Riding with a Pillion



Untitled_630_630While I am not sure if this eventually will get implemented or not, this article sure highlights something that we take for granted here in India. Getting 2 (or more, read many more) on a bike seems to be a norm, mazboori (helplessness) as one would like to put it in a country like India. There was another story where a senior police officer was pleading with a repeat offender not to overload his bike. <https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/picture-of-andhra-pradesh-police-officer-pleading-to-overloading-biker-has-twitt/302834&gt;.

And that brings me to the topic of my next blog

Riding Two-up

Riding two up can be a fantastic experience for both driver and passenger, however, one might not realise that it simultaneously is a very big responsibility – a responsibility for the safety of your pillion rider, and others on the road. There is a marked difference in how your bike will behave with a pillion – how she handles, corners, accelerates and brakes, everything will be different. Further, you will need to adapt your riding style as you won’t be able to do things that you do solo, and finally, the distractions from and reactions of the pillion, all of this significantly change your ride.


Disclaimer: This is a pre-delivery shot inside the closed confines of a showroom. I do not endorse riding without gear

It however doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it seems, work together as a team and the pleasure of riding will grow multifold. Your pillion will ensure you share all the fun and experience. Typical of more eyes syndrome, they can help navigate, alert you about potential hazards and also lend a helping hand in case of hiccups enroute. Here are a few points, both for rider and the pillion, that will go a long way in ensuring the three of you – the rider duo and the bike – enjoy to the fullest.

Suggestions for the riders:

Pre-ride preparation:

  • Pre-ride briefing: Do discuss the ride plan, the stops for breaks, and most importantly, the common signals for communication. At any speed above 50kmph, with both the rider and pillion wearing helmet, there can be no conversation in the usual sense, unless both your helmets have some communication device like Scala installed. Discuss the signals for important things that the pillion might want to communicate like “slow down”, “stop”, “stop NOW“, “look out”, “I need a drink/eat”, “I’m mounting/dismounting” etc. Also discuss what you may want to tell them as a rider “hang on (I’m accelerating/breaking)”, “bump/pot-hole ahead”, “stopping now” etc. Keep it to a basic minimum, overdoing it could also result in miscommunication.
  • Ride before ride: While it might seem like an oxymoron, it is relevant and important. Before embarking on a long journey, have a small “dress-rehearsal”. This will help in bonding and prevent the long ride from going sour.
  • Tyre pressure: You may need to increase the tyre pressure with a pillion on-board. Please do refer to the instruction manual to find the right pressure for your bike.
  • Adjust mirrors: The rear of the bike will tend to go down a bit with a passenger, do adjust the rearview mirrors to compensate before you start the ride.
  • Suspension setting: To compensate for the rear end going down, some bikes allow preload adjustment. Some high end bikes do it electronically, all it takes is a few clicks while some other bikes let you adjust the pre-load and damping manually. Do check if your bike has these features and tweak it as required. If such settings are not present, take extra precautions while riding.
  • Helping the pillion mount the bike: Many bikes today seem to have a raised pillion seat. This makes the process of mounting the bike a lot more different. Stopping near a kerb if possible can make this process easier. Also, ensuring you are ready with your feet well planted and, if required, having the side stand on can help prevent ending up as an embarrassing heap on the floor. If on a steep incline, you can even engage your bike in first gear. During the pre-ride discussion, have an understanding with the pillion that he/she mounts only after you give a nod of approval. If you have stopped on not so firm surface like gravel or dirt track, do all of the above and get your pillion to mount from the right side of the bike, i.e. opposite side of the side stand. This helps relieve some weight off the side stand and prevents it from sinking in.cardo_scala_rider_q3_multiset
  • Communication equipment: If you plan on very long and frequent trips, investing in a good in-gear communication equipment will come in handy. It not only connects with your pillion, but also, if riding in a group, connects with other riders. <https://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/cardo-scala-rider-q3-multiset&gt;

During the ride:

