Don’t Ride Like a Bitch

How To -



What do I do?
Okay, so you’ve found a guy who is a motorcycling god, you’re totally safe with him, and you’ve got the gear. We’re ready to go now, right? Riders, before you take off, have a talk about what to expect and how the passenger should behave. You can help your lady friends (and friendly ladies) a lot by sharing a few basics that will more likely make the experience good for everyone. I’ve learned this stuff over the years, but it would’ve been nice to avoid confusion and have a handle on it before getting on the bike, where you can’t really ask questions.

Getting on
Always get on motorcycles from the left side. Don’t attempt to mount the bike until the rider has indicated he’s balanced and ready for you to do so. Ask the rider about how he would like you to get on the bike, and do everything smoothly and slowly and you won’t cause any sad, stopped motorcycle tip-overs. If the bike is really tall and the rider is aware you are going to do so, you can put your left foot on the passenger peg closest to you, then step up and lift your right leg over the seat to the other peg. While we’re on the subject, dismount in the same manner. Slow, steady, and when the rider indicates you should.

Your hands and arms
The best place to hold on depends on the motorcycle. If the bike has grab rails, holding them in positions that allow you to lock your elbows makes you feel more stable. Often reaching around and bracing yourself against the gas tank on a sport bike is necessary as a passenger when slowing or stopping. Grab rails on sport bikes are good in theory, but they aren’t very functional and you’re probably going to have to hang on to the rider. Putting your arms all the way around and clasping them in front is the probably your best bet to feel most secure. Now isn’t the time to get shy.

Your feet and legs
Put the balls of your feet on the passenger pegs, and keep them there at all times. Rather than just loosely sitting your feet there, it’s usually more comfortable to have an engaged stance so you can stand up a little when going over bumps. When you’re on the bike, keep your knees pulled in tight against the bike and/or rider to create stability. Never, ever try to put your feet down when the bike is stopped. Keeping your feet in place keeps everything stable and gives you a good foundation for balance. I never knew how important those pegs were until my inside passenger peg closed up mid-way through a 40mph corner; keeping my foot off the road and staying on the bike until we exited the corner and I could get the peg back down was no small feat.

Your body is a mass than affects the balance of the bike. Don’t wiggle and jiggle all over the place, and whenever possible, keep your head directly behind the rider’s. Pay attention to where the rider leans, and lean with them. Don’t lean in the opposite direction because you’re scared the bike is going to tip over. It’s not going to and by leaning the wrong way you’ll make it very dangerous for the rider because they’re actually going to have to lean even further to compensate for you. The faster the bike is moving in a straight line, the less your movement will affect the balance. For example, it’s much better to adjust your seating position while cruising down the freeway at a healthy pace than while stopped at a stop light, or in a corner. Speaking of stop lights, it’s tricky to balance that sucker while it’s stopped and a passenger is perched on top of it. It’s okay to turn your head, but try not to turn your body. And if you want to talk to the rider, a tap on the shoulder is usually all it takes.

It can be hard to communicate while riding, especially with full face helmets. Arrange a few mutually understood hand signals for anything you’re concerned you might need to tell the rider while in motion. Usually, if something needs urgently discussed it’s best just to indicate for the rider to pull over, and then deal with it while you’re stopped. To tell the rider to pull over, tap them on the shoulder then deliberately and clearly point at the curb. If the rider is going too fast and you get scared or they make you uncomfortable, a swift punch in the kidneys is always fun, but it’s probably more effective (and nicer) to put your hand out palm down in front of them where they can see it and slowly push down a few times. They’ll get the message. If you’re a daredevil and you’re ready for a real ride, palm up and pull your hand up quickly a couple times to indicate you’re comfortable with more speed.

A note from Sean to riders about braking with a passenger:
When you’re carrying a passenger, your rear brake suddenly becomes a lot more powerful. The weight distribution is shifted significantly up and back. Because of that, you should use it more, and by doing so you’ll be able to brake nearly as fast as you would without a passenger on the bike.

