Larry loved his Harley-Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle. Of course, he didn't love to drive it just anywhere. Why waste such a smooth and luxurious ride in commuter traffic? On the weekends, Larry would load his prize hog onto a trailer and tow it away from the gloomy tangle of city streets, past the suburbs and into the beautiful vistas that the old country roads and highways offered. There, he'd unload his bike and finally cut loose. But towing a motorcycle is no carefree endeavor -- and one day, Larry made a serious mistake.
He had just made it through a particularly tough week at the office, so perhaps you'll forgive him for being anxious to get out of town. Maybe you'll even forgive Larry for driving a little fast, cranking "Born to Be Wild" at top volume the whole way. However, he was also hasty in strapping his bike to the back of his motorcycle trailer. He didn't properly secure the tow straps that held the hog in place and, as the trailer rattled, the bike gradually jostled itself free of its moorings.
Singing along to the music, Larry was just getting to the part about "exploding into space" when all 1,268 pounds (575 kilograms) of motorcycle tumbled off the back of the trailer and crashed into the church van behind him. Larry wouldn't get to enjoy the weekend he'd planned on -- and neither would the Sunnyside Chapel Children's Choir.
Sadly, the dangers of the road aren't always that evident, and it sometimes takes a close call or a passing glimpse of a roadside tragedy to realize traffic's lethal potential. At any point, you're really just one text message, music check or sip of coffee away from your final, twisted moments of commuter agony. Add a trailer and heavy cargo to the mix, and the really unpleasant ways in which you can end your drive expand exponentially. That's why it's essential to focus on safety with motorcycle towing, or any kind of towing for that matter.
In this article, we'll look at some of the basic motorcycle towing safety points, as well as how to drive safely.
Connecting a Motorcycle for Towing
The example on the introduction page was a little dramatic, but it serves to illustrate an important point. If managed properly, motorcycle towing is a perfectly safe activity and an excellent way of moving a bike from one point to another without actually straddling the engine. However, in the worst of cases, irresponsible and unsafe towing practices can cause serious harm to you, innocent drivers or your precious bike.
There are several different methods of connecting a motorcycle for towing out there, and the most important safety tip of all is to make sure you select one that meets your particular towing needs. You'll want a trailer that can support the weight of your cargo and safely connect to your towing vehicle. Some of the more popular options include open flatbed trailers, enclosed trailers, two-wheel motorcycle towing trailers, motorcycle lifts and motorcycle towing cradles that attach the bike's front tire directly to your hitch tube. For a more detailed look at these options, read How Motorcycle Towing Trailers Work.
When connecting the trailer to your vehicle, make sure that the hitch pin is in. This secures the ball mount (or other towing apparatus) to the vehicle. Secure the hitch coupler and spring bar hinges, and make sure your safety chains link the trailer to the vehicle in case the hitch malfunctions. Finally, ensure that you'll be able to effectively signal turns, decelerations and stops to other drivers by connecting the trailer's lights to the electrical plug. For a more in-depth look at this area of trailer safety, read How Trailer Towing Safety Works.
Connecting a motorcycle to a trailer is another matter. Obviously, a motorcycle requires a certain amount of balance to remain upright, and you can't just wheel it up onto a flatbed trailer and bust out the kickstand. The movements of the trailer would unsettle it and, before you know it, you've wiped out the Sunnyside Chapel Youth Choir as well. To prevent such tragedies, you'll want to secure that trailer. One of the most widely used methods is to strap it in place, upright, with towing straps. These tough, nylon cords ratchet tightly and come in handy for various motorcycle towing arrangements. Just make sure they're tight and attached to the cycle's frame or other secure structures. Towing experts recommend tying down the straps so that they form a 45-degree angle between the bike and the trailer floor.
Straps are often not enough, however. To keep the bike from moving around, you'll want to employ a motorcycle rail, wheel cradle or wheel chock to help lock the cycle in place. A motorcycle rail is essentially a secure metal gutter for the cycle's wheels to sit in. Chocks and wheel cradles provide a shorter, C- or L-shaped length of rail to cradle the front wheel and prevent it from rolling backward. Different trailers' designs feature different arrangements of these two elements.
Sound good? Well, none of it will save that van behind you full of children unless you're also driving responsibly. Learn how on the next page.
Motorcycle Towing Driving Safety
Purchase all the chocks and straps you want, but safe driving is still crucial to safe towing. If your motorcycle is properly secured on a trailer, then towing it is much like towing any other trailer. Your cargo essentially becomes an extension of your towing vehicle, affecting vehicle maneuverability and various aspects of performance. You're not just driving your truck anymore. You're driving a truck and a trailer.
If you're towing a large motorcycle trailer that's designed to hold more than one bike, the trailer may be wider than your vehicle. If this is the case, you'll want to keep this size difference in mind when making turns. In addition, be careful when braking. You don't just have to bring your vehicle to a stop; you have to bring thousands of pounds worth of cycle and trailer behind you to a stop, too. More mass means greater momentum and inertia, so be prepared to start applying the brakes early.
Of course, you won't have to worry about hitting the brakes too early if you avoid driving too fast to begin with. Many trailer manufacturers recommend keeping it down to 45 mph (72 kph). Keeping your speed down has the added bonus of helping to preventing three unwanted results: overheated trailer bearings, a jostled motorcycle and trailer sway. Trailer sway occurs due to an unbalance in the trailer, such as shifting cargo, a low tire or suspension problems. Whatever the reason, the trailer begins to sway back and forth behind the towing vehicle, much like a fish tail. If the sway worsens, the trailer can wind up jackknifing. Luckily, motorcycle-towing trailers are typically designed symmetrically and experience little or no weight redistribution during travel, so long as they've been properly secured. You can also cut down on sway by using friction bars, which absorb some of the trailer's momentum while braking.
Don't be like Larry. By following basic motorcycle trailer safety, you transport your ride and avoid unnecessary death and destruction in the process.
Explore the links on the next page to learn even more about motorcycle driving and towing.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- California Department of Motor Vehicles. "Towing Your Trailer Safely." 2007. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl648/dl648pt12.htm
- Fast Master Products. Oct. 17, 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.cruiserlift.com/
- Hayes Trailer Sales. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.hayestrailersales.com/
- "The Little Known Pitfalls Of A Motorcycle Tow." Custom Choppers Guide. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.custom-choppers-guide.com/motorcycle-tow.html
- "Motorcycle Tie-down Procedure." Sport Utility Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.sportutilitytrailers.com/motorcycle-tie-down-procedure.htm
- MotorcycleTrailer.com. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.motorcycletrailer.com/
- Rocket Motorcycle Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.rocketmotorcycletrailers.com/
- Sports Utility Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.sportutilitytrailers.com/
- "Stinger Motorcycle Trailer." Wikco.com. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.wikco.com/stngrtrlr.html
- Strickland, Jonathan. "How Trailer Towing Safety Works." HowStuffWorks.com. Sept. 30, 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) https://auto.howstuffworks.com/trailer-towing-safety.htm
- "Towing Guide." Sports Utility Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008) http://www.sportutilitytrailers.com/motorcycle-utility-boat-trailer-towing-guide.htm