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Towing a Trailer

Motorcycling articles by Leonard R.

Leonard - Motorcycle Touring contributor
I have been towing a trailer for 16 years. However, that does not make me an expert, but just some one with experience. Don't compare the aspects of a tiny trailer behind a motorcycle, to those trailers towed behind cars and trucks. I have towed trailers behind both cars and trucks and the behavior is different.

The advantage of towing a trailer is, you have so much more room to take stuff. Stuff that will make your riding and camping more comfortable. Why, you might even have room for that lap top.

When towing a trailer, your more visible on the road both day and night too. Due to the increase of your over all size and the extra lights at night.

Wood motorcycle trailer
People who haven't towed a trailer behind a bike have inevitably argued with me about the trailer skidding, sliding or pushing. With the trailer in tow, Judy and I have ridden in the rain more times then we can remember. A few times in snow. Many times on muddy roads. And countless times in hard driving cross winds. I have stood on the motorcycle brake and squeezed the front brake with all my might on occasion, and the trailer did not swing around on me. The trailer never wavers in it's faithful following. A case in point. My thoughts, under trying conditions, always focuses on the behavior of the bike, not what the trailer might do. I trust the trailer. Like a good dog, it will follow.

Trailer: Aerobourne Aero Sport model
On our tours we have met countless people towing trailers of various designs. One of our favorites, even as morbid as it may sound, was a trailer made from a rather expensive looking coffin. We saw a trailer made from an old refrigerator, a trailer made to look like a semi trailer, one to look like a small log cabin, and the most simplest was a flat bed trailer, where all the cargo was laid on a tarp and the remaining half of the tarp simply pulled rearward over the cargo and anchored with wood boards on the side and rear end. So trailer designs can be unlimited. I designed and built ours, specific to our needs. It's not pretty, but it's oh so functional and spacious. We once traveled five straight days, carrying all our food, stopping only to purchase gas and to camp.

Trailer: Honkys Donky Deluxe Donkey model
There are a few common sense secrets to towing a trailer. First is load distribution. Heaviest of the cargo should go in the bottom, to keep the center of gravity low. A certain amount of tongue weight is desired and necessary. You‘ll probably pack and repack until you get the proper weight distribution, depending upon the trailer you purchase. The tongue weight will go up exponentially as you add items to the trailer. By having a little more weight forward, you can eliminate any waddling. I say waddling, because the rear of the trailer will want to wiggle left and right. When this happened to us, we simply shift some weight to the forward side of the axle. That solved the problem.

Trailer: Motorvation Grand National 14 model
When you purchase a trailer, ask the dealer to "throw" in a coupler. It's a mechanism that attaches to the tongue of the trailer and allows the motorcycle to lean, while the trailer stays level. The hitch, which is the part that is attached to the motorcycle, also come in a variety of makes. Your make of motorcycle will determine the type of hitch you will purchase. Not all motorcycles can receive a hitch, because they don't have the required places to attach the hitch to the motorcycle. I favor the six point connection (three on each side of the bike) over a four point (two on each side) for the strength. A well known hitch manufacturer did not have a hitch to fit our Victory, so I designed a hitch and had an agricultural welding shop make it for me from ¼" thick steel, which is a minimum thickness you would want. They charged me $50.

Trailer: Open Road
Pulling a trailer requires some adjustment and forward thinking on the riders part. It takes about a forth more time to accelerate and a forth more time to brake. Accelerating and breaking all depends upon your load weight and the power of the bikes engine and brakes. So, you have to look ahead when pulling out in traffic or stopping for signs. Factor in the reduction in speed and proceed carefully. Some bikers have installed a separate trailer brake with a lever on the bike's handle bars. This is probably good for those who have it. As for me, it's just another "thing" to fret with. I am not sure I would be clear thinking enough in an emergency to pull the lever anyway. So, we don't run with a separate brake for the trailer.

Trailer: Sarasota Slingshot model


I have talked at length with other bikers towing trailers as to how their particular trailer acts in the wind. They assured me that their trailers, like ours, suffer no effects from the wind. In all cases the trailer stayed squatted to the road while the bike leaned into the wind as needed. While riding in the rain on wet highways, we always reduce our speed, just as we would if we weren't pulling a trailer. The trailer realizes this and behaves very well.

We've pulled our trailer over the years with bikes having air cooled engines, water cooled and with oil coolers. The bikes never over heated, even on the hottest of days.

Trailer: Tent Trailer Excel model

Trailer Towing Challenges

So what are the problems with a trailer if any? Probably the most significant thing is a small amount of accelerated wear on the rear tire. You can figure you are going to loose a few more miles on the rear wheel than you normally would. The amount of tire wear will depend upon your total trailer weight, tongue weight, the frequency that you tow the trailer and how you ride. If you are a jack rabbit rider, you'll loose rubber quicker and your fuel consumption will increase a little.

Trailer Trekker model
Next is backing. I just push the bike with my legs. Or sometimes, I make Judy get off the bike and help push with her legs.

Practice packing the trailer so you can find out what you can take and what must stay. Then take the trailer out on a short ride. Does it pull like it's not there? Once your speed has leveled out, you shouldn't feel the trailer very much. And enjoy explaining to people who come to admire your bike and trailer, the convenience of towing a trailer.

Towing a trailer behind a motorcycle, circa 1926

Trailer with Leonard and Judy riding

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