How Motorcycle Towing Trailers Work

Moments like this are nice, but sometimes it's more expedient to strap your bike to a trailer and roll out of town.
Moments like this are nice, but sometimes it's more expedient to strap your bike to a trailer and roll out of town.
Zigy Kaluzny/Stone/Getty Images

If you've ever climbed on a motorcycle and cut loose across the highway, then you know just how exhilarating a road trip can be. Even if you haven't, you've probably encountered plenty of iconic scenes in film and literature. Whether you're reading about a philosophic father-and-son road trip in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" or watching two drug smugglers search for America in "Easy Rider," it's hard not to dream about setting off into the sunset yourself.

Inspired? Well, unfortunately there's nothing romantic about taking your Harley on a journey through the American Midwest if you tow it behind your SUV. You can blast "Highway to Hell" all you want but, really, who are you kidding? Sometimes, however, you just need to transport a motorcycle from point A to point B. Maybe you're moving all your belongings cross-country or just want to get your precious 1965 Ducati Monza Jr. to the bike show in one piece.

­Whatever your reasons are, you can't just tie the bike to your bumper and drag it along. Nor would you want to. If you own a truck with an open bed, you can invest in various motorcycle cradles. Otherwise, you'll probably want to rent or purchase a motorcycle towing trailer. Various models are available, including flatbed trailers, two-wheel motorcycle trailers and trailer hitch adapters that clamp to the cycle's front wheel. It all depends on how many bikes you need to tow and how much they weigh.

In this article, we'll look at the three main varieties of motorcycle towing trailers, as well as a few options you might not have thought of.

Flatbed Motorcycle Towing

Flatbed trailers provide an excellent means of motorcycle trailer towing.
Flatbed trailers provide an excellent means of motorcycle trailer towing.
© Tzlov

Motorcycle towing isn't a complicated endeavor -- at least no more so than safely moving any heavy piece of machinery. You want to make sure the cargo is secure to prevent damages, and you want to check that the towing vehicle and trailer can handle the weight. If you drive a truck with a large enough cargo hold, then you're already halfway there. Otherwise, you can always connect a flatbed trailer to your trailer hitch.

More than likely, you've seen a flatbed trailer before. It's essentially a flat cargo space on wheels that you tow behind your vehicle. Some have two wheels, others four, depending on how much weight they're designed to support. Two-wheel trailers typically have either a fold-down foot or dolly wheel under the trailer tongue. This feature allows users to secure the trailer when it's not attached to a vehicle.

Flatbed trailers generally offer you enough room to haul around various types of cargo. Depending on the particular model, you might have enough room for a couple of motorcycles or even an entire automobile. It all depends on the specific flatbed trailer you choose and your vehicle's towing capacity. Either way, you're going to have to secure your cycle or cycles to the trailer. You can accomplish this with the use of ratcheting, nylon tow straps. Just take care to attach the straps to the front and rear suspension forks, or other firm parts of the vehicle frame. Don't secure them across the seat or bodywork.

In addition, you can use a motorcycle rail, wheel cradle or wheel chock to help lock the cycle in place. A motorcycle rail is exactly what it sounds like: a single length of metal with enough room to accommodate the width of the cycle's tires. A wheel cradle, on the other hand, provides a shorter, C-shaped length of rail to cradle the front wheel. These devices may lock or strap in place on a flatbed or require drilling to install. Some designs even remove the necessity for straps.

By using these towing accessories, you can turn many flatbed trailers into motorcycle towing trailers. Many enclosed cargo trailers can be adapted similarly, allowing you to protect your bike from the elements. In fact, some trailer rental companies offer the necessary chocks to do just this. Just be sure to check to make sure the trailer and towing vehicle can handle the weight.


Looking for a more cycle-specific towing method? On the next page, we'll look at two-wheel motorcycle trailers.

