Pillion looking slightly laterally following the road

How To… Be a good pillion

There are countless handbooks, YouTube videos and advanced training options on how to be a good motorbike rider, in fact, you even have to take a test before you are allowed free on the open road. Yet there is no such thing for a pillion. Virtually anyone can put a helmet on and sit on the back of a bike with no guidance, experience or training. The result can often be havoc and cause great problems for the rider. You may have read Iñigo’s post on how to prepare your bike and yourself for a pillion, but today I will be writing on how to be a good pillion passenger – this post might even safe a few relationships!

Rider and pillion in the fog

Trust the rider

I would argue that the key thing about going pillion is trust. You have to want to be a pillion and you have to know that your rider will get you there and back safely. If you don’t trust the person taking you, the ride will only end terribly for both of you. The pillion will grip on like there is no tomorrow, scream down the Bluetooth to stop and consequently anger or make the rider anxious; a recipe for disaster. You don’t want to be second guessing your rider’s decisions and you certainly don’t want any of your concerns or worries to reflect their riding. If you can’t trust them, get off and catch the bus. It’s that simple.

Position

The position of the pillion on a motorcycle is essential to ensure that the ride is safe and comfortable for both parties. Naturally, the position of the pillion will depend on the motorcycle – a sports bike will force the pillion to adapt and crouch forwards into the bike, so that both bodies will move as if they are one, most commonly with the pillion fitting their hands around the waist of the rider; whilst a touring one will allow the pillion to sit more upright and hold onto the rear handles of the bike. Essentially, regardless of the bike, the pillion wants to be relaxed, facing forwards and void of gripping for dear life. This will allow the rider to continue their journey as if there is no-one behind them, yet allow the pillion to enjoy a smooth ride.

Look where you are going

Pillion looking slightly laterally following the road

A pillion should always be looking forwards and where the bike is going. The passenger should try and position their head a little laterally, allowing them to see part of the road ahead and the landscape. In doing so, they prevent their helmet from creating a series of turbulences in the air that will arrive directly at the rider’s helmet and it ensures that constant blows between pillion and rider helmets don’t occur in braking and acceleration. Additionally, this position will allow the pillion to be aware of possible unforeseen events or bends in the road. A ride will always be smoother if the pillion knows what is happening or going to happen ahead.

Go with the bike

For unexperienced pillions, the inclination of a motorcycle around bends can be daunting at first and many will stay sitting straight out of fear or lean the opposite way. Go with the bike! Now that the pillion is looking where they are going, they can prepare for a bend and hence should not fight against the rider’s intention to tilt the bike. The pillion should lean with the bike and look around the bend as the rider does; you are trying to be one object. Failure to do so could result in the pillions weight preventing the bike from tilting enough to turn in a curve, so much so, that it could even prevent the bike from turning and making it go straight – in a bend that equates to the floor, a wall or down a cliff! But watch out that the pillion does not ‘over’ lean, inclining more than the rider or bike itself. If you are struggling with the concept of going with the flow, try to keep your shoulders in line with the rider’s or hold on to their waist rather than handles to force yourself to move with them.

No sharp movements

It is terribly important for the pillion to make calm and sensible movements. Not only are sharp and brisk movements distracting for the rider, but they are also bad for control of the bike. This is particularly important during slow riding or in corners. In both these scenarios, a quick and unexpected shift in weight to one side can disturb the balance of the bike. When weight distribution is affected in slow riding and bends, it is hard to recover and the floor is a painful reminder of this!

Don’t give hand signals to other drivers or bikers

This actually a theory test question for potential bikers. Other than the obligatory hello signal to fellow bikers, the pillion should not be giving any further signals to road users. The rider may not be aware that you are signalling to travel which could lead to miscommunication and a potential accident.

Wear the right gear

Pillion and rider wearing proper protective and waterproof gearAlthough a helmet is the only legally necessary item when being pillion, I highly recommend that a pillion wears motorcycle gloves, jacket and shoes (jeans should suffice). I cringe when I see girls on the back of bikes baring half their stomach to the M25 and wearing flip-flops. Perhaps it is the grandma in me, but I cannot help but think ‘you must be freezing’ as well as picture the burns and disastrous injuries they will have to endure should they have an accident. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Can you think of anything else? Let us know in the comments section!

