Two-up motorcycle touring takes patience and practice, here on a comfortable BMW K 1600 GTL. Photo courtesy of BMW Media Relations.

Two-Up Riding Tips

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Couples have enjoyed riding together ever since the first motorcycles took to the road.  But riding two-up, or with a pillion as it’s formally known, is not always fun for rider and passenger.  Yes, everyone enjoys the riding part of the two-wheeled experience; however, there are times when two-up riding can create frustration and possibly put everyone’s safety at risk.  Here are a few things experienced motorcyclists have learned to make the two-up experience a great one.

Keep Your Pillion Involved

Ensure your passenger knows a few key details before heading out on a ride. First, let them know the route, possible stops and how many miles between stops. Having a sense of the general plan allows the pillion to be part of the ride and an extra pair of eyes to point out upcoming and sometimes missed turns.  It’s not advisable for all pillions to do this, especially those new to the two-up lifestyle, but the pillion can take an active role in documenting a ride.  A passenger who is comfortable on the bike can take uniquely framed pictures of touring sights without the need for those pace-breaking photo stops.  Of course, there is a time for picture taking, and it’s not while leaning into a spirited ride on a twisty road. The more involved the pillion is in the ride, the more they will want to continue to ride.

Mounting and Dismounting

This may seem like a simple action, however getting on and off the bike is a dance and one that can end up with toes being stepped on if rider and pillion are not on the same page. This simple act can cause a number of bad things to happen.  For example, dropping the bike or hurting the pillion or rider. 

Here is a technique that works. The passenger should always ask if it is OK to get on the bike. That may sound odd, but by asking all parties are aware of what is about to happen and can be ready. The same can be said for dismounting.  An experienced pillion will place a hand on the rider’s shoulder when they want to get on, this gives the rider a chance to say “yes” or “hold on a second.” The pillion also taps the rider on the shoulder before starting to dismount.

Communication is key and works well to avoid mistakes.  Find out what works best for you and follow the same routine every time. It will make for a great start and end to any ride.


Be Smooth

Be composed when accelerating, braking, shifting, and cornering.  It is the rider’s responsibility to make the pillion riding experience a good one. Being a pillion is all about trust.  Hard acceleration, clunky shifting, and hard braking do not build trust. Of course, there are times when sudden action is unavoidable but that’s the exception not the rule.  Ride smooth and your pillion will gain more trust and confidence in you.

Putting it directly, the rider’s goal is to keep their passenger feeling safe and having fun, thus increasing the likelihood of more rides together.

The Correct Gear

Ensure that your pillion has the correct gear to be comfortable on the ride. Spend some money and get gear that fits and will be the most protective for them. Nothing ruins a ride and dampens spirits faster than not having the right gear. When rain comes, properly fitting rain gear is a game changer. When temps drop, a good pair of warm gloves makes for a comfortable ride. Take the time and spend a little money on essential gear. Your pillion rider will thank you.

Motorcycle with rider and pillion in twisties
Winding through the twisties with a pillion demands more from the rider to keep it together. Photo courtesy of


A couple accessories make two-up riding better for everyone. 

Start with a back rest.  Many pillion riders feel safer with something behind them to push back against. Besides being a great place to store things, a top box is an easy way to make the ride more comfortable for a passenger.  For those who often ride two-up, adding a back support or top box is an easy decision.  

Secondly, new communication devices have enhanced the two-up game immeasurably. Having the ability to seamlessly chat without so much as pressing a button is a true game changer.  Rider and passenger can talk about sights along the way or debate when and where to stop next.  A communication system like the Cardo Packtalk Edge, is near-essential equipment for two up riding.   


It Takes Two

Remember that there are two of you on the bike. This means the rider has to adapt his or her riding style.  For example, riding tank-to-tank without a stop may be normal when solo but a pillion may want a short break every hour or so just to get off the bike and stretch.  Breaks don’t have to take long, but a few minutes every so often helps keep everyone happy.  

Both rider and pillion need to be flexible.  Something always comes up that needs to be taken care of.  Don’t be surprised if 10 minutes after a stop, one or the other wants to stop again.  It happens.  Roll with the changes. Understand when tensions are heating up.  If arriving at your destination after dark is stressful, work together to do everything possible to avoid that situation. If riding through high cross winds or on the interstate for any extended period is not comfortable for rider or pillion, then change course if possible.  Be flexible.

Have Fun

If you find that one person in your life who loves riding pillion, the one who wakes up on a Sunday morning and asks “where are we riding to today” then take advantage of it!  It’s like winning the lottery.  One gets to enjoy riding a motorcycle, creating memories together, and seeing great destinations with someone special.  It is an amazing feeling.  So, the small things listed above are not chores.  They are a privilege.

Motorcycling with a partner adds a whole new level of excitement to a touring adventure.  These practical tips will make the two-up riding experience less stressful, safer, and more fun for rider and pillion. 

This article was derived from a piece by Jerry James at and is used with permission.

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