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Sidesaddle Motorcycle

Sidesaddle Motorcycle Riding

It is generally impossible to ride a unmodified motorcycle sideways, but pillion riders often adopt this position both historically and up to the current day. his position is generally considered unsafe, and in order to discourage is use it is important to understand why people use this position rather than straddling the seat.

Reasons: Men

Historically side-saddle riding was performed as a trick in various sideshows such as cage riding (see: "Dare-Devil Durkins"). Occasionally a male rider is spotted in sidesaddle position even in more modern times. Presumably this is due to either stunt riding or an ill-advised accommodation for injuries or other factors that make astride riding uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Reasons: Women

Sidesaddle motorcycle riding occurs for similar reasons to sidesaddle horse riding. Firstly, in some countries and time periods it is considered inappropriate for a woman to spread her legs. Secondly, when women wear skirts, riding astride may be difficult or risk exposing the genital area in an immodest way.

Australian picture showing rear sidesaddle passenger in long skirt.

Australian picture showing rear sidesaddle passenger in long skirt.

Photo credit: State Library of Queensland, Australia /

What is Unsafe?

While long skirts are undeniably a hazard, there is debate as to whether pillion passengers are safer seat sideways or astride. Most commentators consider that sideways riding with a shield over the wheel is the best way to avoid spoke injuries. But most injury lawyers recommend sitting astride with both feet firmly on footrests. This position keeps the bike ore balanced and allows the passenger to have a more secure seat.

United States

In the US sidesaddle passenger pillion riding was common up until the 1960. It was safer if the bike was installed with a pillion foot rest. Most US pictures show the pillion passenger facing to the right. In other countries they tend to face to the left. However, sidesaddle riding is now illegal in most states.

Motorcycle Officerettes, 1927

Motorcycle Officerettes, 1927

Current Day

Sidesaddle my seem like a thing of the past, but in many parts of the world it is still the norm. And it is a skill female tourists may need if they travel somewhere where they might need to use a motorcycle taxi.


In India These motorcycle may be adapted with a flat pillion seat as shown below.


Photo credit: zen / / CC BY-NC-SA

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Riding sidesaddle can also allow the pillion passenger to carry loads as shown below.


Photo credit: Rob Lambert / / CC BY-NC-SA


In some parts of Indonesia a woman riding a motorcycle astride may be deemed to be contravening Shariah law as it "shows their curves" in public. Sidesaddle position is permitted. Women are also not permitted to where trousers in public.


In the Gaza strip women were banned from riding pillion at all.

The Scooter Solution

In some countries (such as Nepal) the scooter, which can be driven by women without straddling the machine, provides a solution for women requiring a method of transportation that is still modest.


zoetnet / / CC BY

See Also:


Brunson, J. (2013). ‘Scooty Girls’: Mobility and Intimacy at the Margins of Kathmandu. Ethnos, (ahead-of-print), 1-20.

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