Two-Wheel Motorcycle Towing Trailers

Don't care to drive those bikes through the forest? The two-wheel motorcycle towing trailer may save the day.
Don't care to drive those bikes through the forest? The two-wheel motorcycle towing trailer may save the day.
Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Sure, flatbed trailers are versatile, but if you're certain that all you'll ever need to tow is a motorcycle or two, then two-wheel motorcycle towing trailers may be more your speed. Some of the smaller models are even foldable. When not in use, they can occupy a corner of your garage instead of, say, most of your driveway.

The basic two-wheel motorcycle towing trailer design takes the properties that make flatbed motorcycle towing work and strips them down to the bare necessities. Most feature two trailer wheels on an axle, a ramp, a trailer hitch and one or more motorcycle rails to hold the bike or bikes in place. Many models don't feature anything resembling a trailer bed, while others have flat surface areas with wheel cradles mounted at the front.

Manufacturers recognize that motorcycle enthusiasts have different varieties and quantities of bikes that need towing. As such, you can find various sizes aimed at everything from small dirt bikes to the most massive, custom choppers. Just make sure that the trailer's weight and size specifications meet the demands of your intended payload.

Most two-wheel motorcycle towing trailers feature a fold-down stand or dolly wheel, either of which provides stability and balance when detached from a vehicle. In addition, some trailers actually feature two sets of wheels, with the axles positioned close together near the center of the trailer. These work along the same lines as their two-wheel counterparts, only with twice as many wheels to bear the weight of heavier loads.

But maybe you're not looking to add any more tires to the mix. On the next page, we'll look at ways you can get by with just one or even zero towing wheels.

Motorcycle Towing Cradles

Motorcycle towing cradles, such as the Ansell Tow Dolly, allow you to tow your bike without a trailer.
Motorcycle towing cradles, such as the Ansell Tow Dolly, allow you to tow your bike without a trailer.
Photo courtesy James Ansell

If you're just looking to bring one motorcycle along for a ride behind your vehicle, you might not want to invest in a trailer and all the maintenance that goes with its multiple wheels. Luckily, there are other towing options for motorcycle owners who don't want to burn quite that much rubber on the highway.

Motorcycle towing cradles (also known as motorcycle trailer hitch dollies and receiver hitch motorcycle caddies) allow you to hook the front wheel of your bike to the vehicle and let the back wheel roll freely behind. These cradles consist of a wheel cradle or chock that locks directly into the towing vehicle's hitch tube. All you have to do is lock the front wheel into this contraption and, in some cases, further secure the bike with towing straps.

If you're driving an RV cross-country, you might want to keep a bike around. After all, what if the cannibalistic mutants from "The Hills Have Eyes" attack you and your family? How many terrible horror films might we have been spared if someone had thought to strap a dirt bike to the back of that camper? RV motorcycle lifts attach to the trailer hitch and add just enough of a ledge against the rear of the vehicle to accommodate one or two horizontally mounted bikes. The motorcycles typically lock into place with the aid of straps, wheel chocks, cradles or rails.

Swivel wheel or fifth wheel motorcycle trailers take this same principle and extend the ledge out even farther -- so far, in fact, that a single, swiveling wheel mount is required to support the trailer's weight. This ledge allows RV owners to mount one or more bikes vertically behind the vehicle. Unlike traditional trailers, you don't hav­e to worry about jackknifing since the trailer is essentially an extension of the vehicle.

In the end, you can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to haul your bike around. Motorcycle trailers are an excellent way to get out on the highway, without actually getting your bike's motor running.

Explore the links on the next page to learn even more about motorcycles and towing.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • California Department of Motor Vehicles. "Towing Your Trailer Safely." 2007. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • Fast Master Products. Oct. 17, 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • Hayes Trailer Sales. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • "The Little Known Pitfalls Of A Motorcycle Tow." Custom Choppers Guide. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • Rocket Motorcycle Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • Sports Utility Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • "Stinger Motorcycle Trailer." 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • "Towing Guide." Sports Utility Trailers. 2008. (Oct. 22, 2008)