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The Ultimate Guide to Riding Two-Up

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Perhaps the greatest compliment a rider can receive is that of a passenger wanting to ride with you.

Not only are they completely ignoring all the advice their mother gave them as a child, they’re setting aside sound judgment and quite literally putting their life in your hands.

If that sounds pretty intense, it’s because it is. Riding with a passenger can be an intimate, fun and enjoyable experience for both of you. But, at the same time, it can be extremely dangerous when not done so correctly.

Both rider and passenger have shared responsibilities to ensure each other’s comfort and safety. In this guide, I’ll take you through each step one by one. Don’t discount the latter of the list as less important. As you work your way through, each step holds as much importance to your safety as the former.

Tips for the Rider​


Riders – if you’re reading, you are not ready to be hitting the open roads two-up.

Chances are you’re a bit nervous, and a quick google search has brought you here.There’s nothing wrong with that – we all had to start somewhere.

In fact, you being here shows you’re taking the appropriate steps to becoming a responsible rider. Riding with a passenger puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders (or around your waist, depending where your passenger is holding on to). While nerve-racking at first, riding two-up is actually quite fun and a rewarding experience.

POV view of riding a motorcyclePOV view of riding a motorcycle

Before continuing on with the list, let’s have a moment of self reflection. Ask yourself honestly: “Am I ready for this?” If not – don’t sweat it. Take our advice below and translate that into real world experience before letting anyone get on the back of your bike.

Become an Experienced Rider Before Riding Two-Up​


We are going to touch on riding experience again as we cannot stress the importance of it enough.

If you are lucky enough to have someone who trusts you enough to get on the back of your bike, the least you can do is ensure you are up for the task. And by that, I mean make sure you’ve got the experience and the confidence to ride safely.

Riding a Harley Davidson Iron 883Riding a Harley Davidson Iron 883

Having a license class that allows you to ride with a passenger isn’t nearly enough experience. We recommend having at least 1 season’s worth of experience before you attempt to ride two-up – minimum. With this experience, you’ll have been exposed to numerous traffic situations and driving conditions that’ll help you hone your riding skills.

Remember, the idea is that both of you return home safe at the end of the day. The saying Better safe than sorry has never been more relevant.

Educate Yourself on How Differently Your Bike May Handle​


While riding two-up, anticipate that your bike will handle differently.

Initially, you’re going to notice a change in your bike’s handling. By adding weight to the tail, you may find it is less ready to steer on initial lean. Once turning, you may notice that the higher center of gravity can cause an abrupt dip.

Side profile of Harley Davidson Iron 883Side profile of Harley Davidson Iron 883

Not so surprisingly, the added weight will also affect how your bike accelerates, shifts, and brakes. While riding two-up, give yourself plenty of stopping distance and do your best to avoid situations where rapid acceleration is required.

If possible, I would recommend taking a few trips around a quiet subdivision before hitting open roads. Approach each maneuver as smoothly as you can to help ensure your passengers comfort. They should be able to stay completely neutral while under your control.

This trial run is also a great chance for your passenger to firm up on whether or not they actually want to go ahead with riding two-up. Be sure to check in with them before heading out onto the streets.

Equip Your Bike for Riding Two-Up​


You’re not going to get very far if your bike isn’t capable of supporting a passenger.

In order to ride two-up, you may be required to buy some additional parts for your bike. This may include:

  • A Two-Up Seat
  • Passenger Foot Pegs
  • Sissy Bar
  • Upgraded Suspension

On my Sportster, I had to purchase all of the above. I will link the parts I purchased below for anyone reading with the same bike. In addition, the manufacturers whose parts I purchased may have variations that fit your specific bike/model.

Saddlemen seat & sissybar on Harley Davidson Iron 883Saddlemen seat & sissybar on Harley Davidson Iron 883

Keep in mind that passenger safety is paramount. While we all like to save money, cheaping out on parts for riding two-up is not the place to do it. If you need to buy parts to ride two-up, ensure you’re purchasing from high quality manufacturers who aren’t going to risk your passengers’ safety.

Best Bikes for Riding Two-Up​


Let’s face it, some bikes are just not made for riding two-up. While some are too small, some may just be flat out too uncomfortable. I’m not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want to get on the back of a powerful sportbike.

