How To: Ride Two-Up

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There was a fair bit of healthy chatter following the publication of this week’s Opinion piece about riding two-up, so we felt it worthy to revisit in greater detail. Hopefully the following tips will come in handy for both rider and passenger whether you’re newbies or seasoned veterans. We’ve all picked up the odd bad habit over the years, so it never hurts to have a refresher either way. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments section if there’s anything you think we’ve missed, or you have helpful tips you’ve picked up along the way.

It should be taken as a great compliment if someone agrees to be a passenger on your motorcycle. Riding may be second nature to you, but they are placing a great deal of trust not only in your ability to ride, but also to practice sound judgement. As the owner of the machine, it is your responsibility to ensure a passenger’s comfort and safety. I know of someone who takes great delight in scaring the pants off his passengers. Unsurprisingly, he’s the only one who is ever amused by this.

Know when to say no
We’ve probably all been there. You arrive at a cottage or house party and tip back a few cold ones, maybe even have a toke or two (Hey, it’s legal now!) and someone asks to go for a ride. As much as you may not want to disappoint someone by turning down a ride, knowing that it’s time to park the bike for the night could save everyone a lot of trouble down the line. Fatigue, bad weather, risk of wild animals at dusk, or the impairment of drugs and/or alcohol are all suitable reasons to suggest a rain cheque.

This goes for solo riding too, but it is even more important when you have a passenger.

Gearing up
As the common saying goes, “Dress to slide, not to ride.” That applies to the passenger too. This can be a challenge because the odds of a non-rider having proper gear are slim. I made an investment in buying spare gear a few years ago which has come in handy many times. Helmet, gloves, jeans, jacket and boots should be enforced. Laces are not ideal. If they are present, make sure they are secured tucked in. Of all the gear, proper helmet fit is most crucial.
The importance of wearing proper riding attire isn’t just due to the possibility of a collision or interaction with the road, but on most bikes coming in contact with a hot exhaust pipe is far more likely for the person who is sitting on the back. For longer trips, ensure your passenger is suitably prepared and outfitted for temperature fluctuations and inclement weather.

This outfit isn’t seen as politically correct attire for a motorcycle show anymore, but it also isn’t ideal for riding.

Preparing the bike
It should go without saying that the motorcycle in question ought to be in good mechanical condition. Running out of fuel or experiencing a breakdown isn’t an ideal situation at the best of times, but it definitely isn’t the way to get a repeat passenger. Ensure fuel is topped up and tires are properly inflated, while grab rails and passenger pegs are secure and in place.

Loud Pipes
Jeans and boots aren’t just to protect from road rash, but also hot exhaust pipes.

Preparing the rider
How to secure and remove a helmet may be a foreign experience. So too may be the operation of the visor. If someone hasn’t been on a motorcycle before, they may not be aware that most have a manual transmission. I make sure to explain a motorcycle’s controls so that they know what I am doing and why I am doing it. This also lowers the probability of getting headbutted the first time you roll the throttle forward to change gears. I also make sure to suggest some “Rules of engagement” so to speak. This stems from a former passenger startling me by waving frantically in my peripheral vision. How could she have known that pointing out a field of cows would have frightened me unless I’d prepared her.

I also share a few helpful hand signals to communicate with each other. If they’ve never ridden with you before, knowing what is going on or being prepared for something coming up will help keep them at ease. I encourage them to enjoy the scenery, but also pay attention to the road ahead. Being an active participant will reduce the odds of an issue if you need to initiate any kind of unexpected or abrupt maneuver.

Discuss the route, hand signals and rules of engagement before setting off on the ride.

Getting on and staying on
I always do a quick walkaround of the bike even before a passenger gets on, showing them the exhaust pipe(s), rear wheel, pegs and grab rails if equipped. I then climb on and let them follow suit. Let them know they shouldn’t put their feet down at stops. I find that leaving the bike on its side stand helps to keep it more stable while they find their positioning. Advise your passenger what the options are for holding onto you. They should obviously be told to avoid grabbing onto your arms. I typically suggest a secure area on my jacket and recommend they use their thighs to squeeze my hips if needed.

Rather than simply telling your passenger to “Relax,” perhaps suggest that they keep a fluid, neutral position as you ride to help keep the bike balanced. They’ll start to get the rhythm but don’t be afraid to provide some constructive tips.

On the road
Make sure you’re both on the same page about where and how long you’ll be riding. Unexpectedly getting on the highway when they merely anticipated a tour around the block is not a fun surprise. Avoid jerky movements whenever possible. The added mass of a second person will impact the acceleration, braking and handling of the motorcycle. Throttle inputs and clutch release will require a smoother, more deliberate touch and braking will take longer. This obviously varies based on the motorcycle. When riding solo, it is customary to have only one foot down at stops, but I typically place both feet firmly on the ground when riding with a passenger in case they adjust their position, or I lose my balance. The centre of gravity will be higher and once it’s gone, it’s gone. If you’re going on a longer trip, having a passenger will negatively impact your fuel economy so plan gas stops accordingly.

Best case scenario: your partner enjoys riding so much that they go out and get a motorcycle of their own.

Riding on a motorcycle together can be an intimate, relaxing experience, but if not done correctly it can be terrifying. A light squeeze or pat on the thigh every now and again doesn’t hurt in showing you are thinking about them and appreciate their presence. Stop every so often to check on their general comfort and satisfaction with the level of speed. With any luck, you’ll get a thumbs up, and a big grin when the helmet comes off at the end of the trip. My goal with every first ride is to ensure that the passenger wants a second. If they enjoy the experience enough, they may even be inclined to get a motorcycle of their own. And two motorcycles are always better than one.

Join the conversation!