How to ride with a pillion

Published: 09 December 2015

Smoothness, consideration and teamwork. No it’s not marriage guidance, but get your pillion skills wrong and you might just need it… 


n my 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. It’s nearly happened to me – a first time pillion leaned the wrong way, trying to stay bolt upright round a left hand corner, and the bike wouldn’t turn.

My 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. I certainly didn’t when I was younger – I’m surprised my wife stayed on the back to be honest.

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.

When we train riders we often say that before they go zooming off with their petrified wife on the back, they should feel what it’s like to be a pillion. We take them out, and it soon becomes clear that being on the back of 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 – you see those poor girlfriends perched on the back of Fireblades and GSX-Rs and wonder how they put up with it.

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 – Ed]. 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.

Alex Deutsch is the operations director at Riders for Life, a training company linked with Colchester Kawasaki. To apply for a course call 01908 904 175 or visit


Words Alex Deutsch