If your bike falls in this category and you’re serious about riding two-up, check out our list of Best Motorcycles for Two-Up Riding. Each bike is broken down by specifications, skill level, highlights, and the ideal style of riding for each.

Educate Your Passenger About Your Bike​


Assume your passenger has zero experience with bikes and give them the complete run down.

What’s hot? Where should they put their feet? Do they get on the bike before or after you? Where do they hold?

As both beginners to riding two-up, these seemingly trivial questions may make a world of difference. You both need to be in sync for a successful ride. Here are a few key areas to cover:

  • Identify the areas on your bike that your passenger can and cannot touch
  • Show your passenger where their foot pegs are and advise them not to put their feet down when stopped
  • Educate your passenger on what to do, and what not to do, while riding
  • Develop a form of communication through hand signals or physical touch

Passenger mounting a Harley Davidson Iron 883Passenger mounting a Harley Davidson Iron 883

Another important area to cover is how you would prefer your passenger got on and off of your bike. For example, when riding two-up, here is the procedure I follow:

  • Start the bike
  • Put it into neutral with the brakes engaged
  • Firmly plant both feet on the ground
  • Signal to my passenger that they may get on

A similar procedure applies for getting off the bike. Fortunately, my passenger, Ashley, has longer legs which allows her to swing her leg over my backrest and plant both feet on the ground before mounting the foot pegs. This makes getting on and off the bike much easier for her.

Ensure You and Your Passenger Are Wearing Proper Gear​


Far too often do I see a pair riding two-up wearing nothing but a motorcycle helmet, t-shirt, shorts & running shoes.

We cannot express the importance enough of both rider & passenger wearing appropriate gear at all times. As an owner, we’d hope that you already have a full set of gear. If not, that should be your first priority before considering riding two-up.

Passenger on back of a Harley Davidson Iron 883Passenger on back of a Harley Davidson Iron 883

As for a passenger, wearing hand-me-downs may not be acceptable. Each piece of gear needs to be properly fitting otherwise the safety performance of said gear can be compromised.

Helmets​


A proper fitting motorcycle helmet requires a bit of research to find the best fitting shape & size for your head. Failure to do so can lead to a helmet that’s too tight, too loose, or one that triggers pain points leading to a splitting headache.

Helmet hanging on a Harley Davidson Iron 883Helmet hanging on a Harley Davidson Iron 883

We recommend full face helmets as they provide users with complete coverage. Once you know your size and head shape, it’s time to find one that suits your style. Luckily for you, we’ve already done the research and comprised a list of the Best Full Face Motorcycle Helmets for 2023.

Jacket & Pants​


Assuming you’d prefer your skin stays on your body and off of the asphalt, you’ll want to invest in a good pair of riding pants and a jacket. While many styles exist on the market, the two most common styles of motorcycle jackets are leather and textile. Each style is complete with its own unique pros and cons that will need to be weighed by the individual rider.

Female rider wearing a helmet and riding jacketFemale rider wearing a helmet and riding jacket

Leather is more abrasion-resistant to textile, and therefore we would always recommend it as the best way of protection. Check out our picks for the Best Leather Motorcycle Jackets for 2023 for sportbikes, cruisers and touring.

For pants, most riders can get away with a pair of real denim. They will provide some level of protection in a slide, but nowhere near the same level of protection as some of these riding jeans.

Boots & Gloves​


Finally, let’s talk about boots and gloves. I have 10 fingers and 10 toes. As I’m sure you would, I would prefer to keep all of my appendages intact and attached. Boots and gloves should not be overlooked. They are just as important as any other piece of gear.

TCX riding shoes on a foot pegTCX riding shoes on a foot peg

We use boots as a general term, but in fact many manufacturers make motorcycle boots designed as streetwear. The goal is to find a boot with a reinforced ankle, heel and toe as these areas are most likely to make contact in a slide. It’s also important to be wearing the correct size as a boot that’s too big can rip off and leave your foot exposed.

Female motorcycle rider giving two thumbs upFemale motorcycle rider giving two thumbs up

With gloves, we want to follow the same rule of thumb. We are looking for reinforced wrists and knuckles for impact/slide protection. Ideally, we want padding on the inner palm as well. Our list of the Best Adventure & Touring Motorcycle Gloves for 2023 is a great place to start for both rider and passenger.

