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Tips for Riding on the Back of a Motorcycle

When you ride on the back of a motorcycle, you have more responsibilities than if you were simply riding as a passenger in a car. For both your safety and the driver's, you'll want to learn how to be a passenger on a motorcycle. You don't want to be the reason why the bike is constantly off balance or the driver is distracted. Besides being a good passenger, you should know what steps you can take to protect yourself from the dangers of the road. 

As you prepare to ride on the back of a motorcycle, check out the following tips to know what to wear, how to act and how to improve your motorcycle passenger riding experience.

Tips for Riding on the Back of a Motorcycle

Sit Close to the Driver 

When you get on a motorcycle, don't be shy about getting close to the driver. You don't have to be entirely attached to them, but you should be close enough that you can feel their body language and mirror it. During a turn, for example, a passenger on a motorcycle should lean with them, so being close will help you both move in sync.

If you aren't riding a motorcycle that has passenger handlebars for you to hold onto, you'll also want to wrap your arms around the driver or grab onto their belt loops. By getting this close and making contact with them, you'll be able to better read the driver's body language and keep yourself secure on the bike.

Wear Appropriate Gear — Even as a Passenger

Just because you're not driving the motorcycle doesn't mean you don't need to dress like the driver. In most accidents, both the driver and passenger are in the same amount of danger. Due to the same potential for injury, passengers need to wear the same kinds of clothing that the driver wears.

Below you can find all of the essential pieces of clothing to wear while on the road:

1. Helmet

Of all the body parts you don't want to get injured, your head is likely at the top of the list. When you're on a bike, an accident can cause some serious damage to your head, especially if you're thrown off the bike or collide with something directly. Keep your face, skull and brain safe by wearing a helmet.

The protective ability of helmets is part of the reason why so many states now require both drivers and passengers to wear them on motorcycles. Regardless of whether or not your state requires them, you should have a helmet that meets the standards set by the Department of Transportation.

Besides protecting your head from concussions and scrapes, you'll also appreciate a helmet if you're not a bug-enthusiast. Unfortunately, bugs don't know how to stay away from bikes, and you'll likely run into a few on the road. Without a helmet, they're likely to land in your eyes or mouth. Keep insects out of your daily diet by wearing a helmet that covers your entire face. 

As you look to buy a helmet, you'll want to find a good fit. If it's too small, you'll likely be in pain while wearing it. If it's too big, you run the risk of it popping off during a crash. To ensure you have a good fit, especially if you're buying a new helmet or borrowing one from the driver, you can put it through the roll-off test.

To perform the test, start by fastening the helmet's chinstrap snugly. Once you've done that, grab hold of the back of the helmet, then forcefully pull it up and forward to see if it rolls forwards and then over your chin. If the helmet comes off during the test, the helmet will fail, and you'll need to find one that's tighter. 

The best kind of helmet is one that's full-face, meaning it covers your eyes and face. Although it might look like overkill, it provides the highest level of protection, which should be your top priority. If the helmet doesn't have any eye guards, you should wear goggles or glasses to protect your eyes from insects, dirt and other particles.

2. Jacket

Another main piece of clothing you need to have to ride on the back of a motorcycle is a jacket. In an accident, a t-shirt isn't going to cut it. A leather jacket is often the best kind to wear to keep your upper body safe

If you don't regularly ride on motorcycles, you might not have a leather jacket to wear. For those who can't afford to buy one or absolutely have to get on the motorcycle without one on, you should try to pick out a jacket that's made with the thickest material possible.

To increase safety while you ride, you can get a reflector jacket that other drivers behind your motorcycle will be able to see more easily. In inclement weather or at night, reflector jackets can be especially helpful to make the bike more visible. If you're planning on riding a motorcycle regularly, invest in a specialized safety reflector jacket or a full leather jacket.

3. Riding Pants

You also need protective pants when you get on a motorcycle. While they aren't ideal, a thick pair of denim jeans is much better than wearing shorts or other types of clothes that don't cover your legs entirely. 

To take your safety to the next level, you should check out pants designed specifically for motorcyclists. Leather pants used to be the go-to choice of bikers, but nowadays, you can find stylish jeans with Kevlar padding built into high-impact areas. Additionally, you can find attachable riding pants that can go over your regular pants.

4. Boots

Ever seen someone riding on a motorcycle with flip-flops on? Even those who don't know motorcycles can intuitively understand that flip-flops aren't proper footwear for a bike. However, they may not know that tennis shoes aren't appropriate either. Tennis shoes have been known to fly off in a crash, landing yards away from the person originally wearing them.

Keep in mind that your ankle bones also stick out a little farther than your feet, putting them in danger during a ride. As a passenger, your feet and ankles are going to be right beside the motorcycle tire that's spinning extremely fast. Making contact with it can be incredibly harmful if you don't have any ankle protection. Additionally, the wheel can kick up rocks that can hit your ankles. 

