Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: I rode my bike to trailer week...a.k.a. pulling a trailer with your motorcycle.

1.30.2010

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: http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=66771. 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.