Children have a naturally adventurous side to them. So, if there’s a motorcycle rider in the house, it’s only going to be a matter of time before they start pulling at their jacket sleeve for a ride.
But before we get into the nuts and bolts of it, let’s have a look at the stats. Out of the 50 US states, only five (Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington) have a minimum age stipulation regarding pillion passengers.
For the majority of states that don't specify a minimum age, they do at least have laws which stipulate that a passenger must be able to put both feet on the rear rests. Passengers must also be on a seat securely fixed and to the rear of the rider.
In 48 states it is, quite sensibly, the law to ensure your child has a correctly fitting and DOT approved helmet. In Illinois and Iowa where helmets are not compulsory, it is, therefore, legal to let them ride pillion without any head protection at all.
So much for the laws of the land and legal obligations, let’s look at what we should do as parents and responsible adults to protect our precious cargo.
Going from head to foot, helmets need to fit properly and be a minimum of DOT approved. A helmet that is too big is almost as bad as none at all. In the case of a spill, not only can a little head rattle about inside, but it can also come right off.
There’s been off road style helmets in smaller sizes for some time now. But fortunately, manufacturers have realized there’s a potential market out there. Consequently, for young road riders, they are now making both open face and full coverage helmets.
Incidentally, if you are looking at buying an off road or open-face style, just remember to get some goggles or visor for eye protection. I know kids grow out of things fast and a decent helmet isn’t going to be cheap.
Next on the list is a jacket, and here you have some choices. At a push, decent heavy-quality denim will do for short trips. But if it’s going to be a regular feature then realistically, it’s a choice of two. Cordura or textile jackets are relatively inexpensive, hard wearing and abrasion resistant.
These jackets are also waterproof, the majority have some form of body armor and sizes tend to run large, so they might grow into it. I’ve saved the best till last. You can tell your child the store doesn’t have a leather in their size, but you know you’ll cave in the end.
Leathers have been the go to bike jacket for over 100 years for a reason. Not only are they the king of anti- abrasion and have excellent wind resistance, but a let’s be honest, there isn’t a kid alive that doesn’t look cool in a bike leather. I'm going to gloss over the certainty that they'll outgrow it before it even gets broken in.
Now we’re on to leg protection, and as with a jacket, heavy denim will do at a push. For a decent trip though you realistically need textile trousers of some sort. I can honestly say I’ve not seen many young riders in leather jeans, but then, I haven’t been to many HOG rallies.
Everyone, regardless of how old they are when they sling a leg over the pillion perch also needs a pair of gloves. They needn't be some megabuck MotoX item with titanium knuckledusters. Something hard wearing and a good fit, so it won’t interfere with them holding on is fine.
Last but not least, footwear. I know your youngster is not going to put his or her feet down during the trip, but it’s one of those things you have to take into account and shop accordingly.
A stout shoe is once again, the entry level here, but a boot that goes over the ankle is far better. At least with boots they don’t have to be motorcycle specific, a half decent pair with a chunky sole is fine.
Ok, so now we’ve kitted them out, it’s time to ride, right? Not quite, first we have to straighten out a few things. It is irrelevant how good a rider you are or how short the journey is, do not let them sit in front of you.
There’s nothing for them to hang on to and if you have to make an emergency stop, they’re going over the bars. Either that or you’ll grab them and lose control of the bike. There's no right ending to that scenario, so don’t do it.
Here's another point to consider too, have you talked to your young pillion about what they can expect. Your passenger may be as excited as a six-week-old Setter about it, but once you start moving, the sensation of speed and sound may be a bit scary.
So just talk to them, and give them an idea of what will happen and explain how to get your attention if they freak out. While you're at it, tell a minor all about those tricky things that adult pillions need to know about too. Like getting on and off correctly, pesky things like hot exhaust, and how wheels and chains hate loose, dangly or flappy things like shoelaces and belts.
What you also need to think through is how they’re going to hang on. We all know what happens to excited youngsters who’ve had plenty of fresh air. Lashing them to the sissy bar may seem a good idea. Thankfully, however, there are some devices on the market that offer a better alternative.
These devices range from belts worn by the rider, with handles positioned at the back for the pillion to grab hold of, to harnesses that fasten around both rider and pillion. Obviously, these have the limitation of a one-off-all-off scenario, but they’re probably the safest alternative.
By kitting young passenger out in the right gear and making sure they're secure, you are ensuring that not only are they safe, but that they’ll also enjoy the experience. For the next generation of bikers, that can only be a good thing.