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Guide for pillion riding


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Strangely enough this is one of the things that is not covered in too much detail for either the standard test or any of the advanced tests. Yet it is often one of the hardest things to get the hang of. It is not until you actually try to carry a passenger that you realise just what all this means and exactly how much of a difference it can make. You'll also find out that some adjustments can be made to make the experience safer and more pleasurable for both you and your passenger.

Certain bikes like tourers and cruisers e.g. Honda Gold-Wing, Pan-European, Yamaha Virago, some Harley Davidsons and most of the BMW range are ideal for two up touring, while others make it simply impossible. If you intend to ride two up often, then a 600 cc + sports tourer may be the ideal combination. In any case a bike with a comfortable pillion seat, not perched two high up and a solid grab rail should make it easier on both rider and passenger. While it is possible to carry a pillion on a 50 cc bike, the larger and heavier (180kg +) the bike, the less impact the additional weight will have.

You should also check the manufacturer's manual to see what adjustments you need to make. Some will require different tyre and suspension settings, while others need no modification at all.

The Pillion

There are two misconceptions that I can think of about carrying a passenger the first is that it is the role of the rider to scare the passenger as much as possible so that they thoroughly regret agreeing to the ride, while the second is that the passenger should be instructed to lean into the bends as much as possible. For me the thought of carrying a petrified passenger who is going to lean over at every bend, when I am not expecting it is as scary as riding on a skid pan.

I therefore take extra care to brief any passenger that I have not carried before and ensure that they fully understand before we set off. The brief goes something like this:

I will get the bike into a safe position and nod for you to get on. When you get on step over the bike without touching the pegs and sit on the seat before putting your feet on the pegs. Give me a tap on the back to show you are ready to move off. You can either hold on to me or the grab rail, but make sure you hold on at all times. When we come to a stop (e.g. a junction) I will put my feet down but you should not. When we come to a corner or bend I will balance the bike, all you need to do is relax and go with the flow, don't try to sit upright in a bend. If you want me to stop or slow down give me a tap on the shoulder. When the ride is over I’ll get the bike to a safe position and nod for you to dismount again without using the pegs. Finally relax and enjoy the ride.

It's worth noting that a shorter, lighter rider may need to use the foot pegs when getting on and off. In this case you need to encourage them to carefully put their weight on the pegs to avoid tilting the bike too much when they get on. As the rider, you will also need to brace the bike in anticipation for the unbalanced load.

You should ensure that the passenger is wearing appropriate clothing which includes a helmet that fits, gloves and sturdy boots, trousers & jacket

While this helps to reassure the passenger that this is going to be a good experience, there are a couple of things outside of your control which will make for a difficult experience. Carrying a heavy or tall passenger, particularly in relationship to your own size is going to highlight any problems you have. Depending on the bike, you may decide that the combined weight of you and you passenger is simply too much load for the bike to be safe.

Pillion positions

There are several positions which the pillion can use to hold on to the bike. There is no best way, it depends on the type of bike and the pillion's preference. Whichever they choose, it is important that they feel relaxed and comfortable.

Round the waist - Recommended for in-experienced pillions as it gives them a sense of security allowing a better feel for corners (as they will naturally follow the rider). The disadvantage is that the passenger can swamp the rider during braking and stretch them during accelerating. Additionally, depending on the bike, the position may not allow them to see too much as they will be very close to the rider, which also increases helmet knocking.

On the grab rail - This gives less security, but allows a more rigid and stable position. Both the passenger and rider will have more room, with increased visibility for both. This position also reduces the swamp and stretch experience under braking and accelerating. However, extreme acceleration could result in the pillion toppling off the back, if they have not locked their arms in position.

Brace - With one hand on the grab rail and the other bracing in front either on the tank or the seat (depending on the bike), this position creates the feeling of a very light passenger. It allows them to adapt to the road conditions and still have a degree of security and stability. It does take a while to get used to and is not necessarily the best for an inexperienced rider or pillion.

The Rider

As the rider, you must remain in control at all times. You will find that smooth use of the controls and plenty of forward planning will ease the journey. You may also have to adjust your riding style to compensate for the extra load. Engine braking will be less effective, cornering (particularly at low speed) will be harder to get right and you will need to work the motor a bit harder for overtakes. You will also need to be more sure footed at junctions and queues and may wish to use both feet and keep the bike upright rather than lean over with one foot down.

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Pillion leaning on corners.... Hmmm

I was given a good piece of advice to pass on as its quite hard to lean when on a goldwing as a pillion. Tell the pillion to look over the shoulder of the side the corner is. they dont lean as such but are better pplace for the rider to have better control.

Works for me

good write up though


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I use these if Im unfortunate to have to take a pillion!

http://www.sportsbikeshop.co.uk/motorcy ... od/30/1820


I think these are great, but never worn as shown in the picture. I think the fastening clip should be at the back of the rider, that way if it ever snapped or wasn't fully fastened the pillion would then fall into the back of the rider instead of off the bike.

