Sometimes you just need to get your bike somewhere and riding it isn’t an option. Maybe it’s a dirt bike, or maybe your road bike quit running on you. It happens to the best of us.
Here are some tips to make sure the bike stays on the trailer and doesn’t get damaged in transport. All of this is assuming you’re doing this alone or with minimal help.
You should ensure you have the tools and supplies to safely tow a bike: a trailer, appropriate tie-down points on said trailer, tie-downs that are rated for the weight of your bike, and soft ties.
Secure the Trailer
First, make sure the trailer is secured to the tow vehicle. I know this seems obvious, but if you forget, and try to load a bike onto an unsecured trailer, chances are good that the trailer will roll or tip up, or both. Secure the hitch, and put your hitch lock on.
Load the Bike
When you roll the bike onto the trailer, park the bike as far forward as possible with the front wheel straight, the bike in gear and resting on its side stand. If your trailer doesn’t have a full-width built-in ramp, make sure you use two ramps, one for you and one for the bike. Secure the ramps to the trailer so that they cannot slide out from under you and the bike during loading.
There are several valid ways to secure a bike to a trailer. Here’s how I do it.
Lock It Down
Put one soft-tie around each fork just above the lower triple, being VERY careful not to capture any lines, wires, or hoses that might be in the area. Wrap a soft tie around each rear passenger peg mount point, too, or any handy rear frame parts.
If your motorcycle has a sport fairing and clipons instead of a clean shot to the lower triple and handlebars, you might want to look into something like Canyon Dancers. Do your own research, of course. No part of your motorcycle should touch any part of the tie-downs apart from the actual tie-down point, or you will lose paint. You may argue that you don’t need soft-ties, either, because you’re comfortable with the tie-down hooks alone, and that’s OK. Make sure the webbing of the tie-downs isn’t in contact with anything sharp. They will rub and break.
Secure your front tie-downs: to the trailer on one end and the soft ties on the bike, on the other. Pull most (but not all) of the excess material through the ratchet mechanism and then click it over a few times. Do this on both sides in front, without pulling anything super tight. You might need help with this step if the hooks on your tie-downs do not have retaining clips as shown. If the hooks fall from the loops, you’re going to need help, or a few extra laps, to keep everything slightly taut.
Keep It Upright
Here’s where you have to be very careful. Stand on the ground while doing this, not on your trailer. Tighten your bike’s throttle side tie-down just enough to lift the bike off its side stand. Pick up the side stand, then tighten both front tie-downs together, while keeping the bike as upright as possible.
I’ve seen lots of bikes secured to a trailer while leaning on the side stand. This is a bad practice. The side stand cannot compress. The tie-downs will not secure the bike as well with the side stand down, and you may damage your side stand’s mount point, since it was never meant to take the kind of abuse a trailer is capable of dishing out. If the stand foot is small, and the trailer cheap, sometimes trailering forces can allow it to punch through the trailer floor; havoc will then ensue.
Lots of folks use cam straps instead of ratchet straps for tie downs, but I do not prefer cam straps. For one, I don’t have the upper body strength or weight to compress the bike’s suspension as much as it needs to be, for safe trailering. Also, I plain don’t trust cam straps for a high-stakes context like this.
The bike should now be secured to the trailer by its front end, and the wheel should be up against the front of the trailer. Grab a grip and give it a good yank – the bike and trailer should shake like they’re one single unit. If the bike moves more than the trailer does, give the ratchets another click or two.
The Rear End
Now, hook your two remaining tie-downs to the rear soft ties, and secure the rear of the bike like the front: pull excess tie-down material through the ratchet, then click to secure. The rear end of the bike should compress a couple inches. Close all the ratchet straps.
Some folks may argue that securing the rear is not necessary, but I have had tie-downs randomly fail on me, and those rear points saved my bike from falling over or exiting the trailer. Belt and suspenders, folks. Also, make sure the loops on the straps are still where you want them all to be, especially if they are not clip-type.
No, That’s Just Ice Cream
Some folks may also argue that compressing the forks can blow fork seals. I say: if trailering blows your fork seals, they were on their way out already, and you got lucky. Your bike’s already on a trailer! Go get them fixed.
The Front Wheel
Now, if your trailer has a built-in wheel chock, you can skip this part. Mine does not, so I use one of those low-stakes cam straps to secure the front wheel to the trailer.
Sometimes the trailer will hit a big enough bump to compress the bike’s suspension even more than it is already, and when it hops, I don’t want the front wheel to go sideways out from under the bike.
After the motorcycle is secured to the trailer, there can be many feet of webbing on those straps, laying about unused. Good sets of ratchet straps sometimes come with velcro ties to secure the loose ends. I never count on those, and use a method I learned from a friend in the Civil Air Patrol. It is basically crochet, and with one knot at the base, it comes apart with a tug at your destination.
Here’s how: make a loop, then pull a loop of the webbing through that loop, pull it a little bit so it’s not saggy, then do it again, over the taut section of the strap, then under, then over, etc. When you rcome to the end, pull it through a loop and pull it tight. With a little practice this goes REALLY fast, and it keeps your ties neat on the trailer, and guarantees no loose ends to potentially beat up your paint, get caught under trailer wheels, or cause any other mayhem.
Secure All Keys
Now you’ve secured the trailer to your vehicle, the bike to the trailer, and the tie-downs to themselves. Pull the bike’s key out of its ignition and put it somewhere safe inside the tow vehicle, along with your hitch lock key. Remove anything else from the bike that might fly off: you’d notice if you were riding, but if you’re towing an open trailer, anything you lose is just gone. Put up the ramp(s) and remember that when you’re backing up, your trailer goes in the same direction as the bottom of your steering wheel.
Do you have any fantastic tips or tricks when it comes to trailering your motorcycle?