It is nigh on impossible to even scratch the surface of the whole world and culture of motorbiking in a Guide Entry. However, riding pillion is something that many people do: sometimes once only, before they declare 'never again!'. Perhaps you'll get invited to join a group of Harley riders on their trek across Europe. Maybe you'll go out with a biker for six months. Or it could be something that you do for many many years. What are the essentials?
Note: to avoid any gender assumptions, the person in front is referred to as 'the rider', and this article is addressed to the pillion passenger, as 'you'.
Biking requires respect and care - if something goes wrong, the potential for the consequences to be serious is high1. Therefore safety precautions come right at the top of the list, and over-ride any other considerations.
The single most important thing you will need is a helmet. In most places in the world it is illegal to ride without a proper safety helmet, and even where it wouldn't be breaking the law, it is still highly recommended. The strap should be fastened snugly under your chin - again in parts of the world this is a legal requirement. You need one that fits very snugly, doesn't wobble when you shake your head, and is probably a struggle to take off. Ask for assistance from someone who knows what they're talking about. If you're going to be doing more than just one or two journeys, this is probably the first thing you'll want to invest in. It makes sense to buy a new one - you don't know what damage has been done to a second-hand one. If yours does suffer any damage it should be replaced. And in the event of an accident, only a trained medic should attempt to remove a helmet.
Safety and comfort are the features you are looking for - not fashion! For a pillion passenger, gloves are extremely important. You will be spending a lot of time with your fingers curled in a tight grip, so you need gloves that are flexible, sturdy, and warm. Footwear needs to give you strong protection round the ankles. Hiking boots are more suitable than trainers, but are no match for a properly designed pair of biking boots. High heels are a no-no. Jacket and trousers should be strong, tight-fitting so that nothing flaps in the wind, and comfortable. Specifically designed biking gear will contain armour to provide additional protection. You need warmth without bulk, which means layers. An extra pair of tights or leggings under your trousers helps to stop you getting too cold, and a thin polo-neck jumper will keep your neck warm. Dangling and floating items such as scarves should be avoided. Since handbags are not much use on a bike, pockets in which to carry any essentials are very useful. These should be tightly fastened and preferably zipped. Be careful with any heavily scented stuff on or near your face - it can be irritating inside the helmet.
Unless you are lucky enough to have an intercom system in your helmets, communication between rider and pillion will be non-verbal. Agree on your set of signals in advance: for example, squeezing thighs once for yes and twice for no, tapping on the right or left shoulder. If you are using headsets, remember that the rider will be giving the road full concentration, and so admiring the flowers in that garden we just passed, or discussing what to cook for dinner tonight, may not get the response you were expecting.
Getting on and off
Two-wheeled vehicles need to be balanced, so mounting and dismounting has to be done with care. Don't do either without ensuring that the rider knows what you are attempting. There are a number of ways to get on, but the easiest is probably to put your left foot onto the left foot-rest, taking care not to stand on the exhaust, and swing your right leg over the seat. Put both feet firmly on the rests, and settle your behind as comfortably and centrally as you can on the couple of square inches of seating available. You don't want to be wiggling and squirming while you are in motion. To dismount, stand up on the footrests, curl your right leg up and behind you and swing it over the seat before placing it on the ground behind you. Then lift your left foot off the rest.
It is a good idea to remember simple physics - if the rider brakes, the momentum of your body will throw you forward, possibly even banging your helmet against theirs. When accelerating, your body will be thrown backwards. If you can anticipate these reactions, you can compensate slightly by leaning forward during acceleration, and backwards during braking. It also helps to keep your body weight low, as the higher your centre of gravity, the more difficult it is to control the bike. Pretend you're a sack of potatoes!
Going round corners, the bike will lean over - and you should be leaning over in the same direction. A useful guideline for not leaning too far (or in the wrong direction) is to keep your helmet behind that of the rider's. On motorways, be prepared for buffeting from the wind. Work out in advance what you're going to hold on to. Depending on the bike, this will usually be a grab rail behind you, or you will be holding the rider around their waist. The bike is less stable at slow speeds or stopped, so try not to move around too much when waiting at a red light. Don't be tempted to put your feet on the ground when stopped, either. Keep your knees in tightly when filtering through traffic.
One Last Thing...
Go to the loo before your journey. And do it before you get all zipped into your gear. You can't exactly cross your legs on a bike, and fumbling with straps and buckles whilst hopping from one foot to another when you do finally make a comfort stop is best avoided.