Riding Pillion: Everything You Need To Know

Motorcycles are great. They can take you wherever you want to go, they’re good for your health, and they’re even more fun to ride with a pillion. But since there are several things to consider when taking passengers, it can often be a daunting prospect.

That’s why we’ve created this handy guide to make sure your first ride with a passenger is memorable for all of the right reasons!

In this article, we’re going to look at setting up your motorcycle for a pillion, adjusting your riding style, choosing the right protective gear, and more.

First, though, let’s take a look at whether you’re permitted to take a pillion passenger in the first place.

riding with a pillion

What License Do I Need To Carry a Pillion?

To carry a pillion in the UK, you must hold a full motorcycle license, including the A1, A2, and A motorcycle licenses.

Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) is not a substitute for a full motorcycle license and does not make you eligible to carry a passenger.

What Does The Law Say About Taking Pillion Passengers?

In addition to holding a full motorcycle license, you must be insured to take pillions as well. Riding with a passenger could invalidate your insurance if you’re not permitted to do, so make sure your policy covers this!

You also need to make sure:

  • Your motorcycle is designed to take passengers (fitted with a pillion seat and footrests).
  • Passengers can comfortably sit astride the motorcycle and securely hold onto the grab handle.
  • The passenger is wearing a suitable, well-fitting helmet.
  • The manufacturer’s maximum weight limit for the motorcycle is not exceeded.
  • Parental consent is given (if you’re taking a child on the back).

How To Set Up Your Motorcycle For a Pillion

If you want your first ride with a passenger to be as enjoyable as possible, it’s a good idea to make sure your bike is set up correctly. Here’s what you need to check and adjust:

1. Suspension

Unless you’re only riding around the block, adjusting your front and rear preload to account for the extra weight is a good idea. Failing to adjust your suspension for a passenger will usually result in poor handling and an uncomfortable ride.

We recommend consulting the owner’s manual for a complete set of instructions.

2. Tyre Pressure

Increasing the pressure of your rear tyre will further improve the handling when riding with a pillion. As a general rule, you’ll want to increase the pressure by around 5psi, but look to your owner’s handbook for more details.

3. Headlight & Mirrors

Carrying a passenger will make the rear of your motorcycle run lower, which can have a knock-on effect on the headlight’s aim. Adjusting the angle of the beam can help improve visibility for riding at night or in poor conditions.

Depending on the size of your passenger, you may also need to adjust your mirrors slightly for a better view.

Does My Passenger Need To Wear Protective Gear?

Your passenger is not legally required to wear protective gear (other than a suitable helmet), though it’s highly recommended.

At the very least, you should ensure they’re kitted out with a good helmet, gloves, a jacket (preferably leather) and a decent pair of jeans. If you’re struggling for inspiration, consider checking out brands like Motorcycle HQ, which offer insightful gear reviews and product round-ups.

No exceptions should be made when it comes to safety, regardless of how short the journey is!

Remember ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time).

man putting on motorcycle gloves

Communicating With Your Passenger

Communication is critical when riding with a pillion. If you’re taking someone new along for the ride, make sure they understand the basics of road positioning and are aware of their responsibilities. These include:

  • Leaning with the rider when turning.
  • Avoid mounting/dismounting without the rider’s knowledge.
  • Ensuring they have a firm grip.
  • Following the rider’s instructions at all times.

Regardless of how experienced your passenger is, it’s a good idea to establish a set of simple gestures. This will allow you to communicate safely and efficiently with each other. For instance, tapping the rider on their right shoulder if you need to stop.

If you’re looking for a more modern solution to staying in touch, Bluetooth communication devices are more accessible than ever.

Like the Sena 30K, for example, some models can even be used for music and navigation on longer journeys as well.

Adjusting Your Riding Style

Now is not the time for harsh throttle inputs, getting your knee down, or attempting a dodgy overtake. Remember, you’re carrying a pillion, and their well-being is your responsibility.

Unless you’re on a racetrack, the goal is not to get to your destination as fast as possible. Adopting a slower, more cautious riding style will allow your passenger to gradually build up their confidence and enjoy the experience.

For more in-depth advice, here are our recommendations:


In corners, it’s common for inexperienced passengers to lean against or further than the rider. This can lead to a loss of control, so make sure they remain relatively still and level with you at all times.

As for you, the rider, you’ll want to reduce your overall lean angle and approach corners slightly slower than you typically would. The extra weight will inevitably make the steering heavier, so try to be as smooth as possible when changing direction.

Also, keep in mind that the extra weight will make slow-speed manoeuvres like filtering and U-turns more challenging.


Accelerating with a pillion will require more effort than usual, though it’s important not to get too carried away. Try to accelerate smoothly and progressively rather than yanking the throttle to avoid upsetting the bike’s balance or your passenger!


Stopping distances increase with a passenger, but the rear brake becomes more effective due to the extra weight over the back tyre.

Hammering on the brakes last-minute could also cause your passenger to slam into the back of you, which could be disastrous.

The key takeaways are slowing down sooner and using the rear brake more than you would riding solo.

Changing Gear

Learning how to change gears seamlessly is an important skill to master. However, it becomes crucial with a pillion.

Being able to move through the gears smoothly without causing your passenger to flail about is vital. For instance, downshifting too quickly and failing to rev-match could completely throw you and your passenger off balance.

Final Thoughts

Riding responsibly with a pillion is all about communication, preparation, and skill. Following the advice in this guide will not only keep you safe but ensure you and your passenger enjoy the experience.

Enjoyed reading this article? Consider checking out our blog for more helpful information.