Riding Two-Up With A Kid

Tips for when you ride with your little one

Riding Two-Up with your kid
Sooner or later your kid will want to hop aboard your motorcycle with you, just be sure to take necessary precautions to make sure they are as safe as can be.Photography by Dean Groover

Taking a child for a motorcycle ride can be a scary proposition, but if you have children, the question will arise—probably sooner than you think. You may also be confronted with this request from children in your extended family or neighborhood. Unfortunately, too many people don’t think it through before the child climbs on the bike.

Here's a typical disaster in the making, one that I've seen far too frequently. A motorcyclist rides down the street with a kid sitting in front, a helmet four sizes too large bouncing around on the child's head, their little hands trying to hold on to the gas tank or the rider's legs. The kid interferes with the rider's control of the bike. What's going to happen if the rider must stop quickly? Will he or she grab the child with one arm, thereby probably losing control of the bike during a panic stop? Or, will the rider keep control of the bike and watch the kid fly off the front? Neither option bodes well for the child. And when the kid goes flying, that oversized helmet will probably come off, too.

My kids began agitating for rides around age three or four. I said that they couldn't ride until they could reach the footpegs, which was possible on some bikes when they were five or six. In the meantime, my wife and I discussed the issue to be sure she was completely comfortable with it. I have friends whose spouses have forbidden their kids to get on a bike. Although my wife doesn't ride herself (except as a passenger), she was confident about the kids riding with me.

I also researched the matter. I went through our many apparel catalogs looking for helmets and apparel for kids. I talked to helmet makers and looked at kid-sized helmets. And I talked to the motorcycle-accident researchers.

Kids' Helmets
When my older child, my son, was finally old enough to sit on some bikes with his feet on the passenger pegs, I began collecting gear. Most of the motorcycle apparel made for kids is aimed at the off-road market. Most of the XXXS helmets are off-road lids, not all of which are D.O.T.-certified. I wanted a full-coverage helmet with an expanded polystyrene (EPS, the hard foam) chinbar and shell. Most importantly, it had to fit snugly.

A few years later, my son graduated to an XXS Shoei RF200 street helmet, which included a face shield. He’s now up to an XS, and his sister has a similarly sized (European size 53) MDS (made by AGV) chosen for its pink-and-yellow paint scheme. With prices up to $200 a piece, this out-growing of helmets isn’t cheap. But don’t scrimp here, my research turned up far too many instances of children wearing adult-sized helmets and losing them during a crash. It’s important to make sure the helmet is fastened snugly. I’d also have trouble giving a child anything less than a full-face helmet with a chinbar, since facial scars can be almost as devastating as a head injury.

Leather Jackets for Kids?
I thought we might get away with well-made denim or another type of tough, generic jacket material, but Harley-Davidson's Kid's Leather Jacket was too cool to pass up. Since my son was scrawny and the jacket started out a bit large, it actually lasted almost five years before my daughter inherited it full-time. After she watched a video of Grease for what seemed like a few hundred times, this jacket turned into a fashion statement as much as riding apparel. It is a real riding jacket though, with thick leather, heavy-duty stitching and zippers, and zipped cuffs. It makes them comfortable while riding and would provide significant protection if we ever fell.

This year my son was able to move up into one of my wife’s old jackets. In a few years, he’ll be wearing mine. But I would have felt comfortable with him wearing a tough jacket made of something else, too.

Other Apparel
Hands are an essential part of our daily life and they deserve good protection. A number of companies make child-sized gloves for off-road use, and I have also found a few all-leather street gloves in XXS sizes. Get some that have a good retention system and strap on tightly. Even if the gloves are a bit large, this will keep them from coming off in the violence of a crash.

Long, heavy pants should be worn, along with well-made shoes—preferably a pair that rises above the ankles. We used cowboy boots for a while, but I wasn’t convinced that they’d stay on in a crash. The shoes should fit well, so they won’t come off under pressure. Be mindful of shoelaces, too. A shoelace that gets caught in a chain can cause a disaster.

Safety belt for kids riding on a motorcycle
For kids under 100 pound there are belts out there that provide a very secure retention system, fastening them securely to the rider. My kids love it, they even fall asleep in it.Photography by Dean Groover

A child, especially a small one, can simply fall off. Even an older kid can fall asleep on a longer ride (mine do, all the time). Any child can be flicked off in a brake-skid-stick situation, or just a quick avoidance maneuver. Holding on to the rider can be difficult for small hands. My research uncovered an alarming number of instances when a child fell or was ejected from a motorcycle that didn't crash.

The aftermarket has a number of solutions. The simplest is one of the several types of belts for the rider with handholds for the passenger, like the Buddy Belt from G&G. You may be able to offer a passenger similar security by attaching handhold loops to your regular pants or jacket belt. However, kids have trouble remembering to hold on all the time, so I rarely use this solution. For smaller children, Motoport imports a child’s seat which straps firmly onto most passenger saddle sections. Although the child is not strapped into the seat, it has sides that would probably prevent little ones from falling out if they fall asleep. It also provides stirrup-like foot supports. In a crash, the child would probably be thrown clear, which is better than being attached to the bike in most situations.

There are also belt options out there where they have a harness that goes around the child’s waist, over the shoulders and between the legs so he or she can’t wriggle or pull out. The quick-release buckles make getting in (before the helmet is donned) easy. The child’s harness fastens to a foam-rubber pad with handlebar-type grips. A large belt, attached to the front of the pad, goes around the rider’s waist to secure the child to you. The child cannot fall off unless you do. My kids routinely fall asleep back there, and we have even ridden off-road, jumping and bouncing around, with no fear of them getting thrown off. Of course, if you did crash, the child would be attached to you, which might cause additional injury if they ended up between you and whatever you bounced against. On the other hand, you can also jump up to leap out of harm’s way, and the child—since he or she is attached—will automatically come with you.

On short rides, such as the few blocks to school, my son is fine with just a belt with handholds, but these types of belts are great for any ride longer than a few minutes.

I tried talking to my kids early on about the potential dangers of riding, but they didn’t get much of it. To them it’s pure fun, even riding in the rain (though they don’t have rainsuits). With repetition, they did learn what they need to be conscious of—like hot exhaust pipes, not mounting from the right, keeping their feet out of the wheel, face shield over their eyes, and keeping their feet on the pegs. We also have a simple system of communication.

Kids motorcycle booster seat
For kids ages 3-8, there are also booster seats that makes the children feel more secure than simple handholds would, without tying them to the rider.Photography by Dean Groover

Trying It Out
Of course, my kids had a gentle introduction and haven't had any bad experiences. They both had their first rides on a deserted, dead-end rural road with little traffic. Next it was rides to school, where every kid on the yard came out to observe their arrivals and departures. One mother, watching us pull up on a big Vulcan, even commented, "My kids want you to be their dad."

Progressively longer rides led to weekend outings with my son, which he loves. We have talked about a motorcycle camping trip, perhaps to a spot deep in the mountains that would be difficult to reach by car. My daughter is up to the two-hours-plus stage.

A few people have told me they think motorcycling is too dangerous an activity to involve kids. My response is: Since I believe (after taking a long sober look at the risks and preparing myself for them) it’s safe enough for their parent to do, it’s safe enough for the kids as well—assuming I consider their needs. And I’ll sometimes add that if people would stop talking on their cell phones in traffic and engage their brains, the streets would be safer for everyone.