In the twenty years I've been riding and giving lots of pillion rides I've come to the conclusion size and weight don't really matter much. I've had heavy pillions (i.e 20 stone) that I couldn't even tell were there and I've had 10 stone pillions that were a nightmare. I always tell passengers never to lean and to stay perpendicular in relation to the bike. By doing this they are more like a piece of luggage and so I can compensate for the extra weight.

When I was younger the one thing I always wanted to do was impress my passenger, and so I'd cane it everywhere, this usually resulted in them never wanting to be a passenger again. What I noticed with experience though, was its not how fast you go or how fast you accelerate that scares them, its how fast you take the bends. I've had plenty of inexperienced passengers who loved their first pillion ride on the back of my bike even though it was high speed and I accelerated as fast as it would go, I just take it real easy on the corners for them. I also cut out all the wheelies too :lol:

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BTW - always make sure your code of communication is sorted before you go!

And bare in mind SOME riders forget what's agreed to, so do remind them!

When navigating (which I often do) you have to have a clear way of getting across which way you go at junctions, it's not always possible to hear you, and it's not a good idea to sit at junctions until everyone is sorted out!

Have to admit, I don't do any of those positions, I tend to ride like I'm riding a horse. Grip with the knees, heels down, put my center of gravity as central as possible, keep my seat as still as possible, and move my upper body with the bike/rider.

For example, I tend to lean forward at speed, when I know the rider is leaning too, but most of the time I'm sat almost upright. Bends are something I've learnt has to be ridden differently every time. What is right for one bend will cause a sticky mess in another!

Jist is, just cos you ain't riding don't mean you're in for the easy ride. A pillion who's not concentrating on where their weight is going is not only going to cause the rider to worry and not concentrate, but can also cause an accident.

It's got to the point where my seat is that stable even when I wiggle around it won't throw the bike. Am much appriciated as the rear tyre warmer at the moment!

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Stupidest thing I did was the communication breakdown. Eventually stopped to find my wrist was now swollen and sore from doing it up with the bracelet under the buckle, and was asked why I didn't ask to stop sooner.

I'd been asking for about 10 minutes!!

If it'd been more serious, I'd have been effed!

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there was a part about communication but figured most people would have enough commen sense to sort that them selves!!!

And for a new rider the way you sit aint always reccomended Bundle, when my first pillion sat like that on a windy day the wind got between us and make situation worse still, i got to the stage that i just treat my pillion as extra luggage and compensated my self but at first that aint ideal!

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Have to admit, that's the worse case senario, found it much easier to cope with some of the bumps on the hogs back sitting like that!

Usually I'm not even gripping with my knees (especially now I've noticed my knees wonder when I'm cornering... sliders on the xmas list methinks!). I just happen to have an incredably stable natural seat!!

It's very hard to try and explain though, but the priority is trying to keep the lower body stable, holding on for dear life won't make a blind bit of difference if you wiggle and knock the bike out on a bend!

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directions i usually use

tap on left shoulder means turn left

tap on right shoulder means turn right.

no taps means go straight on

lots of frantic tapping means i need your attention, so the rider usually pulls over or slows down, so they can hear me shout.

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mine is pretty similar, but I will point as well, as I am happy to move my arms.

The problem was stop. It'd completely slipped his mind that a tap on the chest (which when I really want to stop is accompanied by a tight hanging on for dear life!) meant stop and he was patting me on the leg endearingly, but not pulling over!

Futher to comments RE positions - it can seem like you're being expected to perform some sort of olympic gymnastics display at first, what with gripping and balancing and all sorts, but when you're on the bike it suddenly becomes much clearer.

A good, stable lower body will inspire you to find a position that suits you and the rider sooner, and your confidence will have a chance to grow. A confident pillion leads to a confident rider and then everyone has a fun time out!

Believe it or not, I had found a position I was happy with within a couple of hours, cumulativly, of getting on the back of a bike for the first time, and I can still count the times I've been on a bike with my fingers!!! It takes trust in yourself, the rider and the bike but once you've cracked it it's the easiest and most fun thing ever!

Until you get your own bike, that is!

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best thing to do is exactly what the rider tells you to do, you can have any style you want, but if the rider tells you to do it one way thats the way you do it.

ive taken people pillion enough, and been pillion enough to know that its best for both people that way.

although id actually suggest that if people want to take pillions, and they are new riders, to get someone with a little experience themselves, on the back first.

and not like i had, which was some tit 'locking' himself down on the back of my old GPz, which upset the back at most of the corners, even thought i kept telling him not to do it.......that was also the last time i took him pillion :roll:

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  • 2 months later...
:lol: The best pillion rider is NO pillion rider. But if i have to take someone its normally the wife, and she has a very special thing to hang on to :lol:


Yeh.... you have a nice handrail :?: :wink:

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  • 3 years later...

