Riding a motorcycle with a passenger can be a very rewarding experience. When done well, both rider and passenger move in sync, each understanding how to lean into the coming curve, both actively participating in the ride. I’ve had the great pleasure of running some of California’s mountain roads with a passenger and I can vouch first hand for the thrill of dual riding through the curves. It’s an experience I hope I never grow tired of, but it didn’t happen overnight; and it’s not without risk. Carrying a passenger is a serious undertaking with substantial consequences for even the smallest of mistakes.
Anytime you offer a ride to another person you are literally taking their life into your hands. We all know that motorcycling is a dangerous sport and most riders have come to accept the tradeoffs. But this is not a choice you can fairly make for another person. As such, it is incumbent upon you as an experienced rider to carefully outline the risks inherent in every motorcycle excursion. Passengers have a right to know what they’re getting into. Your commitment does not end there, however. Every moment of your dual riding experience leaves your passenger’s life in your hands, a responsibility I hope you will appreciate.
Everyone who rides a motorcycle has a legal duty to obey the law and to use reasonable care to avoid placing others at risk of harm. If you ride while impaired by alcohol or drugs, or if you are negligent or reckless, you risk civil and criminal liability. Riding with a passenger increases your legal responsibilities. If your actions result in injuries or death to your passenger you can expect to be sued for the harm you cause. Even though you have no intention of causing harm to your passenger or others, you must carry motorcycle liability insurance with sufficient limits to fairly compensate them and to protect yourself from an onerous judgment.
Before you ever set a passenger behind you on your motorcycle, you have a duty – both morally and legally – to make sure that your bike is up to the challenge. Many motorcycles don’t weigh very much compared to operators and adding a second rider can increase suspended weight substantially – as much as 15 or 20 percent depending on rider size. What’s more, the passenger usually sits well behind the rider compared to the bike’s front/rear balance point and may be perched higher up, changing the bike’s center of gravity.
What this means is that your tires, brakes, and suspension will all be working overtime to keep up with a passenger. Make sure your tires have real life left in them, your brakes have pad to spare, and your suspension is adjusted to compensate for the increased weight and shift in balance. Check your tire pressure, and make sure you’ve got plenty of oil and coolant in the engine. One often overlooked factor is the increased drag on the engine and drivetrain components that comes from adding an extra 100+ pounds to your load. While many modern bikes will handle the added weight with ease, there’s no arguing that the engine is working harder than usual.
Make sure your passenger is at least as geared-up as you are. While I recommend that both riders wear complete suits, boots, and gloves – and of course the legally required helmet – I realize that not everyone is following this advice. Whatever the case, you owe it to your passenger to ensure that they are protected.
I’ve seen far too many “girlfriends” perched on the back of a motorcycle wearing nothing but a tank-top, shorts, and a pair of flip-flops while the male driver sits comfortably protected by a jacket, boots and gloves. It’s a sexist stereotype that needs to end. Nobody wants to crash but you and your passenger need to dress for the event or suffer the consequences. There’s nothing sexy about road rash.
Communication and Training
A good passenger knows how to ride, and has prior experience as a passenger. If you’re taking a newbie it’s a good idea to start slow and to make sure you talk over the ground rules with them. Work out a communication strategy such as a specific shoulder tap that will let you know that your rider needs you to pull over. Great check lists can be found online so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.
I’ve seen motorcycling articles recommending that the passenger not lean with the rider as this can result in over/under lean and cause accidents in turns. I’ll be completely honest; I don’t think this is true. If you are to have any hope of riding well with a passenger you and your passenger must learn to ride together as one unit.
More than Leaning
Of course there is more to riding a motorcycle than leaning into corners. There’s acceleration, braking, object avoidance, and rough roads with which to contend. In most of these situations, you absolutely will feel the extra weight of your passenger. Even with a light passenger there is no doubt every time you hit the brakes. The bike seems to resist stopping. The front suspension dives much further and the front tire reaches its limit of traction much faster.
When riding with a passenger you will have to exercise special care. Stop sooner and more gently, feather the clutch more carefully on acceleration, and don’t take off too quickly unless you’re sure your passenger is prepared. Once, as a teen riding my friend home from school on a Triumph Bonneville, he very nearly fell off the back of the bike when we left the line at a stoplight. From then on I make sure my passenger is aware of the color of the stoplight and that we are both prepared before we accelerate.
Your passenger should understand the rules of the road and should have some driving experience at a minimum. This will allow them to appreciate changing road conditions and to do their part to help out in difficult situations. If your passenger is paying attention, they’ll see the sudden stop looming as soon as you do and both of you will be braced and ready. If your passenger is not watching, a sudden swerve or stop can toss them into your back causing you to lose your grip on the controls and crash. It’s hard enough to hold yourself off the handlebars during a quick stop; you may not be able to safely handle an extra 100+ pounds crushing unexpectedly into your back.
Riding with a passenger is likely to highlight your own shortcomings as a rider. Sloppy clutch work, lurching stops, or wobbly curves are going to become very apparent. Slow down and work on smoothing out your process. Take extra care with the clutch and brakes and work harder at holding a steady line. The nature of a live passenger is such that their shifts in position, caused by your sloppy driving, can often aggravate your mistakes, turning little slip-ups into unnecessary crashes.
With a Permit
In California you are not permitted to carry a passenger without a full M1 license. This means that if you only have a permit you risk getting a ticket if you carry a passenger. I would advise against new riders attempting dual riding anyway, it requires too many skills new riders likely will not have developed yet.
If you and your passenger have the skill, dual riding can be a blast. But, make a mistake and you put two lives at risk instead of one.
If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, as a rider or a passenger, contact California motorcycle accident attorney Don Sjaarda at (714) 963-8216 for a free consultation without obligation.