Menu Close

Two-Up Riding

Two Up Riding – Hints, Secrets, Things to do or not to do

From: David Brick <>
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 07:10:06 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 2 Aug 1999, James Colburn wrote:> Having finally found someone that wants to ride with me (no, she’s not made of plastic…..) and having had only a little experience riding with a passenger I ask:

> Is there a web site or other source of information on riding two-up? Hints, secrets, things to do or not to do?

Congratulations! I’ve found (almost) nothing better than a willing and eager traveling companion.

I know of no web site dealing with two-upness. The things which come to mind for me are:

1) You’ve another person depending on you; I find I ride more conservatively when I’ve a passenger.

2) The combo now weighs a *lot* more. You won’t accelerate or stop as well. Plan ahead.

3) Smooth acceleration and deceleration are more desirable, as you don’t want the pillion’s helmet banging into your own.

4) Your passenger should be as well-dressed for riding as you are, as they’re exposed to the same hazards.

5) Make sure you have clear communication about when your pillion may mount and dismount. The MSF curriculum teaches that the engine should be started before the passenger mounts; my own experience (with easy-starting bikes) is that it doesn’t matter as long as the passenger is prepared for the noise and vibration.

6) Passenger keeps feet on pegs *always.* Looks over rider’s shoulder, and leans with the bike.
David Brick Santa Cruz CA BMW R11RSL RA MOA BOOF etc

From: David Brick <>
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 09:02:28 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 2 Aug 1999, Gil Jones wrote:>> 6) Passenger keeps feet on pegs *always.* Looks over rider’s shoulder, and leans with the bike.

> I have to disagree … I don’t want the passenger leaning AT ALL !!! I want to control the motorcycle w/o anyone influencing it even by wiggling their head. When I can move the bike’s path in a turn just by moving my head a little, I sure don’t want another input to that!

I think we’re saying the same thing, Gil. I agree completely that passenger wiggles are to be avoided at all cost. By “lean with the bike,” I mean the passenger’s COG does not change relative to the bike: when the bike is upright, so is the passenger; when the bike is leaning, the angle between the passenger’s torso and the bike does not change at all, just as for the rider.

On “looking over the shoulder,” most passengers aren’t secure unless they can see forward, at least a bit. Clearly it’s wildly inappropriate for a passenger to move his head during a turn; in reality, I think it’s necessary to allow the passenger some freedom to move so he can see. Just as the rider’s control inputs must be smooth, so much any passenger movement.
David Brick Santa Cruz CA BMW R11RSL RA MOA BOOF etc

From: drbob<>
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 11:17:39 -0600

Having made something of a career of introducing people to passengering, I have a few suggestions.

1. Most importantly, you are trying to ensure she has a good time, not demonstrate to her how exciting it is. Make sure she knows this and knows that you want feedback if she is uncomfortable with any aspect.

2. Corollary. Start off slow and ask if she wants to go faster. I’ve had people who want to go really slow and people who want to see what the bike will do. Only the experience and communication will get this right.

3. It will take a little longer to stop. Passengers tend to move around and you may have to correct for this. On a topheavy bike, such as a K-bike, you need to be a little careful coming to a stop. Tell her not to try to help at stops.

4. Ask her if she wants to learn to ride.


From: WURTY <>
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 10:48:21 -0700

first things first

do not show her your advanced riding skills and scare the hell out of her or she will never go with you again.

second. Tell her not to even wiggle when you start going slow such as approaching a stop.

Have her lean with you when riding. Do not allow her to counter your leaning moves with hers. ride as a pair, lean as a pair.

Hope this helps you. Remember she is a woman and will do what ever she wants. LOL

wurty (Mark Wurtenberger)

From: Richard Rohlf <>
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1999 22:12:48 -0500

FWIW, my wife is also of the “I’m happier to ride behind you” persuasion. After ten years of riding (including our honeymoon) two-up on bikes, I have a few tips.

