The Low-Down on Choosing a Motorcycle Trailer

The Low-Down on Choosing a Motorcycle Trailer

thumb-trikeHave you ever heard of anyone buying a bike for the motorcycle trailer he already owns? Me neither. That’s not the way it works, is it? Instead bikers buy motorcycle trailers because they really want to go somewhere but unfortunately riding all the way there wouldn’t be much fun–it’s too cold, too hot, too dusty, too far, too much traffic, etc. So what kind of motorcycle hauler should the motivated biker buy? There’s a lot to consider to say the least.

How much are you willing to expose your bike to the elements? I’m constantly amazed that the same bikers who wouldn’t let anybody near their bikes with a sand blaster or a power washer will casually load their pride and joy on an open trailer and head to Sturgis or Daytona. Adding a significant gravel shield to the front of an open trailer limits some of the wind and rock damage you might otherwise get, but what about the power washer effects when it rains? Gravel shields don’t do a lot for that. Swaddling your bike in a cover doesn’t help much either. If the constant chafing hasn’t damaged your paint at pressure points by the time you get where you are going, the cover has probably been torn to bits by the incessant buffeting of the wind.

Recommendation: Unless you are only going to haul your motorcycle a few miles to get it serviced once or twice a year, forget about open trailers.

What kind of tow vehicle do you have, how much wear and tear on your tow vehicle are you willing to accept, and how much do you hate to spend money on gas? Once you get going, the weight of individual motorcycle haulers doesn’t make that much difference—until you come to a hill or need to stop in a hurry. You’ve got to have a tow vehicle with a lot of torque to tow a heavy bike hauler unless you’re willing to talk about minutes, rather than seconds, from zero to sixty. If you buy a heavy bike hauler and try to make do with an underpowered tow vehicle you’ll pay a steep price—in extra wear and tear on your transmission from excessive up and downshifting, and at the gas pump. Let’s not forget about wind resistance either. Buy a bike hauler with the wind resistance characteristics of a parachute and gas stations attendants will become your new best friends.

What about the driving experience? Huh? Isn’t driving just driving? Not by a long shot. What kind of cycle hauler you buy determines whether it’ll be fun or a nightmare. Let’s start with tongue weight. How many times have you seen somebody towing a bike hauler down the road with the rear of their vehicle near the pavement round and what looks like a couple of feet clearance under the front bumper? Did you notice how the front of the tow vehicle bounced its way down the road? The problem is too much weight on the tongue of the vehicle. A sure sign that the motorcycle trailer was either improperly loaded, not designed for hauling bikes, or both.

Recommendation: Unless you have at least a ¾ truck and don’t care how much fuel you use, avoid metal cargo trailers like the plague.

The relative weight of the tow vehicle and the bike trailer is another big factor that can take a lot of the fun out of trailering. Have you ever seen the fear on a driver’s face when his rig threatens to jack knife. Trust me, it’s not a good feeling. When your motorcycle hauler is simply too heavy for your tow vehicle, you can be riding down the road as happy as a lark and all of a sudden, the front of your trailer sways from one side to the other. Then it does it again, but further, and again. Sometimes you can drive through it and it’ll settle down, sometimes slowing down helps. Personally I’ve found no sure cure works-every- time approach. All I can tell you is that it is not something you want to experience. Unfortunately the kind of explosive oscillation I just described is not limited to trailers too heavy for their tow vehicles. It can also happen when a biker buys a motorcycle hauler that’s really too long for his needs and installs his tie downs up front, so he’ll have plenty of room to throw all the stuff he wants to take along in the back of the trailer. Then it turns out the stuff he throws in back really is not heavy enough to counterbalance his all-the-way-to-the-front bikes.

Another thing that can dramatically influence your driving experience, is the shape of your bike hauler. If you buy a trailer with sides as flat as a barn door and a flat top, you’ll discover two problems. One is that whenever an eighteen wheeler passes you at high speed, it’ll first push you away from it as the semi tractor draws even with your bike hauler, then suck you toward it as it passes on by. Not a lot of fun! The second problem is that side winds will cause you to unintentionally change lanes. I’ll never forget towing a 6 X 10 box trailer across Oklahoma with a Lincoln Navigator. It’s the only time I can ever remember having to hang onto one side of a steering wheel with both hands to keep the rig in one lane.

Recommendation: Unless you get off on feeling your sphincter pucker, stay away from flat-sided front-end heavy motorcycle trailers and learn how to properly balance your load.

Then there’s the quality of the ride. Now I know you’re not going to ride in your trailer but your pride and joy is. There are several issues. How will the motorcycle hauler you are considering handle potholes and speed bumps? It all depends on what kind and how many axles you have. Motorcycle transporters typically come with either leaf spring axles or rubber torsion axles. Most open, and a lot of cargo, trailers have leaf spring axles because they are the cheapest alternative. But unlike cars and trucks, leaf spring trailer axles don’t come with shocks, so good sized pothole or bumps typically set off a series of up and down movements. (It’s not uncommon to see empty trailers with leaf spring axles clear the ground when this happens.)

