When I posted Too Fast! TOO FAST! TOOO FAAAST! telling the story of Shannon’s first ride in the twisties I got a lot of feedback from readers. Tons of good tips started pouring in. So many, that I decided to compile the ones mentioned most often into one convenient package. The following is some good advice for riding with a pillion and introducing a new rider to our beloved life of motorcycling. I learned a lot and I hope you can too.
Patience is a virtue.
For those of us that are used to riding we often seek out the longest route from point A to point B. Riding is all about the journey right? Who cares if we ride 6 hours for a cheeseburger, we ripped up the twisties on the way! When it comes to getting a new rider hooked we need to be patient. This is certainly a tough one for me. I am known to be a bit over zealous at times. I do try to temper that behavior, but it is a part of my personality. It’s kind of like asking Chuck Norris to avoid using the round house kick.
Even though it can be hard to be patient, try to start out with shorter rides. The actual length will depend on the passenger’s fortitude for riding. It may be a trip to the grocery store or a local restaurant to get started and slowly extend the ride time. This will also give your passenger a chance to build up the muscles needed for riding. It may also be helpful to pick familiar roads so your passenger knows what to expect. Less technical roads are also a better way to start. I am certainly guilty of pushing the envelope on curvy roads too soon. As many readers have pointed out, I should have gone slower on less twisty roads. Its good advice and I will try to do better in the future.
As a rider sometimes we take for granted the technical aspects of riding. Since we do it as second nature we sometimes assume our passengers will too. In my case, I didn’t really think about a passenger using the same techniques the pilot does to help calm anxiety. Here’s a few suggestions from readers to help a passenger feel more in control and involved in the ride.
Look Over Your Shoulder
This is great advice. It never occurred to me that it would help a passenger. If we are riding properly we are always looking further up the road and as far through the turn as possible. This gives us extra reaction time and we are better prepared for the unknown. Someone new to motorcycling may not understand the benefits of looking through a turn. Several readers explained that the best way to help them understand is to teach them to look over their shoulder in a turn. If our passengers are looking through the turn and not directly in front of the bike they will feel more in control and the sensation of speed will be lower. It will also help them be in tandem with you as you go through the curve.
On a sport bike use the tank for stops.
If you are riding a pillion on a sport bike or any bike with more forward lean you have felt the push-ups induced during braking. When we stop, and the pillion’s weight is transferred forward onto our wrists it can be very tiring and in some cases painful. The best advice I have heard is to have your pillion put their hands on the tank and support their own weight during braking. This will keep you more comfortable during braking and your pillion will have a more solid place to put their hands.
Tape over speedometer.
For some, this may not be an issue. Other passengers may obsess over the speed. As seasoned riders we typically ride by feel. We have our eyes on the road and if we are riding in a responsible manner we are riding “The Pace”. If it is helpful to your passenger, tape over the speedometer. Help them learn to feel the bike instead of concentrating on the speedometer.
No slow speed adjustments.
As a passenger and especially a person new to motorcycling they may not understand that slow speed maneuvers are much more difficult on a motorcycle. It gets even tougher when we are riding two up and we have to keep balance for two people and accommodate the extra weight of the bike. Make sure your passenger knows not to get fidgety during slow speeds. Have them wait until you are stopped or adjust when you are underway. The extra stability will make them feel safer and make things a lot easier on you.
Pillions Have Feelings Too.
It takes a lot of trust to climb on the back of a bike with someone. The pilot has two lives in his hands and the passenger doesn’t have much control in the situation. Understand this up front and make sure you work out a way to communicate with your passenger. If you have helmet communicators it’s easy. If not, establish a few simple hand signals so your passenger can let you know if something is wrong. Earn their trust early and often and you will have a happy passenger.
