Riding Tandem – Top 5 Bikes for Pillions

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By Jim Blackstock

One of the attractions for many motorcyclists is the solitude and isolation that riding brings. However, for many, they also enjoy riding a bike with friends or partners. While almost all bikes (with the exception of single-seat bobbers, for example) will have two seats, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will accommodate a pillion passenger with any degree of comfort or relaxation. 

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There are several types of bikes that have been designed with both the rider and pillion in mind. Typically, they are physically bigger; have a larger engine with plenty of useful torque rather than high-revs power; have easily adjustable suspension to cope with the added weight of a second passenger and have brakes and a payload to match.

Here are what we reckon are the best five bikes for carrying a passenger:

1) American Tourers – Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited or Indian Roadmaster 

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A pair of legends go head to head, compatriots from across the Pond. The Harley Davidson Ultra Limited and the Indian Roadmaster are two peas from neighbouring pods; big, heavy, dare we say somewhat basic engineering cruising tourers. The Harley uses the ‘Milwaukee Eight’ 114 (114 cubic inches, or 1868cc) V-twin, giving a ludicrous 121lb·ft torque – enough to literally pull a house down. And it needs it – the bike weighs 416kg fuelled and ready to head out on the highway. The Indian is little different – a tad lighter and with a pony or two less grunt but there’s almost nothing in it. Both models are the ultimate tourers from the relevant manufacturers, with each giving pillions a raised seat for an improved view and a sculpted back and arm-rests for an armchair-style ride. Each has a sharply raked front screen to keep the worst of the rain and wind off both rider and passenger, and the soundtrack to your ride would be superb. There are two major drawbacks, however. Firstly, the size means that they are suited to touring on large, smooth roads pretty much exclusively – you won’t be looking for twisty sections on these bad boys. The second drawback is they are not exactly pretty. Pricewise, there’s a couple of grand in it but by the time you’re almost at £30k, what’s a couple here or there? 

Our choice – Harley Ultra Limited; a lesser of two evils

2) Middleweight Adventure Tourers – Suzuki V-Strom 1050 or Kawasaki Versys 1000 

Two bikes that are exceptionally similar in terms of their concept. Each gives a nod to off-road machines and each has a 650cc smaller sibling, but these 1000cc versions (give or take) bring the additional grunt to make smooth, effortless touring for both rider and pillion. Both have recently been updated, each finally getting cruise control, for example, to make long distance riding easier on the right wrist. Each offers good wind and weather protection but the Versys sits the pillion higher than the rider, giving them a potentially better view. The Kawasaki uses an inline four-cylinder engine which still manages to pack in decent grunt while the V-Strom sticks with Suzuki’s V-twin, a little less responsive but with masses of mid-range torque. And while both will eat the miles two-up with luggage, the Kawasaki will allow you to let your hair down a little when you get where you’re going. The Suzuki is capable but lacks a little of the sparkle of its peers. 

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Our Choice – Versys 1000; a bit of everything

3) Sport Tourers – Yamaha FJR1300AE or BMW R1250RS 

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If you want to go a long way and have some fun when you get there (probably on your own), then these two make a great choice. The Yamaha has been around a while, fundamentally since the 1990s while the BMW is the newer kid on the block, arriving in the mid 2010s. The Yamaha has incrementally had a variety of tech added but its mechanics are decades old. And while it’s great at devouring distance, its old-school roots soon show through. The latest version gets cruise control and an electrically adjustable suspension and front screen, which is superbly effective. It also gets an almost-150bhp inline four-cylinder motor which performs well but does need the gearbox to be used. The BMW, on the other hand, is a far more modern piece of kit, with the same 1254cc engine as the GS (see below) and the same (optional) active suspension. It’s not quite as weighty as the Yamaha and it carried its weight low, meaning it can hustle along a motorway two-up in comfort then let you get your fun on (and your knee down) once you get there. 

Our choice – BMW R1250RS; genuine touring and sports ability

4) Heavyweight Adventurers – BMW R1250GS or Ducati Multistrada 1260 

Bit of a tricky one here; a full-on battle of the giants. These are two of the largest bikes around (with the exception of the enormous Honda Africa Twin) but will each handle a huge distance with two on board as easy as pie. The BMW GS is one of Europe’s best-selling bikes and the Ducati Multistrada is the Italian manufacturer’s response. Both use twin-cylinder motors – the BMW has the latest version of the 1254cc flat-twin with ShiftCam variable valve profiles and the Ducati’s V-Twin is 1262cc with variable valve timing. Both flagship versions feature a full suite of electronics, active suspension to cope with not only changes in the number of passengers but also, the road conditions and both will take two plus luggage easily. The choice ultimately will be if you want a lazy, relaxed ride or something a bit more… involving. The BMW cruises easily and jets across country in a responsive and smooth manner; the Ducati is a bit more lively and revs higher on the motorway but both give the pillion plenty of room and a comfortable ride.

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Our choice – Ducati Multistrada; it’s more fun

5) Big Tourers – Honda Gold Wing or BMW K1600 

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If the BMW GS and Ducati Multistrada was a battle of the giants, then these two are gods at war. The Honda Gold Wing has long been the standard for long-distance, two-up touring, having been introduced in 1974 and gradually refined along the way. The BMW K1600 followed much later in 2010 and brought the German brand’s efficiency with it. Conceptually very similar, the BMW uses an inline six-cylinder motor while the Honda has a flat six. The BMW is also £4000 cheaper but both come with a full-on, armchair-style passenger seat – a backrest built in to the topbox and arm-rests for the ultimate in pillion comfort. With prices closer to £30,000 than £20,000, you’d expect just about every bit of tech, including reverse gear, audio and navigation systems and heated everything. Of the two, the BMW places the pillion passenger higher up for a better view while the Honda puts the two at roughly the same head height. But it does come with an optional airbag…. 

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Our choice – Honda GL1800 Gold Wing; you have to love the original

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