If you're lucky enough to know someone with a motorcycle, you've got a free ticket into the exhilarating world of riding. But while it's fun and exciting to sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride, you'll be playing a more active role than you might think.
To be a good passenger you'll have to smarten yourself up on the basics of riding a motorcycle and learn to be in rhythm with the driver for a smooth, comfortable experience. If you follow these tips, the two of you should have no problem co-existing out there on the road.
Motorcycle riders know the ins and outs of their craft, but not everyone knows what it's like to sit in the back. This might end up being a learning experience for both rider and passenger alike.
Tip 1: DISCUSS WITH THE DRIVER BEFORE RIDING
It's important to discuss important points with your driver before you step onto the bike. This isn't a case where it's best to learn on the fly, because you literally put your life in the hands of the person you ride with.
You should have a pre-established way of communicating while on the road and run through any potential scenarios beforehand. The driver should go through the momentum and physics of motorcycling, which is very different from riding in a car and let you know what to do during turns and other situations.
We'll run through the specifics further below.
DO YOU TRUST THE DRIVER?
If you don't trust the rider, simply don't ride with them. They might be a beloved friend or relative, but if they're known for being reckless on the road then it's not worth the risk.
A few probing questions will tell you a lot about the driver. You can ask how long they've been riding for, or more specifically how long they've ridden their current bike for, which would ideally be at least three months.
Riding with a passenger requires some getting used to. The bike is heavier and won't handle as easily, so ask what their experience is with passengers. You might even ask about their crash history and if they ever have a cheeky drink before they drive, which is a good sign to not get on that bike.
Tip 2: WEAR APPROPRIATE GEAR AS A PASSENGER
Many people make the mistake of not wearing proper clothing when they ride in the back. The truth is when things take a turn on the road, you're in just as much danger as the driver and regular clothes won't cut it.
Riding gear is the only thing separating you from the ground. You might have seen plenty of people riding their motorcycles wearing just a t-shirt and sandals who seem to be just fine - don't risk it. Check out our crash stories if you want to know how effective motorcycle clothing can be.
NEVER RIDE WITHOUT A HELMET
A helmet is the most important piece of gear you'll need. In fact, both driver and passenger must legally wear them in Australia. This is because head injuries are common in accidents and have the most potential for serious damage.
If your driver has a spare helmet, great! Just be aware that riding helmets are built to absorb as much impact as possible in a crash, so they won't hold up over multiple hits. If you're handed a helmet that looks like it's been through a demolition derby, pass it up.
Your helmet needs to fit tight so it doesn't fly off in a crash. The roll-off test is a great measure for this: get someone to stand behind you and try to roll the helmet off your head by pushing up from the rear. If they can do it, that helmet is definitely coming off in a crash.
It's highly recommended to wear a full-face helmet. Open-face or three-quarter helmets won't protect your face/chin where around half of the head injuries occur. A helmet fit should be snug enough not to move around while you ride, but not so tight that it squeezes your head.
THE PASSENGER MUST WEAR A JACKET
A riding jacket won't just protect your whole upper body, but will instantly be the most stylish thing in your wardrobe. Jackets and motorcycles are a timeless combination that feels incomplete without the other.
It's important to wear a proper motorcycle jacket. Even your thickest top will probably get torn to shreds against the road. A riding jacket protects your shoulders, elbows, and back from the impact, especially when paired with armor pockets.
Thankfully, modern motorcycle clothing comes in a ton of variety. You can go old school with a classic leather jacket or choose something more contemporary like a denim jacket. With the current range of motorcycle jackets, there's pretty much something for everyone.
If you're hopping on a bike, leave your shorts at home. Your legs will be near some extremely hot exhaust pipes and fast spinning tires, so wear long pants to avoid exposing any skin.
A pair of thick, long pants is an absolute minimum, but regular clothing won't exactly do the job. A standard pair of jeans only protect you in a crash for 0.6 seconds according to the TAC, as opposed to 3.1 seconds with highly rated pants. Your knees and hips will definitely thank you for wearing the right gear.
