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How to Safely Load, Hold, and Transport a Motorcycle in/on a Trailer using Tie Downs

Updated on September 16, 2013
Adding Chocks to your trailer helps with loading and stability during transport.
Adding Chocks to your trailer helps with loading and stability during transport. | Source

Whether it's time to take your bike to the track, the mountains, a rally, or anywhere else, nothing beats the ease and convenience of loading it on a trailer.

Trailers come in many shapes and sizes, covered and uncovered, and various level of sturdiness. Having seen a fellow unload 6 bikes from a landscaping trailer, the HARD way, including flipping over the tow vehicle, the first thing to consider is whether or not the trailer you have is the right tool for the job. Inspect the ball lock, the welds of the frame, the wheels, and the tie down points. There's no sense in strapping your trusty steed to a rust bucket or death trap waiting to shred rubber. Once your satisfied with the condition, and your sure that there are enough sturdy tie-down points, then you can move on to the bike or bikes you wish to carry.

Motorcycle Chocks

Another important thing to consider is keeping the bike stable once it's on the trailer. If you don't use something to keep the front tire from twisting, then it may cause a strap to get loose, and the bike to fall over. If you have a couple of pristine, beautiful paint jobs, the last thing you want is one bike trying to make whoopie to the other. A wheel chock can help to prevent this situation. Chocks can be permantly affixed or removable, some allow you to roll them in and they self lock the wheel in place, such that you can dismount the bike and walk away. When planning your trailer's tie down points, it is a good idea to consider the use of motorcycle front wheel chocks.

Tie-Down Mounts and Straps

Motorcycles come in multiple shapes, sizes, and have a varied assortment handlebars, crash bars, fairings, and other exotic widgets, but the one thing that's almost never considered by the manufacturer is a decent tie down point. If you have a chrome horse with multiple creature-feature widget, then you'll have plenty of points to hook a tie-down, then attach it to the trailer's tie-down mount. Something to consider is that if you have old tie-downs with rusty hooks, then those will transfer the rusty love to the surface of the handlebars, crash bars, or wherever else you put it. If this is a concern to you, then ensure that your hooks are all covered with rubber, or use extra straps, rags, or other cushion to prevent from damaging your quality piece of art. Also, old nasty tie-downs may be frayed, the mechanics rusty, or other problems that you'll wish you had some nice new one.

All straps are not created equal. Some have a quick release device, other's, like Rachet Straps, require a PhD from an Ivy League Institution to figure out. Some have a soft-tie incorporated on them, others have loops instead of hooks. When purchasing straps, understand what you're buying, and where they will attach to both the bike and the trailer.

Real Life Geometry

As you were sleeping through Geometry class, who would've known you could use it to win money at the Billiards table, but now you need it to keep your bike safe and secure. So, wake up and remember your acutes from your obtuses.

As you're configuring your trailer setup, there are multiple ways that a bike can be tied down. The most basic way is to put the front wheel into a chock, and use two straps to pull the bike forward into the chock, but also a little sideways. All this pulling motion will help to compress the forks, which coupled with the sticky rubber, will hold the bike in place

Of course this works great, until one of the straps malfunctions, and then the bike-on-bike love making begins. Adding a couple more straps to the rear isn't always required, but if one of the front straps breaks, then it would be nice to have a backup plan. In the case you have a 20-foot long trailer, I guarantee you that the two bikes in back will dance the rear tires back and forth as you bop down the highway. Securing the rear in that case is a very good idea.

Unfortunately, some bike have very spindley forks, and having that much pressure against them for a long ride may result in a blown fork seal. There's nothing worse than getting to your destination, and find your forks are weeping from the pain. In that case, using a very low-mounted, 4-way tie down system will keep your seals from barking. In this configuration, imagine a large X, where your bike sits in the middle, and the four endpoints of the X are your floor mounting points. From there, you use 4 straps to hold the bike in place, but use only low mounting points. You can try right around the footpegs whereas to straps are pulling the bike forward, and the two rear straps are pulling the bike backword, but there's also enough tension to hold up the bike side-to-side. This technique also makes it such that a front wheel chock isn't needed. Again, this isn't a technique to try with a Full Dresser, but works great on an Enduro.

if you can find it, look up the story where the 'Army of Darkness' motorcycle race team flipped their enclosed trailer, and both bikes were tied down so well, that they stayed suspended in air locked to the floor.

Safely Transporting the Motorcycle in/on the trailer

Once your motorcycling is proper affixed to the trailer, it is important to use the ball lock, safety chains, stabilizer / anti-sway bars, and/or the quick-release brakeaway swich. All of these safety devices are there for your safety, and the safety of the drivers around you.

The Ball lock affixes the trailer tongue to the ball, such that bumps do not knock if off the ball. Ensure to use a lock through the hole to ensure the lock is locked and stays locked around the ball. The safety chains are redundant failure to if/when the ball lock fails and the tongue does manage to separate from the ball. The chains keep the trailer closely affixed to the toy vehicle. I have never suffered this fate, but there are plenty of videos that demonstrate this disaster-to-be.

Stabilizer / Anti-sway bars help to prevent the trailer from swaying side-to-side, buy only when the ball stays affixed to the tongue. This requires a special ball carrier that has slots for the bars, and they connect via a chain on the rear portion of the tongue. Typically this isn't needed for single axle trailers, but is very common now on multiple axles. it also aids in weight distribution of the tongue weight.

For multiple axle trailers, they will usually have brakes installed in one or more axles. The brakes are controlled by a box within the tow vehicle that modulates the braking electronically. In the case the trailer manages to separate itself from the tow vehicle the breakaway switch will remove a plunger from the inside and engange the brakes locking the wheels. (I contend that having trailer brakes lockup at 55+ MPH isn't ideal, but suppose that it's better than it running free.)

From there, drive the speed limits and be as smooth as you possibly can. You want to avoid jack-rabbit starts, hard-braking, and lateral G-forces when turning corners. All of these cause stress on all of the members described above, and can cause really bad things to happen.

Motorcyle Trailer Safety Checklist

Item
Ball Tongue Lock secure and Pinned
Lights / Brake wires plugged into tow vehicle
Turn signals, Marker Lights, Brake Lights operational
Brakes engage
Brake Controller operational
Brake Breakaway operational
Tires inflated properly, proper tread depth, no dry rot
Stabilizer Bars installed correctly
Safety Chains connected
Floor mount correctly installed
Tie-Downs are in good working order, no cuts or frays
Motorcycles are secured properly

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