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How to: Ride with a pillion

Published: 09 February 2018

In our experience it’s more important to train the pillion than the rider. If your pillion panics and sits straight upright as you try to go round a corner, it can cause you to crash.

Our advice to passengers is fairly standard – lean with the bike in the corners, hold on to the grab rails or a fixed area on the bike so you don’t crush the rider when they apply the brakes, sit still and don’t try and talk to the rider when you’re moving. The hardest thing to get people to do is relax – ideally you want them to sit there and do nothing.

Some people really don’t like holding a grab rail behind them when the bike accelerates, so we suggest using one hand to hold the rider, and one on the grab rail. That tends to work, especially on a lot of modern bikes which have grab rails that are more like handles which are positioned so you can’t brace yourself properly. The ideal situation is having a top box, which gives you something to lean against.

Once you’ve briefed the pillion, you then need to think about your own riding. A lot of riders don’t realise how stressful being a pillion can be.

An advanced rider will make life so much easier for the pillion because they’ll be planning a long way ahead so the pillion won’t feel any sudden braking or acceleration. They’ll probably be going fairly fast, but it won’t feel stressful to the pillion – they won’t get off with their core muscles aching. Your aim should be smoothness, not speed.

And if you've never been a pillion, we suggest you should feel what it’s like to be on the back – it soon becomes clear that a fast motorcycle can be a difficult experience if you’re not smooth. That tends to inspire some sympathy for the pillion, though on some bikes it’s never going to be easy.

Other points to consider when taking a pillion

Other points to consider are tyre pressures, suspension adjustment and headlights. If you’re only taking a pillion down to Tesco you don’t need to fiddle with the suspension preload or lights, but you might consider putting more pressure in the tyres [usually between 4 and 6psi extra, but check in your owner’s handbook]. If you’re going away for a week’s touring, it’s worth adjusting the front and rear preload to account for the extra weight and adjusting the headlight.

On a big adventure bike that’s heavy to start with, you might not have to adjust the suspension much for a lightweight pillion. But a lightweight sportsbike will handle like a pig unless you get the suspension sorted.

Practice drills

  • Pillions like a topbox as a back rest; grab handles or rail; and a little extra rear spring preload.
  • Prevent hard braking by looking further ahead and anticipating stops.
  • Practise shifting up earlier at lower revs; see how smooth you can make your changes.
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