Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: January 2010


I rode my bike to trailer week...a.k.a. pulling a trailer with your motorcycle.

NOTE: This article is written based on personal experience. Before modifying hardware or carrying heavy loads with your motorcycle, please check your owner's manual for weight limitations and other warnings. You have been warned.

Going on a long motorcycle trip? Need to get an item from point A to point B and don't want to take the car? Want to take advantage of the HOV lanes on your local freeways? Just want to turn heads? Try pulling a trailer with your motorcycle! Trailers can be easily pulled by larger-displacement motorcycles (i.e. 900cc or higher) and, when outfitted properly, can enhance your bike's utility and cargo-carrying capabilities.

When Matt and I were still living in CA, we often spent many a Friday evening battling LA's brutal traffic from our place in La Habra (just south of the LA County Line) to El Segundo to get to my hockey games, a distance of approximately 40 miles each way. On days when Matt would be off work, it was easy to jump in the car and take the carpool (HOV) lane all the way down the 91 and 105 freeways. However, when I was by myself during those evenings, I had to add nearly an hour of travel time to the rink because I couldn't use the express lane.

So, one day, Matt suggested that I look into pulling a trailer with my 2007 FJR1300 because doing so would (a) save gas, (b) allow me to use the carpool lane because I would be on a motorcycle, and (c) look so absurd that it would be awesome. (Reason C is very typical of Matt.)

I first scoffed at the proposition and thought that pulling trailers was only reserved for the likes of Honda Goldwings and Harleys. But, after a little bit of internet research, I discovered that there were at least two companies that made direct bolt-on trailer hitches for my FJR and pictures of my bike yanking stuff behind it. This started to make even more sense to me when I realized that my bike had more than twice the horsepower and a lot more torque than a larger H-D (approximately 140hp compared to 60-75hp). I had the pulling power; now I just needed to use it.

So, we started the experiment. I decided on the hitches sold by Motorcycle Hitch USA, a dealer for Quebec-based Denray Corporation. The hitch itself is made out of welded steel, bolts directly to the sub frame of the motorcycle, and uses a standard 1" ball. It has a low profile look and isn't very noticeable at a quick glance. Its maximum tongue weight of 50 lbs. was sufficient for the size of trailer that we were proposing to build.

For the trailer, we purchased a the smallest barebones frame we could find from Harbor Freight Tools. It was a 3'x4' sized frame, which may possibly be discontinued because I didn't see it on the website at the time I wrote this blog entry. The kit came with lights and tires so it was approved for street use. We then traveled to Home Depot and purchased wood slats for the side rails and steel mesh sheets for the floor (to save weight) and attached them onto the trailer frame using standard bolts. In the end, we had a trailer that looked something like a Radio Flyer wagon, but its open design allowed for multiple uses. Its latest mission was towing hockey equipment across the country during our move to Columbus, OH, a 2500 mile, 5 day trek.
Here it is in its primary job, towing hockey equipment.
Its use then evolved to more fun things, such as outdoor camping.
And finally, the occasional towing service for the scooter.

Not surprisingly, Harbor Freight Tools caught on that many motorcyclists have used the trailer frame to make custom carriers. They have now started selling a more refined trailer that resembles a roof-top car carrier with wheels: It's an affordable, yet elegant alternative from our original homemade design and definitely beats the thousands of dollars you'd spend on a custom, fiberglass rig. In addition, there are companies that have taken the motorcycle trailer concept to the next level, creating fold-out campers that are light and easily towable. Two companies who make these styles of trailers are Trailmster Inc. and Roadman Campers.

In terms of feel on the motorcycle when pulling the trailer, it's pretty unnoticeable when you're traveling in a straight line. Because you're pulling weight, acceleration and deceleration will change but will be very minor. When traveling at highway speeds, the trailer is smooth; however, maximum speed before minor sway (the trailer moves left and right) changes depending on the weight and placement of your loads. After a few long rides with the trailer in tow, you will be able to tell those differences on the fly.

So that's the story of the infamous trailer and how it became a part of our ever growing two-wheeled garage. With traffic getting worse and gas prices always fluctuating, I hope to see more of these attachments on bikes in the future. However, it's also a matter of informing riders that they are capable of pulling trailers with their motorcycles as long as they have mastered their basic riding skills and controls.

Several points to keep in mind when towing a trailer with your motorcycle:
- Practice riding with the trailer in low speeds on local roads. Get used to your new accessory and how it affects control, steering, and stopping distance. Practice emergency braking and maneuvers with the trailer attached in an open parking lot. When you get confident with your ability to pull the trailer, practice highway runs to gauge maximum speeds, sway, and bike feel.
- Brake sooner when pulling a trailer. Your bike's load is increased and the additional weight will increase stopping distance.
- Balance your weight load. Uneven loads can increase the chance of trailer sway and can make turning feel awkward.
- Secure your items tightly to the trailer. Bungee cords, nets, and even containers within the trailer will keep your stuff from flying all over the road.
- Stay below maximum tongue weight levels. This will reduce the possibility of hitch failure.
- Check your trailer's tire pressure and attachment points. Tire pressure on your trailer can affect control and stability. Also, make sure to check the trailer's hitch for any loose bolts or broken parts.


