Jenna Genio / Ignacio Dominguez | April 11, 2017 08:23
Tips on riding together for both motorcycle drivers and passengers
It's known many ways, be it riding in tandem, pillion, two up, or even riding b*tch. 'Riding pillion' in British nomenclature means taking the backseat of a motorcycle. Taking a passenger along on a bike, in America, is sometimes called 'riding two up'. This list of tips is addressed to pillion passengers, but can also serve as good briefing material if you're a biker looking to take people on rides. Snatching pointers not included.
1. Get a feel for the rider. Trust is important.
Whether you know people pretty well or you're meeting for the first time, you're going to want some assurance. The more experience people have riding with passengers, the better. If they ask you to be the first test subject, feel free to decline. If it must be you, make sure these initial familiarization rides are short, done at casual paces, and in areas with little to no traffic.
Look at how they sit on their bikes. If their feet are planted flat on the ground when at a full stop, they're more likely to be able to handle the shifting weight of a passenger with stability. Do they care about safety? Is one of the first things they say, "don't worry, if you ever feel uncomfortable, let me know and we'll slow down or stop"? Riders should value your life and your feelings just as much, if not more so than their own. If you're the rider, make sure your passenger is capable and caring enough to listen to instructions.
2. Dress for the danger. Protect your hide.
Perhaps the opportunity for a ride was made in the heat of the moment. To avoid sounding too preachy, a lot of riders are content with just donning a helmet and little else — especially when temperatures rise… But they do so at their own risk. So do you. The safest riders fully gear up. Dress for the occasion. Wear a helmet and make sure it's safety rated, not just a novelty piece for cheap looks. If you have protective armor, use it.
If you don't have your own riding gear, wear fitted clothes with full skin coverage. Your jacket and pants should be made of strong material and your shoes should cover your feet entirely; high-cuts or boots with good ankle support are recommended. If you can, wear gloves too. In an accident, the road can tear off flimsy fabrics and even melt away denim jeans… But fully clothed is always better than hardly.
3. Go through a briefing. Communicate with signals.
Have a rundown. Riders will commonly impart instructions like "get on and off the bike only when I give the green", "hold on tight", and the elusive "follow my body and move with it" which I'll explain later. Don't be ashamed to lay down ground rules like limits on speed, leaning, and tight traffic weaving. Voice your concerns. If they laugh or scoff, go ahead, stick it to 'em, and abort mission.
Establish a system of communication. Verbal correspondence will be limited by engine noise, wind, and environmental sounds. Bluetooth headsets are handy, but not ubiquitous; sometimes idle radio chatter can be rather distracting. Riders will have different signals for "we are about to accelerate" and "brace for deceleration" which may manifest in different hand taps, but they should also drive smoothly to avoid inertial discomfort. Have a signal for "pull over and stop" when you are displeased or need to go to the restroom, like two or three pats on the rider's shoulder.
4. Mount and dismount without screwup. Always get permission.
Always get on the rear seat of a motorcycle that's off its side stand, securely upright, and with the rider's permission. When riders are ready — holding the handlebars steady with their feet firmly planted — they'll let you know when you can slide on. Locate the foot pegs and the exhaust pipes of the bike, which can be hot enough to burn. Lift one leg (usually while standing on the bike's left side, but ask the operator) over the rear seat and then — without stepping on the foot pegs for leverage — slide your derrière in place. Don't put pressure on either of the foot pegs, or risk bike imbalance. If you're too short and must use one of the pegs as a step, let the rider know.
The same goes for dismounting. Don't use the foot pegs, make sure the bike is at a full stop, and ask your rider for permission. Having the rider prepared for the shifting weight will save yourselves from awkwardness, embarrassment, and injury.
5. Ride with proper body positioning, balance, and technique. Don't be a hassle.
Hold on to the riders' torsos around the abdomen securely but don't suffocate them. Keep all of your weight centered on the seat and try to keep still — but don't be too stiff. Don't shift your backside around. Determine the operators' neutral riding positions, then hold your thighs firmly around theirs just as riders are told to grip the tank with their knees and keep their arms relaxed yet in control. If the rear seat has a tail with bars, you can hold on to them at slow speeds if you take care not to push down on them. Holding onto the rider is always more preferable. Don't push forward, don't pull back, and don't move side to side.
Relax your feet on the passenger pegs without pressing on them and do not dangle your legs off. The weight difference riders feel when they take on a pillion buddy is quite significant; shifts in balance can be felt exponentially at any speed. Leaning off-center or stepping on one foot peg more than the other can make for unpleasant lessons. If you must adjust yourself, try to do so with minimal movement and with equal weight on the foot pegs.
6. Read the road ahead and adjust accordingly. Copy the rider.
Being able to see the road ahead and practicing good foresight is invaluable to the team. On a clear straight that you think warrants acceleration, reasonably lock your arms and legs around the rider securely (cinched from the sides) and hang on tight so you don't slide back! Tuck in a bit too and don't stick your helmet out, for aerodynamic facilitation. Is there traffic, an intersection, or other factors ahead that require slowing down? To avoid ramming into the rider, put your hands on the fuel tank; brace for deceleration on the weight of your own arms.
With more experience at faster speeds, you can even harness the help of the foot pegs. Speeding up, roll the balls of your feet forward on the pegs. Slowing down, move your heels to the rear of the pegs. Just exert equal amounts of pressure on both.
When turning, read the rider's mind as well as the turn signals. Merely move your helmet to look over the shoulder on the side that the rider is about to turn or lean. Simple! You can stay slightly more upright but do not ever lean deeper than the rider and do not lean in the opposite direction. When bikers ask you to "follow and move with my body", align yourself with the rider's spine.