Carrying a passenger can be one of the most rewarding parts of motorcycling, but you need to approach this task with open eyes. First, a passenger who climbs on the back of your bike has willingly surrendered control over her fate. Whether the ride is enjoyable or life-threatening is up to you. (Note: Wheelies and triple digit speeds are not good ways to impress a neophyte passenger with your skills.) Similarly, your pillion can be, at best, merely additional weight or, at worst, the cause of an accident due to inappropriate actions. Prior to your ride, set strict ground rules. The passenger only mounts or dismounts after your signal. The passenger keeps her feet on the pegs at all times. Passengers-like the rider-must wear proper protective gear. (We've seen far too many shapely legs scarred by exhaust pipes and road rash.)
Before allowing a passenger to mount your bike for the first time, make sure you are both clear on the signals you will employ. You should also give your charge a way to signal you if she needs to tell you something. Most importantly, giving a passenger a means of informing you that you're doing something scary will help diffuse a tense situation. Wouldn't you rather have someone tapping you emphatically on your right thigh midcorner instead of climbing off the high side of the bike? Before you signal your passenger to mount, take your bike off its sidestand, place both feet firmly on the ground and start the engine. (Shorter riders may want to keep the bike on its stand for additional stability.) Make sure you squeeze the front brake. To mount a bike, passengers should first place a hand on your shoulder or waist. Next, while stepping on the left peg, lift the right foot over the pillion and sit down.
Once your partner is on the bike, reiterate that a passenger's job is to keep her feet on the pegs at all times. Next, have her assume the proper riding position with her knees firmly against you. Both hands should be used to hold on to your waist. Some passengers feel more comfortable with an arm or two wrapped around your waist but try to keep excess weight off your back, as it may make it more difficult for you to control the bike. During braking maneuvers, have your passenger place the heel of one hand on the base of the tank while the other circles your waist. Although some passengers may prefer to use the grab rails, we don't recommend doing so. The grab rails only allow the passenger to brace for braking forces. Sudden acceleration or swerving maneuvers can cause a passenger to lose balance.
Many first-time back-seaters think they need to help you turn by leaning. Tell them that they should let you control the bike by keeping their weight as neutral as possible. In turns, this is simply having the passenger look over your inside shoulder. However, stress that she should not look over the outside shoulder or lean in the opposite direction of a turn-possibly leading to disastrous results. If novice passengers look through the turn toward the turn's exit, they will have an idea of what you're most likely to do at the exit, and you appear to be going slower when they look far ahead, which could help relax a nervous pillion. If your passenger becomes a regular riding partner, spend some time in a parking lot practicing swerves and panic stops. Your bike behaves differently with the extra weight, and your partner will respond better if she's experienced the way your bike feels in these situations.
This article was originally published in the August 2001 issue of Sport Rider.
More Riding Skills Series articles.