Long-Term Product Review: Thor 50/50 Boots

Since it's snowing quite a bit here in Columbus, OH, I'm taking some time to muse about some of the motorcycle gear that has become part of my riding over the last year and a half (and the 60,000 miles to go with it). When you're riding that much (at one point in time, averaging 120 miles a day), your gear has to be reliable, safe, and comfortable. I've been happy with these Thor boots and would like to share my review on these with you all.

The Thor 50/50 is a motocross-style boot that harnesses the rugged protection of a mid-height dirtbike boot and the comfort of a street boot. This product is marketed toward for both the street and the dirt and equally fits both worlds. I have used this boot over the past year and a half through tours spanning thousands of miles and commutes that involved four of the busiest freeways in the United States. If you are looking for a boot that is easy to wear, flexible, and durable this is definitely one to take into consideration.

Simplicity: The 50/50 uses a Rollerblade-style clip system to fasten the boots to your feet. They're easily adjustable and allow for an easy on-off while still maintaining a customizable, snug fit.

Break-in: This boot was comfortable right out of the box and its fit only improved with time. The sole is cut in the major flex points of the sole to assist in walking and putting the foot down when stopping the bike.

Protection: The boot covers and protects the ankle, heel, and toes adequately. Additionally, the front of the boot is reinforced with a plastic cover to reduce premature wear on the shifter toe and to protect from flying debris.

Waterproof ability: The 50/50 is not waterproof; however, it can resist the quick sprinkle for an average commute to work. I find this to be one of its few weaknesses, but then again, it wasn't designed to be a rain boot.

Hot weather riding: This is the main reason why I purchased these boots. Vent holes have been placed throughout the boot in vital areas to allow for moving air to flow through the boot without compromising structural integrity. Combine this with moisture-wicking socks and your feet won't have to worry about overheating. When you're riding through the Southwestern states where triple digits are the norm, every advantage is well worth it.

Sizing: There are no half sizes for the 50/50 so fitting would have to be either one size up or down depending on your fit. They fit true to shoe size.

Replacement parts: Thor's customer service is easily accessible by phone (they're based out of San Diego, CA). I've had to contact them twice for replacement parts. They will mail out parts to you in a few days along with stickers! It isn't often that this will happen, but heavy riding, wear and tear, and temperatures over 119°F can cause plastic to melt, but not to worry! The casual rider will never have to worry about broken parts.

Value: These boots are retailed between $89-$109. Their durability has been proven to me ride after ride and is well worth the money.

Conclusion: When I have to retire this first pair of 50/50s, I'm picking up a new pair and starting over again. These have been my favorite all-around boot and a very affordable one at that. It may be unusual to think of Thor when turning to street boots, but they've really hit the mark with this hybrid style of footwear. They also come in several colors ranging from a natural brown (my current pair) to white to fit your style.

Regardless of what motorcycle boots you choose to wear, be sure that they provide adequate ankle protection and enough durability for regular motorcycle use. Ride safe!


There's no school like the old game.

It's been a bit challenging to deal with this very motorcycle un-friendly weather. Currently, central Ohio is in the midst of snowfall that is expected to hit about 4-5" in the next day. In comparison to other parts of the United States that are in the deep freeze (Bismarck, ND is recording wind chill of more than -50F° and parts of New Mexico are below 0°F), this isn't much of a tragedy. I spent about 45 minutes outside with my future mother-in-law shoveling our driveway, the driveways of three other neighbors, and the surrounding sidewalks to help reduce some of the snow hazards that has gotten cars losing grip all over the neighborhood. As of today, a Level 1 snow warning has been issued and schools won't be in session tomorrow.

To sum it up, I'm at home, and since I can't spend all day in front of my trusty computer lest I drive myself mad, I had to find something else to do that didn't require a car ride. So, out come the video games...the vintage video games!

There's something about the replay value of an original NES (Nintendo), SNES (Super Nintendo), or Sega Genesis that creeps back up to the surface every now and again. Matt and I have plugged those old systems back into the TV and spent hours beating and re-beating levels, finding secrets, and appreciating, once again, the electronic gadgets that had been vital parts of our childhood. And, thanks to used video game stores in the Columbus area, we've actually added a few more games to the vintage sets! I've been a good girl and not logged into eBay to pick up any more.

So, this is how we cope with snow...that and occasionally firing up the bikes to hear the engines again and keep the batteries alive. Perhaps the snow this early in the year may yield faster melting? There will be a pocket to ride again eventually.