Sigh… I wish BMWMOA had a site where you could review past articles…

There was a SUPERLATIVE article in a recent BMWMOA Owner’s News about two-up riding. Send me your address and I’ll photocopy it and send it to you. (BMWMOA officers: if this is a sin for violating copyrights, let me know and I’ll buy Russell a membership, or whatever it takes to make it right.)

Main thoughts:

1) Make sure she knows how to brace herself from behind so she doesn’t come planting herself on your back during an emergency (not a “panic”) stop. You *have* practiced emergency braking, haven’t you?

2) Make sure she knows to look over your shoulder to the inside of the turn; i.e. when turning left, look over the left shoulder, and vice versa.

3) Make SURE she knows to keep her feet ON THE PEGS at a stop. You don’t need her “helping” you to keep the bike upright.

4) At low speeds (or stops), make sure she remains neutral; don’t lean either way.

5) If she needs your attention, let her know it’s ok to be clear: as the article said (bad paraphrase ahead) “if you need to go to the bathroom, say ‘Stop at that Texaco!’ Don’t say ‘If you see a place to stop in the next 30 minutes or so…'”

6) Learn her how to mount the bike: from the left, foot on the peg, hand on your shoulder, and after clearance from you, swing on.

7) If you haven’t already done so, take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider’s course. Every two years. You will learn something new every time.

8) Be extra careful: you’re riding for two now. It will take longer to stop, accelerate, do anything. Keep that in mind.

9) Tell her to enjoy herself. It can be some of the best times you’ll have together.

Best regards,
Rick Rohlf
Round Rock, TX

From: Dave Swider <>
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1999 23:36:19 -0400

Tina and I rode together for 15 years before she decided that she’d rather sit in front on her own bike.

We always had a set of hand signals and signs that made things easier.

Suggested signs and important communications:

  • A nod from the rider means it’s OK for the passenger to get on.
  • A nod from the rider means it’s OK for the passenger to get off.
  • The passenger squeezing the rider with her thighs means the rider is going faster than the passenger is comfortable with.
  • The passenger reaching around and touching the inside of the rider’s thigh means the passenger has to pee. Poking the rider in the thigh means I HAVE TO PEE!
  • The passenger pointing down the road and then holding the palm of her hand up, as if asking a question, means how much farther.
  • The rider pointing down the road, holding up two fingers and then jerking a thumb means two more exits.
  • The rider pointing down the road, holding up two fingers and then pointing at the road means two more miles.
  • The rider pointing down the road, holding up two finger, then a clenched fist, pointing at the road, then putting the open palm against the side of the helmet means, 20 more miles and we’re done for the day.
  • Numbers may be indicated by two methods, the normal holding up one through five fingers to indicate one through five (duh), to indicate six touch the little finger with the thumb, to indicate seven, touch the ring finger with the thumb, to indicate eight, touch the middle finger with the thumb, to indicate ninetouch the index finger with the thumb (but don’t make it look like OK) to indicate a zero, make a clenched fist. The other method is that if a four fingers are held out and the hand is held low, it means four. If the hand is held high, it means nine. The second method is better for bike to bike communication.
  • The passenger reaching over the rider’s shoulder, holding her index finger straight up and twirling it around means, I saw a cop. Directional finger pointing can help clarify where.
  • Holding the hand with three fingers pointing straight down means, I think it’s gonna rain.
  • Rubbing the front of the body means, I’m cold.
  • The passenger punching the rider in the back of the helmet means “I didn’t like that you freaking moron. I’m getting my own bike so you can’t kill me!”

For more tips, try Whitehorse Press’ Motorcycle sign language.

Effective communication makes all the difference. A comfortable passenger is a fast passenger.


From: Colorado Jeff <>
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 02:12:44 EDT

First of all..everything is going to take a little longer..getting up to speed, stopping etc..Depending on her weight your riding style will be altered a little or a lot… My wife only weighs 98 lbs..but it does make a difference.