If you've been dreading the thought of riding with leather pants then put your mind at ease. The latest riding pants look just like a pair of regular denim jeans while still providing unreal protection. Denim Pants for motorcycles come in most of the familiar styles of normal jeans, so they can easily double as casual clothes for wherever you're trekking out.
Since our ankle bones aren't covered by ordinary sneakers or tennis shoes, you'll need something on your feet that covers those precious bones. Your feet will also be close to the exhaust pipes and wheels, so any slips put you at risk of catching a sharp burn.
It doesn't have to be anything too fancy. While there are specially made motorcycle shoes, ankle boots or a pair of heavy work boots will still do the job. So long as they stay securely on the pedals and have nice, thick padding you'll be good to go.
If you want to take things a step further, riding gloves are a great way to keep your hands protected and maintain your grip. In an accident, you'll naturally stick out your hands, which can have gnarly results without protection.
Leather gloves provide the best overall protection, while summer gloves made with mesh produce airflow to minimize hand sweat.
armor pockets are essential for any rider. These will be included in any riding pants and jackets worth their salt. Slipping armor pieces over your joints and fragile body parts will give them some much-needed impact protection.
Getting on the bike is less straightforward than it might seem. If the passenger mounts without warning it might cause the driver to fall over, so communicate with them exactly how you'll get on.
This will include things like which side you're coming from, whether you can use their body to steady yourself, and if you're going to use the foot peg as a step or just swing your leg over. You also need an established way for your driver to confirm they're ready for you to jump on. All this applies to the dismount as well.
Your driver should show you how to rest your feet in the foot pedals and keep them away from the exhaust pipes. At a stop, you'll be tempted to put your foot on the ground, but the driver should be able to support the bike without your help. It's best to go over this beforehand so you both know what the other will do at a stop.
MAKE SURE THAT THE FOOT PEGS ARE THERE
It's important to never ride on a bike without passenger foot pegs. You might find yourself in a situation where pegs are in place for the driver but not the passenger, which is extremely dangerous.
If your feet are dangling then you can't brace yourself during stops, and your ankles are exposed to both the fast-turning wheels and hot exhaust pipes. Even sharing foot pegs with the driver will give them trouble shifting properly, because the gear lever is usually located near the footpeg.
Tip 4: DON'T WIGGLE ON THE BACK SEAT
A good passenger is one that's unobtrusive to the rider. Any sudden movement in the back will not only surprise the driver but potentially cause them to lose balance. Unlike riding in a car, momentum and balance are extremely important in motorcycling.
It can be tricky to sit still, especially on a long ride, so make sure you're comfortable from the start. When you first mount the bike, put yourself in a position that feels good and won't require much adjusting.
Tip 5: THINK ABOUT COMFORT AND SAFETY
Being comfortable is beneficial to your safety on a motorcycle. If you or your driver aren't in a relaxed position it will divert your attention from the road. Wearing comfy clothes and getting yourself into a nice, natural sitting position is a good start.
YOU MAY FEEL SLIGHT IRRITATION
Although it doesn't happen to most people, you may feel itchiness while sitting on a motorcycle. Strangely enough, it's often the vibration of the bike that causes it by stimulating circulation in your body that leads to itches.
Odds are it won't happen to you, but just be aware that it's totally normal. If it becomes so uncomfortable that you can't sit still, let your driver know so they can pull over and let you take a break.
ALWAYS SIT CLOSE TO YOUR DRIVER
You're probably quite comfortable with the other person on the bike, so hopefully, you don't mind getting cozy. You'll need to sit very close to your driver to be in tune with their body movements and react as they react.
It might some time to work out a sitting arrangement that suits everyone. Just sit as close together as possible, because at some point your helmets will bump together at a stop, and the less distance between them means less impact.
IT'S BEST TO TIE YOUR HAIR BACK
If you're a guy or girl with long hair, you'll want to put it in a ponytail or tie it back. This is not only the safest method but is often said to be the most comfortable.
