Our ‘My First...’ series offers easy-to-remember advice in a bullet point-style for a selection of first times on a bike; from the first time you get a puncture to the first time you change your oil, we’ve got some top tips to help you out.
Taking a pillion is a test of your riding. Get it right and you can trigger a life-long love of bikes. Get it wrong and they’ll hate bikes (and possibly you) forever. Here’s how to be a pillion-friendly rider
Get your head right. If you’re tempted to show them how absurdly fast your bike is, or to scare them for a laugh, or to demonstrate that you should be in MotoGP, have a word with yourself. Your mission is not to impress them, but to make them love bikes, and love going on the back of your bike. And the way to do that is to start slowly, ride smoothly and build up speed gently. Better to leave them wanting more than stomping off in a huff. If you doubt what a hellish experience being a pillion can potentially be, ask to go on the back of a lairy sportsbike-riding mate.
Adjust your bike. If you’re doing more than a few miles, add 4-6psi in your rear tyre (check the manual for an exact figure), and crank up the front and rear preload (again, check the manual for a guide). You’ll also need to adjust your headlights if you’re riding at night. If your pillion is light and the bike is heavy, this is all less important than vice versa. If you’re carrying a big unit on a sportsbike, you’ll need to sort the preload or it will handle atrociously.
Don’t just stick your pillion on the back and head off. You need to give them a quick chat first. It is absolutely crucial they understand how to keep themselves (and you) safe. The main thing to tell them is to lean with the bike in corners. Some pillions will try and stay vertical which makes the bike very hard to steer – not ideal in a corner. Your aim is to get your pillion to relax, sit still and do nothing but enjoy the ride.
Tell them what to hold on to. If your pillion is particularly attractive, you may be tempted to offer yourself as the primary grab handle. The problem with this is that they’ll smash into the back of you under braking, which is both painful and embarrassing. If there’s a grab rail, get them to hold this with one hand (to resist braking forces), and put the other round your waist (to resist acceleration). If you’ve got a top-box, so much the better, as they can rest against this under acceleration.
Check their kit. Ultimately, if they’re an adult, it’s their call. But you’re the expert, and if they turn up in a bikini and woolly gloves, you probably need to have a word, particularly if they’re called Derek. Decent gloves, sturdy boots and a leather jacket are the minimum. Offer earplugs too – the wind noise can ruin a ride to the uninitiated. And if you’re wearing a rucksack, give it to them, otherwise it’ll just get in their way.
Think about your riding style. The key thing is to look as far ahead as possible and plan your ride. This means the pillion won’t feel any sudden braking or acceleration, because nothing takes you by surprise. Ride like this and you can still go fast, make plenty of overtakes, and generally have fun, but it won’t feel stressful to the pillion. Your aim should be smoothness, not speed.
Check in with the pillion regularly, especially in the first 10 minutes. Besides making sure they’re ok with the acceleration, braking and cornering, you need to make sure they’ve managed to flip the visor shut, aren’t freezing to death or have somehow dropped a foot off a pillion peg.
Enjoy! Skillfully luring someone into the world of bikes is something to be very proud of.