Opinion: Gearing up your passenger

I’m sure we’ve all seen it before: a rider is properly geared up head to toe while their passenger hangs onto their waist wearing precious little protection. An old helmet, a pair of shorts, sandals, and a tank top. Last summer, I straight up scolded a rider for not sufficiently outfitting his girlfriend after I came upon a grisly scene. He’d dumped the bike in a turn, leaving them both sore and bloodied. We recommend All the Gear All the Time (ATGATT) for riders, but the same goes for passengers. As the pilot of the machine, the responsibility of the passenger’s safety falls on your shoulders.

You may be asking yourself, “What if I outfit them in gear and they hate riding?” I get it, you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on something that may only be used once. You can always sell it. Or break up with them and find someone who’s into riding and wears the same size. Either way, you’re better off buying it and not using it again than not buying it and wishing you had. Investing in proper riding gear can hurt the wallet, but skin grafts don’t exactly tickle either.

We may seem preachy, but we practice what we preach. I recently started dating a lovely woman who had never been on a motorcycle before. She was interested in changing that, but we both agreed that it wasn’t going to happen unless she was wearing proper attire. Being a tall drink of water, the existing female gear I had wouldn’t fit the bill.

Good gear isn’t cheap and cheap gear isn’t good, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t affordable options. At the very least, you’ll want a helmet, jacket, gloves, jeans, and footwear that covers the ankle. You could always borrow some pieces, as long as quality and fitment are good. If they like it, you can always upgrade piece by piece later.

An open face helmet may provide better visibility for someone who isn’t accustomed to wearing a helmet, but a full face will offer more protection. An impact is the main consideration, but getting hit square in the face with a rock or a bug will be particularly shocking if it’s never happened before and they are already ill at ease. I’ve often heard people ask, or pose the question on forums and Facebook groups, “How much should I spend on a helmet?” My response is, “How much is your head worth?” I would normally suggest buying a new helmet rather than borrowing, but I happened to have a quality AGV helmet lying around that fit perfectly and is only about a year old. Being my own, I know it has been well cared for. Whenever I hand someone a helmet, I always make sure to impart the wisdom that it’s good for one impact. If it falls off the seat or they drop it on the ground, it is no longer a helmet – it’s a doorstop.

How important is a helmet for your passenger? Well, how much is their head worth?

Gloves are a must and as we’ve mentioned before, denim is the minimum, but you can do better. We opted for Aurora straight fit armoured jeans. The aramid reinforced stretch denim is heat and tear resistant, with removable C.E. approved armour. Wearing proper pants is obviously important for the passenger to prevent road rash, but their legs are also more likely to come in contact with a hot exhaust pipe than yours. Ditto for feet and ankles, so we chose a pair of Glorious and Free riding shoes. As someone new to the sport, I didn’t think that being concerned with breaking in a new pair of stiff boots would be best for the first go around. I wanted her to be comfortable and able to enjoy the ride.

Riding shoes should offer suitable grip and protect the ankle.

A good riding jacket will offer protection in all forms – particularly from the road should the unthinkable occur, but also from the elements. The Heartbreaker 12 comes at a decent price but offers adjustability and ventilation for comfort, along with shoulder, elbow and spine protection.

Important factors in choosing a riding jacket: fit, comfort and protection.

Taking the time to walk through the fundamentals of Riding two-up, I showed her where to put her feet and arms, along with how to brace herself in case of an aggressive stop. Thankfully she knows how to drive a manual transmission, so she was the first passenger I’ve ever had that didn’t head butt me when I changed gears. We took it easy on the first day, casually riding around the city and stopping at a takeout window for lunch. My goal is always to ensure that a passenger enjoys themselves enough to want to go for a second ride. I think we were successful, so it looks like the riding gear will get more than one use.


  1. I agree with your assessment of decent gear for your passenger & it’s a rule I have followed for every new passenger that I have taken for a ride, especially their first ever ride on a motorcycle. My current lady had a boot that covered her ankle, I had to purchase a helmet as my “spare” was too big & grabbed her some very slightly used Aerostich Darien pants & a Tourmaster jacket & yes gloves.

    Now her jacket is a KLIM, her boots were Alpinstar Stella boots & are now Sidi Adventure Gore Tex. Helmets are flip up, so no Snell Rating, but you can purchase a Snell Rated Helmet for right around $200, so not exactly expensive. Her gear is the same quality as mine is in every respect

    I respect your opinion to replace a helmet that has been dropped from a handlebar or seat, but as mentioned above, even Snell says that is not or may not be necessary

  2. “For impact testing, the typical test apparatus consists of a rig that drops a helmeted headform in a guided freefall to an anvil on the floor. You strap the helmet on the headform, turn it upside down so the helmet hits the anvil first and drop it onto the anvil. The helmet is oriented before each drop to test it’s most vulnerable areas. The variables in the test include the drop height and the shape of the anvil: flat, round, ridge-shaped, pointy or in one case a shape that simulates a horseshoe. Instruments inside the headform register how much shock the headform experienced.”

    Dropping an empty helmet off a seat will not cause internal deformation or compromise the shell integrity. If it does, you need a better helmet.


    • You want to take that chance? Go for it. You’re free to do what you like with your head and your helmet. I’ll continue to do the same.

          • From Snell’s own website –

            “I dropped my helmet! Do I have to buy a new helmet?
            Generally the answer is probably not. If your helmet drops to the ground from your hand, off a seat or handle bar of a motorcycle, you do not have to replace it. In general, the real damage comes when the helmet contacts an object with a head inside. However, helmets are one-use items, so treat them with care. Frequent dropping, or spiking a helmet on any hard surfaces may eventually degrade the helmet’s performance. Similarly if the helmet falls to the ground at highway speeds unoccupied, damage to the helmet may degrade its protective capability.”

              • My point is simple physics.
                If you’re drunk and fall off your bar stool you won’t hurt yourself nearly as badly as if you fall off a 10 story building.
                E=MC2 (remember that from high school ?), your helmet will not suffer so much traumatic damage falling off the seat of your bike as to be rendered unusable – Snell even says so.
                That’s fact, not editorialized fiction.

                • Thanks, I took science. Again – you’re free to do as you please. Some people ride without wearing a helmet at all and I support them. Everyone gauges risk differently. I think you missed the point that this was an OPINION piece and my OPINION remains that if I hand someone my helmet and they drop it, I don’t want it back. My justification is the same reason that if you drop a helmet at a bike shop, you just bought it. My head, my choice. Ride safely.

  3. “Whenever I hand someone a helmet, I always make sure to impart the wisdom that it’s good for one impact. If it falls off the seat or they drop it on the ground, it is no longer a helmet – it’s a doorstop.”

    On what evidence do you base this scientific hypothesis ?

    • This isn’t my opinion, this is based on scientific research, including data provided by Hong Zhang, the director of education for the Snell Foundation. Helmets are constructed from a variety of materials that are designed to absorb and disperse energy. Even a drop from 30-60 cm has been found to compromise integrity and effectiveness, regardless of whether visible damage is evident.

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