What's The Right Age To Let Your Kid Ride Pillion?

With my son reaching what felt like an appropriate age, I treated him to his first motorcycle pillion experience 

A Honda Fireblade with a young pillion

A year after I was let loose at Dave Taylor’s Trail Park aged nine on what was possibly a white Yamaha DT50, my dad got hold of a stolen/recovered Yamaha YB80. For those not up on small 80’s motorcycles, this was a road bike with a lack of suspension and decent ground clearance which, despite the pair of off-road Metzlers, wasn’t fit for purpose.

The geriatric 80cc engine was weaker than a kitten with Covid, the bike would beach on bumps bigger than house brick and the light-shite brown second-hand leathers we’d acquired via a small ad in Trials and Motocross News were oversized and reeking. But every other Saturday, heading towards that bit of waste ground near Staines with my bike lashed onto the base of a former caravan (another of Dad’s brilliant, converted acquisitions) was the highlight of my life. 

Later, when it was apparent this addiction to motorcycles wasn’t some sort of fad, I’d be gifted a proper motocross bike, a mature but still highly effective Yamaha YZ100E which landed on my back after a spectacular spill one afternoon, perforating my disc and somewhat dampening my enthusiasm for racing. 

Mum was, of course, delighted. It turned out that her master strategy of terrifying me away from bikes a year before I was old enough to ride on the streets was working nicely, alongside my dad’s desire to better my skills in the relative safety of a sodden field when, inevitably, I began riding on the road.

In some respects, the above sums up the complicated matter of managing a child’s desire to ride, assuming they want to ride in the first place. If my kid didn’t want to ride at all I’d be both enormously relieved and mildly disappointed: the relief deriving from the lunatic compulsion to straddle a lethal projectile, usually in the pissing rain, and the disappointment from, paradoxically, the same source. 

Not that I’d ever actively dissuaded his curiosity for motorbikes. The first thing any self-respecting motorcycle parent does is bounce their vociferous blob up and down on the seat of a preferred ride while making the appropriate ‘VROOM’ noises. It’s not a conscious decision to do that, it just happens. 

From here on in you can’t go for a ride without the routine of judiciously balancing the child on the tank between your arms with the engine ticking over, and eventually, you’re gently letting out the clutch for the briefest of rides... But up until relatively recently, the pillion space was a no-go zone.

Cut to the beginning of the year when I realised my seven-year-old was tall enough to ‘comfortably reach’ the rear foot pegs on my trusty pre-fuel injected Honda Fireblade, the basic common-sense requirement for carrying a pillion. I say, ‘common sense’ because there are no specific laws governing the age a kid can legally ride on the back of a motorcycle, outside of the following: “No person under the age of seventeen may be carried on a motorcycle without the consent of a person having parental responsibility for that person…otherwise that person is committing an offence.”

The law requiring a correctly fitting helmet and safety-approved helmet applies to kids as it does to adults, but apart from that, it’s down to the parents to set their particular conditions. With protective trousers and gloves already in the bag from his BMX sessions and a pair of new, remarkably proficient, MotoX boots I’d grabbed off eBay for less than fifty quid, it was just a question of securing a quality lid and armour at our local J&S in Walthamstow.

While you can get away with ordering some of the aforementioned stuff online and hoping for the best, such risks are completely unacceptable when it comes to fitting body armour and, especially, helmets. The helmet needs to be fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing, and that may not be you. Put it another way, if it wasn’t for the intervention of a kindly staff member of staff at J&S my boy’s noggin would’ve been wobbling about like a bobblehead toy before we’d even set off.  

So, a week after his eighth birthday on a beautiful spring afternoon, with some help from my better half, my son clambered onto the back of my bike and, after some basic, universal instructions -don’t peer around me and hold on really tight- we cautiously set off. 

It was quite an odd sensation; he was so light and sat so still that within a few minutes, I barely noticed he was there. The positive reaction from fellow bikers and even a few car drivers, some of them mildly ecstatic at the sight of a small child perched on the back of an elderly Sportsbike, was a nice touch and, as my confidence developed, I was even emboldened to give it some gentle berries off the lights a couple of times. 

Twenty minutes later we returned home to a visibly relieved missus, parked the bike and helped the strangely quiet boy climb off the bike before gingerly removing his helmet, now unsure if he actually enjoyed the experience.

“Er, did you like it?” I asked, dimly aware that, whatever his answer, I’d feel both relief and mild disappointment. Suddenly, he lit up and exploded into a burble of superlatives: it would seem that ‘like it’ was somewhat of an understatement. 

Okay. He can buy his own waterproofs though. 

Jamie Dwelly