How To Prepare a Passenger For Their First Motorcycle Ride

How To -


Motorcycle Passenger

So you’re about to take someone on their first ride on the back of a motorcycle. It’s probably as scary for you as it is for them. Out there at the very end of the subframe, the passenger actually has more influence on a bike’s dynamics than you, the rider. No need to worry though, follow these easy steps on how to prepare a passenger for their first motorcycle ride and you’ll both be good to go.

1. Gear
The biggest sticking point. Motorcycle gear is expensive and your passenger needs to be as protected, if not more protected than you are. There’s no easy solution here. Helmet fit remains individual to each person’s head; everyone needs a different size jacket; gloves need to fit the hands they’re on. Use the same rules you apply to your own gear: full-face helmet all the time. Body armor on all the major joints; CE-rated back protector; abrasion protection; over-the-ankle boots. If you can’t meet those criteria, with comfort, with appropriate safety, take the other person’s car instead.

2. The Preparatory Speech
“Just sit still. If you have to move around, do so while we’re cruising at a steady speed; moving our body weight is what steers the motorcycle. Especially when we’re going between cars, just sit still.

“Hold on tight. Whether it’s the grab rails or my waist, all that matters is that you feel secure. Support your weight under braking with a hand on the tank. Use your feet to push forward under acceleration.

“In corners, just pretend you’re a sack of potatoes. Don’t jump around, just try and stay in-line with the bike’s lean angle.

“If you’re scared, punch me. If you want to pull over, punch me.” Then, really do pull over if they punch you. It’s up to you to make them feel safe.

3. The Mount
Sit on the bike, turn it on and put in in neutral. Stand up, with your legs spread wide and the seat pinched between your thighs. Hold the front brake. A passenger should always mount from the left, without using the passenger peg as step stool. But, they’re going to use the passenger peg as a step stool, so be ready for that. Ask them to always, always, always wait for verbal confirmation that you’re ready before climbing on or off.

4. The Hold
The most secure hold is one arm around your waist, one arm on the tank. Under acceleration, the arm around your waist holds them on the bike. Under braking, the hand on the tank holds their weight, preventing it from crushing your balls. This varies by bike types and hand holds, but there’s no bike it won’t work on.

5. The Dismount
Again, this should always be to the left. Make sure the passenger knows they must get verbal confirmation that you’re ready before dismounting and ask them to do so without using the left peg as a step stool. Pull up to a firm, level surface, brace the bike between your legs while standing up over the seat and balance it while the passenger steps off.

If you’ve done it right, you’ve created a motorcycle enthusiast for life. Make that your goal. What are your tips for carrying a passenger?

Related Links:
You’re The Rider: How To Ride With A Passenger
Use These Bikes: The 10 Best Motorcycles For Carrying A Passenger
You’re The Passenger: How To Be A Good Motorcycle Passenger

  • Brian

    discussion beforehand of hand signals and/or touches from the passenger to driver or visa versa. Things like tapping one of their hands for to hold on or tapping their leg to let them know you are speeding up or slowing down.

    • Jim Hollinrake

      This is way better than “Punch me.” FFS, it’s not that hard to have a couple basic commands. I use a tap on the top of the helmet for pull over and a tap on the leg for slow down. You don’t need much more than that.

  • Grimbo

    I show them how they can hold on using their legs and feet; Step forward into the pegs during acceleration and pinch the seat with their thighs, and step backwards and pinch the seat with their thighs when braking. Feels secure even if you dont hold on with your hands. (unless you are going full throttle etc.) Bonus is that they wont crash into your helmet when braking, sliding forward and chrushing nuts.

  • Jesse

    These were all the same rules my Dad gave me with I was about 8. Except I then proceeded to fall asleep on a highway cruise on the back of his fully kitted out late 70′s Bargewing. More comfortable than most movie seats, back there.

  • BenVC

    I use the main footpeg to get on and off my KLR every time. I don’t think my gf would be able to get on without using the foot peg. Are they that delicate?

    • Justin McClintock

      I was thinking about that myself. But they did specifically mention the passenger pegs. I know on my bikes, those are kinda spindly. That said, my wife uses MY footpeg (aka the rider’s left footpeg) when she’s getting on and off. She’s too short to reach otherwise. And I know that one is plenty strong. Just gotta stay clear of the shifter and it’s fine, but the bike’s always turned off if she’s getting on or off anyway.

      • John

        I think they’re trying to avoid the balance instability of having the passenger mount up using the high passenger foot peg while you’re holding it in place. Agreed, for most passengers, getting onto my KLR would be a struggle without the peg.

        • Justin McClintock

          Well, I suppose I could see that too. I just leave the bike on the sidestand when my wife is getting on or off the bike. I remember at some point in a previous article they said something about that being taboo as well, but it works for me.

