You, Me, & 650cc’s: The Best Starter Bikes for Two-Up Riding
So you’ve mastered the basics of riding alone on a motorcycle, and now you find yourself bringing along a partner. Riding two-up, colloquially known as having a Pillion, brings its own unique set of challenges. Not only are you responsible for your passengers safety, the physical dynamic will challenge some fundamental riding principles.
This article will help you identify features and benefits inherent in motorcycles best suited for Two-Up riding.
Identify How you Want to Ride
Your first consideration should be the type of riding you plan on doing. A Goldwing might provide your Pillion with plush accomodation, but if you aren’t interested in touring and would prefer to back into corners on the weekend, a more compromising approach will be necessary. Of course, passenger pegs are the bare minimum requirement to bringing a second human on your adventures, so don’t expect to occupy an HOV lane on a Ducati 1098R or travel the continental divide comfortably on your supermotard.
Enough power and torque are something that will pay dividends when riding two-up. If you lack enough twisting force, you’ll find yourself wearing hard on the clutch when leaving a standstill and working the motor to maintain speed on the highway.
While the ergonomics of the pilot take full precedence, take care to ensure your pillion will have enough room to move around and adjust themselves during the ride. Glued into a fixed position without any options for support (hugging vs grab handles) will make your passengers enthusiasm for sharing the ride short lived.
Spend Some Time Getting Used to the New Digs
Once you’ve picked the right bike for your application, it’s important to practice riding with your passenger before hitting the open road. Tackling low speed maneuvers in a wide open space is a great idea, so find yourself a suitable parking lot and bring along some cones to set up a short obstacle course. This is also a great opportunity to increase your situational awareness. Understanding who’s coming behind you and what’s coming up ahead will prevent sudden, unexpected events taking you by surprise.
While quick twists of the throttle and clamping hard on the brake might be exciting riding solo, your mantra with a pillion should be ‘smooth and stable’. Perfecting your shifting, accelerating and braking will pay dividends for passenger comfort and safety.
With a strong understanding of your desired style of riding, let’s take a look at a variety of entry level bikes that will accommodate you and your pillion:
Suzuki V-Strom 650
The Suzuki V-Strom 650 is an effective tool for the novice and advanced rider alike. It satisfies many different categorical requirements making it an excellent first bike and an effective two-up platform.
While horsepower will allow the motor to rotate faster at higher RPM’s, torque is what provides the rear wheel with twisting force. The more weight carried on a motorcycle, the more that initial twisting force will improve rideability. With 60NM (44.5ft-lbs) on tap, the V-Strom has no shortage of torque.
A longer wheelbase (distance between the front and rear wheel of a bike) will provide more stability, especially at higher speeds. The trade-off is it compromises the bikes turning circle (the smallest circumference which the bike can corner).
When riding two-up, you probably won’t spend the majority of your time slaloming around cones or darting between traffic, although the former is an excellent exercise in weight transfer. Coming in at 1,555mm (62.2”), the Suzuki will remain nimble in the city but inspire confidence and stability on the highway.
- MSRP: $7,699
The NC700x generally lies in the shadow of more popular entry level bikes, but represents a solid choice for riders looking to share the experience on short-medium distance rides. Honda has equipped it with factory grab handles and a wide power band from the 670cc inline-twin motor, which means the NC700x can moonlight as great two-up commuting machine.
Available with a conventional manual transmission or a highly-praised Dual Clutch Transmission, both of which Honda claim can provide up to 3.6L/100km (64MPG). Featuring a spacious integrated 22L storage compartment, which is large enough to store an extra helmet, the NC700x makes a case for the most practical option in this segment.
- MSRP: $9,900
BMW has consistently delivered on user experience on their GS series of bikes, and the F700 is no exception. This torquey (77NM/57ft-lbs) 798cc twin makes quick work of forward progress, which will be appreciated if you plan on loading up with cargo and accessories.
While the factory issued seat isn’t ideal for long distance touring, a strong aftermarket community means that you can find the perfect saddle for you and your passenger. An optional adjustable windscreen offers protection from the elements and excellent rider/passenger ergonomics will contribute to long-haul satisfaction.
Kawasaki Versys 650 LT
- MSRP: $8,999
The Versys has succeeded the V-Strom 650 as what might be the best all-around motorcycle for sale today. From a dollar-to-smiles ratio it’s easy to understand why.
A competitive cost of entry makes it an accessible choice for new riders, but the Versys isn’t short on performance or accommodation. Standard grab handles and a pillion friendly seat mean that bringing your plus one is a comfortable endeavour.
The 649cc parallel-twin doesn’t just bark an attractive exhaust note, it also produces a healthy 57NM (42ft-lbs) of torque. Kawasaki generously includes saddlebags and a functional windscreen, so you can expect to spend your time planning a trip instead of paying for accessories.