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How To: Ride Safely with a Pillion - Rookie To Rider


Courtney S · March 19, 2020

riding with a pillion

Rookie to Rider Series by Courtney

The Rookie to Rider series is written by experienced rider Courtney, who first hand has faced the many challenges and fantastic experiences that two wheels has to offer. The series aims to help all riders improve their skills and get more out of life on two wheels.

The seventh part of the Rookie to Rider Series can be found below. Enjoy!


While riding with a pillion is a big responsibility, it can be a really fun and social (not to mention, at times, practical) way of enjoying your motorcycle!

But before riding with a pillion, you need to know the legal requirements in order to do so:

  • In the UK, you will need your full motorcycle licence (not just your CBT).
  • The motorbike must be equipped with suitable footrests and support for the pillion rider.
  • The pillion rider must be wearing a helmet and their feet must be able to reach the footrests (although there is no legal age requirement).

Preparing the Bike

Before setting off, it’s best to make a few adjustments to the motorcycle. Your instruction manual should be able to help with this.

  1. Adjust the pre-load on your rear shock absorber to cater for the extra weight.
  2. Check your tyre pressures. You will often find you need a little more pressure when riding with a pillion.
  3. It may be obvious but flip out the pillion footrests and do a double check of your mirrors before you pull away – sometimes the extra weight may have an effect on what you can see.

The Pillion Rider

When taking a new passenger for the first time, it’s good to have a quick chat beforehand about what you need them to do – especially if it’s their first time riding pillion! (Or perhaps ask them to have a quick read of this next section first!) It can also help to agree on some hand signals or a tap on the shoulder if they need you to stop or slow down. Here is a guide on how to make an excellent pillion:

Motorcycle Apparel

There is a common misconception that a pillion rider only needs to throw on a helmet before jumping on the back of a motorcycle, but we believe all pillion riders should be just as protected as the rider. Therefore, a helmet, gloves, a thick pair of jeans and a riding jacket should be seen as the minimum protective riding gear required for a passenger.

Mounting and Dismounting

First things first: wait for the rider to say when they are ready for you to mount the motorcycle. It’s important that they are steadied and prepared to hold up the bike with the extra weight. Get on from the left hand side, and lift your right leg over – don’t put your weight on the left foot peg to heave yourself over as this is a recipe for you both, along with the bike, to topple straight onto the floor (an embarrassing and costly mistake to make)!

You can either hold on to the rider by putting your hands around their waist or hold the grab rail behind you (or a combination of both – whatever makes you feel more comfortable).

When it’s time to dismount, only do so when the rider tells you to. This is because the bike’s weight and centre of gravity will change dramatically when you step off, so the rider needs to be prepared for this.

Cornering, Accelerating and Braking

If you’ve never been on a motorcycle before then cornering can be quite an odd experience. It’s important to stay relaxed, and gently lean into the corners with the rider and the bike. Don’t try to counterbalance by leaning the other way and definitely don’t fidget or change position while taking a corner.

Try to anticipate when the bike is going to accelerate or brake. You will naturally move towards the rider when braking, so try to steady yourself to avoid knocking your helmets into one another!

When accelerating, the opposite will happen and you will get pulled backwards –so hold on to the rider or grab rail and lean forwards slightly to compensate for this. Being a good pillion can feel like one hell of an abs workout – it’s not all just sitting back and letting the rider do the work!

Slow Speeds and Stops

Riding at slow speeds can be much more challenging for a rider when taking a pillion as the extra weight can affect the balance, so it’s important to stay still and remain relaxed when riding slowly.

Never put your feet down at traffic lights or roundabouts either – the rider will balance the bike and it’s important your feet aren’t on the floor when they suddenly need to pull away.

If you follow these tips you will have an enjoyable and safe ride – plus make an excellent pillion rider!

Adjusting Your Ride Technique

Once you’ve set up the bike and had a quick chat with your pillion, it’s time to think about how you alter your riding technique. You’ll need to adjust your riding style when carrying a passenger and, as a general rule of thumb, you’re going to need to save the knee-down, fast style of riding for when it’s just you riding solo and instead take a more relaxed, “easy rider” approach!

To avoid clashing helmets, you will need to be extra smooth in your gear changes. Practice smooth gear transitions both with and without a passenger to get used to this.

Steering will feel heavy and a little lazy with a passenger, so don’t lean too far over in the corners and make sure to avoid any sudden movements. Be prepared for the centre of gravity to feel different when slow riding and give yourself more room when filtering through traffic.

Your acceleration will be less powerful with the extra weight of a pillion, but don’t try to compensate for this by rolling on too harshly. Anticipate the slight loss of power by giving yourself extra time to pull out at junctions.

A pillion will also affect your braking, so be mindful of this and give yourself longer stopping distances. The key word to remember while riding with a passenger is smooth. Give yourself extra time, and brake and accelerate smoothly.

Riding two up can be a fantastic way of enjoying motorcycles with your non-riding friend or partner but it is a big responsibility. Always ride safely and smoothly, make sure you’re both geared up correctly and communicate effectively as a team. And as always, have fun!

Read more of the Rookie to Rider Series by Courtney:

How to improve your clutch control - Rookie to Rider 1 by Courtney

How to change gears on a motorbike - Rookie to Rider 2 by Courtney

How I learnt to corner better - Rookie to Rider 3 by Courtney

How to deal with poor conditions on a motorbike - Rookie to Rider 4 by Courtney

How to clean a motorcycle correctly - Rookie to Rider 5 by Courtney

The Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance - Rookie to Rider 6 by Courtney

This information is given to you as a guide to support you in your choice of licence and RideTo has made every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information provided about motorcycle licence and training requirements. However, RideTo cannot guarantee the information is up to date, correct and complete and is therefore provided on an "as is" basis only. RideTo accepts no liability whatsoever for any loss or damage howsoever arising. We recommend that you verify the current licence and training requirements by checking the DVSA website.