Practice is the key.. Turning..and learning how your passenger is going to react is another thing to get used to.. IF your SO is new to motorcycling, she’ll probably lean “against” your turns initially.. until she gets used to it..

Here’s a few tips to give your SO on being a passenger…

1) Always hold onto my waist. Don’t signal turns or any other bs..
2) DON”T get on or off the bike until I give you the ok. Good communication is key..
3) Tell her to look over your shoulder in the way you are turning.. i.e. look over your left shoulder when turning left.. That will help her get into the lean of the motorcycle.
4) Keep your feet (her feet) on the pegs at all times.

After she gets the hang of it.. (PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE..AT THE LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL PARKING LOT) she’ll start to naturally move with the bike and make your job a lot easier..

just my .02
Colorado Jeff

From: William Safford <>
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 02:52:34 -0400

Riding with a passenger is fun and rewarding. I do so all the time. However, there are a few things to consider before doing so.

First of all, how new a rider is “relatively new?” You should be a proficient rider when riding solo before you first take a passenger for a ride. Operating a motorcycle solo is complicated enough before you add the variable of a passenger. Not only does a passenger add weight to the motorcycle, but the passenger changes the weight distribution of the bike. These factors, in turn, affect how the motorcycle handles, rides, and brakes. In addition, a passenger is a dynamic load in addition to being a static load. (Your SO won’t appreciate being referred to as a “load,” but I digress. <g>) A passenger will move around. Even a minor fidget at an inopportune moment can have a deleterious effect on the handling of the bike; heaven help you if she panics in the middle of a sharp turn! You need to be skilled enough to be able to compensate for such events. Finally, you take on an additional responsibility when you take a passenger with you. Make sure you’re up to the task before you do so.

An excellent step towards becoming a proficient rider is through rider education. Since you live in the U.S., I recommend that, if you haven’t done so already, you take an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) riding course. Not only will it help you learn (or refresh) your riding skills, but it specifically covers the topic of carrying passengers.

(BTW, a K1200RS is a handful for a new rider. I own one, so I know whereof I speak.)

If you are a proficient rider (or once you become one), here are a few basic rules to go over with your passenger:

[The following is quoted from the MSF Motorcycle RiderCourse Riding and Street Skills Student Workbook:)

  • Always hold onto the operator’s waist or hips for stability.
  • Keep your feet on the pegs at all times, including while stopped.
  • Keep your hands and feet away from hot or moving parts.
  • The motorcycle operator sits in front. Help the operator by not trying to control the motorcycle. You can do this by looking over the operator’s shoulder in the direction of turns. Otherwise, avoid leaning and making any unannounced shifts of weight.

As the operator, you have a few rules, too.

  • The added weight of your passenger will affect your turning and stopping. Get used to the differences in handling.
  • Start the engine before your passenger gets on. Hold the front brake while your passenger mounts and dismounts.
  • Don’t try to impress your passenger with your skill and daring. For the new passenger, the greatest impression will be from a smooth, relaxed ride.

[End quote.]

Before you take your passenger on her first ride, remember to adjust your bike’s suspension and tire pressures to accommodate the added load. Where do you find out what those settings should be? In your motorcycle owner’s manual.

Make sure that your passenger is wearing riding gear that is at least as good as yours. The gear should comprise: a DOT-approved helmet, preferably full-face; over-the-ankle motorcycle boots; motorcycle gloves; motorcycle leather or synthetic jacket and pants or one-piece riding suit; and eye protection such as riding goggles (if not already supplied by the helmet, e.g. face shield).

Make sure that your motorcycle insurance covers a passenger. After a mishap has occurred is not the time to find out that you didn’t pay the $5 (or whatever amount) for the insurance rider (if needed) for passenger coverage.

As for the first two-up ride, I recommend that you choose a fairly benign stretch of road. Neither rush hour on the Interstate nor Deal’s Gap is a good first venue for your first foray into two-up riding. Choose a wide, open road with little traffic and lots of visibility. Take it easy at first. I’ve heard too many stories from people who were terrified by their first experiences on a motorcycle because the rider decided to show off. Be as smooth as you can, and take a moderate pace. Save diving into the twisties for another day.