Now I’m getting the hang of this
Once you have the basics down and you start riding pillion regularly, there are some great benefits and you can also have a whole ton of fun. Rather than being a passive bystander, get engaged with the ride. Look out ahead as much as possible. You can start to identify upcoming changes in the road surface and adjust your seating position as the rider does (rise up off the seat for bumps and dips). If you’re interested in becoming a rider yourself, take advantage of this time on the bike to get used to the sensations and make note what the rider does in every situation. Riders, if you enjoy riding fast and canyons, you can start to teach your passenger about leaning off the bike with you in turns, leveraging the extra weight for some truly fun cornering. I would give you more advice about getting fast riding two-up, but it really comes down to a very specific poetry between whatever bike you’re riding, and the body positions of the two riders, and what works for Sean and I is most likely not applicable across broad situations.

I’ll end on this note: my casual gender assignments (men as riders / ladies as passengers) might make you want to call me out for sexism, but when I see guys riding two up, it’s usually for practical purposes; someone crashed or bikes are being transported around. And, well, I’m a girl and I like to ride bikes with boys.

  • HammSammich

    Is that A-Stars new Bio-Tulle hip protection system? ;)

  • Kevin

    Brilliant!! Thanks so much for this story. Forwarding it to the wife now.

    • Brad

      Me, too! Well done!

      • Gene

        Yup, this is getting printed out and posted up in the garage.

        So far I’ve only encountered poseurs that go “whut? muss my HAIR? no way!” when I mention “no helmet = no ride”

  • Josh

    Great article. I particularly appreciate the mention of considering whose hands you’re puting your life into by climbing on the back of that motorcycle. The amount of people this _doesn’t_ occur to is shocking to me.

  • zipp4

    Cool article. Nice to hear from the girls we try so hard to impress for once.

  • JK

    Well written article.From my own experience I’d like to add the following when dealing with passengers for the first time.Point out that the exhaust will be hot to the touch it may be blatantly obvious to us riders but not to a newbie pillion.Show them theres a moving chain below them so better keep feet on pegs as said earlier.Explain that the sense of speed is different on a motorcycle and that it will appear we are going faster than we actually are.Explain leaning. Here is where a newbie can get really scared of the ground getting nearer and lean the opposite way to compensate upsetting the balance of the bike.Just tell them when you are going left look over your left shoulder and when going right look over your right shoulder.Thats all they have to do to put their body in the correct position for turns.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

      “Just tell them when you are going left look over your left shoulder and when going right look over your right shoulder.Thats all they have to do to put their body in the correct position for turns.”


    • R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

      Just wanted to also say that this is quite well written. Nicely done.

  • stickfigure

    Awesome, keep writing – you could do a series on picking a first bike, your experiences learning to ride, etc. As much as HfL complains about new riders overextending themselves, it’s mostly a big testosterone-fest that doesn’t exactly encourage moderation.

    As someone who does a lot of adventure touring 2up, I’ll add my $0.02:

    * Be careful of getting on a bike with someone that just commutes. I’ve noticed that the skills for “urban combat” and “carving twisties” don’t necessarily cross over; I’ve seen 15-year commute vetrans ride like MSF newbies once the fun begins. Streetfighting doesn’t teach the rider how to look through turns and what to do when you hit a patch of dirt or gravel on the road, but it does breed overconfidence.

    * Squeezing that last little bit of performance out of a sportbike by hanging off the side 2up just seems silly. Tthere’s no way the suspension is going to be properly set up for the weight and the lever arm of a 130lb (plus or minus) geared-up passenger makes emergency handling a difficult proposition. I just tell my pillion to “do what I do” – standing up on the pegs for big bumps, counterleaning if the road surface is questionable, or most of the time just sitting straight. And I ride at 80% or less – I can have plenty of fun when someone else’s life isn’t in my hands (and the bike doesn’t handle like it’s pregnant).

    * Why do you say always get on the left side? My pillion usually does just because that’s where she plugs in, but not always (depends what’s in the way) and it has never really mattered to me as a rider.

