Being a passenger on the back of a motorcycle is almost as good as being at the controls. A lot of people prefer to enjoy the ride from the rear seat and don’t have an interest in riding their own. Couples enjoy motorcycle touring together, two-up, which makes for a great vacation or a fun Saturday afternoon together.
So, if this is you, if you prefer to be the passenger, here are some important tips for you to be the best passenger you can be. Following these guidelines will insure that you and the rider will have a safe and fun experience.
Size up Your Rider
FYI: In this article I will refer to the person controlling the motorcycle as the “rider” and the person on the back seat as the “passenger”, just to be clear.
Before you ever get on the back of a motorcycle you need to know who the rider is. This may seem like a strange thing to consider, but there are a lot of times when the opportunity for a motorcycle ride presents itself without prior planning. Here are some things to consider when sizing up your rider.
- How long have they been riding?
- How long have they owned the bike? If they are a new rider with a new motorcycle, they might not be ready to carry a passenger. It takes some practice.
- Are they trying to impress you with their fast riding and wheelie skills? or just take you for a short, mellow ride?
- Have they had anything to drink?
- Are they wearing proper riding gear, and do they have some for you?
If you are getting any odd feelings that the rider is irresponsible or inexperienced, then consider passing on the two-up ride. But, if you know the rider, and you know they are safe, responsible and experienced, then by all means, continue reading so you can enjoy the ride.
Wear Proper Riding Gear
Another important step to take before you get on the bike is to make sure you are wearing proper riding gear. Helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots designed specifically for motorcycle riding is your best choice. If you plan on doing a lot of riding, or are planning long motorcycle touring vacations with your favorite rider, then you should seriously consider investing in the proper riding gear, including rain gear so you’ll be ready for any kind of weather.
If you don’t have the best gear available, you can settle for the bare minimum protection. Make sure you are wearing a jacket of either leather, or heavy denim. Wear jeans to give you at least some protection from road rash. Any pair of gloves is better than no gloves and as far as foot protection, it’s best to wear shoes or boots that cover the ankles. Leather tennis shoes are better than canvas shoes and offer more protection. Lastly, a helmet is a must and in many parts of the world, it is illegal to ride without one. If your friend can’t provide one for you, then you will have to go out and get one for yourself.
Another smart thing to do before you start your ride is to have a pre-ride discussion. Cover some of the details of the ride like, where you’re going, what kind of roads you’ll be riding, etc. Talk about how your rider prefers you to hang on. If you have a helmet communication system, now is the time to get them synched together. If you’re going to sharing music, agree on the music and get it set up. Lastly, talk about the hand signals you’ll use to communicate with each other. More on that further in the article.
Mounting and Dismounting
There are a couple of ways to get on and off the motorcycle. Either way will work and it’s really a matter of personal preference between you and the bike owner and what type of motorcycle you are riding on. Let’s go over both methods.
The first method is when the passenger gets on first. Personally, as a rider, this is the method I prefer. With the bike on the kickstand, the passenger will mount the bike from the low side (the side with the kickstand). Place your left foot on the front foot peg and swing your leg around the bike just as if you were the rider. Once on the bike, slide back onto the passenger seat, and place your feet on the passenger foot pegs, which should already be lowered before getting on the bike. Once you are in position and comfortable, let your rider know you’re ready so they can mount the motorcycle and lift it off the kickstand.
The second method is when the rider gets on first. Sometimes a rider will prefer to have the bike off the kickstand and upright before the passenger gets on. If this is how your rider chooses to do it, then climb on the bike as gently as possible so you don’t knock him off balance. When the rider gives you the OK, swing your right leg over the bike from the side opposite the exhaust pipe. If the bike is off the kickstand, don’t use the front foot peg to climb on. This will throw the bike off balance. Once you have your leg over the bike, scoot back and place your feet on the rear pegs, and you’re ready to go.
Methods for getting off the bike are similar to getting on. Always wait for the rider to let you know when they are ready to have you dismount. Often it is easier for the rider to park the motorcycle, get the kickstand down, and get off the bike before the passenger gets off. Again, this will depend on the rider and the type of motorcycle you two are on.
I find it a little easier to have the passenger get off the bike first, especially if I’m trying to park the bike or back it up into a parking space. This is only because my motorcycle is a bit on the tall side and I don’t have a lot of pushing strength nor can I muster the leverage to push the bike backwards with the extra weight of a passenger. So, I’ll have my passenger carefully dismount while I keep the bike upright with both feet on the ground. If I had a cruiser with a low seat height, it might be a different story.
My point here is to always let the rider decide when you will get on and off. And when you dismount, do so gently without upsetting the balance of the motorcycle too much.
Where to Hang On
Where and how you hang on depends a lot on the type of motorcycle you’re riding. But there is one rule to always follow no matter what style of bike you’re on. Never, I mean never, hand on to the riders arms. This will immediately interfere with controlling the motorcycle. It’s also a good idea to avoid hanging on to the rider’s shoulders too, but that’s not as bad.
If you’re jumping on the back of a cruiser, one of the best pieces of equipment for that bike to have is a back rest. This will provide you with the security you need so you don’t feel like you’re going to slip off the back of the seat. Often with a back rest, you won’t feel the need to hang on as much. However, in the instance of hard braking, you will want to reach back and hold on to that backrest to prevent yourself from sliding into the rider.
If you’re going to ride a cruiser with no backrest and a small rear seat, then you will need to hang on to the rider somehow. Wrapping your arms around their waist is the most logical way to hang on, but you can also use your knees to keep yourself firmly in place. Squeezing the rider’s hips and upper legs with your knees will help prevent you from sliding forward too much when the motorcycle is slowing down.
