If you do a lot of motorcycle touring, especially camping, towing a trailer behind your bike can be very helpful and make you trip a lot more comfortable. However as with all aspects of motorcycling - safety should always be the number one priority. Here are a few things you will want to remember to safely tow a trailer behind your motorcycle.
Preparing to Tow a Trailer behind Your Motorcycle
- Purchase or Build a Quality Trailer - You want a trailer that is stable, tracks straight and pulls smoothly behind your motorcycle. A well-built trailer with a good suspension system will do all of those. I also recommend if you just bought or built a trailer to test pull it behind your truck or car before pulling it behind your motorcycle. Try to hit a few bumps and pull it at a decent speed for a bit to make sure you are not going to have any problems once you hitch it to your motorcycle.
- Use a Quality Hitch on Your Motorcycle - The trailer hitch should be designed specifically for your motorcycle. There are many companies out there that do make quality motorcycle hitches for every bike considered capable of towing a trailer. Do not attempt to rig-up a hitch that was not designed for your motorcycle.
- Inspect Your Trailer BEFORE EVERY RIDE - If something goes wrong with the trailer while towing it behind your motorcycle it could be catastrophic. Thoroughly inspect the hitch, tires, safety chains (cables), lighting, etc.
- Inspect Your Motorcycle BEFORE EVERY RIDE - This is something every ride should do anyway before a long ride, however it is even more important when towing a trailer behind your motorcycle. Check your tire pressure (I recommend to keep it toward the max rating when towing), shocks and hitch. Do not forget to inspect the hitch ball... wear, pitting or chipping on the ball can cause it to not pivot freely inside the trailer coupler which inhibit the motorcycle from leaning correctly and smoothly.
- Load Your Trailer Correctly - TRAILER WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION IS VERY IMPORTANT. Too much weight in the rear of the trailer will cause the trailer to become very unstable (see video here). Too much weight in the front of the trailer will cause binding of the hitch not allowing the motorcycle to lean properly and will also lift the front of the motorcycle reducing front wheel traction. The majority of the weight should be right over the wheels of the trailer. The additional loading of weight should be distributed to provide the proper tongue weight. I use a fishing scale (the type with a hook on a chain) and hook it to the trailer coupler and lift the trailer. Safe and preferred tongue weight will vary based on the trailers overall size and weight. For my trailer (pictured above) I prefer a tongue weight of 25 - 30 pounds depending on how much overall weight is in the trailer. Don't forget to bring the scale with you so you can check the tongue weight when you re-load for the trip home.
- Grease Your Trailer Ball - Before putting the coupler on the ball apply a generous layer of grease to the ball to ensure it moves freely for smooth leaning and turning. Tip: carry and old rag and wipe the grease from the ball as soon as you unhitch the trailer (almost every pair of jeans I own has a grease spot in the shim area from brushing against the greased ball). Also carry extra grease with you to re-grease the ball for the trip home.
Riding with a Trailer Behind Your Motorcycle
If you have ever towed a trailer behind a vehicle you already know that you need to change the way you drive to accommodate the trailer. The same holds true for pulling a trailer behind a motorcycle, with even a couple more things to consider.
- Hitching Your Trailer - When hithing your trailer to your motorcycle besure everthing is adjusted correctly and secure. Most couplers have and adjusting nut that sets how tight the coupler clamps to the ball. This should be adjusted so thier is a slight amount of gap (no more than 1/4"). Also check that the safety chains/cables are secure and the lighting wires are connected and lights are working properly. Be sure that the safety chains/cables and electrical wiring do not have too much slack to where they can rub the ground. Tip: I prefer safey cables over chains. Chains can rattle making an annoying noise.
- NEVER PULL AN EMPTY TRAILER - An empty or light loaded trailer will bounce and sway making very unstable and very unsafe. If you need to take your trailer somewhere put a decent amount of weight in the trailer above the wheels. Tip: I actually have a left over piece of granite I place in the trailer if I need to go somewhere and what I am taking does not provide enough weight.
- Lane Placement - We have all learned when riding a motorcycle not to ride down the center of the lane because that is where all the oil is left from passing cars. When pulling a trailer you don't have much of a choice but to keep the bike near the center of the lane to ensure the trailer is fully in the lane. I try to ride just left of the center of the lane using my rear view mirror to see that the left trailer tire is right where a car tire would be in the lane.
- Turning - Believe it or not turning a motorcycle with a trailer behind it (provided you followed all the tips above) is not that much different than the normal turning of your motorcycle. However you do need to remember to turn a little wider so as not to drag the trailer over the curb. You will also have slightly limited lean angle when taking turns at speed. Then again you should not be going through turns all that fast when towing a trailer behind your motorcycle!
- Stopping - Your trailer most likely does not have its own brakes and since it is behind you it will 'push' on the motorcycle as you stop. Stopping with a trailer behind your motorcycle should always be done in a slow even manor remembering to allow for more stopping distance than normal. If you do need to emergency brake try to keep you motorcycle as straight as possible. Tip: When you first get your trailer hitched to your motorcycle go to a safe area like an empty parking lot and practice braking. Start our slowly and move up to faster speeds with more aggressive braking.
- Parking - When parking try you best to find a pull through spot so you do not need to back up with your trailer. Also try to avoid heading into parking lots or down isles they may force you to backup or turn around to get out. However with a little practice you will find you can guide you trailer pretty well while pushing the motorcycle back. I have gotten pretty good at backing out of, and even into, parking spots.
- Remember Your Trailer is Back There - If all is set up correctly you will find after you have pulled a trailer behind your motorcycle for a while it will become fairly natural and your motorcycle will not feel all that much different when the trailer is back there. That is good for riding with confidence; however that can cause problems if you forget to allow more stopping room or take a turn to inside and drag your trailer over a curb or off the road.
Follow these tips and you should be able to load up all your stuff and have a safe ride!