    • Sean Smith

      I stretched the wheelbase on my GSX-R (how original, right?) 1.5″ or so (longer chain is all that’s needed) and dialed everything in for 2-up canyon blasting. We ride together everyday so our situation is a bit different from most people.

      If the rider leaves the stand down, then getting on and off from the left side means you get that much more protection from a tip-over. It’s saved our asses more than a few times on tall and heavy bikes.

      • stickfigure

        Ok, that’s cool. Setting up a sportbike for 2up travel is novel, if a bit eccentric.

        Sidestand thing makes sense – apparently I’m tall enough that this just hasn’t been an issue, even on the big katoom. Probably worth mentioning this trick (leaving the stand down) in the article!

        • Sean Smith

          Ha, I didn’t write it and didn’t think to mention the stand trick until now. The two-seated missile is definitely eccentric. To date, I’ve never run across another person with a similarly setup bike. Well, except for maybe Randy Mamola, but you never see those Ducati GP bikes running round on the street.

          • Wereweazle

            Yeah I’ve always stood the bike upright before having someone mount. The “always mount from the left” bit confused me because I didn’t factor in the sidestand. I just always tell them to get on from the opposite side of the exhaust.

            • HammSammich

              ” I just always tell them to get on from the opposite side of the exhaust.”

              I’m gonna try that the next time I give someone a ride on my Bonnie, just to see what they do…

              • Wereweazle

                Like telling someone to stand in the corner of a circular room? They may try to hop on from the rear.

          • Randall

            I always leave the side stand down for by passenger. Then again, good luck getting a footing on the passenger pegs on a 675.

  • Eben

    I just need to point out that “pillion” means “woman’s saddle”, not passenger. I’m not sure being called a woman’s seat is any better than being called a bitch, but what do I know?

    Otherwise, great article.

    • Wes Siler

      It’s common usage refers to either the seat or the passenger. I grew up in England, occasionally we use Britishisms.

    • HammSammich

      The Online Etymology Dictionary: “pillion
      c.1500, of Celtic origin (cf. Ir. pillin, Gael. pillin), ultimately from L. pellis “skin, pelt”

      A pillion pad is generally a secondary pad behind the saddle where the passenger on a horse rides, and seems likely to have been adapted to the motorcycling lexicon from the equestrian past.

  • Gregory

    Sean has a mullet?

    Good advice.

    Concerning gear, I’ve had high-heels melt onto my cruiser’s pipes. She was not happy. I recommend proper boots.

    Also, I’ve had FREEZING passengers furious at me after a few miles. Now, I always recommend extra sweaters.

    I’ve found my lower-rear pocket is good for her makeup, mirror, snacks, et cetera.

    David Hough has some good paragraphs about passengers. Mount-up procedure is particularly important: don’t want wait on one peg when I’m not ready for it.


    • HammSammich

      “She was not happy!?” I’d have been pissed about my damaged exhaust cans!

    • Sean Smith

      I’ve had one for 2 years now.

  • Randall

    That was thoroughly awesome. My biggest problem being a rider is that I’m trying to get my girlfriend to get her motorcycle license and to get off my bike. Please write me an article on that subject!

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

    Two additional points worth mentioning to your passenger:

    1. When you are traveling slowly, it’s doubly imperative that you don’t make any sudden moves. Even moving your arm out to point at something on the side of the road can upset the balance of the motorcycle. This happened to me once when my wife decided to call my attention to a wayward dog to our left — as we were slowing down for a red light. Luckily, the light was red for both directions — because I had to quickly vector my motorcycle to the left to prevent us from going down.

    2. Be prepared to squeeze your legs together against the driver’s butt/hips to prevent yourself from “falling” into the back of the driver during sudden deceleration. During an emergency braking maneuver, the driver needs as much hand control as possible to operate the brake, throttle, and clutch effectively. Pressure on the back means pressure on the arms means pressure on the hands. Conversely, pressure on the butt won’t desensitize the hands from the “light touch” required to control the motorcycle effectively. (Worst case, the driver will be “racked” by the tank — which might lead to temporary desensitizing of his/her nether regions. But that’s a small price to pay versus the higher-risck consequences of braking ineffectively.)

