Riding Pillion Passenger on a Motorcycle

If as a rider you have never taken a pillion passenger before, it can be a daunting task due to the handling of the bike changing significantly. Equally as a passenger, the first time on the back of a motorcycle can make you feel vulnerable due to the absence of a steel shell that helps us feel safe in a car.

A little preparation on the rider and the pillion part can help immensely, which is where this guide is aiming to help both rider taking a passenger for the first time and the pillion passenger to remain legal and safe. Firstly, let’s look at the legal requirements.

Legal Requirements for taking a Pillion Passenger

Before you endeavour to take a pillion passenger on your motorcycle, you’ll need make sure of a few things.

  • No learners! You’ll need to have passed the practical riding test and to hold a full licence for the category of motorcycle you are riding.
  • Your motorbike will need rear footrests and a proper seat for the passenger.

Age Requirements

Is there an age limit for taking a passenger on a motorcycle you may well ask. Currently there is not minimum age requirements to ride pillion passenger on a motorcycle.

Motorcycle pillion passenger
Advice for taking a pillion passenger for the first time

Taking a Child on a Motorcycle

If you are intending on taking a child as a pillion passenger, it is highly advised that you have the parents or guardians consent before doing so.

It is the riders legal responsibility to ensure that the child understands and correctly follows guidance on remaining safe. The child must:

  • be able to comfortably reach the foot-pegs. Footrests must be adjusted if necessary.
  • be able to sit astride the motorcycle and to comfortably hold onto the rider or hand-holds.
  • wear an approved motorcycle safety helmet that must be correctly fastened and fits correctly.
  • though not a legal requirement, wear protective motorcycle jacket, trousers, boots and to also wear proper gloves

Preparing the Motorcycle for a Passenger

It’s important to ensure you motorcycle is in good shape at all times. Due to the extra weight of a pillion passenger, greater stress will be exerted on your bike, so ensure your brakes are in excellent condition as you’ll be stopping a heavier weight than usual and that your suspension is up to the job of handling extra weight. Here’s what you’ll need to do to prepare your motorcycle for a pillion passenger:

  • Due to the extra weight, pre-load on the rear suspension will need to be increased. This is usually a simple process and this information can be obtained from the manufacturers handbook.
  • Extra weight means tyre pressure will need to be increased. Again, your manufacturers handbook should provide this information.
  • Rear view mirrors will need to be altered due to the extra weight.
  • If you use headlights during the daytime or if you intend on riding during low light, you may need to adjust the aim of the headlight beam.
  • If you passenger is heavy, the chain may need adjusting as it may over-tighten with the increase in weight.

Prepare the Pillion Passenger

If the pillion is inexperienced as a motorcycle passenger, you’ll need to inform them of safety advice to prepare them for the ride ahead.

  • To potentially avoid your passenger from stepping into a busy road, inform them that they must mount and dismount the motorcycle from the kerb-side and so that you have full control of the motorcycle, to not dismount until you instruct them to do so.
  • Inform them to sit astride the motorcycle with both feet on the foot rests at all times, even whilst stopping in traffic. If they put their feet on the ground when stopping, it can upset your balance.
  • Inform them to hold on firmly to the grab rails or hold on to the riders waist. They may use a combination of both if they wish, what ever is most comfortable for them.
  • To aid in your balance of the vehicle, instruct your passenger to sit still and to not make any sudden movements.
  • Do not protrude limbs away from the motorcycle and if you wish to look ahead, look over the riders shoulder and not around it.
  • To avoid confusion, do not make any gestures or hand signals to other road users or pedestrians.
  • On corners, lean with the rider and if possible, follow what’s happening on the road so that you can prepare for braking or accelerating.

Agree on Hand Signals

On longer journeys, unless you have radio contact then you’ll need some form of basic communication. Basic hand signals is the simplest way to do this. Your pillion passenger may need to stop, or slow down, especially if they’re a novice pillion passenger and may feel uneasy with the speed you’re going. Formulate basic hand signal communication for:

  • Pull over and stop
  • You’re going too fast, slow down
  • All is good

Taking a Pillion Passenger For the First Time

Depending on your riding technique as a solo motorcyclist, you may need to make some alterations to your technique to accommodate the pillion passenger. A ride can become considerably smoother by forward planning and looking ahead, ever more so with a pillion.

  • Stopping distances are greatly increased due to the extra weight of the passenger. Double the distance you typically follow vehicles, especially important if the roads become wet.
  • Braking – harsh braking will see your passenger slamming up against you along with clashing helmets. Look well ahead to predict situations where you’ll need to slow down or stop giving you more time to do so. Use engine braking as much as possible to slow down before applying brakes.
  • If your pillion is a novice passenger, heavy accelerating can be scary stuff, not to mention dangerous. Ease the gas on progressively and gently.
  • Clutch control – the extra weight will change acceleration and the clutch. Moving off and changing gear will feel different. You’ll need a little more throttle and greater clutch control than usual to make this process smoother.
  • Greater clearance is required for cornering due to the extra weight. Ease off the throttle in good time before a corner and and gentle throttle on its exit.
  • Overtaking if necessary will take more time. Plan ahead and allow for greater time and space for a smooth and slower overtaking manoeuvre.
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