The wind is extremely unkind to loose hair so keep it tied up if you want to maintain it. Loose hairs can also block your view, and it's important to see the road even if you're not driving, as we'll discuss further below.
Tip 6: BRACE YOURSELF FOR TURNS AND STOPS
When a bike makes a turn, it angles dramatically to one side. As a newbie, your instinct will be to lean in hard with the turn or pull back to fight it, both of which might result in a loss of balance.
The correct thing to do is stay entirely neutral while the bike is turning. Being so close to the ground takes getting used to, especially while the bike is moving so fast, but you should never lean too much to one side. This way the driver stays in control and is aware of your movements.
For stops, you'll need to stabilize yourself without leaning on the driver. There will be a natural temptation to lean forward, but this puts pressure on a driver's back which could throw off their balance.
When you feel the bike is braking or about to brake, lean back on the bike's back rest, or stabilize yourself with the foot pedals if the bike doesn't have one. This not only prevents helmet knocks but won't force the driver to scoot up.
Tip 7: MAINTAIN A GOOD BODY POSITION ON THE BIKE
Part of being a good passenger is to position yourself as naturally as possible. This will help the driver concentrate on the road ahead and keep both of you feeling comfy during long trips.
LEAN WHERE YOUR DRIVER GOES
As stated above, riders tend to lean hard into turns and anyone riding on the back will need to be ready for it. It's important not to fight the lean, but not to lean in too hard either. When the driver takes a turn, you want to gently lean in with them while keeping yourself centered with the motorcycle.
This will come naturally once you get a feel for how motorcycles move, so don't stress it too much. Just ask your driver exactly what they want you to do during turns so you're both on the same page.
KNOW WHERE TO PUT YOUR ARMS
The best place to put your arms is around the rider's waist, so hopefully, the two of you don't mind getting nice and close. Alternatively, you can put your hands on their hips or even the belt loops of their pants. Some high-end bikes might even include handlebars for passengers.
You should never hold on to the driver's shoulder for support because it has no grip and might yank them back. Whatever you've got your arms around, hold on nice and tight when the motorcycle takes off because the acceleration will initially throw you backward.
YOU MAY EXPERIENCE A FEW CRAMPS
Your body probably isn't used to sitting on a motorcycle and may cramp up at some point. This is especially likely on long trips, so make sure you communicate with your driver that they might need to pull over. Remember, any sudden movements on your end will throw off the bike's balance so don't wait until you're in agony to say something.
Tip 8: COMMUNICATE WITH THE DRIVER USING TAPS AND HAND SIGNALS
Speaking on a motorcycle is pretty much impossible between the wind and the roar of the engine. You might get a few words in at a traffic light, but you'll still be yelling over the sound of the motor.
You and your driver will need to establish some form of non-verbal communication. You'll need a signal to indicate if you need to stop, slow down, speed up or that you're doing okay.
It's best to keep these as simple and sparse as possible. Something like a tap on the shoulder or a thumbs up is straightforward and easy to remember in an emergency situation.
ALWAYS TELL THE RIDER IF YOU ARE UNCOMFORTABLE
It's great when your adrenaline-junkie friend invites you to hop on their bike, but when they take things a step too far then it's time to say something. There's nothing wrong with asking someone to slow down, and if they're a good enough person they shouldn't have an issue with it.
Tip 9: BE AN ACTIVE MOTORCYCLE PASSENGER
You're still going to be part of the action while sitting in the passenger seat. Sometimes this can be as simple as making sure you're not making the driver uncomfortable or hindering their concentration.
A passenger can also be helpful by pointing out dangers and hazards. There are a ton of things a motorcycle rider is concentrating on while driving, like merging cars and upcoming stop signs, so an extra pair of eyes won't hurt.
If you have a better idea of the destination in mind than your driver, pointing out upcoming turns and lane changes well in advance will make things a lot smoother. It will also potentially prevent an accident.
