Motorcycle riding is too wonderful to not share, so we’ve prepared these passenger safety tips. Taking a safety-first approach as a passenger can help ensure an enjoyable, comfortable experience for both you and the bike’s operator. Let’s make every two-up ride safe and fun!
Understand motorcycle passenger laws
Before you hop onto the back of the bike, make sure you and the operator are familiar with state laws regarding passengers and the use of safety gear.
Safety equipment: Most states require motorcycles to be properly equipped with dedicated passenger seats and foot pegs in order to legally carry passengers. Additionally, helmet laws vary from state to state. For your safety, we strongly encourage you to wear a helmet even when it’s not required.
Passenger age limit: Most states have no motorcycle passenger age limit. That said, it’s crucial that you’re capable of securely sitting on the seat and reaching the foot pegs. You also need to be strong and balanced enough to grip the passenger handles or hold onto the operator to help ensure stability.
Establish a communication plan
Communication between you and the operator is vital, both before and during the ride. As you prepare for your ride, determine how you’ll communicate with one another:
Hand signals: Even if you’re longtime co-riders, a pre-ride refresh is smart. Determine the most common things you need to express and develop a code for them. For example, you might need to ask your companion to slow down or pull over, and they may want to ask you to sit still.
Bluetooth-enabled helmets:Bluetooth helmet communication devices have brought communication capabilities to every motorcycle, something that used to be limited to wired connections on big touring motorcycles. These days, many helmets have preinstalled Bluetooth technology, while others come ready for installation.
Evaluate your risks before your ride
Experienced, safety-conscious motorcycle operators focus on preparation before each ride. As a passenger, you also have risks to evaluate before you accept a ride on someone’s motorcycle.
How experienced is your riding partner? Know the operator. How long have they been riding? Have they carried passengers before? Do they have a valid motorcycle license?
Where, when, and how long will you travel? Reducing uncertainty can make for a better experience. Ask the following questions:
Will we stop anywhere to rest?
What’s our destination?
When will we leave and return?
What’s the weather forecast?
Familiarize yourself with the motorcycle
Motorcycle owners invest a lot of time and attention into adjusting their saddle, handlebars, and controls for a comfortable ride. It’s important to do the same to help ensure your comfort and safety. Before you hop on, discuss the motorcycle’s accommodations with the operator.
Seat: Be sure the passenger seat, or pillion, is securely attached to the motorcycle.
Pegs: The motorcycle must have passenger foot pegs or floorboards to help ensure stability and improve comfort.
Holds: Having a place to hold on to the motorcycle goes a long way in helping you control your body movements. Options range from grab straps on the saddle to solid handrails alongside or behind the seat.
Backrests and armrests: Both can dramatically improve your comfort, especially on long rides. Some cruisers, middleweight touring bikes, and sport-touring motorcycles come with backrests, and aftermarket backrests are also available. Armrests aren’t as common but are often found on big, deluxe touring motorcycles.
Saddlebags and top cases: Saddlebags allow you to carry extra rain gear and layers of riding clothes. Top cases offer plenty of space and usually provide a comfy backrest.
Wear protective clothing and accessories
Have you ever seen a motorcycle operator in full gear with a passenger in shorts or a bathing suit and flip-flops? It’s a bike week cliché, but it’s not sustainable for safety or comfort. You’re exposed to the same environment and risks as the operator, so your gear should offer just as much protection.
Start with the essentials: Helmet, jacket, gloves, riding pants, and boots. And be prepared to ride in varying conditions, whether you need to beat the heat, bundle up, or stay dry.
Know how to mount a motorcycle
There are two primary techniques for mounting a motorcycle:
The operator mounts first: Once the operator mounts, they plant both feet firmly on the ground, with the front brake applied to prevent the motorcycle from moving. They’ll tell you when they’re ready for you to get on. Hold onto their shoulders for stability as you mount, rather than pulling on the motorcycle.
You mount first: In this method, the motorcycle is on its stand and the operator holds the motorcycle steady as you get on. If you choose this technique, be sure they have the body strength to lift the motorcycle off its stand.
Your comfort as a passenger not only makes motorcycle rides more enjoyable, it also contributes to safety—after all, if you’re squirming and leaning to get comfortable mid-ride, you could compromise stability.
Before the ride, sit on the parked motorcycle with your feet on the passenger pegs for a few minutes. If you’re already uncomfortable, it’ll get worse during the ride. If you feel comfy and are ready to go, keep the following tips in mind:
Sit close to the operator: This allows both of you to have a better sense of each other’s positioning as it relates to the balance and handling of the motorcycle. This gives the operator better control of leaning, stopping, and accelerating.
Wrap your arms around the operator: If the motorcycle doesn’t have a backrest, grab straps, or rails, the best solution is to wrap your arms around the operator’s midsection. Discuss this plan before the ride begins.
Combat muscle cramps: It’s not uncommon to get muscle cramps during a motorcycle ride. When you first feel the beginning of a muscle cramp, communicate with the operator, then adjust your position. Don’t wiggle or make sudden, unannounced readjustments. If you get uncomfortable during the ride, ask for a stop.
Be mindful of hot equipment: Before the ride, have the operator show you what parts of the motorcycle get hot, to help you avoid getting burned.
Prepare for motorcycle maneuvers
Being engaged in the ride and anticipating certain maneuvers gives you time to adjust, which in turn makes you a safer, more reliable passenger.
Turns: Look into the turn, but try not to lean. This will help you stay connected to the motorcycle as the operator leans.
Stops: When the motorcycle slows or stops, your body will still have forward momentum. Stay alert to upcoming stops to keep your body or helmet from slamming into the operator’s back. Always keep your feet in place—the only time your feet should leave the foot pegs or floorboards is when the operator tells you it’s safe to dismount.
Acceleration: Any time the bike accelerates, the force will make your body lag as the bike picks up speed. Hold steady to your position.
Keep safety top of mind
Even though you aren’t operating the motorcycle, you still need to be an active participant in the ride.
Look out for danger: As a passenger, you have another pair of eyes to help the operator spot danger. This is where your established communication plan can make a real, positive impact.
Stay awake: While it’s hard to believe anyone could fall asleep zooming through the world on a motorcycle, it does happen. But it’s not safe to sleep on the back seat of a motorcycle. Being jolted awake can destabilize the bike, which could lead to an accident. If you start feeling sleepy, ask for a rest stop to stretch and refresh.
Sharing a motorcycle ride with a friend or family member can be incredibly rewarding—as long as you practice safe riding habits. Maintain open communication before, during, and after the ride, and return to this article whenever you need a refresher. And as always, give your local Dairyland agent a call to learn more.
Till next time, ride safe!
Ready for a cross-country ride with a passenger or even a motorcycle rider group? Look no further than historic Route 66.