Ride Slowly & Smoothly​


With experience, us riders begin to push our machines to their limits and attempt maneuvers we wouldn’t dare do before. We become comfortable at higher speeds and may build up a tolerance to the hit of adrenaline riding a motorcycle once gave us.

For a passenger, however, the complete opposite is true. With having zero control over the bike, posted speed limits will feel faster and more exhilarating than they do for you.

The-Ultimate-Guide-To-Riding-Two-Up-13.jpgThe-Ultimate-Guide-To-Riding-Two-Up-13.jpg

When riding two-up, always be courteous to your passenger and refrain from excessive speed or jerky riding. If your passenger’s helmet hits yours, that is entirely your fault. It’s also a great indicator that your riding needs some work. Practice smooth riding so that both of you can enjoy a comfortable ride.

Tips for the Passenger​


Passenger – the most important bit of advice I can give you is to make sure you absolutely, 100% trust the rider before getting onto the back of their motorcycle.

Do not put your life at risk. Take a moment of self reflection and ask yourself: “Do I really trust this guy?”

Do not take this question lightly. If you have any hesitation or doubt, you should not be getting on the back of that motorcycle. By doing so, you are quite literally putting your life in the hands of another.

If you’re still with me, let’s put the doom and gloom behind us and talk about the positive side. Riding as a passenger can be an adrenaline filled, yet relaxing experience. It may be a way for you to connect with your partner in a way you haven’t before. Afterall, what’s more intimate than unwavering trust?

Ask Questions​


Comfort and confidence is key to having a successful ride. If you have a question – ask it. A responsible rider will gladly answer it for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as how long have you been riding? Or have you ridden two-up before? These questions may help you decide whether or not you actually trust the rider.

Harley Davidson Iron 883Harley Davidson Iron 883

Aside from personal experience, ask the rider about their bike. Make sure they’re explained to you in detail how they’d like you to mount the bike, where you should plant your feet, and where to hold onto.

How long will you be riding for? How often will you stop? Unless you have an intercom system, such as the Sena 50C, you won’t be able to ask these questions when riding so it’s best to get them off your chest at the start.

Use Hand Signals​


I’ve touched on the importance of hand signals previously in my tips to riders, however, I feel it’s necessary to revisit it for passengers as well.

Whatever form of communication you devise before your ride is your only method of contact with the rider. Verbal communication is not possible without the use of an intercom system. Assuming you don’t have one, be as thorough as possible and try to think of potential scenarios that you’ll need to communicate.

Sena Intercom system installed on a Scorpion Covert FX helmetSena Intercom system installed on a Scorpion Covert FX helmet

At the same time, you don’t want to over complicate your hand signals and risk confusing the rider. Stick with the basics, such as stop, I’m okay, slow down, I need to readjust.

Remain Relaxed and Neutral​


As a passenger, it is important that you remain relaxed and in a neutral position on the road. By doing so, you can be physically in tune with both the movements of the bike, and the rider.

When turning, it is important to remember to keep your body in line with the bike and the rider. A good passenger will mimic the movements of the pilot. If the rider leans into a turn, so will the passenger to remain straight and in line with the bike.

Passenger on Harley Davidson Iron 883Passenger on Harley Davidson Iron 883

With experience, you’ll begin to predict how the bike’s movements will affect you. For example, bracing yourself when the motorcycle is braking will prevent you from sliding into the back of the rider and eliminate the need to readjust your positions. In addition, a slight lean forward with your weight over your hips will prevent you from sliding back while accelerating.

Sit Close to The Driver​


While remaining fluid and neutral, it’s important to position your body as close as you can to the rider. By being close, you’ll be able to better mimic their body language as they maneuver the bike.

Should the rider not be as smooth as you’d prefer, sitting close will help minimize impact between helmets or each other’s body when braking/shifting.

Two riders sitting on a Harley Davidson Iron 883Two riders sitting on a Harley Davidson Iron 883

Avoid Wiggling While Moving​


Wiggling while riding as a motorcycle passenger can have severe consequences. With only two wheels and an unsuspecting pilot, even the slightest movement can be amplified into a big problem.

