Pillion in t-shirt

Pillion passengers represent only about 6% of motorcycle casualties, but their injuries are likely to be severe.

Compared to licensed riders, unlicensed riders are twice as likely to be carrying a pillion passenger when they crash (6% vs 11%). These crashes are also more likely to be associated with alcohol (28%).

In the MCC survey of motorcyclists (de Rome et al, 2002), only 19% of riders said that they regularly carried a pillion passenger, 56% said occasionally and 23% said they never carried a pillion. Riders were also asked about the protective gear normally worn by them and their pillions. The results showed that pillions and riders were likely to have similar protection to the upper body in terms of jackets and helmets, but pillions were less likely to have motorcycle boots, gloves or pants or any sort of body armour. See graph Protective clothing.

As occasional passengers, it is perhaps not surprising that pillions are often less likely to have adequate protective clothing, but it is a serious safety problem.

Riders need to be aware of their responsibility in relation to their pillion passengers.

  • Insist on adequate protective clothing for your pillion
  • Be aware of the changed handling characteristics of your motorcycle when carrying a pillion
  • Review your own riding attitudes and skills.

The difference a pillion makes

  • Lower ground clearance in cornering
  • Changed braking feel and performance
  • Different suspension and steering movements.
  • Smoothness required in gear changing, braking and cornering.

Suspension and tyre pressures need adjustment to compensate for the additional weight and to return the ride height.

Pillions who are not experienced may cause problems for the rider shifting their weight unexpectedly.

A pillion may crowd the rider on a some motorcycles. This can be awkward under heavy braking and in slow speed manoeuvring. On a short wheelbase machine, the weight shift to the rear can result in some steering instability under certain circumstances.

Instructions for pillions

  • Align your body with that of the rider
  • Grip the grabrail, or hold the rider at the waist and grip with your knees under braking
  • Pick a shoulder to look over and don't change shoulder or wriggle about when cornering or braking, although this is fine at other times.
  • Stay quite still as the motorcycle is coming to a stop, to aid the rider's ability to feel the balance of the machine.
  • Keep your feet on the footpegs at all times.

Instructions for riders

  • Prepare your motorcycle correctly
  • Know how to adjust it
  • Know your cold tyre pressures
  • Take care of your pillion
  • They trust you, don't let them down