Passengers, Cargo, and Darkness Are All Special Riding Situations for Motorcyclists

Handling Special Motorcycle Riding SituationsRiding with a passenger or cargo requires significant experience because the additional (and sometimes unexpected shifting of) weight affects the motorcycle’s handling, balance, acceleration, and braking. Night and group riding present certain hazards as well.

Motorcyclists can stay safe by being aware of and taking steps to manage the special risks associated with these riding situations.

Carrying Passengers

As a motorcycle operator, you are responsible not only for your own safety but also your passenger’s. Therefore, you should implement rules for your passengers, including instructing them to:

• Mount the motorcycle only after you have started the engine,

• Sit as far forward as possible on the seat (without crowding),

• Hold firmly to your waist, hips, or belt, or to passenger handholds (this braces the passenger for acceleration or braking),

• Keep both feet on the footrests at all times (even when the motorcycle is stopped),

• Keep hands and feet away from muffler, chain, and the motorcycle’s moving and “hot” parts,

• Stay directly behind you, leaning as you lean and looking over your shoulder in the direction of a turn,

• Avoid unnecessary talk or motion while riding,

• Minimize surprise shifts of balance by notifying you when he or she is ready to mount or dismount (and by waiting for your “okay”to do so),

• Avoid sudden moves that might affect the stability of your motorcycle, and

• Rise off the seat when you rise off the seat.

You should also know, and not exceed, your bike’s weight limit. You may have to adjust the suspension and the tire pressure to accommodate passengers as well. Check your owner’s manual.

Be aware that under Ohio law:
• Your passenger must ride behind you,

• You cannot ride with a passenger if you have a temporary permit,

• Your passenger must wear a helmet if your are required to wear a helmet,

• You cannot ride with a passenger unless footrests are available (and your passenger is tall enough to reach them),

• A passenger is permitted only if your motorcycle is equipped with a two-person seat, a second seat attached your seat, or a sidecar, and

• Your passenger is required to face forward with one leg on either side of the motorcycle.

Carrying Cargo

Adding weight (with passengers, cargo, or otherwise) to your motorcycle will alter the way it handles. It requires more stamina to balance your bike, especially when slowing down, stopping, or getting back up to speed. You will also need more time and distance to slow or stop. You should therefore maintain a larger space cushion behind and ahead for braking. Additional weight will also cause your steering to feel heavier. It will require more force to get your bike to go where you want it to, particularly at slow speeds or when coming to a stop.

According to MotorcycleOhio, you should be mindful of three things in particular when carrying cargo — its weight, its location, and how well it is secured.


Again. check your owner’s manual for maximum load limits. Be aware that saddlebags, tank bags, tail bags, and luggage racks add to the overall weight of your motorcycle (and have their own individual weight limits as well). You should also check your owner’s manual for information about adjusting your bike’s suspension and tire pressure to accommodate cargo weight. Proper adjustments will increase your motorcycle’s handling, allowing it to grip corners better and handle bumps more smoothly after the cargo weight is added.


Here are some tips about placement of cargo on your motorcycle:

• Maintain proper motorcycle balance by keeping the load low and concentrating it toward the center of your motorcycle,

• Try to place heavier items ahead of the rear axle (too much weight mounted high and behind the rear axle can affect steering and stability),

• If you are using saddlebags, keep the weight equally distributed side-to-side,

• Use the luggage rack, tail bag, or trunk for lightweight baggage,

• Never use the front forks, fenders, or handlebars for carrying loads because this can also obstruct steering and cause instability, and

• Make sure tank bags do not interfere with movement of the handlebars or access to the controls.

Securing Cargo

Make sure the cargo is secure and will not shift during motorcycle operation. Purchase accessory racks and luggage designed specifically for your motorcycle. When attaching loads, use motorcycle cargo nets or web straps with multiple mounting points, making sure each strap is secured across the load. Tuck in any loose ends and anything that could get caught in the wheels.
Keep cargo away from the muffler, and make sure it does block the motorcycle’s lights, interfere with the suspension or steering, or restrict your view in the mirrors. When you stop, make sure the cargo has not come loose or shifted.

Riding at Night

Riding in the dark presents another set of special risks. At night, it is more difficult to see surface hazards such as obstacles or debris. Therefore, you will need more time to react. The distance between you and other vehicles should be increased. You should also decrease your speed near intersections and on winding roads. Be especially careful just after sunset because your eyes (as well as the eyes of other motorists) are still adjusting.

Pay attention to the lights of vehicles ahead. Their headlights can improve your view into the distance, and their taillights can give you clues about curves or bumps. Sudden movements may alert you to hazards in the road, and the lights of other vehicles may give you information about the roads direction before it is visible by your own headlights.

Slow down to avoid “overriding” your own headlights. You are overriding your headlights if you are going so fast that your stopping distance is farther than you can see ahead. Obviously, the faster you are riding, the more time it will take to stop. Your headlights illuminate only so far ahead.

As a motorcyclist, your visibility is decreased to begin with due to your motorcycle’s narrow profile. You are even less visible at night. However, you can be increase your visibility by wearing gear that is bright and reflective, by equipping your motorcycle with enhanced lighting systems, and by using your high beams (but be mindful not to “blind” other motorists). You can also flash your brake brake lights when stopping or waiting at intersections so that you do not blend in with other vehicles.

At night, you can expect more intoxicated drivers to be on the roadways. Anticipate unexpected and dangerous maneuvers by other motorists.

Group Riding

Riding with a group requires additional skill, and it takes more mental energy than riding alone. Thus, before riding with a group, it is important to first have plenty of experience riding by yourself.

For example, you must keep track of your placement in groups, including your spacing as it relates to other riders (who may change position with or without warning). Group riders generally ride in a side-by-side formation, a staggered formation, or in single file. There are also special rules for group riding and methods of communication.

There are special training courses for group riding. Check with Motorcycle Ohio or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for times and locations.

Passengers, Cargo, and Darkness Are All Special Riding Situations for Motorcyclists
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Passengers, Cargo, and Darkness Are All Special Riding Situations for Motorcyclists
An overview of special motorcycle riding situations where motorcyclists must develop specific skills and take extra safety precautions.
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Slater & Zurz
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