Every passenger I’ve taken on the back of my K12 has remarked on the comfort of the passenger accommodations. I hope your SO finds the back of your bike comfortable as well. If not, there are mods that can be made to improve her comfort level.

Maybe your SO will, after a while, develop her own interest in riding. Maybe she’ll decide she doesn’t even like being a passenger. Maybe she’ll be content with riding on the back with you. Whatever happens, I hope you and your SO have fun riding together. Best wishes to both of you. Let us know if you have any other questions or comments.

–Will Safford

From: drbob<>
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 1999 11:23:04 -0600

The pure technique issues are obvious and trivial. If you need to worry about decreased braking/cornering ability you’re going too fast. Load the bike with a lot of weight if you want to practice.

THE issue is passenger comfort, of all kinds. Short trips, low speeds, uncrowded roads, and , most important, constant asking for feedback: “Is this OK? Are you comfortable?” Do _not_ try to demonstrate the thrills of motorcycling and the performance of your great bike until requested to do so. Just riding is thrill enough for new passengers. Do _not_ overcomplicate this with a lot of instructions on what to do, unless you know that she’s the kind of person for whom details=comfort.

For example my whole spiel on what to do is “Lean or don’t lean, but please don’t change your mind suddenly. We won’t crash, but I’ll have to compensate. Watch out for the hot muffler.” Everyone I’ve ridden has figured out how to get on/off pretty well, and to keep their feet on the pegs. No need for complicated signals on the first ride since it’s less than a half hour and I’m constantly talking to them. Daylong trips are a different story. I’ve given many their first ride with no noticeable problems.

Done properly you will have an eager and fun companion. Done poorly, she’ll want you to sell the bike.


From: Bill Grissom” <>
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 1999 21:06:34 GMT

My SO hadn’t ever riden before this year. Now we’ve spent some very enjoyable time together on the bike. We are still newbies, far from the hundreds of thousands of miles some on the list have done two up.

For us, the key to her having a good time is her comfort. There are a lot of things I can do to help in this regard.

I know this stuff is basic common sense, but here is what I’ve learned:

  • Before you ride, be very clear with her on what her responsbilities are as a passenger. Feet on pegs at *all* times. How and when you want her to mount/dismount the bike. How you want her to lean in corners, etc.
  • Find her a good, properly fitting, quiet helmet immediately. Nothing is worse (not to mention unsafe) than wearing a ill-fitting helmet. She might not even know to complain at first. I sent my SWMBO to buy her own with only some general guidelines from me. She settled on a Shoei RF-800 and her enjoyment ratio spiked upwards. Also, buy her a tinted shield with the helmet. My SWMBO really likes her Silks helmet liner. Should keep her helmet nicer inside, too. (I shamefully confess that we don’t yet have her a complete set of gear. Still working on that. She’s little, so fitting her has been a problem.)
  • Braking distance *is* increased. Planning ahead is even more important. Other than the obvious safety issue, her comfort is a factor. See next point.
  • Smooth is the key word. You have the advantages of knowing when shifts/speed changes are about to occur, you have handlebars to hold on to, and you have an unobstructed view of what’s coming. OTOH, she can’t predict when the bike may move in an unexpected manner, especially at first. Her vision is significantly impaired by your big, helmet-wearing melon. Shifting roughly or hitting the brakes hard jerks her head and body much more than your own. When you are alone, practice to see how smoothly you can change gears. 1-2 upshift is toughest for me.
  • Ride more conservatively than you otherwise might, especially at first. Make sure you get feedback along the way about how she is feeling.
  • Traffic may scare her. Heck, it scares me sometimes, too. Find some nice backroads with low traffic to ride while you get used to riding together. Just spend some time riding somewhere out of the way for a late breakfast or lunch.
  • Intercomms are really great for me. I know this is a thread unto itself, but it is great to have some capability to easily talk about how she’s doing, point out cool road sights, and hang-on warnings (“Train tracks coming, hang on”) will help.
  • Assume that she needs to stop long before you do. Her sitting position is more cramped than yours and she doesn’t have a lot of good choices on how to hang on and still be relaxed.
  • Pay special attention to slow speed manuvers. Your margin of recovery from a slight tip is greatly reduced.

