How to Ride Safely, and Legally with a Passenger


There’s a whole list of reasons why you may need to fold-down those pillion footrests. It could be for anything from a buddy who’s run out of gas or a cross-country tour with your partner but if you haven’t carried a passenger before it can be a daunting prospect.

Some beginner motorcyclists may want to show off their new wheels as well as their skills.  But if you’re a California resident, forget it. You aren’t allowed to take a passenger until you have a full riders license and even then, there’s a whole host of laws not to break.

Apart from needing to wear a DOT approved helmet, a Californian law states that a passenger has to be able to put both their feet on the footrests. A passenger must also be sitting on a seat securely attached to the bike. So, if you were thinking of bouncing down to the store with your baby brother perched on the back mudguard, think again.

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How To Ride With Passenger: Wiggle Room

Over on the East Coast, there’s a little more wiggle room. Yes, there is still the same type of regulations regarding passenger seating arrangements. However, as a learner rider, you must have a full motorcycle license-holding supervisor no more than ¼ mile away from you at all times.

However, just because it’s legal, doesn’t always mean it’s easy, so let’s look at the types of problems you’ll encounter, whether you’re a learner or not.

Before you let an anyone sling a leg over your iron horse, have you even stopped to take a look at your rear accommodation? If, for instance, you’re riding a Ducati Panigale, let us hope they’re a close friend, because they sure will be by the time the journeys over.  On the flip side, BMW GS or Harley Electraglide riders may just as well have a ‘taxi’ sign on their front fender.

The next thing to consider is your suspension, think about how your bike lowers when you sit on it, and now imagine that with the same weight again being added. Obviously, if it’s a real short journey, you can get away without altering the suspension.

How to Ride With Passenger: Suspension Preload

Anything further than a trip around the block and you will need to adjust the rear suspension’s pre-load. Depending on the motorcycle’s make and model, this can be anything from a remote adjustment dial to getting a C -shape wrench on it.

You may also need to consider increasing tire pressure and adjusting rear view mirrors accordingly. too.

Ignore this, and you can guarantee your passenger will get bounced all over the place, your suspension will bottom out (tire hitting the mudguard), and the bike will handle like a hog on a skateboard.

How to Ride With Passenger: Ground Rules

If you haven’t taken a passenger before, check the footrests.  Are they bolted on good and tight?  The same goes for the grab rail, presuming you have one.

Some bikes do others don’t, and if you fall into the latter category, now is the time to establish some ground rules with your guest. Firstly, you need to find out if they’ve ever ridden on the back of a bike before.

If so, all well and good, if not, you need to explain to them those small subtleties that we riders take for granted. Like the fact that leaning over into a bend isn’t the prelude to falling off. No need to go into detail about centrifugal force, just warn them, so they don’t freak out mid-bend.

Show them where the grabrail is. No problem, if the grab rail is at the back of the seat.  Some rails tsthough, are located underneath and to the side, so recommend they get a good hold of it before you pull off because fishing around under the bike while on the move is not advisable.  Face facts though; you know full well the moment you pull away they’re going to hold on to you like a baby Koala.

While you’re dishing out the instructions, you should also make them aware of the effects of acceleration and braking and what to do to avoid looking like a dashboard bobblehead.

How to Ride With Passenger: Dismount

Additionally, don’t forget to tell them which side to mount and dismount, as well as the best way to avoid a leg-full of hot exhaust. Oh yes, and politely requesting that they don’t put their feet down at a stoplight or junction is also a good idea.

Last but not least, and this is advice for riders, especially carrying a novice passenger. You’re at the sharp end, you are in control of the bike’s acceleration and braking, and you know what’s going to happen in a bend.

Your passenger is sitting on a tiny section of foam filled vinyl, surrounding by nothing but fresh air. They’ve probably never felt so vulnerable, and you are asking them to hold on to something smaller than the average fridge door handle. So, bear all that in mind and ride accordingly.

If by now, you haven’t managed to put them off, the final thing to consider is your riding style. Not only is the extra weight going to alter your bikes performance dramatically, but also you now have the responsibility of someone else’s safety.

How to Ride With Passenger: Clutch Control

Forget about stoplight drag racing, with the guy next to you in the Smart Car. You will need more throttle to pull away, but still, keep it smooth with good clutch control and avoid jerky gear changes.

The extra weight will mean you will also need more time to slow down but don’t grab a big handful of brake otherwise; you’re going to get woodpeckers.  Line up corners a lot sooner too, turn in decisively and accelerate out smoothly.

And for slow turns, stops, and U-turns, be ready to brace your legs to take the extra weight, there’s nothing worse than a slow-motion sink to the floor.

Sharing the adventures of the road with someone can be a great experience. Just make sure your passenger is aware of how their actions and movements affect the stability of the bike.

As for the rider, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the passenger wears the correct protective gear, but you should also understand your motorcycles added limitations and ride accordingly. Enjoy.