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‘Two-up’ tips for motorcycle riding with a passenger

Added March 5, 2021
Two people riding on a motorcycle

Riding ‘two-up’ is one of the great simple pleasures of motorcycling, but both you and your passenger must know what you’re doing. Here are a few tips to make sure you both stay safe.

Preparing your motorcycle for carrying two people

Before you ask a passenger to climb aboard your Harley-Davidson® motorcycle, make sure your bike is prepared for the experience. Some models are extremely well-suited for carrying two people; other models less so. But if they’re adequately prepared and equipped, any Harley-Davidson® motorcycle can be used to carry a passenger.

Passenger seating

Make sure it’s either a seat designed for two people or a solo seat with a passenger pillion and grabstrap attached. This may sound obvious, but it’s important to point out that you should never, ever allow a passenger to sit on the rear fender, a luggage rack or any other part of the motorcycle not specifically designed for a person to sit on.

Footpegs or floorboards

Two things to consider:

  1. First, if your motorcycle was originally equipped with a solo seat, it probably didn’t come with passenger footpegs as original equipment. You’ll have to add them. Again, don’t allow passengers to rest their feet on any part of the motorcycle not designed for it.
  2. Second, make sure your passenger is capable of comfortably reaching the footpegs or floorboards, especially if he or she is of shorter stature or a minor.

Think about your suspension

You’ll get better performance (smoother ride and better handling) and comfort if it’s properly adjusted to carry the heavier load. Consult your Harley-Davidson® owner’s manual for details – and to make sure you don’t exceed the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Any ‘bottoming out’ you feel (or hear) while riding is a sign that your suspension is not properly set or your motorcycle’s load is too big.

Tire pressure

Similarly, make sure your tires are properly inflated (check your owner’s manual for specific tire pressure recommendations). A bigger load may require higher pressure. Remember: under-inflation can adversely affect the handling and reduce fuel mileage and tire life.

The motorcycle’s headlamp

One factor that’s easy to miss is the headlamp. That extra load on your bike can affect your headlamp aim by causing your motorcycle to sit a little lower in the back than usual. To check, sit on your bike with your passenger on the back and have someone else check the aim. Then make adjustments as necessary.

Preparing your passenger to ride two-up

If your passenger has never ridden on the back of a motorcycle, chances are they will need more education than you will.

Proper motorcycle gear and helmet laws

The first thing you’ll want to talk about is proper attire. The same rules apply to your passenger as to you. An approved helmet, long pants, over-the-ankle shoes or boots, proper eye protection, a long-sleeve shirt or jacket and gloves are all recommended. Regarding a helmet, make sure you know the local laws.

If your passenger is a minor, they may be required by law to wear one, even if you’re not. In addition, make sure your passenger doesn’t have any ‘loose ends’ that could get caught in any moving parts.

Avoiding the ‘hot stuff’

Also, instruct your passenger where the ‘hot stuff’ is: parts of the motorcycle that could cause burns when the engine is hot.

How to get on and off the bike

The next step is to talk about how to board the motorcycle properly. Instruct your passenger not to get on until you give the go-ahead. You should be solidly on board with the motorcycle upright, feet planted on the ground and the engine started.

Make sure your passenger only steps on the footpegs or floorboards. Also, do any maneuvers before your passenger boards.

Properly holding in while riding

Next, instruct your passenger on how to hold on properly. While sitting forward but without crowding you, have them hold on to your hips or waist. This makes it easier for you both to move as one with the motorcycle.

Shifting weight on turns

Once you’re under way, your passenger should know not to consciously lean while cornering. Instead, the lean should happen naturally as you turn. Instruct your passenger to hold on snugly and let the motorcycle do the work. A good technique for your passenger is to place their chin on your shoulder in the direction of the turn – but not consciously lean or shift any weight  as you go through a curve.

Preparing for stopping and starting

As much as possible, alert your passenger before stopping and starting, so they can brace for the change in momentum. Make sure they know to keep their feet on the footpegs or floorboards when you come to a stop – and to sit relatively still.

If not a rider, they may not understand the motorcycle is harder to control when stopped than it is at speed. Remind them that they shouldn’t put their foot down when the motorcycle stops. When starting from a stop, tell them to lean forward slightly as you accelerate.

Preparing for bumps

Likewise, try to warn your passenger before you hit a bump in the road. Instruct them to shift their weight ‘from seat to feet’ so that the legs, rather than the spine, can absorb some of the potential impact.

Passenger communication

Keep in mind, however, that your passenger may have trouble hearing you. Turn your head to the side and slightly back when talking to your passenger and raise your voice. Alternatively, invest in an electronic communication system.

Preparing yourself for companion riding

Once you’ve properly instructed your passenger in the nuances of riding on the back, your job is much easier.

Riding with a heavier load

If it helps, think of your passenger as just another load. The same rules apply. Remember that a heavier load will decrease your ability to slow down and speed up quickly – and this is more pronounced on a smaller motorcycle. Low-speed maneuvering is where you’ll feel the difference most keenly, so it’s essential to do as much as possible without the passenger on board.

Slow down and provide for more reaction time

Once on the road, it’s a good idea to ride a little slower overall and to be especially aware of the need to start or stop quickly. At intersections, wait for larger gaps in traffic when crossing the road, turning or merging. Also, maintain a larger space cushion around your motorcycle when riding in traffic.

Practice, practice, practice

Finally, be comfortable and confident before you embark on a long two-up trip or take to the streets for the first time. Find an empty car park where you and your passenger can practice riding together, or simply stick to side streets and low-traffic areas while developing your confidence.

The bottom line on riding two-up

When rider and passenger are on the same page, riding two-up can be one of the most enjoyable motorcycling experiences. It’s a great way to expose someone new to the joys of the sport or to get closer – both literally and figuratively – to someone you love.

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