On my BMW R1200GS with a pillion

How To… Prepare the bike to ride with a pillion

Experts claim that sharing experiences with others makes them more intense; whether they are good or bad. This has probably been experienced by anyone who has taken someone on the back of their bike, be that their other half, son or just a friend. It is something we all do at some point. We love riding and so naturally we wish to share this passion with others. We want others to feel what we feel when we lean to take a bend, when we find somewhere new on our bikes or when we just want to get lost after a hard day in the office.

how-to-prepare-the-bike-to-ride-with-a-pillion_01.jpgI can clearly remember the first time I took someone as pillion on my bike, on a proper ride. Before my pillion arrived, I prepared myself, telling myself it would be fine, she will enjoy it and it will be a smooth ride with no incidents. I had already asked her to bring boots, jeans and a leather jacket as this sort of clothing offers more protection in case of an incident. On arrival, I provided her with a helmet and some gloves. But there was something I didn’t prepare, something I didn’t even think of… the bike! At that moment, I had a BMW F800S, I never thought a bike like that would need anything done to it to take a pillion. Well, I was wrong! After years of experience, I have learnt that the minimum change of load on the bike needs to be taken into consideration.

A pillion at the back not only means you can share your experiences; it means there will be some extra weight that will affect how your bike behaves. Obviously, the bigger and more powerful the bike is, the less it will be affected, but absolutely any bike is affected when it carries more weight on it.

The bike’s geometry changes

Issue – Taking a pillion with you means having more weight at the back which results in a lighter front end. A light front end is more delicate, it means the bike will respond applying less force to the handlebars and this will affect the bike’s stability.

Fix – Most of the modern bikes, if not all, allow for the rear suspension’s preload to be adjusted. This is the most basic setting in a suspension and it is used to prepare the suspension for the weight that will be supporting.


The aim of the preload is to make sure the geometry of the bike is not changed. With more load, we have to make the spring harder to compress. Some manufactures will specify what adjustments you have to do to your suspension when travelling alone or with a pillion so check your manual. But I recommend to find the adjustment where you are more comfortable as we don’t all weigh the same, nor do we carry pillions of the same weight.

Mirrors will need adjusting

Issue – This ties to the previous point. A lighter front means the mirrors may need readjusting.

Fix – Adjusting the mirrors is a simple thing to do but that will make a huge difference. Make sure you check you can see properly through them.

Lights point upwards

Issue – This ties to the first point again. A lighter front means the lights will be pointing upwards. You may notice the road is less illuminated in front of you and you may blind other drivers coming towards you.

Fix – Adjusting the suspension is the first step as it will avoid the geometry of the bike from changing too much. However, some bikes will allow you to adapt the height the lights point to.

More weight means more distance

Issue – The bigger the load on your bike the longer your bike will take to accelerate- take extra precaution when overtaking! The same applies when braking; bear in mind you will travel more distance when braking with a pillion. Also, when braking, more weight will be transferred to the front wheel and this can cause loss of traction on uneven or slippery surfaces, so the key is to be extra smooth when slowing down. Another important point thing to do, is to check your tyres pressure. The manufacture will provide you with the values for riding solo or with a pillion for optimal performance. Not only can it be dangerous to ride with the wrong tyre pressures but, it will also impact the wear.


Fix – This applies to any situation on a motorbike, look forward, anticipate and be smooth. We cannot magically make the weight disappear but we can anticipate a situation to prepare an overtake or to reduce your speed before a hazard. Smoothness is also key, bear in mind you know what you are doing but your pillion will be taken by surprise if something sudden happens.

So, just a quick recap.

  • Adjust your suspension
  • Adjust your mirrors
  • Adjust your lights
  • Ride smoothly
  • Check your tyre pressures
  • Enjoy!

Don’t forget that your motorcycle is a really advanced and complex machine but it needs to be taken care and needs adapting in different circumstances. With a few tweaks you can make sure you, your pillion and your bike are ready to safely enjoy a ride.

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

4 thoughts on “How To… Prepare the bike to ride with a pillion

  1. That’s a pretty good list. There’s a couple of other things I’d add

    Comfort. If it’s a one off ride not a big deal but if your pillion is going to spend lots of time on the bike then their comfort is important. The things I consider here are
    – foot peg placement – lots of sports bike have really high rear pegs that aren’t comfortable for pillions. For my bike I bought extenders to bring them down and forward.
    – seat – if you’re doing many miles is the pillion seat comfortable. Again if you’re doing many miles than you cam look at purchasing a new seat or adjusting the one you have.

    Security. If your pillion doesn’t feel secure they can’t relax. For me the two things I look at are
    1, rear rack / topbox – I find this is the biggest contributor to security. While they don’t (and shouldn’t) lean on it, it is a sub conscience safe guard.
    2, grab rail – do they have somewhere to hang on. While it’s nice for your partner to wrap their arms around you, it’s not so nice for them to be pushing their weight onto you while braking. My wife rarely hangs on except breaking or harder cornering.

    And lastly riding style – you have to change the way you ride if you want the pillion to enjoy the ride. I’m not saying you need to go slower, just smoother and ride in a way that is predictable to the pillion so they are ready for what’s happening next.

    1. Glad you like it zed14!

      Thanks for adding those bits, as you mention it is so important to keep your pillion comfortable (well, only if you want them to come back :D).

      Ride safe!

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