  • Acceleration & gear shifts: The added weight on your bike will mean that the bike will be a bit sluggish comparatively, you may have to work your way up the gears. Don’t try to compensate for it by revving more. If your bike doesn’t have a sissy bar, an inexperienced pillion can even topple. Also, with the weight transferred towards the rear of the bike, hard throttle might result in an unintended wheelie. Be smooth with the throttle and gear shifts, remember it is not a race, enjoy the ride with your company.
  • Braking: Increased weight will also reduce braking efficiency. Plan ahead, break early, try and use the engine brake when possible. Increased weight however is not completely a bad news, more weight over the rear wheel will make your rear brake more effective than in a solo ride. Use this more, it helps avoid the unintentional helmet bumps and doesn’t get your passenger unsettled. An unprepared passenger may slide into you during braking. Be prepared for it and use your knees to brace against the tank while your upper body supports the passenger. Using your arms would mean you transfer that force to the handle-bar and this can be a problem, especially while cornering.
  • Cornering: Here again being smooth is the key mantra. Go easy initially, too much lean angle can unsettle a not-so-experienced pillion. Their fidgeting in the middle of a turn can spell disaster.
  • Riding over bumps: Remember you can’t compensate for bumps by standing on your foot-pegs like you do when you go solo. You need to look ahead and slow down. Also the added weight would result in lower ground clearance. If you are not too careful, you could bottom-out.
  • Role swapping: If your pillion can ride, do swap your positions. Trust me, you will only enjoy it. Not only will your pillion get a chance to be in control, but also will give you a well deserved break and an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings.

Suggestions for the pillion

Pre-ride preparation:

  • The right gear: Just because you are not riding doesn’t mean you do not need all the gear. You need it as much, if not more, than the rider. If you think it is not cool enough, then you should not be on that seat.
  • Pre-ride briefing: This has been discussed in the rider section above.
  • Getting on a bike: Ideally, get on from the left hand side once the rider gives you a nod, swing your right leg over the bike and after you sit, adjust your position with both feet on the pegs. However, this might not be always possible. High pillion seats and/or luggage might prevent you from doing so. If that is the case, when on firm ground, put your left leg on the left peg and pull yourself up while holding on to the rider’s shoulder. Do the reverse when on soft ground, mount from the right side. But before this, ensure that the rider is prepared with both feet squarely on the ground, and if required, side-stand in place and vehicle in gear.
  • s-l300.jpgFiguring out where your hand are going to be: This is of utmost importance. Do figure out what you will hold with a relaxed yet firm grip. Different things work for different people with different bikes – grab rails, sissy-bars, rider’s midriff, rider’s shoulder or some clip on accessories <i.ebayimg.com/images/g/ijIAAOSwSPBaa4R-/s-l300.jpg>. To me, shoulder is a no go as it tends to transfer all the weight directly on to the handlebars, drastically diminishing my control on the bike (see the straight line of weight transfer from pillion’s shoulder to the handle bar in the picture below). As a duo, you should figure out the right place before the ride starts.


During the ride:

  • Look ahead & move in unison: Anticipate what the rider is likely to do next. This will give you a few seconds of advance preparation, helping you get a better grip, bracing your legs and  avoiding sliding forward into the rider. Whatever you do, avoid back seat riding. Do not ‘lean in’ while cornering to “help” the rider. Just stay relaxed with a firm grip and move in unison with the bike as if you are an extension of the machine. Occasionally you may encounter helmet bumps, but this is still better than fidgeting around or moving sharply/abruptly.
  •  Putting your leg down: Whatever you do, do not try to “help” the rider by putting your feet down when bike comes to a halt. You are only unsettling the rider. To add to it, it is not easily possible with the high pillion seats in the modern bikes.
  • Communication: Communicate to the extent necessary, whenever important. Enjoy the ride, remember, even with a communication device, you are only distracting the rider. Restrict it to short, essential messages. If you are getting bored, get the rider to pull over and stop.
  • Dismounting: Inform the rider before getting off the motorcycle, once the rider is prepared, do the exact reverse of the mounting process.

Being aware of these small things will go a very long way in making the ride immensely pleasurable. Ride hard! Ride safe!


About the author:

Muralidhar (www.musingsinlife.com):

A biker | A blogger | An adventure junky | Animal lover

Tries to fit all of the above whilst working as a brand marketing professional. His blog is a product of contemplations, reflections and an unquenchable thirst for self-deprecating humour. It is the world as seen through the eyeballs of a salt-and-pepper *sixteen year-old* fighting off #MidLifeCrisis. No doubt perspectives will be different when seen by others and those are equally welcome in the comments section.


  1. This is written with a sole intention of laughing at and with the author, no offence meant to anyone else.
  2. No bikes or animals or bystanders were harmed while writing this.