From incredible performance to an unrivaled, completely unobstructed view of the road its surroundings, motorcycles provide a number of unique advantages over the four-wheeled vehicles they share the roadways with. Motorcycles do however tend to pale in comparison to cars when it comes to passenger accommodation and comfort — something that’s frankly unsurprising considering the lion’s share of today’s production motorcycles are specifically engineered for majority single rider use.
Fortunately, there are a handful of outliers in this regard, with models from across a variety of genres that have been designed with pillion riding in mind and as such come equipped with features and componentry that collectively allow for a safer, more comfortable, and more passenger-friendly riding experience. To help highlight the models most conducive to two-up travel, we’ve pored over every segment that comprises today’s two-wheeler market to bring you this guide to the best motorcycles for carrying passengers.
Winning Two-Up Travel Traits
What To Look For When Buying A Passenger-Friendly Motorcycle
While one might think that a good passenger bike simply means a motorcycle with an amply-sized pillion, there’s in fact a lot more to it than that. In order to shine a light on some of the crucial factors to consider, we’ve broken down the eight most important elements to take into account when looking for a two-up-friendly model.
Passenger Seat Size: One of the biggest factors that will determine a passenger’s overall comfort is the passenger seat (or “pillion”) — with wider, thicker seats obviously providing greater comfort. While on the topic, it is worth mentioning that there are a handful of reputable third-party moto brands that make upgraded, markedly more plush aftermarket passenger (and pilot) seats.
Pillion & Foot-Pegs Angle & Position: Just as important as the dimensions of the passenger seat is how said seat is angled and positioned relative to the pilot’s seat and the passenger foot-pegs. Certain types of motorcycles (looking at you sportbikes) have pillions that force the passenger forward, pressing them into the pilot — and more often than not resulting in an annoying amount of helmet bonking. For this reason it’s important to consider the distance between the passenger and pilot’s seats, as well as the angling of the pillion. The height and position of the passenger foot-pegs will also play an important determining role in overall comfort, as pegs that are mounted too high or too far back will force the passengers knees up by their ears — making it another important area to factor in.
Passenger Support: A good motorcycle passenger is a stationary motorcycle passenger, remaining upright and in place as the motorcycle’s pilot slides back and forth over the tank, leaning off of the bike into corners. In order to remain properly in place without constantly exerting an immense amount of energy and effort, a passenger needs well-positioned foot-pegs, a backrest, grab-rails, or some other type of handle(s) to provide the necessary leverage. As such, this is another immensely important area to take into consideration when looking for a two-up-friendly ride.
Passenger Amenities: The passenger’s ergonomic setup is hugely important in determining their overall comfort, though there are a variety of additional features that can enormously bolster the passenger’s comfort and enjoyment. Backrests allow passengers to better relax, as do arm-rests or grab rails — all of which are also available as aftermarket upgrades —though there are also elements like heated and cooled passenger seats, personal passenger audio and comm systems, and generously-sized integrated luggage pieces that can further supplement the experience. And while it won’t do anything for the passenger, having a reverse gear makes it much easier for the pilot to maneuver larger cruisers and sport-tourers while riding two-up in parking and low-speed settings.
Two-Up Suspension: Multi-way adjustable suspension is another area of utmost importance when determining a model’s conduciveness to two-up riding. By being able to select suspension settings that take the added poundage of a passenger into account, you can utilize setups for preload, rebound, and damping that will make for markedly smoother, more pleasant, more comfortable riding.
Engine Size: Small displacement motorcycles will typically be bogged down by the weight of a passenger, and as a result, some freeway-capable models may cease to be when traveling two-up. Because of this, it’s important to consider your intended two-up riding applications, as this will help to determine how large and/or powerful of a powertrain you’ll need. It is very worth noting that your skill level (or lack thereof) should also play a guiding role in selecting engine size, as new riders will have a tremendously more difficult time wrestling around a big-bore motorcycle than they would an entry-level motorcycle — and that’s before factoring in the added heft of a passenger.
Unfriendly Passenger Components: Just like how there are a handful of features that make motorcycles more ideal for two-up travel, there are also elements on motorcycles that can hugely detract from passenger conduciveness, such as particularly high-mounted foot-pegs or hard luggage that pokes into the passenger’s thighs or back. Certain types of exhaust setups are also less-than-ideal for two-up ridings, such as bikes with under-tail exhausts, high-mount scrambler-style pipes, or really any system where the muffler(s), mid-pipe, and/or breadbox is located within inches of the passenger.
Tail Cowls: Having the ability to bring a passenger along for the ride is great and all, though not everyone loves the appearance of a pillion-equipped model — a fact that’s especially true on superbikes and sportier models. A removable tail cowl — which is typically placed over the pillion or can be swapped out for it — affords the sportier, race-inspired look of a mono-posto (single passenger) motorcycle, while still allowing for two-up travel when needed. Easily removable passenger foot-pegs also allow for an even more streamlined look when riding without a passenger.