Any sort of movement or adjusting will cause an imbalance for the motorcycle and rider. In this situation, the rider may lose balance and need to re-correct, or in the worst case scenario, tip the bike.

It’s possible you may get itchy or you may begin to cramp – we are all human after all. If you are unable to communicate this to your rider, it is necessary that you wait until the motorcycle is stopped before readjusting. Ideally, you will have a signal in place that lets the rider know you need to readjust so that they are prepared.

Wear Appropriate Gear​


I will not go into full depth on this topic again as I covered it quite extensively above.

It is important that both the rider and passenger are wearing appropriate motorcycle gear. This includes a helmet, jacket, long pants, gloves and boots. Motorcycle gear has evolved over the years and has become not only comfortable, but stylish as well.

Foot on passenger pegFoot on passenger peg

For all our male passengers, please see the above section on motorcycle gear for some of our favorites.

For all our female passengers, we’ve comprised a list of all of our reviewers top-picks here.

Making Your Bike a Two-Up Machine​


As mentioned above, I had to outfit my Sportster with a complete set-up to be two-up compatible. Expensive, yes, but well worth the money. Some days I almost prefer riding two-up over riding solo. With the right passenger, being able to share your riding experience is nothing short of awesome.

Saddlemen Step Up Seat​


First off, I had to purchase a new seat for my bike. After much research online, I settled on the Saddlemen Step-Up Seat. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to accommodate a passenger, I found it to be far more comfortable than my stock seat. Saddlemen make’s various styles & colours to suit your bike’s style.

Saddlemen Step Up Seat for Harley Sportster
Saddlemen Step Up Seat for Harley Sportster
Saddlemen Step Up Seat for Harley Sportster. Image Courtesy of Revzilla

Where to Buy​

Passenger Foot Pegs​


As a passenger, you should never get on a bike that doesn’t have foot pegs for you. Without them, you have no way to readjust yourself on the bike, and have zero support when bracing.

Drag Specialties Adjustable Passenger Peg Mounts
Drag Specialties Adjustable Passenger Peg Mounts
Drag Specialties Adjustable Passenger Peg Mounts. Image Courtesy of Revzilla

I bought my pegs directly from Harley Davidson as I wanted the best fit possible. With that being said, many manufacturers make quality alternatives which I’ve linked below. Be sure to input your bikes make and model for a guaranteed fit.

Where to Buy​

Sissy Bar​


For added comfort, I purchased a sissy bar from Harley Davidson. I wanted my passenger to be able to lean back and rest should they choose to. I didn’t care for the idea of having nothing behind them to stop them from potentially sliding off.

Burly Tall Sissy Bar for Harley
Burly Tall Sissy Bar for Harley
Burly Tall Sissy Bar for Harley. Image Courtesy of Revzilla

I opted for the Harley Davidson model as it had quick detach features. This would allow me to make use of my existing cover when storing the bike. I will admit though, I had my eyes set on a Burly Tall Sissy Bar due to its mean looks & high back pad. I’ve linked it below for those that are interested.

Where to Buy​

Progressive Rear Suspension​


I opted to upgrade the suspension on my Sportster for a smoother ride for both of us. While I could’ve got away with keeping it stock, the ride was unpleasant and very bumpy. As riding two-up was becoming a regular occurrence for us, I decided to invest in both of our comfort.

Progressive 412 Series Shocks for Harley Davidson
Progressive 412 Series Shocks for Harley Davidson
Progressive 412 Series Shocks for Harley Davidson. Image Courtesy of Revzilla

I decided to go with the Progressive 412 Series rear suspension as I found countless reviews and claims online of it being a great upgrade, and at low cost. I lengthened the suspension from the stock 11” to 13” for additional comfort.

Progressive recommends you purchase the Heavy Duty line should you be riding two-up 50% or more of your time. As Ashley typically only comes out with me on the weekends, I decided to go with the standard.

Where to Buy​

And Finally… Enjoy The Ride!​


I understand it can seem extremely daunting to ride two-up with all these do’s and don’ts, but I promise you that overtime, and with a bit of practice, you’ll be off to the races (not literally, hopefully).

Remember – you’re both here to have fun! Embrace the open roads and explore the countryside in a way you never have before.

Rider & passenger on a motorcycleRider & passenger on a motorcycle

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