  • Jack Meoph

    I tell the pillion to look over the shoulder of the turn. If the bike is heading into a left turn, look over the left shoulder, that way at least they are somewhat leaning with the bike which helps a lot in making the turn. If I’m going straight I don’t care what shoulder they look over, but they need to be looking at the road ahead so they can be prepared for whatever maneuver is coming up; braking, turning, etc. Also, a lot of people can’t make the reach through the body to the tank, so I have them place their palms on the small of my back, with fingers pointing outwards so that they can brace for a braking maneuver, and squeeze with their legs. As the operator, I keep every input smooth as possible. There is no hard braking, or heavy acceleration, or quick direction change. It’s all slow and steady, but not boring. Lee Parks TOTAL CONTROL has a nice chapter on riding pillion, and there is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more info on the web than this article. Most of it is from European writers, who take their pillion riding seriously.

    • akvamme

      the shoulder thing is key. makes the whole concept easy to explain.

  • Ayabe

    My tip is…don’t take passengers unless you’re prepared to be fully responsible for their life, take it seriously, even more seriously than you do in a car.

    I don’t take passengers, for me the risk to myself is enough. I don’t scowl at guys riding with their ladies it’s just something I’ll never do. This opinion was cemented in me by way of personal tragedy.

    Just please, please, be extra careful when carrying someone on your bike.

    • LS650

      I feel the same way. If I need to transport a passenger, we take my cage.

  • Scheffy

    Every once in a while at a stoplight or during a few boring highway miles or ammo reload if your passenger is manning the 50, get a thumbs-up/thumbs-down out of them to see if everything is ok. A thumbs-down warrants a stop, or at least a pause and helmeted shouting match to figure out what’s wrong. I’ve had passengers suffer miles of back spasms, frozen hands, helmet straps pummeling necks, etc. simply because they thought they never had a good chance to tell me anything was wrong, or thought they’d be interrupting some fierce and fragile concentration on keeping the science machine underneath us running. A few experiences like that will make the people you actually want to take on rides swear off riding altogether. A comfortable passenger is a stable, non-fidgety, and predictable passenger.

    Unless of course you also don’t want to ride with them either, in which case just give it the berries and watch them roll off like a coffee left on the roof of a Corolla.

    • eddi

      Since you should buy proper gear, why not splurge on a Bluetooth comm set?

  • Guest
    • Michael Howard

      Why does deleting our post simply remove our name from it?

  • timmy2651

    I am surprised that something wasn’t mentioned about making sure that they (the passenger) are paying attention to the road and the surroundings just as if they were driving.

  • Adan Ova

    “moving our body weight is what steers the motorcycle” Am I reading that right? I was told in “Twist of the wrist” that it was “couter steering”, not “body steering”? (I’m a noob on technique, so, I would like to know more about this).

    • Alex Carlson

      Countersteering is absolutely the primary means of directional change while in motion, but shifting body weight (especially when you’re talking about >200lbs up high) will make a big difference. For the purposes of a first-time pillion, best to keep the directions simple.

    • Jim Hollinrake

      You are correct. Moving body weight is NOT how we steer, that’s straight up misinformation. Moving body weight changes centers of gravity and balance and, when used correctly, complement steering. When done incorrectly, it throws things off.

      • Piglet2010

        Uh, better tell the Pridmore’s they are riding motorcycles the wrong way.

    • bainelaker

      True. But what the article is saying, is that’s what we are telling the soon-to-be-passenger. The pillion does not need to learn about countersteering and gyroscopic force at this point, they just need to understand that there is a connection between them shifting around and the bike getting unstable.

  • Alex Carlson

    Also worth mentioning to the passenger that they need to keep their feet up on the pegs when stopped at lights and such. Feet don’t come off the pegs until given the OK to dismount.

  • Luis Fernando Ponce

    I don’t know if someone mentioned it before but I always advice pillion in case of a fall to jump off the bike, to do not get tangled with pilot and bike in a crash.

  • Dan

    What’s the reason for mounting/dismounting from the left?

    • flabergasdedklajslkg

      Because the kick stand is on the left, and so the bike leans left, and also won’t fall over to the left when it is parked. Also on most bikes the muffler is on the right side which can cause burns. Lastly, consistency, you always know which way to brace against.

    • DrRideOrDie

      Also a lot of bikes, maybe most have the exhaust on the right and dismounting into a hot exhaust would not be pleasant nor a nice thing to do to someone you might care enough about.

  • Piglet2010
  • Piglet2010

    Having grab handles welded on the fuel tank makes it a bit easier to hold on.

  • eddi

    “In corners, just pretend you’re a sack of potatoes.” I swear you overheard me the last time I took a GF riding. She tried two or three times but it just wasn’t meant to be. You might want to add that. If someone is scared but trying to hide it for your sake, be reassuring. It’s not their fault and there other way to travel together. Above all ride like you’re transporting something precious.

  • toni796

    i think that passenger should you use passanger peg as a step to get on the bike, sport bikes are quite tall at the rear seat its quite diffucult to get your leg over

  • josh

    Be extra extra careful if your pillion is bigger than you. You may be the one touching the bars, but the bigger person is the one in control. Back before I got a bike, I almost crashed a moped by being a terrible passenger. Operator was 150 lbs, I was 250.

  • Bernice Gist

    How come you’re not supposed to use the left peg to mount or dismount? My friends BMW is pretty high so I step on the left peg, hold on to both his shoulders and mount the bike. That’s incorrect?