Why Motorcycle Passenger Etiquette Matters (& How to Follow the Rules)

Riding on someone else’s motorcycle can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Being on a motorcycle in any capacity requires serious commitment, and even though you’re “only” a passenger, that doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax while on the road. Here’s why motorcycle passenger etiquette matters and how you can make sure you’re following the rules.

What is Motorcycle Passenger Etiquette?

Motorcycle passenger etiquette refers to the behavior standards for passengers on motorcycles, but it also encompasses guidelines for the attitude and responsibilities of every passenger. Operating a motorcycle as a rider is a great responsibility, but so is being a passenger on someone else’s bike.

Not only is your life in their hands, but you also have a significant impact on the bike’s handling and what happens out on the road. In short, you need to be prepared, whether it’s your first tandem ride or your hundredth. Here’s what you need to know about passenger etiquette.

Dress the Part

Appropriate protective gear should be a priority for every motorcycle owner, and the same goes for passengers. Even if you are riding someone else’s bike for the first time, it’s your responsibility to arrive prepared to ride.

Hopefully, your host will provide a helmet, as it’s an expensive investment for a single trip, but you should dress for the weather and your safety. Long pants—preferably a high-strength and durable material—are ideal, and many motorcyclists wear jeans when the weather is mild.

Full-coverage boots protect your feet and ankles, plus provide protection should you take a fall. A jacket to protect your skin from the elements and potential falls is also a must, and full-coverage gloves are ideal no matter the weather conditions.

Be an “Active” Passenger

Although the operator of the bike is the one in charge, your role as a passenger is as a “second active rider” who needs to help follow safety and procedural guidelines. Your weight affects the handling of the bike, so you should be aware of how your movements could be making the driver’s job difficult.

Keep in mind that if you stop quickly, momentum could move you (or your head) forward even after the bike stops, so be conscious of bonking your helmet into the bike operator’s helmet. The potential for injury is high, so being aware of your surroundings is critical.

Being an active passenger also involves reacting to the bike’s movements in the right way. For most, this means leaning into the turns along with the rider (and the bike), as leaning out of the turn only makes it harder for the driver to control the bike—and puts you both in danger.

Learn the Ropes

Whether it’s your first ride or your hundredth as a passenger, you should know how to (and practice) get on and off the motorcycle, where to put your feet (on the passenger footpegs), how to communicate with one another, and other essential pre-trip considerations.

Some riders will have a preference on whether you mount the bike first or they do (the latter is most common, except with larger touring bikes), or whether you lean on them to get on the bike or not. Decide how you will hold on, especially if there is no backrest on the passenger seat, and discuss how to communicate problems while on the road.

Expect the Minimum

It’s exciting to be a passenger on anyone’s bike, but you should expect a minimum of adherence to safety standards and laws. The rider who is responsible for you should have motorcycle insurance, wear the right gear, and encourage you to stay safe as well.

Why Does Motorcycle Passenger Etiquette Matter?

Whether it’s a self-stabilizing 3 wheel motorcycle or a passenger-comfort-focused Honda Gold Wing that weighs nearly 800 pounds, the way you behave while riding on someone else’s motorcycle can impact the way the motorcycle rides.

Because your behavior as a passenger can affect everything from how the bike banks in turns to how well the operator can focus on the road, it’s crucial to know what your responsibilities are. Motorcycle passenger etiquette sets guidelines for how passengers behave so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to not only safety but also enjoying the ride.

Motorcycle Passenger Cultural Norms

Unless you have a lot of experience as a rider yourself, becoming a motorcycle passenger can feel daunting. You’re entering a new culture of motorcycle riders, and without the know-how of riding alone, you might be missing out on some essential cultural knowledge. Here are common cultural norms for motorcycle passengers.

Listen to the Motorcycle Rider

Because the driver of the motorcycle is responsible for both of your safety, it’s crucial that you follow their lead when riding. In short, you are not the boss during the ride, even if you would take that position when not in the passenger seat.

Since the primary rider controls the vehicle, you should defer to them when it comes to operational issues and navigational ones. What could be a small mistake in a car could be life-threatening in a motorcycle.

Respect the Bike

Although the rider of the bike may have invited you on an excursion, part of your job as a passenger is to follow their lead—and their rules—on the road. From how to lean during turns to where you can put your feet, make sure to respect your driver and their bike.

Keep in mind that something like melting the heel of your shoe onto the bike’s tailpipe falls under your responsibility—you should be aware of how the bike works and what you can do to minimize distractions and potential damage.

When it comes to motorcycle values, even small damage like scratches to the paint or bent footpegs can affect the bottom line. Plus, the driver of the motorcycle likely won’t be pleased if you damage their ride—or if you cause an accident.

Know the Lingo

Recognizing the basic parts of the motorcycle and the lingo that goes with them is another crucial part of your ride. Understand how shifting works, know where your footpegs are, recognize how leaning into turns works, and respect both gravity and the other forces acting on the motorcycle.

Final Thoughts

Taking on a passenger is a big responsibility for any motorcycle rider, but don’t forget about your responsibilities as the plus-one. Make sure you are comfortable with the riding situation (and the rider), make sure to dress appropriately for your ride, and always follow the proper etiquette when riding someone else’s motorcycle.