That’s all I can think of offhand. There was a passenger carrying FAQ somewhere on the net, but I can’t find it again.

Good luck. Enjoy the ride.

Bill Grissom
Cary, NC

Date: Mon, 02 Aug 1999 13:44:36 -0600

I don’t know of a web site about riding two up. However, as an MSF instructor I have a few suggestions.

MSF does not specify a minimum amount of time before beginning to ride two-up. MSF just says get PLENTY of riding experience before taking on a passenger.

BE PREPARED for your bike to handle differently. It will accelerate slower, turn differently, and take longer distances to stop.

INSTRUCT your passenger about dangers (hot parts/flying bugs) and what to expect on her first ride. Passengers need to be reminded that the exhaust is HOT and that their feet are inches from a moving wheel. They need to keep their feet on the footpegs and let YOU balance the motorcycle at stops. Many inexperience passengers get freaked out when you lean you bike through a turn and try to put their foot out or counteract a lean. Tell her ahead of time that leaning is part of riding. Have your passenger look over your shoulder and lean with you.

RIDING GEAR for a passenger should be just as good as what you are wearing. She should have a helmet, jacket, gloves, boots and long pants.

If you make her riding experience a good one, she will probably soon be off the back of your bike and riding next to you on her own bike.

Chris Bell
Austin, TX

From: s brown <>
Date: Mon, 02 Aug 1999 12:40:14 PDT

I am a female rider who rode many happy miles as a passenger prior to buying my first bike 10+ years ago. I still like an occasional two-up ride to dinner (get to hold tight to my guy plus I get to drink wine with dinner if I want). My comments for the fellow who asked for advice on how to be a good host for a two-up ride:

a) provide the passenger with good gear. Borrow if you have to. Make sure the helmet fits, that they are warm enough, etc.

b) discuss riding first. talk about the physics of why the bike will be leaned over, and talk about where you want their weight, eg should they hold on to you or onto a grabrail, etc. A backrest is a good thing if you are doing long miles.

c) tell passenger to always get an OK from rider prior to getting on/off the bike. agree on a slow down/stop signal.

d) go somewhere scenic for the first ride, and stop at the overlooks. pack a lunch. make one more stop for restrooms than you think you need to. point out cool stuff as you pass it. pinch her knee once in a while and ask if she’s having fun. head home if she’s not. if she’s a good passenger, tell her so.

f)don’t ride like it’s a race and don’t lane split. As a passenger I always feel that my kneecaps will be ripped off by the rear fender of a car. much scarier than when I’m driving.


From: Jeffery Harth <>
Date: Tue, 3 Aug 1999 08:35:56 -0400

Hi there. OK, here are my $.03 worth…

I think the most important thing for a new pillion rider to know is that this ride is going to be all for them. They know my intention is for them to have a really great time and for the ride to be safe.

1. I let them know clearly that I am not interested in showing off what I, or the bike, can do. That can come later if they want. They mostly have control over my speed. If I am going too fast then they put a hand over my shoulder and motion with the palm down. If I can safely slow down, I will. A thumbs down and I pull over and stop. I always carry cab fare. The same motion, palm up, I will go faster.

2. Of course, telling them where to put their feet, looking over my inside shoulder, how best to hold on, don’t bang the helmets and if they do just laugh about it (they are always more important that my bike or my gear), that dropping the helmet is the one exception to the previous rule, and no you can’t ride on my bike with a bikini top and shorts.