Sitting up higher feels scary
If you are riding a passenger on a sport bike the pillion is very high up, often small, and no backrest. Have you ever sat on the back of a sport bike? It really feels precarious. Just imagine riding back there feeling like you are 10 feet above the road and laying into a turn. I think it takes an extra amount of courage to ride pillion on a sport bike. Be sensitive to this sensation and please don’t wheelie with a passenger or take off too strong. Motorcycles have so much acceleration that you can literally take off and leave your passenger behind. With the absence of a backrest and a small seat it is even more likely to happen.
One reader said his wife likes to drink a beer at lunch and it calms her nerves while riding. I think this is excellent advice. Obviously, the pilot should NOT partake in any adult beverages, but a small amount could be very beneficial to a nervous passenger.
I have also heard of people getting motion sickness while riding. If that is the case you could try Dramamine, but be careful. Dramamine makes some people very sleepy. Don’t take Dramamine for the first time and then go ride. Know how it affects you before you use it on a ride.
My wife doesn’t seem to get motion sick on a bike, but she does on boats. It doesn’t have to be the ocean either. A choppy day at the lake will make her nauseous. You can get a Sea-Band at most drug stores. It applies pressure to a certain part of the wrist and it seems to be helpful for my wife on boats. This is a great non-chemical way to help with motion sickness. Another slightly less practical suggestion is fresh ginger. Slice it thinly and hold it under your nose to breathe it in. It smells great and has a very calming effect. I learned this trip from our guide while snorkeling with whale sharks.
Deploy Mass Distraction
If your passenger is really nervous it can help to take their mind off things. With my wife we had helmet communicators and we got her to tell us about her new job. This worked wonders to keep her mind off the twisty roads. We also used the scenery as a distraction. Heck, the scenery is one of the best parts of riding. Help your passenger discover the adventure that motorcycling is all about. One last suggestion is music. If you are using helmet communicators, most of them can also sync to your phone or MP3 player. If you don’t have communicators, just use earbuds. Not only will this provide a good distraction, it’s also helpful to protect your hearing.
Easy Like Sunday Morning
Comfort is crucial to help your passenger enjoy the ride. The reason I bought my Yamaha FJR1300 is because it had a big backseat, relaxed ergonomics, and a top case with a backrest. The backrest makes my wife feel more secure and the larger backseat keeps her more comfortable. I know I have pushed through a lot of achy muscles and discomfort on my long rides, but I am pretty enthusiastic about riding. A new rider will probably not feel that way yet. Make stops often to help them relax and feel more comfortable.
Now that we have addressed physical comfort, let’s talk about mental comfort and safety. Proper gear is a great way to help a new rider feel secure. It may require a little investment or you may have enough spare gear already. Whatever it takes, get your new rider in proper protective gear. Having a good helmet and armor goes a long way to feeling safe on a motorcycle. For a more experienced rider we are used to the extra exposure to potential danger and most of us have even learned to enjoy that exposure. A new rider will not be to that point yet and protective gear will help lessen the feeling of exposure.
Weather is another concern for comfort. Dress properly for the temperatures you are riding. If it is cold, layer up. If it is hot, get out the perforated leather or mesh gear. Avoid inclement weather and make sure you stay hydrated.
Be a Smooth Operator
Anybody who has ever ridden with a passenger has probably been hit in the head once or twice with the helmet behind you. Riding with a pillion is very different than riding alone. Take the time to get used to the new handling characteristics. The steering will be heavier, the suspension will be more loaded down, and you will need longer braking distances.
Concentrate on shifting very smooth, applying throttle gingerly, and braking over longer distances. All of these tips will make your passenger feel safer and more comfortable. Remember, your passenger has given you a great deal of trust. Don’t lose that trust by trying to ride too hard.
I appreciate all the comments that led to this article. I got some great suggestions from readers and I learned some new ways to help a passenger feel better on the back. I know I will try to improve my wife’s experience using these tips next time. Hopefully, you can get some use out of them too. Thanks for reading and if you have some tips of your own please leave them in the comments below. Be safe out there and keep the shiny side up!