Riding With A Passenger On Your Motorcycle

Badlands, SD

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Should you ride a motorcycle? A great article by the MSF that explores your mental and physical capabilities. Click HERE to open the .pdf from the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation)

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Riding with a passenger is always a good time!  But you will only have a good time if you have the skills and if your passenger is equipped with knowledge and understanding of how their actions can affect the handling of the motorcycle.

The following is a compilation of information from the MSF and from our personal experience. 

The Law:

1. All state laws and requirements for carrying a passenger must be followed.

2. Some states have specific equipment requirements. Such as: the motorcycle must have passenger footrests, passengers must be able to reach the footrests, and a motorcycle must have a separate seating area for a passenger.

3. The decision to carry a child, assuming all safety and legal factors have been considered, is left to the parent or guardian. Ensure that the child is mature enough to handle the responsibilities, tall enough to reach the footrests, wears a properly fitted helmet and other protective gear, and holds onto you or the passenger hand-holds. Check your state’s laws; a few states have set minimum ages for motorcycle passengers.

Operator Preparation

1. Passengers should be considered as a second “active” rider so they can help ensure that safety and procedural operations are correctly followed.

2. A passenger will affect the handling characteristics of a motorcycle due to the extra weight and independent motion. Especially at slow speeds. Make sure you let your passenger know that it is harder to control a motorcycle at slow speeds or stops than when traveling at high speeds. Inexperienced passengers tend to think it is ok to shuffle positions while you are slowing or stopped. Tell them to let you know if they need to reposition so you are able to secure the motorcycle.

3. A passenger tends to move forward in quick stops and may “bump” your helmet with theirs.

4. Starting from a stop may require more throttle and clutch finesse.

5. Braking procedures may be affected. Braking sooner and/or with greater pressure may be required.

6. More weight over the rear tire may increase the usefulness and stopping power of the rear brake, especially in quick stop situations.

7. Riding on a downgrade will cause braking distance to increase compared to a flat surface.

8. Extra caution is called for in a corner because of the extra weight. Cornering clearances may be affected.

9. More time and space will be needed for passing.

10. The effects of wind, especially side wind, may be more pronounced.

Motorcycle Preparation

1. The motorcycle must be designed to accommodate a passenger. As stated above, your motorcycle must have a seating area and footpegs for a passenger.

2. The motorcycle owner’s manual should be reviewed for manufacturer’s tips about motorcycle setup as well as any related operational recommendations.

3. The motorcycle’s suspension and tire pressure may need adjustment.  Most motorcycle shocks can be adjusted for the additional weight.

4. Care should be taken to not exceed the weight limitations specified in the owner’s manual.

Passenger Preparation

1. Passengers should be tall enough to reach the footrests and mature enough to handle the responsibilities.

2. Passengers should wear proper protective gear. The passenger should be wearing the same protective gear as the operator of the motorcycle.

3. Passengers should receive a safety briefing (see #7 below).

4. Passengers should consider themselves a second operator and share responsibility for safety.

General Safety Considerations

1. You need to be experienced in the motorcycle’s operation and have a safety-oriented attitude before taking on the added responsibility of carrying a passenger.

2. Practice low-speed clutch/throttle control as well as normal and emergency braking in a low-risk area like an open parking lot, with a passenger.

3. Use caution in cornering and develop cornering skills over time to ensure passenger comfort and safety.

4. Use caution in corners as clearance may be affected.

5. Use MSF’s Search, Evaluate, Execute strategy (SEE) to increase time and space safety margins.  You should be using this strategy whenever you are on your motorcycle, solo or with a passenger.

6. Allow time for a passenger to adjust to the sense of speed and the sensation of leaning; speeds should be conservatively safe and reasonable until a passenger acclimates to the proper riding techniques.

7. Ensure passengers follow safety procedures:

a.  Complete personal protective gear is properly in use.
b.  Hold operator’s waist or hips, or motorcycle’s passenger hand-holds.
c.  Keep feet on footrests at all times, including while stopped.
d.  Keep hands and feet away from hot or moving parts.
e.  When in a corner, look over the operator’s shoulder in the direction of the corner.
f.  Avoid turning around or making sudden moves that might affect operation.

8. Allow more time for passing.

9. Be ready to counter the effects of wind.

10. Avoid extreme speeds and dramatic lean angles.

11. Be ready for a passenger “bump” with their helmet or with their whole body sliding forward during hard braking.

12. Start the motorcycle before the passenger mounts.

13. Have the passenger mount after the motorcycle’s stand is raised and the motorcycle is securely braced. Hold the front brake lever if the surface isn’t level.

14. Have the passenger dismount first.

Some new passengers may be tempted to counter lean in a turn, especially a sharp turn. Many accidents are caused by passengers ‘leaning’ in the wrong direction. Whenever we have a new rider as a passenger I tell them to just move with the motorcycle.  If there is a back rest on the motorcycle I instruct them to just remain in riding position, with their back against the back rest. They will lean WITH the motorcycle and will not try to intentionally lean. As long as the passenger maintains riding position behind the driver, holding onto the drivers waist will aid in this, turns will not be a problem.

As an operator of a motorcycle you may overlook what is obvious to you. Don’t forget that many passengers are not experienced and may not understand all the dynamics of operating a motorcycle. Just go over a lot of common sense issues and don’t worry if they get offended, better a little ruffled feelings then physically hurt in an accident!

Ride Safe!

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