around the rider's waist and place the
palms of your hands on the back of the gas tank. This works especially
well on sport bikes. Do not sit or lean against the rider. Leave
yourself a little room so your helmet doesn't bang into the rider's
when they brake. Remember though: Sit Still!!
A motorcycle is a dynamic machine. It makes its way by maintaining
balance in turning, acceleration and braking. The rider is constantly
making small control adjustments throughout the ride. As a pillion
you can have a great effect on the stability of the motorcycle.
In short, it is entirely possible for you to run the bike off the
road from the back seat.
When the rider accelerates away from a stop, lean forward slightly
to counteract the tendency for the bike to push you back. Don't
forget this and get so far out of shape that you grab onto the rider.
I have seen more than one panicked pillion almost yank the rider
off the accelerating bike. Another thing you can do is squeeze the
bike with your thighs, pressing your weight down on the pegs as
you lean forward. This helps you maintain your balance. If the rider
is taking off too fast for you, ask them to slow down a bit. If
they don't, find someone else to ride with.
Everyone has to slow down sometime. When the rider applies the
brakes, your body will tend to slide or lean forward. You need to
counteract this so you don't slide into the back of the rider. Like
when accelerating, use your legs to keep yourself upright. You can
place your hands on the grab rails behind you, or on the back of
the gas tank by reaching around the rider's waist. Do not, under
any circumstances, place your hands against the rider's back or
shoulder blades. I don't know who is teaching some passengers to
do this but it is dangerous. It shoves the rider's weight against
the bars, making it very difficult to control the bike. The first
time a passenger did this to me, we were almost shoved into oncoming
traffic. I really, really wanted to hunt down the clown rider that
taught them that trick.
Bikes lean. It's what makes them so much fun. When the bike is
cornering, the rider may move around, or even hang off a bit. Don't
try to emulate them. It is your job to sit still, lean as the bike
leans, keeping your body solid on the seat and aligned with the
bike. Another thing you can do is to look over the inside shoulder
of the rider as you go through the corner. This doesn't mean you
lean over more than necessary. Just look towards the inside of the
corner. This also let's you see where you are going so you can anticipate
As the passenger: when the bike comes to stop, sit still. Keep
your feet on the pegs. Let the rider do all the work. If you need
to shift about, tell the rider you want to move so they are ready
Talk to your rider, before, during and after the ride. Let them
know if you are new. Don't be afraid to tell them if you are scared.
Everyone is inexperienced at something. There is nothing wrong with
being nervous. If your rider scoffs at this, come ride with me.
During the ride, if you need a break, say so. If you want them to
slow down, ask. After the ride, give them some feedback. If you
had fun, say so.
If you need to communicate with your rider during the ride, understand
that shouting inside your full-face helmet at 60mph is pretty useless.
You need to get their attention first. Reach around and tap them
on the top of the thigh, or on the shoulder, to let them know you
want their attention. When they acknowledge you, speak loudly and
in small words. If you can, use hand signals to direct them. Talk
about these signals with your rider before you start the ride, before
you need a rest stop, or need to give them directions.
Take responsibility for your ride. Communicate with the rider.
Make it clear what your expectations are, and don't ride with any
rider, on any bike, where you aren't comfortable. Like I said, if
your rider doesn't listen to your concerns, if you aren't comfortable
on the back of that bike, you can always ride with my friends and