Your feet and ankles are also going to be resting close to hot exhaust pipes. If your foot slips or your ankle makes contact with these pipes, your joyride might be interrupted with a painful burn. With all these dangers, you need footwear that can protect your ankles and feet. 

Boots are your best bet when you want to keep your feet and ankles safe either from the motorcycle or an accident. While there are specially made motorcycle boots you can buy, a pair of heavy work boots can be just as effective, as long as they cover your ankles. A good boot should stay on securely and provide thick padding to your foot and ankle.

5. Gloves

If you're thrown off of a bike, the first thing you're going to do is put your hands forward to try to reduce the impact on the rest of your body. Putting your hands in front of you when you fall is instinctual, and as such, you need to protect your hands. Wearing protective gloves can take some of the damage off of your hands in an accident. Get yourself a pair of motorcycle riding gloves to wear while you're riding on a bike.

6. Don't Wiggle or Shift Unexpectedly

When you're riding as a passenger in a heavy car with four wheels, your movements aren't going to do a lot to affect the vehicle's handling. However, since the average weight of a motorcycle is around 600 pounds, a passenger's movements can affect the vehicle. The two wheels of a bike, combined with the weight, means that passengers need to be mindful of how they're moving on the bike.

The most important rule you should follow is to not shift or wiggle unexpectedly. Keep in mind that any movement you make is going to be a surprise to the driver. Surprise shifts or wiggling from the passenger can cause the driver to lose the bike's balance. A loss of balance can make it hard for the driver to control the bike. This lack of control can sometimes even make the bike tip over, which could cause some serious injuries.

While it's hard to sit still on a bike, especially on a long ride, it's important to reduce your need to move around while riding. When you first mount the motorcycle, take a moment to find a comfortable place to sit, where you won't feel the need to adjust every few minutes to get comfortable again.

7. Prepare for Turns and Stops

Unlike a car, you need to be aware of what your body is doing during stops and turns. When you come to a stop, you might feel pulled to lean all your weight onto the driver's back. However, the pressure of leaning so much weight onto the driver can cause the bike's balance to be thrown off, leading to a loss of control. 

Instead of leaning forward, you should lean back towards the bike's backrest. If you don't have a backrest, you can put your feet on the foot pedals to help you stabilize yourself and your weight, without having to rely on the driver.

For turns, you should try not to fight them. When a bike makes a turn, it will angle entirely to one side, which can cause inexperienced passengers to think they need to try to stay upright. The feeling of being so close to the ground while moving so fast can be hard to wrap your mind around, but you need to fight your instinct to maintain proper balance. 

When the driver takes a turn, you shouldn't try to lean into the turn either. Instead, let your body be neutral, where you're not fighting or leaning into the turn. By staying neutral, you help the driver maintain control over the motorcycle, as they can predict how you're going to move each time they hit a turn. As you're riding, ensure you don't lean too much into one side of the bike, since it can upset the bike's balance.

8. Be an Active Participant

Since the passenger's actions can affect the driver's control over the bike, you need to take an active role in ensuring that you're not doing anything to make the driver uncomfortable or hurt their ability to guide the motorcycle. 

One of the ways you can be an active participant while riding is developing a way to communicate with the driver while you're both on the road. However, it's unlikely that you'll be able to hear each other on the highway. Since you can't talk, it's important to develop a way to communicate with each other. 

Many drivers and passenger duos will come up with some hand signals to communicate quickly while on the road. The signs usually signify information like telling the driver to go faster or slower or letting them know you need to stop or that you're okay. If you really want to be able to communicate with the driver during the ride, you can set up Bluetooth communication devices that feature earphones and a mic.

Another way you can be the best passenger possible is to be on the lookout for danger. The driver has a lot of information to process while they're driving, so a second set of eyes is always helpful to point out hazards and other dangers. Possibly the best thing you can do is to discuss with the driver what you can do to be helpful. This way, you know that you aren't distracting them with information they don't need.

9 Have Fun!

Most importantly, remember to have fun. Hitting the road on a motorcycle is a feeling like no other. As a passenger, you get to share that experience with the driver, so have fun with it! Take in the feeling of being on the road and the freedom it brings. Maybe even start thinking about getting a bike of your own.


Learn More About Our Learn to Ride Program and Reach Out Today!

If you're ready to go from a passenger to a driver, the Harley-Davidson® Riding Academy New Rider Course offered at Peterson's Harley-Davison® is designed to help new riders get ready to take a bike out on the open road. Our H-D certified coaches will provide drivers with expert advice and teach you essential rider safety skills in a classroom. Additionally, you'll get hands-on experience, taking a motorcycle out on the practice range to learn breaking, turning and other maneuvers.

Visit our Miami or South locations to enter our Learn to Ride program and get all the tools you need to drive a motorcycle with confidence. Have any questions? Contact us today, and we'll be happy to give you more info about our Learn to Ride Programs and motorcycles. 

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