  • Jim

    This is a great article. Especially the notes on low speed fidgeting, its amazing how noticeable it is.

  • Justus

    Another reason for dudes to ride two up: To show non-riders how awesome riding a bike is! If it wasn’t for a few of my buddies taking me for rides, I probably wouldn’t be riding now.

    • Sean Smith

      I offer that all the time. Throw a friend in a spare suit and take them for a quick blast down the highway. They’ll be shopping for a bike the second they get home.

  • mugget

    HFL chick!!

    Good article, and good comments here as well.

    It’s really strange, but I’m another of these guys – been riding sportsbikes for about 4-5 years and only once have I taken a girl for a pillion ride and I went pretty slow since it was my first time properly riding with a pillion, not hers though. She was telling me to go faster. Haha!

    I have been teaching a couple of buddies to ride, maybe I’ll see if they want to pillion in the hills sometime. I reckon that would get them sorted and they’d finally go get their license and a bike in the garage real quick…

  • noone1569

    Articles like this should be put up in a section that will allow us to forward these to non-subscribers to read (and encourage to subscribe). These are incredibly useful.

    FWD’d to all the ladies I allow to ride with me . .

    • Wes Siler

      The 12-hour preview time is designed to allow for that.

      • noone1569

        Yeah. I understand that, and I do love HLF, but I can’t always fwd that and convince people to read within 12 hours. Bastards should hurry up but hardly do!

      • aristurtle

        It doesn’t, though. I can’t post a link to HFL on my Facebook page because by the time my friends start commenting on it, everything will be gone but the first paragraph.

      • Dean

        I must say it would be really nice to have a certain category of posts labelled “gateway drug” that don’t have the time limit. Could be for posts, like this one, that might appeal to new or inexperienced riders.

        I generally never share HFL articles because of the time limit—despite occasionally wanting to, usually with friends that I’m trying to convince to take MSF course.

  • pinkyracer

    great article Ashlee! I’ll use these tips on my impending two-up ride with a certain IOM winner who’s promised to show me Malibu his way. ;-)

    • Sean Smith

      Mark Miller? Ashlee and I should race you guys.

      • pinkyracer

        in your dreams, squid. ;-P I’d hate to be in any way responsible for you two flying over the edge of Latigo trying to keep up.

        • Sean Smith

          Lol, I’d bet $20 bucks I lose you guys in 5 corners. A specially setup bike and lots of experience hauling ass with a passenger who acts more like a sidecar monkey than a hindrance add up to a pretty fast package ;)

          • Jesse

            Chase car and cameras. I’d love to see this.

          • gregorbean

            Seriously. Make this happen please.

  • vegetablecookie

    I have most of the gear suggested for my pillion. Where do I find a tutu?

  • Emmet

    excellent write up! I’ll use this when I take my first passenger out for a ride in a few weeks.

  • RiderCoach

    well written, very nice.

    i find contact signals work better than visual hand signals, as it lets nervous noobs still hold on and doesn’t distract the operator :

    double tap right thigh=pull over
    double tap left chest=you are scaring me
    rub stomach=i am hungry
    rub groin=mesohorny

    • Patico

      Mesohorny signal is dangerous if you are over 80 mph. Be careful ladies.

  • MotoLady

    “Gentlemen, you know this is true for you too, but testosterone makes you think you have motorcycle skills in your DNA. You don’t.”

    This is so good.

  • Keith

    Great article! It’s something that gets lost in the training info and should be seen more often.
    A bad passenger can be a real handful.
    The most “interesting” passenger for me is a cameraman that sits backwards to shoot other bikes on the road.(back roads only…)
    Fortunately, he rides and understands the balancing act :)

  • Steven

    the big question is how you get the lady to want to get onto the back in the first place.

