Riding With A Passenger

Riding two-up on the new Yamaha Star Venture
Riding two-up on the new Yamaha Star Venture. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Touring on a motorcycle is more fun if there’s someone else along to share the experience. But whether it’s an afternoon ride or a week-long road trip, there’s more to carrying a passenger than just dusting off the back seat and flipping down the rear footpegs. A rider and passenger should work as a team, because even though only one of them is at the controls, whatever happens, good or bad, affects them both.

The bike you ride factors into whether your passenger is going to enjoy the ride, or endure it. Luxury tourer? No sweat, go for it. Mile-high adventure bike? Maybe, but your passenger should be adventurous, too. Cruiser? Depends on the size. What feels fine for an afternoon can easily turn into torture over the course of a few long days on the road, so make sure the bike you ride is really right for two-up riding.

Riders usually get on first and steady the bike upright with the front brake on. Then passengers step on the left footpeg, brace with their left arm on the rider’s shoulder and swing their right leg over the seat. Some riders prefer the bike to be on its sidestand, but then it can be hard to lift off the stand with a passenger aboard.
Riders usually get on first and steady the bike upright with the front brake on. Then passengers step on the left footpeg, brace with their left arm on the rider’s shoulder and swing their right leg over the seat. Some riders prefer the bike to be on its sidestand, but then it can be hard to lift off the stand with a passenger aboard. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Whatever you ride, a passenger will affect its performance. Handling changes, cornering limits come up earlier, braking distances go up and fuel economy goes down. Before you head off for the wild blue, you and your passenger should go on a shakedown ride or two to give your reflexes a chance to adjust to all this.

Adjust the bike, too, specifically its suspension and tire pressure. A loaded bike sits lower, so crank up the preload front and back to regain some cornering clearance. Air up the tires to their maximum pressures and take a gauge with you to check them during the trip. Underinflated tires heat up and wear out faster, so unless you want to burn a day or two of precious vacation time in the waiting room of a dealership getting new rubber, check your tires every morning. And with your passenger on the back, the headlight beam can tilt upward, so adjust it so it’s not blinding oncoming traffic.

On faired bikes the headlight adjusting screws for up/down and side-to-side can usually be found behind the headlight(s). Low beam should point down and slightly to the right with both riders aboard.
On faired bikes the headlight adjusting screws for up/down and side-to-side can usually be found behind the headlight(s). Low beam should point down and slightly to the right with both riders aboard.

Before you leave, practice your mounting-dismounting drill. Usually the rider gets on first and holds the bike upright with the front brake on. Then the passenger approaches from the left side, putting a hand on the rider’s left shoulder for balance before stepping on the left footpeg and swinging the right leg over the seat. Reverse the procedure for dismounting. Alternatively the rider can stop the engine with the transmission in gear, put the sidestand down and dismount first, and then the passenger can slide down onto the rider’s seat before dismounting. If you don’t have an intercom or helmet communicators, work out hand signals to indicate when it’s OK to get on or off—a tap on the shoulder for “I’m getting on now” and two for “I’m getting off” saves a lot of frustrated shouting through helmets. Also decide on a code for “I need a bathroom break” and “I’m hungry/cold/tired, let’s stop for a while.”

grab handles vs grab strap
Passenger grab handles or rails are much preferable to a simple strap, which is the minimum required by law when passenger footpegs are present. One hand on a grab rail and the other around the rider’s waist gives the passenger good stability during acceleration and deceleration.

Two people means twice as much luggage, but without an empty pillion seat for a duffel bag you’ll both have to get serious about what you need and don’t need on a motorcycle trip. Whatever you do, don’t scrimp on safety gear—you should both be ATGATT (all the gear, all the time)—but allow for the fact that the passenger sits close to the rider, out of the airflow that jacket vents depend on for cooling, and farther from the windscreen that fends off the cold wind.

The rider is at the controls, but the passenger contributes to how the bike handles. Once underway, the passenger’s body should stay in line with the rider’s, so the two lean as one in corners. Sudden shifts of weight at the back of the bike that surprise the rider are never good, so make sure everything the passenger needs to get to is handy and doesn’t require twisting in the seat or reaching in front of the pilot.

Passengers are in effect co-pilots, and should lean with the rider in turns for smooth cornering.
Passengers are in effect co-pilots, and should lean with the rider in turns for smooth cornering. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Practice braking while two-up to avoid bumping heads, a.k.a. turtle kisses, the tendency for passengers to lean forward abruptly on deceleration and thwack the rider’s helmet with theirs. This requires at least some awareness of what the rider might do next, as in heavy or stop-and-go traffic, and the ability to anticipate it by leaning back or gripping the grabrails.

Finally, as the rider you might think you’re doing all the work, but passengers get tired, too, and bored sitting back there looking at the back of your head hour after hour. Plan extra time for any two-up trip to allow for unsynchronized bathroom stops, rest and scenery breaks, and snack attacks. It might take you a bit longer to get where you’re going but at least you won’t be dealing with a tired, bored or angry passenger when you get there.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great article. Thanks for the tips. Loving Rider online. Helps get you through the remaing time until the next hard copy arrives. (Yes , some of us still like the actual magazine) lol. Thanks. Anthony Brim. Rock Hill SC 2013 HD. FLHX

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