Towing your Motorcycle around by Trailer
"When I first started moving our motorbike around on a trailer I thought nothing of it. Many trips later I have learnt that there are some pitfalls that can lead to disaster for the unsuspecting. "
The next issue is whether your trailer has the load bearing capacity for your bike(s). This is easily worked out as the trailer will have a sticker attached to it with this information (the Tare and the GVM) The smaller of these two numbers is the maximum permissible mass for the bike(s) you intend to load. This number is determined by the strength of the axle fitted to the trailer. The larger number is the maximum mass of the trailer itself with its load in place. The mass of your bike is found in its technical documentation but remember that this is its factory ’dry weight’ - no fluids whatsoever and without the extras you may have added later. Should you find that your trailer tends wallow and sway a bit too much you can have stiffer springs fitted for about R500-00. (this modification will not however increase the maximum permissible mass of the trailer)
The front of your motorcycle is surprisingly delicate. The part most at risk are the two telescopic tubes or stanchions that make up the front suspension. The bright silver tube has to remain clean and completely i.e. totally, smooth. Any dings to this area will tear the rubber seal in the lower stanchion and cause the telescopic oil inside the suspension to leak. What has this to do with trailers? Well a trailer should offer some protection for the bike (and the stanchions) as the rear wheels of the car kick up dust and stones which can easily damage these delicate areas. Obviously poor dirt roads are more likely to cause problems that highway travelling. If the trailer offers no protection (as is the case with many so called ’bike’ trailers) then you should make some effort to protect the smaller stanchions before heading off.
For some strange reason the wheels of trailers are prone to coming off i.e. the nuts work themselves loose!! My first hand experience had the loose nuts popping off within two kilometres of me driving off. The message here is simple - check the wheel nuts every time you load your pride and joy onto the trailer. This is even more critical if the wheel nuts where loosened recently.
Trailers do not enjoy the best seat in the house. Many are left for long periods in the driveway, under a tree or in the garden. This encourages rust but more importantly is bad news for the wheel bearings. If your trailer is abused in this way have the bearings serviced every year or two. At the same time get the tyres checked and the small rubber tube that houses the tyre valve replaced. My last set of trailer tyres still had a lot of tread left but the rubber was badly perished when I replaced them. Finally check the reflectors (red for the back, yellow for the sides and white for the front). They are prone to falling off as many are only attached with double sided tape.
There are a number of solutions to lashing your motorcycle in place with fancy tie downs, web strapping and ratchets being quite common these days. One things is for sure. Your tie down must not touch anything on its way from attachment point to attachment point. Not even the smoothest, painted steel surface. A few hundred kilometres of vibrations in the 100km gale behind your car and the smoothest contact point will make a weak point in your tie down. If a contact point is unavoidable due to the design of your trailer than you need to put some protection around the tie down in the area in question e.g. old winter socks with the toe cut off and slipped over the tie down work well.
This webbing sustained damage touching the smooth paint of the side of a trailer over a four hour trip at 120kph
There is a simple trick to lashing your motorbike in place once it is on the trailer i.e. get someone to sit on the bike. Get them to lean forward and torque the front tie downs up and then repeat for the back. This compresses the bikes suspension. This is necessary as the suspension continues to work on your bike even although it is on the back of a trailer. This means that when you hit a bump the suspension will compress which will allow the tie down to become momentarily slack. Do not get over zealous however! A tie down that is much too tight will pop the rubber seals in your suspension and leave marks at the attachment points. One can now buy a special attachment to protect your suspension but still allow the tie downs to be very tight.
The steel hooks on the end of many tie down also leave marks, on the handle bars in particular. Most hooks have a protective coating which unfortunately lasts one trip before wearing through and allowing steel on steel (this is especially true if you make your tie downs too tight).
Finally a word on track days and motorcycle courses that last the whole day or weekend. Tote your bike there on a trailer! These courses will drain you physically and then a long trip home is not a good idea.