Thanks to Bournemouth & Wessex Advanced Motorcyclists

Riding with a Pillion It is something most motorcyclists do not get any instruction on at all. It is all learnt by experience, and sometimes learning that experience can be very painful indeed.

First, some basic rules:

Check the bike, including:

Tyre pressures. They often need to be higher when carrying a pillion.

Suspension settings - consult the manual.

Adjust your riding style:

Aim to ride as smoothly as possible - this demands a high level of planning and anticipation in order to minimise braking and gear changes.

Allow extra braking distances to cope with the extra weight.

Use the rear brake more. There is more weight over the back wheel so it is more effective two-up, and it makes the pillion less likely to move forward into you when slowing down and stopping.

Use the clutch more to ensure smooth changes thus reducing the possibility of banging helmets

Start gently to build pillion confidence.

There is one final category of tips, but first allow me to relate a true story ...Several years ago I invited my friend to accompany me on a trip to the Fairford Air Show in Gloucestershire followed the next day to the British Motorcycle Grand Prix at Donnington. He had not ridden pillion ever so I took things ever so gingerly at first. My trusty 600 Yamaha was well up to the task and we enjoyed a splendid weekend covering over 400 miles at all speeds.

Exactly one year later I asked if he wanted to repeat the experience and he said he would love to. I turned up on my brand new Yamaha 900 XJS and, as last year, gave him all the kit (helmet, gloves, goretex/kevlar suit and boots) and made ready to go. I remembered that one year ago he was trouble free on the back so we set off without delay.

Out of his posh estate, down a steepish hill four hundred yards to a T-junction, turn left and on to a nice country A-road. Up to 25-30 mph and ahead a nice right-hander came into view. It was the sort of bend you could comfortably take at 60 mph but I maintained my existing speed and prepared to take the near-side line for optimum position. As we approached the bend I could vaguely hear my pillion saying something but I couldn't quite make out what it was. As I prepared to lean the bike over I realised what he was trying to say: "we're not going to make it, we're not going to make it".

Horror! He was so convinced that we were not going to make it that he resisted all my attempts to maintain my line around this gentle bend at this gentle speed. His fourteen stone weight and six foot height did nothing to help me in this endeavour. Cccrrraaassshhh! We came off and landed heavily on the edge of the road (we were not going fast enough to get into the ditch less than two feet from the tarmac).

ResultPillion sustained three broken ribs where the braces of his sallopettes dug into his chest as he landed; my bike twisted its front forks, scratched all the right-hand fairing panels and broke other various bits. Total damage £1,498.00. Apart from my pride, I was uninjured.

Who was to blame? Well, me of course. It was my hand on the throttle, and I was in charge of the bike. The moral of the story lies in the oft-quoted phrase "don't assume anything". Assume makes an ass out of you and me.

So this leads us on to the third category of tips - pillion and rider communication:

Always brief your pillion before he gets on the bike. Tell him to act as if he were a bag of potatoes, just letting the bike go where it wants to go. Never fight it.

If you have an intercom then use it. Had I been able to understand what the pillion was saying beforehand then I would have been able to stop gracefully.

Tell the pillion not to put their feet down when the bike comes to a halt (yes, you need to do this before he gets on the bike!!). Ensure the pillion knows when to mount/dismount.

Never assume, just because they have ridden as pillion before that they can still remember what to do.

Agree some basic signals if you don't have an intercom. Two digs in the ribs to slow down and three digs to stop will do nicely!

Tell the pillion not to move about on the back (especially at slow speeds).

Finally, don't be put off. A good pillion lends an extra set of eyes and other senses and can make a good ride into a really great one. Safe riding

Hugh Williams

Senior Observer


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  • 2 weeks later...
Tell him to act as if he were a bag of potatoes, just letting the bike go where it wants to go. Never fight it.



I remember getting this exact chat before going pillion for the first time. I had never sat on a bike and my (then) boyfriend had a gixxer 750. I was utterly bricking it, mainly thinking 'what if he tries to show off and goes really fast' so after me telling him about 50 times that he wasn't to go over 30mph we went out. I had a great time, looking back we literally crawled along there for a good few weeks but the whole leaning into corners is quite terrifying at first so it's something that needs to be introduced slowly in my opinion.

On the gixxer we used pillion handles not only cos it had no grab rail but it also made it easier for me to follow his movement in corners. I don't think we needed to extra space but I'm only little and he was over 6ft so perched on the back I still couldn't see over his head! I think on the braking and cornering the pillion should also know to grip the bike with their legs which avoids relying on the rider too much for stability.

I ended up touring Ireland on the back of that gixxer and there was some very fast (illegal) riding that went on, got me totally hooked on bikes :)

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