Sport bikes are not generally known to be comfortable bikes for passengers. In fact, they require you to brace yourself in both a pushing and pulling method. On a sportbike you will be sitting higher than the rider and both of you will be leaning forward. You want to prevent yourself from sliding into the rider when slowing down and coming to a stop and sometimes the stopping can come as a surprise to a passenger. So, one of the best ways to hold on is by placing one arm around the rider’s waist and the other hand pressing against the gas tank in front of the rider. This gives you support in two directions.
You’ll probably soon find out that being a passenger on a sport bike takes a lot of energy as you’re constantly having to push or pull yourself.
A recommended add on is the two-up passenger grip that attaches to the gas ring on the tank. Find one for your bike here. This gives you, the passenger a comfortable way to hold on during acceleration and brace yourself when stopping.
Generally touring bikes are set up nicely to handle a passenger because they are a bit larger than a sport bike and have a wider rear seat. Often touring bikes come with luggage and a top case with a bit of padding makes and excellent backrest for a passenger. Hand grips at each side of the passenger seat also provides extra security for the passenger especially when riding on twisty roads. Motorcycles like the Honda Goldwing provide luxury riding conditions for a passenger complete with armrests and cup holders. That’s the way to be a passenger if you just want to relax.
Practice Good Body Positioning
This is probably the most important tip for a passenger. Knowing how and when to position yourself properly will make for a safer more enjoyable ride for both of you. The biggest rule for a motorcycle passenger is to always lean with the motorcycle and the rider. Never lean the opposite direction. This takes some getting used to and many new passengers have to get over the fear of leaning into a turn. But you must resist the urge to fight that lean. Just go with it, and it won’t be long before you are loving it.
When riding through corners you will want to scoot up closer to the rider. This will help keep all the weight towards the center of the bike making it easier for the rider to control. Pay close attention to the road and anticipate upcoming turns. An approaching corner means the rider will have to brake and you should be ready for it.
Also pay close attention to where the rider is looking and what direction his head is turned. You will want to look in the same direction. If the rider is looking to the left and you are looking off to the right, it will magically and mysteriously cause the motorcycle to straighten up, making it harder for the rider to make the corner. Instead, look through the corner and towards the direction you and the rider want the bike to go.
On straight roads or on the freeway, you can relax a little bit, unless you’re on a sportbike, then you never get to relax. But, on other bikes you can chill and enjoy the ride. This is a good time to make adjustments to your seating position if you want to sit back a bit or just lift yourself up a bit to get some blood flow to your posterior side. When the motorcycle is moving at freeway speed, in a straight line, it is very stable and the rider will only notice minimal movement from the back seat. But still, keep your movements to a minimum.
It may seem like the opposite, but when the motorcycle is coming to a stop, this is not the time to move around in the rear seat. At slow speeds, the balance is at its most vulnerable and you don’t want to complicate things by throwing that balance off. So, no wiggling around or adjusting yourself when pulling up at a stop light.
One added tip, as a passenger, never put your feet down when the motorcycle is stopped. Doing so will throw off the balance and the rider will have a harder time keeping the bike upright. Besides, passenger seats are usually higher off the ground and you may not be able to reach the ground at all. And keep in mind that there are hot pipes that could get in the way, so keep those feet on the foot pegs until you’re ready to dismount.
Numb Nuts, Numb Butts
Another reason for good body positioning is to prevent numbness in the rear and in other private bits that have a tendency to get sore or go numb with the wrong kind of pressure. If you’re a passenger on a small seat, it may be a little tricky to find that sweet spot to prevent or reduce numbness. Sometimes sitting back or sitting forward just a half inch will do the trick. Also keep in mind that if you are sitting too close to your rider, you may be forcing him or her closer to the front of the rider’s seat causing certain bits and pieces to smash up against the tank, which can be extremely uncomfortable if you hit a pothole.
If you are experiencing numbness or pain in the privates, let your rider know so you can talk about better seat positioning or a better seat in general. A comfortable passenger is a happy passenger. And a happy passenger means a happy rider.
Use Hand Signals and Tap Signals
If you don’t have a helmet to helmet communication system then you will both need to agree upon some form of communication using hand signals or tap signals. The most obvious one is a thumbs up. If the rider give you a thumbs up, and everything is ok with you, reply with a thumbs up. When a rider points to the gas tank, it usually means that you will need to stop for gas.
Some riding couples will come up with taping signals. For example, if you want to rider to make a pit stop in about 5 minutes, you could agree on a tap on the left leg followed by a show of five fingers. Or, if you need the rider to make an immediate stop, consider three taps on the right let. Whatever hand signals you come up with, make sure both of the agree on them and understand them before you start your ride.
Stay Alert and Sober
Even though you are not operating the motorcycle, it is highly recommended that you stay sober while riding as a passenger. You still need to stay alert and pay attention to the traffic situation so you can anticipate sudden stops, starts or turns. It’s also a good rule of thumb to stay off the motorcycle if you are sleepy. While it may be possible to fall asleep on the back of the bike, it is incredibly dangerous. If you’re tired, don’t slouch and lean on the rider. Instead, let them know how you’re feeling so you can both take a break, or head home.
Staying alert and aware of your surroundings also help the rider by being a second pair of eyes. You can assist by checking for oncoming traffic when entering a street. You can keep a watchful eye on cagers (those are cars by the way) who may want to change lanes, or who don’t see you.
The point of all of this is to have fun and enjoy the rider no matter what style of riding you’re doing. Good communication with your rider is so important to keep both of you happy and safe. If something is not right, say so and work together to fix it. Taking care of little comfort details before you ride or at the beginning of your journey, will ensure that everyone has a great time.