    • always_go_big

      Easy – you pick a lady who wants to get on the back in the first place ! ;-)

  • elisa loops

    What about the ladies that at at the front with hubby riding bitch? Lol I know I know… All the same safety measures apply, just making a point there are sum like us out there I’m at the front hubby at the back

  • mercdem2

    This is cute. I was always of the mind that I didn’t want no body mama crying at me for scarring up they daughter, so caution when riding 2 up is the rule. But in truth, the best and safest thing is never to ride heavier than you or the bike can enjoy. See, I love a thick chick with big legs (GRAAOOW!) but I never ride with them. Around 120lbs and under so I still maintain a level of manuverability and performance. That’s MY prerequisite.

    • Patico

      This article is really nice. I had an accident when I was 21 years old, and my female pillion took the worst part. I had obtained my car license over 3 years ago, but my bike license was just 3 months old.

      My experience was close to null.

      The bike I was riding was too tall for me.

      I thought the car that hit me would respect the stop sign.
      When confronted with the ‘harsh situation’ I decided to hit the horn switch instead of the brakes.

      So many things I didn’t know how to properly do at that time.

  • Feh!

    Well I’ve been enjoying this site for a few months now, but I read through the whole article thinking “typical male writer: assumes it’s just women (or “bitches”) who ride as passengers, with the studly man doing the real work in front. And the comments about not wearing a skirt?! Jeez.” Then I noticed the writer was a woman. Come on girl – as a new female rider shaking my head pretty regularly at the sexist crap I see everywhere in the bike world, this is a bit sad. My local bike club’s facebook page: every other post is a chick in a bikini. My local rider’s forum: ditto. Also liberally sprinkled with homophobic comments. (Guys: I expect you to sneer at my comment now, but since you’re men you don’t get to tell me how I as a woman should feel about this. So zip it. ;) )

    • Patico

      First, I believe women and men can be both excellent or crappy riders (or drivers, if they prefer four wheels). It all depends on how they learn, their degree of commitment and, more importantly, being a jerk will not discriminate gender.

      However, when it comes to passenger riding, I have a rule of thumb: for two similarly skilled riders, the taller and heaviest of the two, must be in front, driving.
      And let’s face it, usually, in a human couple, the man is taller and heavier than the lady. I believe it’s easier for a 200 pounder like me, to control and support the extra 120 pounds my girlfriend adds to my bike, than the other way around. My legs are used to holding more weight than hers. Maybe while riding, the extra weight will not cause much effect, but an inch of leg reach might determine the outcome of a harsh situation.

  • Elizabeth Picray

    I can’t speak for sport bikes, which it appears you prefer to ride, but from personal experience as both a rider and as a passenger, on a cruiser it is better for the passenger’s lean to remain neutral. Meaning, the rider controls the lean, and the passenger keeps their body upright in relation to the road, so that the rider’s ability to quickly affect the balance of the bike isn’t compromised.

    Also, if the bike isn’t tall, it’s better to throw a leg over and settle your foot on the far peg first so as not to drop all your weight on one side of the bike. I also put both hands on the rider’s shoulders while I mount the pillion seat.

  • S. Swanson

    Nice article, I ride both pilot and passenger. But can we PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE drop the “bitch” crap?

  • ProDigit

    Any advise to give for riders, and/or passengers who love to cuddle and hug tight, while riding; on braking?
    I find, as a rider, when braking, the passenger’s weight gets distributed over my arms, and I have to put quite an amount of force on the handlebars.
    Anyone else experience this?

    • Anthony Madrid

      Best advice for this is explain to them that when braking, they should keep one arm wrapped around you and the other hand on the gas tank to support their own weight. They can use their left hand to hold onto their right wrist, and their right hand on the tank, or vise versa if they’re more comfortable supporting themselves with their left. For passengers with short arms, this may be difficult, but to compensate for short arms, they just have to put their hand lower on the tank, because the bottom of the tank is closest to the passenger.Also, if a passenger is squeezing too tight (specifically with their legs) I just wiggle my butt a bit and they usually get the idea. Of course, if you explain what you wiggling means before you start the ride, they will understand it for sure.