Sharing the Ride | Street Savvy

That’ll Be Two For the Road

By Jerry Smith, Photography by Kevin Wing

Not every rider buys into the lone-wolf stereotype the general public associates with motorcyclists. Riding two-up turns a sometimes solitary hobby into a more social one, with passengers often adding more to the experience than they subtract from the fun. But if it’s your pillion’s first time on a bike, or if you’ve never carried a passenger before, you need to do more than just say, “Hop on and hold tight!”

Regardless of how many years you’ve ridden solo, carrying a passenger involves changing your riding style to accommodate your backseat rider. (If you don’t, plan to be a lone wolf again soon.) If you just bought a bigger bike for that purpose alone, leave your passenger at home for the first 500 miles while you adjust to the added mass of your new ride. Going from an 800cc cruiser to an 1800cc tourer, for example, is a big step, and you need to be totally confident and competent with your new ride before inviting someone aboard.

Your brain needs to wrap itself around the size and heft of the bike, and adjust to a different center of gravity to avoid embarrassing parking-lot tip-overs, which are even more cringe-worthy with a passenger. Remember, too, that once your passenger climbs aboard, the added weight will lengthen braking distances, limit cornering clearance, and can dramatically change the handling feel.

To minimize the passenger’s impact on handling, break out the owner’s manual and set the suspension and tire pressures according to recommendations for two-up riding. If you’re lucky, the rear suspension is easily adjustable; if you’re unlucky, you’ll have to poke a cheesy toolkit preload spanner into the guts of the bike to rotate a stubborn lock ring. It may be a pain, but it’s worth doing: Regaining the bike’s basic balance with a passenger on board pays big dividends. Fork adjustments should be simpler, so make sure you do them to maintain front-rear balance. Right now your BMW-owning friends are touting the pushbutton nature of ESA.

Discuss mounting and unmounting with your passenger. Come up with a routine––for example, pilot on first, both feet down to stabilize the bike, then a nod or other indication to the passenger that it’s time to climb on. Have the passenger step aboard smartly but smoothly. The best method for the passenger is left foot on the left footpeg, hands on your shoulders, then pass the right foot across the seat, followed by a gentle settling in on the saddle. While you’re talking, decide on some simple hand signals to indicate the need for a restroom stop or your passenger’s desire to have you slow down. Tapping on the leg or shoulder works a lot better than a fist pounding on the back of your helmet.

Now it’s time to hit the road, and here’s where your passenger needs to learn how to ride shotgun. Ideally the passenger’s body always stays in line with the pilot’s, so the two lean as one in corners. But leaning a motorcycle to turn is counterintuitive—and scary—for some rookie passengers, who might need to be reminded to stay put. Abrupt shifts in weight can alarm the rider and unsettle the bike, especially at slow speeds, so make sure your passenger knows to avoid sudden moves once under way. Make your passenger aware of the potential for banging helmets during hard stops.

It should go without saying, but make sure your passenger wears protective gear on every ride. Where before you were responsible only for yourself, now you have someone else’s safety to think about, too. As a motorcyclist you know that just because you’re at the controls doesn’t mean you’re ever completely in control of the situation, but your passenger might not grasp this concept as fully as you do.

Your passenger’s riding gear should also take into account that backseat riders sit farther back from windscreens, so they don’t get as much protection from the cold in winter, and in hot weather the rider’s body blocks the flow of air through jacket and helmet vents. And finally, remember that a good riding partner is hard to find, but synchronized bladders are almost impossible, so factor in a couple of extra stops on every ride and you’ll always have a willing partner for two-up travel.


Quick Facts
Carrying a passenger often involves carrying the passenger’s stuff, too. If you’re no good at packing light, at least keep the load low and as close to the center of the bike as possible, and evenly balanced side-to-side. Piling extra gear high on the luggage rack or trunk adds weight to the rear wheel, takes weight off the front wheel, and acts as a sail in crosswinds. Some bikes will mind, others won’t; test before you travel.

By Jerry Smith
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