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ADV PreppingQuick Tips: Riding Off-Road With a Pillion Rider Onboard

Quick Tips: Riding Off-Road With a Pillion Rider Onboard

Take your two-up adventure rides off-road with these helpful tips.

Published on 06.16.2015

Riding two up is not everyone’s preference, but there’s no doubt that more motorcyclists are hitting the road with a pillion rider as new technologies keep pace with a growing thirst for adventure.

The advent of large capacity adventure bikes, suspension advances and an ever-increasing arsenal of ride-assist technologies certainly have fueled this trend. So too has a desire among adventure riders to share the passion — and seat — with their significant others.

Contrary to perceptions, pillion riding is not confined to asphalt and the occasional gravel road, at least not to those with a more adventurous spirit. In the hands of an experienced pilot, a capable adventure bike can go two-up where some solo riders won’t dare.


Two-up riding comes with its own set of challenges, especially when venturing off-road. To this end, we’ve sought the advice of adventure riding couples who regularly hit the trails, to find out how to make an off-road two-up trip more fun for both.

Getting in the Groove Off-Road

For starters, two-up riders will need to muster up the courage to give off-road riding a try. In the beginning, nothing is more important than patience in addressing any of the pillion rider’s fears, and plenty of it. It’s the responsibility of the pilot to make sure the pillion rider feels at ease off-road to build their confidence.

Almost as important is communication and for the pilot to share as much information as possible with the pillion rider. By far the most practical means is a Bluetooth intercom headset that makes chatting possible, but also allows the pilot to share sights with a pillion rider who doesn’t have the same all-round vision. There’s also great value in working out a set of pre-determined basic hand and touch signals to warn the pillion rider about a bad stretch or a hard stop.

two-up riding protection
Make sure your pillion has adequate protective gear for an off-road ride.

Speaking of an emergency stop, a set of serrated, preferably wider, rear pegs not only improves safety, but also the pillion rider’s comfort. So too is decent gear for the pillion rider that includes good off-road boots, elbow, knee and shoulder protection.

A common sense pre-trip procedure worth repeating is adjusting the preload on the suspension and pressure on the tires to ensure the bike is set up to handle the additional weight. If you find you are unable to get the preload adjusted to the proper setting, you may need to upgrade your bike with heavier springs to handle the additional weight of two riders and your gear.

Riding Two Up Body Position

The consensus among experienced two-up riders is that the best riding position is close and personal, in order for a couple to act as one. Simply put, physical contact between the pilot and pillion rider is necessary off-road, and the more technical the terrain, the more contact required.

A highly effective riding technique for bumpy surfaces is for the pillion rider to transfer her weight onto the pegs and rise up slightly out of the seat (a practice resembling that of ‘posting’ in equine circles). In this way, her legs help to absorb the impact of a rough road.

The Stand Up Riding Position

The Holy Grail of riding two up off-road is to do it standing up. Like a solo rider, the intention is to decouple the human mass from that of the bike to improve control. Awkward as this technique appears, it can be mastered with practice.

  • The most conventional position is when the pillion gets their weight forward and wraps both arms under the pilot’s arms holding on to the outer chest area.
  • On downhills, the pillion wraps one arm under the pilots left arm and places their dominant hand on the back between the rider’s shoulder blades to keep distance and avoid putting pressure on the lower back.
  • Both riders stand up and sit down together in unison.
  • Practice on a smooth road before progressing to more technical terrain.
Riding pillion stand-up riding off-road
Mastering two-up stand-up riding gives the pilot improved freedom of movement and better physical communication with the pillion rider in technical terrain.

What’s The Best ADV Bike for Riding Two Up?

Choosing the best two-up adventure bike will depend on many personal factors such as riding style and areas of travel. The BMW R1200GS is a popular choice for many two-up adventure riders. As a package, its spaciousness, pliable motor and comfortable seating give it strong advantages over long distances. But of course, not all pillion riders are warming the seat of a GS and there’s nothing to say that riding two up is the sole preserve of large-capacity modern motorcycles. As a popular adventure riding adage goes: it’s not what you ride, but who you ride with that matters.

Author: Derek Alberts

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