A pillion is a secondary pad, cushion, or seat behind the main seat or saddle on a horse, motorcycle, or moped. A passenger in this seat is said to "ride pillion" or may themselves be referred to as a "pillion." The word is derived from the Gaelic for "little rug," pillean, which is itself from the Latin pellis for "animal skin." One or more pelts would often have been the form a secondary seat took on horseback, and the usage was carried over to motorcycles.

Historical references

During the Second World War, the British Army introduced a requirement following the debacle in France in 1940 requiring all officers up to the rank of colonel to be proficient in the use of the motorcycle, and all officers holding the rank of brigadier were required to be able to ride pillion. These requirements came about as a result of the large number of motor cars that were lost in action. The requirement for riding pillion was quietly dropped as large numbers of jeeps came into service in the middle of the war.

Licensing and restrictions

To carry a pillion passenger in the United States or United Kingdom, one must hold an appropriate license for the vehicle and there must also be a proper seat and foot pegs for the passenger.

Pillion-riding is associated with terrorist or criminal attacks in some South Asian countries. In Pakistan, for instance, pillion riding is often banned by local authorities around sensitive times, such as the Ashura commemoration, when there have been violent attacks on worshippers.


Before carrying a pillion passenger on a motorbike, it is advisable to alter the suspension and adjust the headlight as the extra weight towards the back might tip the motorcycle backwards. A passenger will alter the handling characteristics of the vehicle, reducing stability at low speed as well as reducing the bike's braking and acceleration capacities.

A motorcycle's dynamics will change when there is a passenger riding on the pillion. It is the driver's responsibility to compensate for this and keep both rider and pillion safe. The driver can and should brief the pillion passenger to avoid mounting or dismounting when the driver is unprepared, use the footpegs, let the driver lean into curves instead of trying to help, relax, anticipate braking and acceleration, avoiding a clash of helmets or a lean backwards respectively. The passenger should know signals to give to the driver, which the driver should recognise. Similarly the driver should consider the passenger, as well as the changed dynamics of the motorcycle, taking curves much slower, and leaving a longer braking distance, for instance.


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