Pillion and Pilot

In continuing celebration of Motorcycle Safety Month, we explore the joys of doubling up in the saddle – the pillion and the pilot, two minds on one bike. By planning a motorcycle ride for two, you can expect to have the best ride possible, especially if that means sharing the ride with the special person in your life. Grab your helmets and gloves, check pegs down, let’s go!

The person holding the handlebars is usually known as the pilot. But when you add a passenger – the pillion – it is important that both know what the other person expects during the journey, not just arriving at the destination.  The pillion is not baggage, and shouldn’t be along just for the ride. The two of you should agree on a destination, a reasonably flexible time frame, rest stops, fuel stops and possible points of interest that you would like to visit along the route. Both should have an equal say in planning the ride, and both should still be enjoying each other’s company at the end of the trip.

How much trust does the pillion have in the pilot for making the right decisions for keeping them upright and on course?  After all, the pillion is turning over all control of the ride to the pilot, so trust is ultra important.  A pre-ride discussion will allow both to express interests, needs and concerns, and should encompass a review of the following:

  • Destination and Route to follow
  • Rest stops along the way where you can stretch your legs or explore new environments
  • Motorcycle safety rules you will be following, including a crash course on imitating the pilot in leans, a review of hand signals and intercom communication, and how to avoid bumping helmets when decelerating
  • Procedures for safe riding, including waiting until you are seated, kickstand is up and the pilot gives the nod to step on the peg. This includes the pillion not removing his or her boots from the pegs until the motorcycle is completely stopped and engine is off, and placing hands around the pilot’s waist – not on shoulders and not on the seat strap.


These pre-ride discussions should take place before any ride begins, regardless of the miles traveled together. Remember, the journey is as important or more so than the destination.

Planning your trip also means carrying the right tools for the mechanical problems that can happen along the way, carrying the tools you normally use for maintenance and repairs on your bike at home. Even if you don’t do your own maintenance and repairs and your motorcycle does develop a problem, a good samaritan who knows how to use those tools may come along and get you back on the road again. Also carry a small roll of duct tape, electrical tap, zip ties, both a hand held and head mounted LED flashlight, extra batteries, various fuses, sharp knife, nitril gloves, clear safety goggles, disposable wet wipes, a flat tire repair kit and a small first aid kit. Three folding reflectors are helpful if a mechanical problem were to happen night.

Check the weather forecasts as well as road conditions along with any highway construction or hazards scheduled on your route. Dress for the weather and for the fall.

  • For the weather:  motorcycle_snow_smif cold temperatures or rain are forecast along the route, the wet and cold weather gear should be easily accessible if you anticipate riding through it. Dressing in layers is important for both comfort and safety. Knowing where your gear is packed will keep you from rummaging through the luggage or saddlebags when the thermometer plunges.
  • For the fall:
    MOTORCYCLIST_downMake sure your helmet is DOT-approved, wear abrasion-resistant textile or leather jacket, chaps or heavy denim pants, good quality over the ankle boots and full finger gloves. Boots should be broken in and comfortable for walking around, as you won’t always be sitting on the bike. Make note that fashion leather, suede or plastic boots do not provide protection from hot exhaust or asphalt in the event of a fall. Gear is the only thing that separates riders from the asphalt at high speeds that produce serious road rash.

GPS can make traveling a bit easier, but having a printout of the route will help mark the locations and telephone numbers of dealerships or repair shops along the route. Always carry a cell phone – turn off one of them to have a fresh battery.  Also, carry cash or your credit card in a handy place, like the outside zippered pocket of your jacket, to avoid having to search for your wallet.

Conduct a pre-ride maintenance of his machine – inspection the tires and correct tire pressure for the extra weight, adding preload tension to the shocks, oil, fluids and lights. If your machine has hard mounted luggage and saddlebags, take a moment to demonstrate how latches work. Also, point out the hot parts of a bike the pillion will want to avoid touching or stepping on.

Decide where you are going, how many miles you want to travel over what period of time, and how long you want to spend in the seat. Are you going on a day trip or will you be riding together over several days? You’ll want to assure the ride is comfortable enough to avoid fatigue and keep the enjoyment factor alive along the route. Maybe there are interesting places to explore along the way…… The key is to be flexible with motorcycle_couple_restingeach other and take into consideration different factors that will influence the ride: How’s the weather? What kind of machine will you be riding, and how comfortable are the seats? Are the riders older or younger – will they need more rest stops planned throughout the journey?

Fuel stops shouldn’t determine your choice of rest stops. Estimate your average mileage and then mark the location of gas stops along the way and save the rest stop for a more appealing location. A good guideline to follow: 45 minutes traveling followed by ten to 20-minute rest stops will keep the ride enjoyable. While each couple can pick the ratio of ride time to rest time, both travelers should agree to be flexible if something unexpectedly catches the other’s interest… tourist sites and taking picture-taking, shopping, eating, or even a quick nap on the grass – don’t forget your blanket! Don’t forget to remain hydrated and take in a few calories at stops to help to ward off fatigue and irritation commonly experienced on long rides.

Wired and Bluetooth communication is a nice way for couples to enjoy trips together. But unless the bike has electronic communication mechanisms, questions and answers on the road tend to be limited to one or two words. There is where pre-determined hand signals come in handy:

  • Slow down – tap on the shoulder
  • Bathroom stop – a quick squeeze to the pilot’s thigh
  • Need a drink of water – a cupped hand
  • Leg cramp – a clenched fist and slow down can be a tap to the shoulder.

If the passenger needs to stop immediately, create a signal you both will understand. A commonly-understood sign language can avoid lots of frustration and limit conversations that can distract the pilot while riding, especially when the pilot has to take eyes off the road.


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