Editor’s Note: Riding a motorcycle with a passenger should be reserved exclusively for riders with at least six months of near-daily riding experience, as having someone’s physical safety entrusted to you is an enormous responsibility and as such shouldn’t be performed by novice riders — or taken at all lightly. You’ll also want to study up on how having a passenger will affect the performance of your motorcycle so you can make the necessary accommodations when controlling the bike. Lastly, we can’t over-emphasize how crucial it is for motorcycle passengers to be fully geared up in an appropriately fitting moto helmet and protective gear. at all times.
Husqvarna Svartpilen 401
The Svartpilen 401 admittedly may not be the first bike to spring to mind when discussing two-up-friendly scoots, though for novice riders looking for a fun bike that’s also capable of hauling around a passenger, then the neo-retro street scrambler is a fantastic choice. As you can see from viewing the Husky’s profile, its passenger seat is on the thicker side, and its passenger pegs and mounted nice and low. And that’s all with enough room to keep the pillion’s heel off of the muffler.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 373cc Single
Power: 43hp & 27.3ft-lbs
BMW F 900 XR
First unveiled in prototype form at the 2019 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este as the “Concept 9cento,” BMW’s F 900 XR is a mid-weight sport-tourer with a clever removable hard-luggage setup that includes a top box with a built-in passenger backrest. Powered by a twin-cylinder engine based on the unit found in the F 850 GS, the 900 XR is a wildly versatile motorcycle that excels at everything from touring to commuting to track-days and canyon carving. Other highlights on the BMW include an adjustable windscreen, a 6.5” TFT display, two-up-friendly Dynamic ESA active suspension, adaptive LED cornering headlights, and a pilot’s seat that can be adjusted anywhere from 30.5” up to 34.2”.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 895cc Parellel-Twiin
Power: 99hp & 68ft-lbs
Triumph Bonneville T120
First introduced in 1959, the Triumph Bonneville is unequivocally one of the most iconic motorcycles of all time. The latest versions of the Bonnie offer unmistakably old-school looks backed by modern engineering, safety, and reliability. What’s more, both the T100 and T120 sport beefy bench seats provide more than enough padding to keep a pillion happy on long rides. Its 79hp liquid-cooled parallel-twin also affords enough get-up-and-go to comfortably reach freeway speeds while two-up, as well as enough oomph left in the power band to throttle out of a potentially sticky situation.
Style: Retro Standard
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,200cc Parellel-Twin
Power: 79hp & 77.4ft-lbs
Honda Africa Twin
Modern adventure motorcycles often make for some of the best two-up riding options, though among the various ADV mounts currently available, we’re particularly fond of the new Africa Twin. Boasting an extra 86cc’s of displacement and 6% more horsepower, the 2021 Africa Twin features a six-axis IMU-regulated Showa Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment (active suspension and damping) system with a special remote preload adjuster that allows the suspension to be tuned to accommodate the extra weight of a passenger. Your $14K MSRP also gets you cruise control, a MotoGP-derived throttle-by-wire system, selectable torque control to adjust power delivery, customizable and preset riding modes, and a 6.5” TFT display with Apple CarPlay, all as standard.
Style: Adventure Bike
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,084cc Parelel-Twin
Power: 100.5hp & 77.5ft-lbs
Ural Gear Up
Though it’s a fundamentally different experience with the third wheel involved, Ural’s sidecars are an outstanding candidate that anyone shopping for a passenger-friendly bike should be sure to consider. Powered by Soviet WW2-era clones of BMW boxer engines, the side-hack allows passengers to stretch out more and better relax, plus it doesn’t prevent them from using their phone or snapping photos with a camera while on the move. And, with a generously sized bench seat and super-low mounted passenger foot-pegs, the actual motorcycle itself is also incredibly two-up-friendly, making this an appropriate vehicle for schlepping around two passengers.
Style: Standard / Sidecar
Engine: Air-Cooled 749cc Boxer-Twin
Power: 41hp & 38.4ft-lbs
Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE
Sport-touring models are another segment that’s popular amongst two-up riding enthusiasts, and while there’s no shortage of solid bikes in the class, Team Green’s special edition Ninja H2 SX SE+ takes these travel-ready sportbikes to the next level with the addition of a factory-made and installed supercharger that allows for 197hp. Elements that make the forced induction Ninja ideal for accommodating a passenger include a large pillion with hard grab handles on either side, a low-hanging muffler that is well out of the way of the passenger’s riding boot, fully-adjustable active electronic suspension fore and aft, and a pair of color-matched hard luggage.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled Supercharged 998cc Inline-Four
Power: 197hp & 84.6ft-lbs
BMW K 1600 GTL
BMW’s K 1600 GTL is the German brand’s flagship tourer and comes equipped with pretty much everything a passenger could possibly hope for. This includes the most throne-like passenger seat on the market, complete with low-mounted pegs, hard grab handles, and a massive backrest with side cushions. The six-cylinder GTL tourer also gets daytime running lights, active tire pressure monitoring, adaptive headlights with Xenon bulbs, an electronically adjustable windshield, a keyless ride system, gas tank, and luggage security system, clutchless shifting, a reverse gear, auxiliary LED lights, and an array of integrated storage and color-matched hard luggage that afford 117-liters of storage space — all as standard.
