There are plenty of books, articles, and videos out there to help you learn to ride a motorcycle – but what about learning how to be a passenger on one? Every rider knows that being a good passenger means a lot more than just “hanging on,” so we put together these tips to help you be the kind of passenger who is always welcome for a ride. Share it with a friend!
Done wrong, being a passenger can be a frustrating and even scary experience - but done right, it be a ton of fun for both of you, and can open the door to all kinds of great times and fun memories. We'll tell you how to do it!
Riding with a passenger, or riding “two-up,” is many times of the most fun parts of having a motorcycle, or of knowing someone who has one. But what many non-riders don’t realize is that, for a motorcycle rider, riding with a passenger can also sometimes be quite unnerving.
Here’s why: first of all, riders assume a lot of liability when taking someone for a ride – they may be accustomed to taking their safety into their own hands on a bike, but exposing someone else to the same risk is a whole different ballgame. In addition, motorcycles are so light, that adding another person on the back of the bike dramatically changes the way the bike accelerates, brakes, and handles, forcing them to adapt by changing their riding style. It gets even worse when you have that dreaded “bad passenger,” who gets on and off awkwardly, squirms around during the ride, shifts their weight randomly – this can be so unnerving, that many riders actually hate riding with a passenger, and some will refuse to do it at all!
But having a good passenger on a ride can also be a fun experience. Whether it’s for a quick spin around the neighborhood or an all day trip, what makes all the difference is whether the person on the back seat knows how to be a “good passenger,” and there is a way to do it. So we put together this guide to give you some pointers and tips on how to be one, so you can make sure your butt will always be welcome on the back seat!
The Rider’s Responsibilities
As we mentioned, there is a lot of liability involved in taking someone for a ride on a motorcycle. It’s nothing like going for a ride in a car, which has numerous safety devices built into it and is generally unfazed by more weight – on a bike, the only thing keeping you from sliding across the ground is a combination of physics and rider skill, and skill is the only thing under the riders control.
Before asking to go on a motorcycle ride – or accepting one if you are invited – you should be confident that the rider has quite a bit of experience riding already. Adding another person can almost double the amount of weight the bike is carrying, which changes the way a bike responds considerably. Riding requires quite a bit of skill as it is, and passengers make it even more challenging, so it may not be a good idea to go for a ride with a newer rider – and definitely don’t pressure a rider to take you for a ride if they aren’t comfortable with it.
Being a passenger can be unnerving at first, but with enough skill and confidence, you can even hit the race track riding two-up! Seen here is world-famous motorcycle racer Randy Mamola, taking Prince Harry on hot laps in his race bike.
On the other hand, some riders love the thrill of speed and the rush of a motorcycles quick handling – and assume that you will to. They may not slow down and be more careful to accommodate a passenger (and in fact, may ride even more aggressively to show off!) This could be unnerving and even terrifying for you as the passenger, and may ruin the experience for you, so make sure you have a talk with them beforehand about what you’re comfortable with, and establish a way to communicate with them while on the bike at speed to make sure they don’t ride too aggressively (which we will talk about in the next section.)
Things To Consider Before Going On A Ride
If you are comfortable with the skill level of the person you’re riding with and have a mutual level of trust, then you’re ready to enjoy the ride. Here are things to think about before you go:
- Have your own safety gear. What you wear is up to you, but you should be well aware that motorcycle accidents can mangle a human body very quickly, and protective gear is designed specifically to prevent that. A helmet is the most important piece of safety gear, but gloves, sturdy boots, strong pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and an armored motorcycle jacket are all important pieces of gear too. Borrow it if you can, but if you’ll be riding regularly, get your own. Road rash and broken bones are not cute. (For more info on what kind of motorcycle gear you may need, check out our Buyer’s Guides section – we have complete guides on all of this gear and more!)
- What kind of bike they have. Some big touring bikes and cruisers have passenger seats that literally look like recliners, while sport bikes and other performance bikes have rear seats that are basically designed to say “nobody belongs here.” Before agreeing to go on a ride, know what kind of bike the rider has – you may not want to hop on the back for a 40 mile ride when you realize you have about 12 square inches of hard padding to sit on!
- Where you’ll be riding, and when. Something newbies to riding don’t often think about – it get’s cold! Imagine 60 MPH or more of wind chill, and a slightly cool day can be downright freezing on a bike. In addition, since you’re exposed to the elements, you’ll feel a lot of temperature variation. Take a look at the weather before you go, and dress accordingly.
- Develop some kind of way to signal to each other while you’re riding. At speed, the rider may not be able to hear a thing you’re saying, so it helps to establish some way to communicate by touch. At a minimum, determine a way for you to signal to them when you want to slow down, speed up, or stop. (If they have a Bluetooth communication device you can use to talk to them during the ride, even better!)
Protective gear is essential on a motorcycle, whether you're the rider or the passenger. If you do happen to crash, it won't matter whether you were on the front or back. Everything is equal when sliding on asphalt, so take charge of your own safety and wear protective gear.
Tips on Being a “Good Passenger”
- Get on the bike the right way. Wait until the rider is stable, with the bike upright and both feet on the ground. He or she should also engage the brake to keep the bike from rolling. Pop out the footpegs and get on by stepping on the near footpeg first, then swinging your leg over onto the other.
- Try not to hang onto the rider. While wrapping your arms around the rider might be romantic, it’s not ideal because you put weight on them and affect their ability to control the bike. Instead, stabilize yourself by placing your hands on the tank, especially when stopping. If you can’t reach the tank, place your arms around their waist, but never hang onto them by the shoulders.
- Use the footpegs. Keep your weight distributed evenly between the pegs and the passenger seat, instead of putting all your weight on the seat alone. This will be more stable, especially through bumpy or rough patches of road. You should never put your feet down during a ride, unless your are getting off the bike completely.
- Don’t lean into turns just because the rider does. Leaning too little, too much, or when the rider doesn’t expect it can make it more difficult for them to control the bike, and can be unnerving. You will naturally lean into turns as the bike does, but it is not necessary to lean more than that – a good rule of thumb is to just look over the riders shoulder in the direction you are turning.
- Only get off the bike when the rider tells you it’s okay to. Jumping off the bike before they are ready for it can unexpectedly transfer a lot of weight, and even cause them to drop their bike!
- Watch out for hot exhaust pipes! Exhaust pipes get extremely hot during a ride, and are usually oriented near the back of the bike under the passenger seat, so be careful not to contact them when getting on or off. In addition, the chain and sprockets or belt are exposed in the back of a bike and can catch loose clothing or untied shoelaces, so make sure there is nothing hanging that can get caught.
How NOT to do it. Sure, it looks sexy, but ride like this and you'll plop right off the bike in the first corner - and proably take the rider with you. Be smart when riding on a motorcycle, even as just a passenger!
What advice do you have for motorcycle passengers that you can share?