Juvenile pillion riders? Play safe...

Captain Blindspot
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 SAFETY FIRST: Make sure you and your children know pillion safety rules when riding. It could just save a life. Image: ~ Shutterstock
There's often much discussion when it comes to a youngster riding pillion on a motorcycle so, because of what could have been a serious crash (see separate story), Captain Blindspot (Ruari Plint) gives this comprehensive advice for bikers-with-kids.

He did a lot of personal research into the topic to try to dispel the myths and give advice to parents who'd like to give their youngster(s) as real taste of the open road.

When pillion riding goes wrong...

Please note that the content of this article is a personally formed opinion from the information available to me, and from personal experience. I hope to provide some best practices and make it safer for all on the road. I am not doing this to open debate but feel free to comment on any points I make. Firstly, let’s take a look at what the K53 rules say with respect to the duties related to a motorcycle.

I quote: “Duties relating to motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle"

1 No person shall drive a motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle on a public road unless his or her feet are resting on the front foot-rests suitable for the purpose and, where the design of such motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle makes it possible to do so, he or she is seated astride on the saddle of such motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle.

2 No person shall on a public road carry a passenger on a motor cycle unless such cycle has an engine with a cylinder capacity exceeding 50 cubic centimetres and unless such passenger is seated in a side-car or astride on a pillion attached to such cycle and, in such latter event, the feet of the passenger are resting on foot- rests suitable for that purpose.
3 Subject to these provisions, not more than two persons shall ride upon a motor cycle on a public road, excluding a person riding in a side-car attached to such motor cycle.

4 Not more than two adult persons shall be carried in a sidecar attached to a motor cycle on a public road.

5 No person or animal or object shall be carried on a motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle on a public road in front of the driver thereof: Provided that an object of a non-bulky nature may be so carried if securely attached to the motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle or placed in a suitable carrier fitted thereon for that purpose and carried in such a way as not to obstruct the driver's view or prevent his or her exercising complete control over such motor cycle, motor tricycle or motor quadracycle.

Let’s explore points two and three, look at the bold text as that is relevant to our discussion, so by law you may:

  • Only ride yourself on a public road if you can comfortably reach the foot pegs.
  • Only pillion somebody who’s feet can comfortably reach the foot pegs.

Legally, that's about it, you and your passenger must be able to have your feet reach the relevant foot pegs, and from my research there are no other restrictions apart from all people using a motorcycle must wear a helmet and you need to have a licence.

This is what the law has to say but just on a side note, take a look at point five: you may not transport items in front of the rider unless in a tank bag

And so says the law, this leads me to the next thing, even though the law is very simple and does not impose a lot of restrictions, I’d like to take time to encourage anybody who plans to pillion a child to be aware of some of the things I’m about to discuss: they could save not only your child’s life but yours at the same time.

Some vendors offer “special” equipment to help make you feel safer with a young passenger on you bike. Think carefully before you use or don't use them...


The “belt" or child strap: This device attaches the child to the rider so that he/she is not at risk offalling off while riding. Sounds pretty simple and useful. However I do however have a few concerns with this device, in Think Bike! circles they banter around this: phrase: “Dress for the fall, not for the ride."

So if you are 101% sure, guaranteed, that you will NOT have to execute emergency landing techniques then this device would be pretty good. However, if you should come down, I would suggest that it’s far better for the child to be free to be thrown away from the accident (they are lighter) and would sustain less-serious injuries if flying solo than rolling about attached to a heavy adult. 

School physics is a good resource to call on when weighing these options. So I’d rather say if the child is not able to support him/herself as a pillion rider then don’t pillion them. Educating them around bike savvy topics is a far better approach.

The “handle” or love handles is a better device. It's a strap with a handle loop on each side of the driver for the child to hold. Again, the child would need bike-savvy and disciplined not let go unless in a fall. In my book, if the child does not have discipline to keep hold he/she is not ready to pillion.

The “seat”: This was only recently launched on the market. I had a look at one such and am impressed. It’s similar to a car child-seat but straps to the pillion seat; it also has its own adjustable foot pegs. The only worry I have is this model has a looped-belt foot strap. I would prefer just a foot peg because a child's foot could get caught in the one I reviewed - the last thing you want is for the child to remain attached to a falling motor-cycle.

Gear: As the Think Bike! people say, ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time).

I should probably have put this up first but in my bookthis is not a discussion point. I wanted to get the others out of the way!

I realise that kiddies' gear is very expensive and that sellers very often take the opportunity to make a quick buck out of you in this regard BUT even so I highly recommend, heck I insist – No Gear No Ride!

This I cannot stress enough and the example I’ll use later (separate story), a personal experience with my son, will explain.

ALL The Gear ALL The Time! Let’s explore this minimum list.

Helmet: Please make sure it fits properly, always ask advice and if the child complains it’s tight during the fitting exercise all the better.

Jacket: I feel leather can be a bit heavy, making a long ride uncomfortable, so the child will get restless. I prefer a good quality Airflow-type jacket, with armour pads in shoulders, arm, chest and back. But leather is always cool for the kids. My son is begging for a leather jacket.

Pants: These are very hard to get for the road but there are plenty MX pants, however please ensure that they have armour in the right places and even go double layer. I insist that my kids wear a comfortable track suit pants under their riding pants if not a proper road pants.

Yes, it gets warn, but it saves skin.(If the decent people who make easy overs are reading this, please, easy overs would be the best option.) Sorry standard jeans just won’t qualify.

Gloves: You can get pretty decent kiddies gloves at a good price and in some pretty fancy designs and colours but I prefer tham to solid knuckle protection.

This is another difficult item to get hold of but as you will see later please get decent boots, I insist that my children have toughened leather boots (as in the case of my son) or proper riding boots, even light MX boots can work.

Bike: This might sound strange, hey my bike is larger then a 50cc so cool. Be careful, here are a few things to remember.

Bikes are typically designed for adult use and gaps are more than often designed to prevent adult body parts getting where they shouldn’t, as you will see in the other story. A child’s body parts - such as feet - are a lot smaller and can get in where they shouldn’t. Here I would suggest you review you bike and find a way to close off such gaps, like using a wheel-hugger on the back wheel.

Skills: Again this might be a little confusing to most. The law says I must have a full motorcycle licence (I do) and the pillion, they are just sitting there, so cool. Here I strongly recommend you keep the following in mind: You will also see a good example of this in other story.

A child, faced with uncertainty and pain, will panic far quicker than an experiencerider. When a child panics his/her actions tend to become unpredictable and uncontrolled. Reasoning with such an individual can be challenging while riding a bike. In the example later, I was forced to bring the bike to a stop without my clutch hand. Not because my son panicked (for which I am most grateful) but because of physical forces acting upon him.

Spend some time looking at your bike with your child sitting on it and think through what skills you should be practicing to be able to handle you bike in a difficult situation in which your child might need attention at the same time as you may need to manoeuvre your bike to safety.

Braking and handling are also different when riding with a pillion so please take note of that before taking on a passenger.

Pillion education is a must. If your pillion, young or adult, is not up to speed around certain basics then he/she will become a danger to the rider and themself. Please spend some time educating them on what you expect of them

Also visit the following separate story and these sections:

 Think Bike
  • Motorcycle Safety and ATGATT
  • Motorcycle Safety