Just keep in mind that your form of communication needs to be agreed on before you step on the bike. Making signals up on the fly is both ambiguous and dangerous.
Tip 10: STAY SOBER WHILE YOU RIDE
With the previous point in mind, never jump on the back of a motorcycle if you're feeling tipsy. While you've probably been a car passenger while in all kinds of states, motorcycling is an entirely different beast.
As stated above, you're an active participant and the extra weight you bring will affect the bike's balance. A rider can only drive safely if the person in the back is alert and in sync with the bike's movements.
Tip 11: HAVE FUN AND MAKE SURE YOU'RE READY
Motorcycling is all about that rush of freedom and exhilaration, so remember to have fun out there. If it's your first time on a bike, just relax and prepare for the time of your life.
The key is in the preparation. If you're ready and aware of what you need to do, your first motorcycle ride should be a blast. Who knows, you might become addicted to the thrill of riding and start to think about getting your own bike.
Should a passenger on a motorcycle lean with the driver?
No, a passenger should never lean in with the driver. However, they will need to be in line with the driver's body when the motorcycle makes a turn. This can be confusing for newbies so we'll run it down.
When a bike makes a turn, a passenger leaning in any way will throw off its' balance. But you can't help but turn with the bike, right? As a passenger, you should allow yourself to move with the bike as if you were a part of it.
A simple way of achieving this is to keep your spine in line with the driver's. Holding their hips or waist is s good method. You can also try to imagine yourself as a piece of luggage in the back if that helps. Just hold on to the handlebars and surrender yourself to the bike's movements.
This will take some practice so don't panic if you can't get it straight away. In the time it will feel natural and you'll be doing it without any thought.
How do you get on and off bikes as a passenger?
Communication with the driver is important when getting on and off the bike as a passenger. Usually, the driver will get on first, but yours may prefer to jump on second. Either way, you should both be aware of exactly how the other person will mount the bike.
Always tell the driver when you're about to hop on the motorcycle. You might want to use the driver's body to steady yourself, which is fine as long as they know it's coming. Some people use the foot peg as a step while others just swing their legs over.
Getting off the bike is basically the same deal. Communication with the driver is still important because you both need to know who gets off first.
Is it hard to ride a motorcycle with a passenger?
It is hard to ride a motorcycle with a passenger if the driver has never ridden with anyone in the back before. Handling a motorcycle is affected by the extra weight of a passenger.
They'll need to be aware that the bike won't handle as easily. They should take things slow while getting used to the additional weight.
Is it safe to ride a motorcycle in the rain?
Both rider and passenger need to be mindful of riding in the rain. Turns need to be taken slowly, even slower than usual because of the passenger's added weight. Just like driving a car in the rain you'll need to be on high alert, even as a passenger, and be ready to communicate potential hazards to the driver.
Since you won't have the luxury of a roof or heating, you may want to consider some wet weather riding gear. An Armored Puffer Jacket will keep you dry and protected, and like a normal puffer, it goes with everything. Alternatively, you can throw an Anorak over the top of a riding jacket if the jacket doesn't offer much water resistance.
Can you buy motorcycle clothes for women?
There are plenty of stylish motorcycle clothes made specifically for women. A Denim Motorcycle Jacket is a winning mix of casual style and unbreakable toughness, especially when paired with skinny riding jeans.
These days you can ride in comfort and forget the change of clothes at home because your gear will look too damn good to ever want to take off.
Can I wear thick clothes instead of motorcycle gear?
You can’t just wear thick clothes as motorcycle gear. There really is no substitute for proper motorcycle clothing. According to the TAC, in a crash at 60km/h a hoodie will last just 0.03 seconds before the seams burst open, while a highly rated motorcycle jacket has 2.37 seconds of crash time.
Wearing the wrong clothes is a huge mistake that just isn't worth the risk. Thankfully the latest riding gear is so light and stylish that most people love wearing it anyway. A slick pair of denim riding jeans will go with just about anything, while the impressive range of motorcycle jackets and vests available is sure to please anyone.