I find that putting them at ease at having some control over how I ride makes a big difference. Without exception, they always motion with the palm up after about 15 minutes. After 30 minutes I am riding my usual riding style ( 7 on a scale of 10 for aggressiveness) and they are loving it. Of the 12 people I have taken for a first time ride, 8 have gone on to get their mc liscence (all women) through the MSF program, 2 are waiting for the next course (both women), and the last 2 keep bugging me for a second ride (both women, of course).

Oh, did I mention dinner, dancing, and a scenic overlook as a key part of the first ride? 😎

Jeff Harth

From: Jane Loyless <>
Date: Wed, 04 Aug 1999 11:13:26 -0400

I couldn’t reach the tank on my husband’s K11RS. I usually rode with my hands on his hips, and that seemed to work fine for me (I assume it worked fine for him – he never told me to do anything else). I only went to sleep once – it was a cool, sunny fall afternoon, and I had on a warm, black jacket. I drifted off just as he braked for a red light… Thank goodness there was a backrest! He yelled at me for a while, and I never did it again.

> One thing I haven’t seen mentioned… Besides riding
> within your own limits minus a few clicks, be sure to
> ride within you passenger’s limits as well. You
> don’t want to scare them half to death while they’re
> back there. A scared passenger is more likely to do
> something that will screw up the rider.

This is so true. The first time my husband took me out on his motorcycle, we just slowly rode along little back roads for about 15-30 minutes. No traffic, no sudden movements, no extreme lean angles, nothing to spook me, and just enough time riding to whet my appetite for the next ride. Took me about 6 months to decide I wanted my own bike.


From: Mark Novitz <>
Date: Wed, 04 Aug 1999 16:39:08 -0400

The ever-so lovely TLJ has been getting snippets of our two-up conversation, forwarded by me. (I’ve been particularly pointed about the “passenger feet ALWAYS on the pegs”, which TLJ has a tendency to omit at her leg-stretching convenience.) Anyway, Janey has a few thoughts of her own that she’d like to share. Mind you, she’s travelled somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 miles on the back of my motorcycle over the last 4 years or so…so, I’d think she knows what she’s talking about…

TLJ’s Passenger-Side Words Of Wisdom

1. Your passenger gets “butt burn” long before you do.

2. Little gifts every seventy miles make the ride that much more enjoyable.

3. Keep your passenger well-hydrated, you don’t realise how dehydrated you’re getting back there, doing nothing.

4. Assure her it is all right to sleep when she gets really bored. (Corollary: Backrest is a pre-requisite for long trips.)

5. She WILL bonk the back of your head at some point, so don’t be alarmed when it happens.

6. If you ever break down, lie about how long it will take to get a bike tow.

7. She doesn’t wear that heavy helmet as often as you do, so frequent neck and shoulder massages are recommended if you want her to ride with you again.

8. Tell her she looks great when she has severe helmet head.

9. Try to gas up before you pick her up.

10. Break her in before you take her to her first rally.

…from Jane, the back half of Mark Novitz

From: Rob Nye <>
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 19:23:33 -0500

A few ideas.

Get her a camelbak

Work out hand signals in advance. Touch me here I do this, etc.

Try to convince her to wear earplugs.

On the first day get her to take an Advil or aspirin before you leave.

Make absolutely sure her helmet fits right.

You didn’t mention what she would be wearing on her feet. This is important, get her boots and convince her to wear them.

Make sure she knows how to get on and off the bike.

For the long rides make sure she is involved in what is going on. Have her be prepared for stops and convince her that having you helmets bump is a BAD thing. It seems to annoy the driver much more than the passenger.

Take her out in a parking lot and show her what it is like when the ABS engages. Rear brake is plenty for the purposes of this demonstration. Show her what a swerve is like. Practice tight turns, figure eights and the like in the parking lot.

This one session will build her confidence that you can handle the bike with her on it and she will not freak if you need to make quick adjustments underway.

Have fun and most of all listen to her and look for signs that her fun meter is falling.


Rob Nye

Leave a Reply