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

Tips for Two-Up Riding

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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 pillion.  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 rider safety at risk.  Here are a few things experienced riders have learned to make the two-up riding 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 occasionally 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 to record tour sights without the need for those pace-breaking photo stops.  Of course, there is a time for picture taking, and it’s not while enjoying 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 occur, like dropping the bike or hurting the pillion or rider, so why not start off on a good note. Here is a technique that works. The passenger should ask if it is ok to get on the bike. That may sound odd, but when this happens all parties are aware of what is about to happen and can prep for the action. The same could be said for dismounting.  An experienced pillion will place a hand on the rider’s shoulder when they want to get on, this allows the rider 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 and clunky shifting does not lend itself to building trust. There will be times when sudden action must be taken, to avoid an accident or for the safety of both parties, but these actions should not be the norm. Ride smooth and your pillion will gain more trust in you and in turn enjoy riding more.

If you have not picked up the hint, the rider’s goal is to keep the pillion 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 them gear that fits and will be the most protective for them. Nothing ruins a ride and dampens the spirit of a pillion more than not having the right gear. When the rains come, correct fitting rain gear is a game changer. If the temps drop, having a good set of warm riding gloves will make for a great riding experience. Take the time and spend some money on riding gear. Your pillion 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


Many pillion riders feel safest with something behind them to rest against. Besides being a great place to store things, a top box is an easy way to make the ride more enjoyable for a passenger.  For those who often ride two-up, adding a back support or top box is an easy decision.  Communication devices have changed the two-up game.  Comms have enhanced two-up riding more than anything one can have added to the bike. The ability to communicate with just a touch of a button is a true game changer.  On top of conversations, comms also let pillion riders listen to music or even talk on the phone when the mood strikes. Even on long stretches of many miles without ever keying up and talking to each other, having the option to talk is a great feeling.  When the passenger wants to stop for that much needed bathroom break, they can make it happen with a mere push of a button.  A communication system is essential for a great two up riding experience.


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, if riding tank-to-tank without a stop is normal when riding solo, a pillion may not agree and want a short break every hour or so just to get off the bike and stretch.  Breaks don’t have to be long, but a few minutes off the bike every so often works well to keep everyone happy.  Both rider and pillion need to be flexible as things will come up that need to be addressed.  Don’t be surprised if 10 minutes after a stop, one or the other has to stop again.  It happens. Roll with the changes as a favorite group used to sing. Understand when tensions are on the rise. If arriving at the destination in the dark is stressful, work together to do everything possible to avoid that situation. If riding in high winds or on the interstate for any extended amount of time is not comfortable for rider and pillion, then change course if needed.  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, doing the small things listed above are not a chore.  It is 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 written by Jerry James,, and originally published by the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association. 

Republished with permission.

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