How Do You Safely Carry Passengers on Your Motorcycle?

Motorcycle passenger safety guide highlights:

  • Before a passenger gets on your motorcycle, take care of any maintenance issues, adjust the suspension and tire pressure accordingly, and check with local laws about equipment and age
  • Make sure your passenger has just as much safety gear as you and communicate with them about the ride
  • Ride smoothly, don’t lean or accelerate excessively, and check that your passenger knows how to sit, lean, and look around properly

For some, myself included, riding a motorcycle alone but for your thoughts is part of the appeal. But that doesn’t mean putting a passenger on your motorcycle is some act of drudgery. Whether it’s solely for transportation purposes or to introduce someone to the community, it brings its own kind of fun. Regardless, passengers aren’t pieces of luggage and shouldn’t be treated as such. So, if you’re thinking about riding two-up, here’s what you need to consider about your motorcycle safety strategy.   

Before putting a passenger on your motorcycle, catch up on maintenance and adjust your suspension

The blue compression adjustment screw, silver preload collar, and blue spring on a 2012 Triumph Street Triple R's rear shock
2012 Triumph Street Triple R rear shock preload and compression adjustment | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

Proper motorcycle passenger safety begins before anyone hops onto the bike. Although you should be maintaining your motorcycle regularly as a matter of course, it’s especially important if you bring someone along for the ride.

For one, more people mean more weight and stress on the motorcycle’s components. And two, if the chain breaks, forks fail, brakes seize, or another problem occurs, it’s not just the rider that’s in danger. So, do your due diligence and make sure everything on your motorcycle is working properly.

Speaking of extra weight and diligence, double-check your motorcycle’s suspension and tire pressures before carrying any passengers. Without extra pressure, the tires can’t deal with more weight without deforming somewhat. And that ruins both your motorcycle’s handling and safety. It’s a similar story with your suspension preload, especially rear preload, RevZilla says. If you don’t add preload, your bike’s rear can squat so much that it messes with the steering geometry.

Make sure you’re not breaking any motorcycle passenger age and equipment laws

A rider on a blue-and-white vintage motorcycle carries a passenger in a matching sidecar
Vintage motorcycle rider carries a passenger in a sidecar | Jerod Harris/WireImage via Getty Images

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There’s something else you need to brush up on before putting a passenger on your motorcycle: laws. Specifically, on restrictions and requirements.

As of this writing, there’s no law on the books in any US state that prohibits two-up riding. However, five states—Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington—have minimum age requirements. But to complicate matters, Texas waives the age restriction if your child is seated in a sidecar.

In addition, some states require passenger-specific equipment, such as footpegs, grab handles, and separate seats. Though to be fair, having these things even if they’re not required makes the passenger’s experience much more comfortable, RideApart notes. So, even if the law doesn’t specifically demand it, make sure your motorcycle at least has a passenger seating area and footpegs.

On that note, if you have multiple motorcycles to choose from, pick the most passenger-friendly one. Touring bikes like the new Indian Pursuit are an excellent option because they usually have dedicated passenger seats. However, standard bikes with stretched-out seats can work, too. Sportbikes, though, are typically best avoided for comfort’s sake.

Your passenger should have the same kind of motorcycle safety gear as you do

Gear-clad riders and passengers on motorcycles take part in a 'ride of respect' in the UK
Riders and passengers on motorcycles take part in a ‘ride of respect’ | Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images

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Besides age and equipment, motorcycle passenger laws also cover safety gear. Again, the specific requirements vary from state to state. But the general rule is if you have to wear it, so does your passenger.

However, even if your state doesn’t require things like proper motorcycle helmets, boots, and jackets, you should wear them anyway. I, for example, live in a non-helmet state, but I would never get on my motorcycle without a helmet. Same thing with gloves as well as armored boots, pants, and jackets. And I’d insist that my passenger match me in gearing up. After all, your passenger is “taking the same ride as you, therefore assuming the same risks,” RideApart says, so “they should have equal protection.”

But getting your passenger safely suited up for a motorcycle ride involves more than making sure their helmet fits. Many riders are used to rapid temperature changes on the road, but passengers often aren’t. So, if it’s cold, make sure they layer up properly and/or pack heated gear. And if it’s going to get hot, have them wear suitable clothing under their gear.     

Communication is key

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OK, so your motorcycle is ready, you and your passenger have all the necessary safety gear, so you should be good to go, right? Well, no. You still have some things to discuss.

Firstly, even if you don’t subscribe to the (false) ‘loud pipes save lives’ notion, riding gets loud. Between the rushing wind, exhaust noise, other cars, helmets, and earplugs, it’s hard to talk on a bike. Bluetooth and similar helmet communications systems help, but not every rider has a set. Therefore, before you hit the road, establish a non-verbal communication system. Say, a shoulder tap means ‘slow down,’ a hip touch means ‘faster,’ and so on.

Furthermore, talk to your passenger about the ride. Let them see the route, planned stopping points, where to grab onto the bike, how to get off, and so on. This also means keeping an open mind and ears about their potential misgivings, whether it’s about the speed, weather, physical demands, etc. Remember, you want your passenger to be as comfortable on the motorcycle as possible.

Keep your riding fluid, don’t show off, and start slow

A safety-gear-clad motorcycle rider and passenger ride a sportbike on a jungle road
Motorcycle rider and passenger on a sportbike | Jack Plant via Unsplash

Making sure your passenger is comfortable and safe on your motorcycle also extends to your riding style. Even if you’re used to how your bike leans, brakes, and accelerates, that doesn’t mean your passenger is. And if you’re too fast, jerky, or flashy, your passenger might panic and stiffen up.

A scared-stiff passenger isn’t just an uncomfortable one, though. You must be relaxed when riding a motorcycle. If you’re not, not only will you throw off your handling, but bumps might throw you off the bike entirely. Plus, depending on where your passenger is holding you, as you speed up and they start sliding backward, they might put extra pressure on your arm. So, you twist the throttle even more, so the bike speeds up more, and you get the picture.

Thus, for the safety of your passenger—and those around you—don’t ride your motorcycle like you’re in a MotoGP race. Countersteer and lean smoothly but not excessively and take things slowly until your passenger is comfortable. And if you must brake quickly, warn them.

Speaking of braking, remember that earlier bit about extra weight? It also makes your braking distances longer and the brakes harder to use, RideApart notes. But on the plus side, it also makes the rear brake significantly more effective. That means you can use it both to shed speed without fork dive and tighten up low-speed turns.

How do you ride and sit on a motorcycle as a passenger?

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So far, we’ve talked about the rider’s responsibilities in keeping motorcycle passengers safe. However, the passenger has some responsibilities, too.

Besides making sure they have all the necessary, well-fitted gear, passengers also need to sit properly. That means being relaxed, centered, and unless you have your own seat, as close to the rider as possible. Lean and look with the rider during turns, too. If your helmets knock slightly, don’t worry, it happens. And if the rider needs to reposition themselves, let them, RevZilla adds.

Also, no sudden movements. Remember, bikes lean and maneuver their centers of gravity to turn and handle. If you wave around wildly, there’s a non-zero chance you might crash. This also extends to your feet. Always keep them on the pegs until the rider indicates otherwise. You might think putting a foot down is helpful, but it can actually throw the bike’s balance off. Same thing when you’re getting on and off.

Remember, motorcycle passenger safety is a two-way road. You and the rider need to work together to have a safe ride. But if you keep these things in mind, you’ll also have a fun ride along the way.

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