If riding a motorcycle is fun, then riding with a passenger has to be twice as fun. That’s how math works, right? Well, not quite. Having a passenger on your bike completely changes the dynamic of the ride, and can actually be pretty scary. The added (potentially doubled) weight of a second person affects everything from acceleration, to how you brake, to the way the bike handles. All of these are things a rider must now adapt to and compensate for, because the second you climb into the saddle behind them, your life is in their hands. The only thing keeping you alive from there on out is their level of skill.
Even for a confident and experienced rider, the prospect of having a passenger can be deeply unnerving. Some riders outright refuse to allow a second person on their bikes. They may have had a bad experience with a passenger in the past — yes, it is possible to be a bad passenger — or they might feel the risk is too high. Even some seasoned riders simply won’t do it, because a particularly squirmy or distracting passenger can impair one’s ability to control the bike, and endanger everyone on the road. If you’ve never ridden two-up before, that only adds to the stress.
None of us actually knows how we are going to react to riding on a motorcycle until we do, and by the time you find yourself leaning too far into a turn (a passenger ideally will not lean on purpose, as this will happen naturally as the bike does), it might be too late.
This knowledge isn’t innate. No one can expect you to just know these things (unless you lie to them and indicate you’re knowledgeable when you’re not.) It is one of the many things a rider should talk to you about before you ever climb into the saddle behind them.
It can be an extremely disconcerting experience to find yourself tilting into a turn for the first time. You might even be worried you’ll fall off, and try to fight the lean. But that’s just as bad as leaning to much! Too far in either direction changes the physics of the ride, and makes it more difficult for the rider to maintain control. The safest thing to do when cornering as a passenger is to look over the riders shoulder in the direction of the turn.
A motorcyclist who doesn’t sit down and talk to you first about what to expect as a passenger is not someone you want to be riding with. Remember, you are entrusting someone with your life. You want someone who clearly has your best interests in mind, and a person like that will take your safety very seriously. If they’re just trying to show off, run… don’t walk. A motorcyclist worth their salt — ideally, he or she has gone through an accredited Motorcycle Safety Foundation training course — should give you a tour of the bike.
They should tell you where to sit, how to sit, where to put your feet (on pegs, and only on pegs), what not to touch (the exhaust pipe, or the tire… unless you really want nasty burns), when to mount the bike (only when they give you the okay), when to dismount (see: when to mount), and how they would like you to communicate with them during the ride. It gets loud at 60 mph, and even if you yell they might not hear you. They should also make sure that you are properly padded up with protective gear.
Just handing you a helmet like they do in every “American girl meet European heartthrob” romantic comedy will not cut it. Just like jackets, pants, boots, and gloves, helmets come in different sizes and shapes. There’s no one-size-fits-random-stranger you just met at the Trevi Fountain. If the helmet does not pass the fit test, no ride should be had for you until you’re wearing one that does. Sadly this might mean that impromptu ride can’t happen, but in the name of safety it’s worth the wait.
Being a good passenger also means being a safe passenger, and ultimately that is a team effort between you and the rider. It really is a partnership. Both parties need to feel comfortable. By staying safe, and being a passenger that the rider can feel confident in taking, you’ll always have a backseat available to you.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“How To Prepare a Passenger For Their First Motorcycle Ride.” RideApart. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
“Guidelines For Riding With A Passenger On Your Motorcycle.” Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
“California Motorcyclist Training.” California Highway Patrol. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
“Motorcycle Safety.” California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved Retrieved 7 October 2019.
“Wear the Right Gear.” California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
“You and Your Motorcycle.” Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Retrieved 7 October 2019.