Style: Cruiser / Tourer
Engine: Oil & Water-Cooled 1,649cc Inline-Six
Power: 160hp & 129ft-lbs
Yamaha Star Venture
Yamaha’s Star Venture distinguishes itself from other high-end luxury tourers by having been specifically engineered to be something of the ultimate two-up tourer. On top of a plush and cushy backrest and pillion, the Japanese-made moto features adjustable ergonomics for both the passenger and pilot, an American muscle car-inspired fairing, a Bluetooth communication suite, a reverse gear, and a smart keyless system, and remotely lockable hard luggage. What’s more, the Star Venture also now comes standard with Yamaha’s entire Transcontinental Package which includes an enhanced 7” full-color infotainment system with GPS navigation, SiriusXM radio, additional speakers, Dual Zone audio control, LED fog lights, even more onboard storage, and a security alarm.
Style: Cruiser / Tourer
Engine: Air-Cooled 1,854cc V-Twin
Power: 90hp & 126ft-lbs
Harley-Davidson Road Glide Limited
The Road Glide has long been one of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles’ most popular models, though, for $6,600 over the base model, the MoCo also offers a top-of-the-line Limited-spec that gains a host of passenger-friendly amenities such as a backrest with thick padding and soft leather upholstery that’s built into a large top box with a radio antenna and luggage rack. Manufactured in eight different color options, the Road Glide Limited also features H-D’s BOOM! Box GTS infotainment system, heated grips, and the Milwaukee marque’s frame-mounted “sharpness” fairing that houses a pair of Daymaker LED headlights.
Style: Cruiser / Tourer
Engine: Twin-Cooled 1,923cc V-Twin
Power: 89hp & 122ft-lbs
Honda Gold Wing Tour
It’s almost impossible to have a conversation about the best motorcycles for carrying a passenger without mentioning Honda’s mighty Gold Wing. First introduced in 1974, the Gold Wing is a touring bike icon, embodying pretty much every quality one looks for when buying a two-up-friendly model. For a $4,400 premium over the base model, the Gold Wing Tour further’s the Japanese motorcycle’s conduciveness to two-up riding with a back-rest built into a 61-liter trunk, advanced suspension with an electronic preload setup, multiple ride modes, tire pressure monitoring, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, 55-watt speakers, and an audio system with Sirius XM satellite radio, a CB radio, and access to dozens of other channels.
Style: Cruiser / Tourer
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,833cc Horizontally-Opposed Six-Cylinder
Power: 126hp & 125ft-lbs
Can-Am Spyder RT Sea-To-Sky
Another unorthodox three-wheeled option, Can-Am’s Sea-To-Sky-spec Spyder RT was quite literally built for eating up miles, solo or two-up. Powered by a Rotax 1330 ACE three-banger mated to a semi-automatic six-speed transmission (plus a reverse gear), this touring-ready Canadian trike features SACHS suspension all around, a state-of-the-art infotainment system, a whopping 177-liters of cargo space, ultra-plush heated passenger and pilot seats with adaptive foam, six-spoke liquid titanium machined wheels, and a special Highland Green livery accented via titanium-colored trims and Sea-to-Sky badging. This is also a great option for shorter riders, as the three-wheeled nature of the Spyder means you never have to worry about putting a foot down.
Style: GT Trike
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,330cc Inline-Three
Power: 115hp & 96ft-lbs
Indian Roadmaster Dark Horse
With an MSRP that’s greater than that of the Hyundai Veloster N, Chevy Camaro, or Ford Mustang, you can expect something truly special out of the Dark Horse-spec Roadmaster, and Indian by no means disappoints in this regard. Ticking just about every box imaginable, the Roadmaster Dark Horse — which is sold in white and all-blacked-out versions — is powered by an advanced liquid-cooled, American-made V-Twin engine with multiple ride modes and boasts a slew of passenger-friendly features. This includes Indian’s ClimaCommand Rogue heated and cooled passenger and pilot seats, an electronically adjustable windshield and adjustable lower fairing vents, a trio of color-matched hard luggage with more than 136-liters of cargo space, and a 7” infotainment system and command center complete with Apple CarPlay integration, Turn-by-turn navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, traffic and weather connectivity, and connection to the top-shelf tourer’s 200-watt high-output speakers that are intreated into the fairing and trunk.
Style: Cruiser / Tourer
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,890cc V-Twin
Power: 96hp & 126ft-lbs
The 15 Best Cruiser Motorcycles
The cruiser market is another fantastic segment to explore when shopping around for a two-up-friendly ride. So, if you haven’t found the right pillion bike on this list, we recommend checking out our guide to the best cruiser motorcycles for more than a dozen more passenger-friendly two-wheeled choices.
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