Adding a second leaf spring axle to a trailer chassis effectively splits the “shock” load between the two sets of springs and dramatically improves the ride. That’s why all but the smallest leaf spring trailers have tandem axles. Rubber torsion axles, on the other hand, act like a combination of a leaf spring and shock absorber. So much so that a rubber torsion axle stops bouncing about 80% faster than a leaf spring one does. Other things being equal, leaf spring single axles provide the poorest ride, tandem leaf spring axles and single rubber torsion axles provide about the same quality but much improved ride, and tandem rubber torsion axles provide the best ride of all.

Do you ever anticipate ever needing to move your bike hauler around your driveway or parking lot by hand? Keep in mind there’s a good reason why so few trailers have a rolling wheel on the bottom of the tongue jack. Most metal cargo trailers simply have too much tongue weight to move around by hand. But there’s more to it than that. If you are strong enough, you might be able to move a tandem axle trailer forward or backward, but with all four wheels on the ground, you’ll play hell turning it one way or the other.

Are you one of the fortunate few who never has to back your trailer into a tight spot? If you’re not, you need to take a tape measure with you when you go shopping for a motorcycle transporter. You see the shorter the distance between the ball and the axle, or the center of the two axles, the harder your bike hauler will be to back up. Eleven feet is about right. Much less and you’ll find yourself all crossed up. Much more and you’ll discover you need quite a lot of territory to get everything lined up the way you want it.

Recommendation: If quality of your bike hauler ride and maneuverability are issues stay away from single or tandem leaf springs, short tongues and heavy cargo trailers.

What about loading and unloading? Headroom is a big issue. Low profile enclosed trailers tow easier than tall ones, but if the trailer is too low, you risk taking your head off every time you ride your bike into it. Even if it has a front side door, stooping the entire time you are in the trailer is not a lot of fun. Fortunately, this is one case where you can have your cake and eat it too. Low profile, fiberglass trailers with flip tops are lightweight, tow easily and have plenty of headroom.

Elbow room and foot room are two other especially tricky issues. Neither is really a problem if all you want to haul is one bike at a time. But if you want to haul two bikes at a time, you’ll find that this time you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The maximum width that you can tow on most roads in the U.S. is 102”. Subtract a slight inset for the wheels and tires, the width of the wheel and tires themselves, a slight inside offset from the wheels and tires, and an internal wall you’ll find there is only about 78’’ left between the wheel wells. Now keep in mind that the tires are significantly taller than the height of the floor from the ground.

What does all this mean? It means that if you want elbow room greater than 78”, it’ll be easier to load two big full-fairing cruisers, but you’re going to have to accept the risk of tripping over a big fat wheel well. On the other hand, if you refuse to accept the risk of tripping over a wheel well, you will have to accept having no more that 78-80 inches of elbow room and loading two big full-fairing cruisers will never be fun. To further complicate the issue, every inch of elbow room beyond 78-80 inches is one more inch you’re going to need of rear view mirror extensions.

Recommendation: When it comes to towing ease, headroom, tripping risk, elbow room and rear visibility, you can’t have it all, so figure out what you are willing to give up before you start shopping.

Stowage is another issue. The last thing you want to do is just open the door to your motorcycle hauler and throw stuff in, either before or after you’ve loaded your bikes. Because if you do, you may find that some of that stuff has shifted a little bit by the time you get where you are going.

If you do plan carry it in your bike hauler, think about what you need access to with your bikes in place and what you won’t need until you get where you are going. Then think through how you are going to secure it. This is tricky territory because some things that look good at first glance aren’t so hot once you’ve tried them.

Helmet hooks or shelves are a good case in point. While they can be effective once you get where you are going, the last thing you want while you are underway is helmets swinging around and banging against whatever is in reach or worse yet bouncing off your bike(s). Cabinets sound good too but doors that swing open and drawers that slide out when you turn corners aren’t necessarily good for your bike. A clothes hanging rods is a nice feature, as long you don’t mind your clothes smelling like gasoline or oil when you get where you are going.

Recommendation: If stowage dominates your concerns, buy a cargo trailer or a toy hauler with lots of cabinets; otherwise buy a trailer designed to haul motorcycles from the get go, use it a couple of times, then customize its interior.

If you’re still reading, you’ve discovered by now that there’s a lot to think about before you buy a bike hauler. Fortunately, there’s a shortcut. Ironhorse Trailers were specifically designed with all these considerations in mind from the start. They are bike haulers first, last and always, not cargo trailers ill-suited for the job.

One Reply to “The Low-Down on Choosing a Motorcycle Trailer”

  1. Richard Mont

    Excellent Information . I have owned a tailer and experienced some of the various issues you have used as examples.

    Richard Mont

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