12 thoughts on “How To… Be a good pillion

  1. I don’t take pillions now but when I did I asked the pillion just lean on me and when taking left hand bend look over my left shoulder and visa versa for the right. This helps to stop them leaning the wrong way and moving the head is just enough weight transference from the passenger. Leaning gently on me unifies the couples weight.

  2. I think these are great points and agree that trust is number 1.

    I had to chuckle at a few of those points as I thought back on examples where those guidelines weren’t followed. My daughter was very comfortable on the bike and would often lean on my back and go to sleep, or other times I’m sure she was dancing (one of the guys I was travelling with at the time mentioned that he wanted to be on my bike as that’s where the party was) luckily she was small and she knew what was appropriate and when.

    In regards to other stuff
    – the simple things like waiting to be told to get on and off. Nothing worse than a pillion trying to get off before you have your footing right.
    – not using the rider as their brake ie use the rails or push off the tank. That way you are not pushing on the rider under brakes. Another reason to know what’s going on.
    – with communications gear it is also important to understand that I can’t always concentrate on what you’re saying as I’m busy with this series of curves or what’s going on ahead.

    On the flip side – riding with a pillion is also a very different skill and mindset. But that’s a conversation for another time.

    1. I ran this passed my wife and long term pillion and she mentioned that pillioning isn’t like being a passenger in a car who is just that … a passenger. A pillion is a participant, and as such, their active input is required on the ride.

  3. Useful info. I’m considering whether to get a grab rail as not sure if it makes a credible difference? I’m on a Triumph Street Twin so more upright. Commenters above mention pillion and driver should work as one unit which makes total sense. Having ridden as pillion using a grab rail I found my body-weight taken away from the driver as I’m reaching behind. Maybe the pillion should only be using the grab rail when stronger braking occurs such as when approaching bends or traffic lights changing to red to avoid their momentum pushing them against the driver? I should add there also an aesthetic/practical question here as planning to change to a bench seat partly to raise me higher but some don’t configure with a grab rail and also it’s added weight but then as well as that, a grab rail – can look good as well as being practical too….much to mull…

    1. It is not easy to answer that question! I think it is very personal…
      I think as a starting point a rail or handles on the sides can be really useful. As the pillion gets more experience they may stop using them and you can end up removing them. Another option are the belts with handles for the rider that way the pillion grabs to something and the pillion is forced to move with the rider. This may help an inexperienced pillion as I have found sometimes they tend to attempt to seat straight when the bike leans which is really counterproductive!
      Lots to think about! I would suggest maybe to speak with someone that has your same bike and ask them what they do? Most of the times there will be someone that has gone through your same journey.
      Let us know how it goes!

      1. I don’t take a pillion now but when I did used the KISS principle and advised my pillion just to gently lean on me and if a LH bend is coming up just do nothing except look over my left shoulder and similar for the right. Our heads are the heaviest part of our body and just that shift either way is enough to help the rider and keep the bike settled.

      2. That is probably the easiest way. If the pillion looks where you are going really helps and it is an easy thing to do even for an inexperience pillion. It also removes the fear they may have if they look down when leaning haha.

    2. You are spot on with regards to grab rail comments
      I am a long term pillion but also have been a rider,
      I find that the grab rail is good for one hand, in my case the right and the other one around riders waist.
      The grab rail hand is my brake when I can see that the rider is going to stop.
      That way I avoid forward movement that could cause problems.
      Also in some situations I hover my foot on the pedals because on occasion as a pillion you can need to put a foot down to help steady the bike. This is usually on uneven roads but probably only to be done by an experienced pillion passenger.

  4. Some good comments above, and food for thought.
    Cann I ask how you deal with the problem of the pillion not being able to see past the rider?
    My pillion daughter is half my size, and I find she just sits upright and can barely see my mirrors, let alone prepare for the road ahead.

    Thanks for the great info so far.

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