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Riding With A Pillion Passenger

November 15, 2021
f you are a keen motorcyclist, it’s likely that your friends and family have been intrigued about what it feels like to have a go on a motorbike after the various exciting stories  you would have inevitably told them. If they haven’t got a licence or a motorcycle to ride themselves, the next best thing to experience two wheels is to ride as a pillion passenger.

If you, as the rider, get it right, it could trigger a lifelong love for bikes and inspire your passenger to take the plunge and learn to ride themselves. But get it wrong, it’s more than likely they’ll never want to sit on a bike again, let alone ride on one. So how can you make sure they enjoy it?

Bike set up 

It doesn’t mean that you need to make lots of complicated adjustments to your bike just to take someone on the back, but some small changes can make all the difference to the performance and handling when riding two-up.

As you’ll have additional weight over the rear wheel, the first thing to do is to add some more air into the rear tyre. An extra 4-6psi is usually about right, but check your bike’s manual for an exact figure. The additional weight will impact the performance of your rear shock absorber too, so it’s a good idea to increase the preload. Again, check the manual for guidance.

An adjustment that’s often forgotten is to change the angle of your headlights, especially if you’re riding at night. With the added weight over the back of the bike, it naturally lifts the front up, causing headlights to dazzle oncoming traffic if left as standard.

Pillion protection 

Before even considering taking someone on the back of your motorcycle, make sure they are wearing the appropriate protection for the ride. If they are new to motorcycling, you will likely need to advise them on what they’ll need to wear. This includes a good fitting helmet, protective motorcycle jacket, trousers, gloves and boots. And don’t forget ear plugs!

Ear plugs are an essential part of every motorcyclist’s protective kit, and that goes for pillion passengers, too. Just because pillions aren’t in direct control of the motorcycle doesn’t mean they aren’t exposed to the same harmful engine, exhaust, road and wind noise. The British Tinnitus Association revealed that in the UK, 1 in 8 people suffer from persistent tinnitus (a constant ringing sound in your ears), and motorcyclists are more likely to suffer than those who don’t ride.  Noise above 85dB can cause permanent damage to your ears, so it’s important not to exceed this level.  

Tinnitus and hearing damage is preventable with the use of high quality ear plugs, like Auritech’s Biker ear plugs, which include patented ceramic filters to ensure maximum levels of protection against dangerous levels of noise. These ceramic filters allow lower frequency sounds such as conversation via the intercom and sirens to be clearly heard. Wearing hearing protection when on a motorcycle also increases focus and reduces fatigue, which is especially important if your pillion is new to motorcycling.

Pre ride chat 

Don’t just tell your pillion to get on the back and then head off onto the open road. You need to give them a quick chat first, as it’s crucial they understand how to keep both of you safe. The main thing to tell them is to lean with the bike in corners.

Some inexperienced pillions will try and stay vertical which makes the bike very hard to steer, which isn’t what you want in a corner. Your aim is to get your pillion to relax, sit still and enjoy the ride. The more they move around, the more unsettled the bike will be which isn’t fun and is far from safe.

Also tell them what to hold on to. If your bike hasn’t got grab handles or a top box to lean up against, they will need to hold on around your midriff.

Check your riding style 

If you’re tempted to show your pillion how extremely fast your bike is, or to scare them for a laugh, or to demonstrate that you should be a professional racer, you’re not in the right frame of mind to take someone on the back.

As the rider, your goal is not to impress them, but to help them enjoy the ride, want to do it again and to (hopefully) fall in love with bikes. The best way to do that is to start slowly, ride smoothly and build up speed gently. By looking as far ahead as possible and riding smoothly, you will avoid any sudden braking or acceleration that could scare your pillion, and still be able to make overtakes and have fun.

During the ride, check in with your pillion. It’s a good idea to make time to pull over for a few minutes to do this. Make sure they’re happy with how hard you’re braking and accelerating, as well as how they feel when cornering. The last thing to remember is to enjoy the experience!

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