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How Loading Ramps Work

Using Loading Ramps
Ramps can be found on a number of things, including military helicopters like this one.
Ramps can be found on a number of things, including military helicopters like this one.
Check Six/Collection Mix/Getty Images

The advantages of using a loading ramp to move heavy objects into a trailer should be obvious. It's easier to roll or carry heavy cargo up a ramp than it is to lift it. If you need to put a motorcycle into a trailer, for instance, would you rather lift it and toss it through the door or drive it up a loading ramp? Maybe if you've been pumping up your muscles with free weights, you'd prefer to lift the bike, but most of us would prefer the quick and easy drive.

Not only is it easier to drive the bike up the ramp but it's safer, both for the bike and the person lifting it. There's no risk of straining back muscles or of dropping the bike. However, driving the bike up the loading ramp presents a few risks of its own and considerable caution should be taken along the way. Here's a rundown of some elementary safety precautions to use when driving a motorcycle (or a tractor, an all-terrain vehicle, or any other motorized device) up a loading ramp:

Don't fall over backwards. When driving up an inclined surface, such as a ramp, there's always a danger of tipping over backwards. The risk is greater for vehicles with a high center of gravity (a motorcycle, for instance) than it is for vehicles with a low center of gravity like tractors. But another important factor is whether the vehicle has rear-wheel drive. If it does, the entire vehicle can spin around the powered rear wheels and this can cause it to overturn. The simplest solution, if the vehicle has rear-wheel drive, is to drive it up the ramp backwards, in reverse, so that the powered wheel is uphill.

Don't fall off the side of the ramp. Another danger is slip-sliding off the ramp. The solution: Use a ramp that has a surface designed for traction (many do), and don't drive up a wet ramp.

Don't let the ramp come loose from the trailer. Imagine this scenario: You're driving up the ramp, the front wheel comes down on the trailer bed, and the rear wheel, now slightly elevated, starts to spin. The rotating motion of the wheel can push the loading ramp backwards, away from the trailer and onto the ground. The vehicle and its driver will go tumbling. To make sure this doesn't happen, be sure that the ramp is tightly secured to the trailer, with a chain or safety straps.

Keep the ramp angle low. The steeper the ramp, the greater the likelihood of an accident. Consider putting the trailer on a surface that's lower than the one that the cargo is being loaded from so that the ramp will be fairly level. For instance, consider having the trailer on the street so that the other end of the loading ramp can be positioned on a raised curb.

Adjust your safety chains. If the safety chains attaching the ramp to the trailer are too long, the ramp may sag dangerously or there may be a gap between the ramp and trailer. Consider removing a link from the chain or attaching it by a link other than the one at the end.

Those are just a few suggestions for making your loading ramp experience safer. Most of all, just use common sense when you load cargo via a ramp. Think about ways in which something can go wrong -- and when you find one, do something to keep it from happening.