Riding with a pillion

How To… keep your pillion happy.

First and foremost:
How many times have you come across a pillion wearing just a basic helmet and casual clothing, while the rider is geared in a proper top-of-the line helmet and leather gear. We don’t see any reason to treat your pillion like this because he/she is as vulnerable as you during an accident. So make sure you keep the pillion well kitted out with a good, safe helmet and protective gearing. The same goes for having wet/cold weather clothing available if necessary.

The bike:
All bikes come with adjustable rear suspension. Before going on a ride with a pillion, ensure that you increase the pre-load to compensate for the weight increase over the rear wheel. This will also keep the bike’s steering geometry right by keeping the rear end from bottoming out, apart from keeping a check on the overall ground clearance of the bike. If you are one of those lucky riders to have a bike with adjustable front suspension, then extra preload plus a little more compression damping will help reduce fork dive during hard braking when the extra weight is transferred to the front end. Also let the grab-rail be there. It is fitted there for a reason!

Novice pillions can be nervous pillions. Talk to them and try to relax them. Speak to them about how to get onto the bike without putting the whole weight on any one peg, where and how to hold the grab-rail. Assure the pillion its OK for him to speak up, or even shout if necessary, if they aren’t comfortable with the way you are riding or with the speeds you are keeping. During stops, do talk to them about the same. (Don’t do this!) As a rider, the pillion’s well-being is your responsibility. Stay away from antics like getting the knee down, as this may make the pillion nervous. A sudden shift in their body  could easily lead to a loss of balance.

Explain to the pillion how to shift their body weight, for example, as the rider begins to brake, lean or accelerate. It’s better for them to look straight at you from behind and let it all happen naturally. Do pillions lean with you in the corner? Yes, but just a little. They should lean at the same angle as the bike makes with vertical or just a little more (into the lean). Overleaning or underleaning affect the balance of the bike. The best way for a pillion not to bang into you under hard braking is to grip the tank. But don’t forget to tell them to hold on to the grab rail or to your waist too, in case you are likely to accelerate immediately.

Pillion specific bikes:
Generally speaking, sports bikes such as the Fireblades or the latest Ninjas are not as comfortable as other bikes. They fail to take a pillion’s needs into account. But still, any bike with pillion foot-pegs and a rear seat will be able to carry a pillion, although not necessarily in a comfortable manner. Put yourself in the pillion’s place and you’ll definitely plan more stops for stretching your legs. If you ride often with a pillion, it’s better to take along the passenger while you are out shopping for a bike so that you both can choose a bike which can keep the pillion happy. Also, if the bike has a more flexible engine, it helps as you don’t have to shift up (or down) too much and this protects the pillion from sudden jerks. Among Indian bikes the best equipped from a pillion perspective are the Enfield Bullets, the Hero Honda Karizma and also the Yamaha Fazer. And almost all Indian bikes come with grabrails fitted as standard.


Bike India Team – who has written posts on Bike India.

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