Advice: How to load a motorcycle trailer

Date 12.12.2013

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader


From Motorcycle Trader magazine issue 259, August 2012


It’s a process that road racers and dirt bike riders pretty much take for granted – loading and towing a bike on a trailer. Road riders are called upon less often to fiddle with trailers, and the whole shebang can strike fear into the newcomer, with good reason. It really is pretty easy to make a hash of it, even before the bike has been towed an inch. And the potential outcomes of a bike coming loose on a trailer are never good. The results will almost surely damage your bike, possibly your trailer and at worst, affect other road users in a big way. Yep, it pays to get it right.

Motorcycles, when static, are inherently unstable. That is, they want to follow the laws of gravity and fall over. Toss in the variables that can affect a trailer, both while loading and indeed underway, and the whole plot seems set up to see your pride and joy smeared on the deck.

Get it right though, and you can tow a bike to the moon and back in complete confidence.

The 12 tips to correct motorcycle tie-down:

1) Don’t fill the fuel tank. The bike will move around and fuel can spill from the overflow and breather. It’s messy and a potential fire hazard.

2) You’ll see all sorts of tie-downs. Avoid the cheapies you’ll see at bargain hardware joints. They are unlikely to have been properly tested. We reckon you should buy them from a good bike shop.

3) Tie-downs must be attached correctly and there is a definite technique involved in getting this right. If you’re unsure, ask your local bike shop for a demonstration.

4) Don’t attach tie-downs to the handgrips. The ’bars are often held by small grub screws not designed to bear tie-down strain. If unavoidable, be sure ’bar ends are strong enough.

5) Get a mate to help, if possible. With familiarity, bikes can be loaded by one person, but two sets of hands and eyes are handy.

6) Strong and well-placed tie-down points on the trailer are essential. Check the welds on these regularly. Make this a point of investigation on purchase – some trailers are poorly designed.

7) Widen the angles. The further apart the tie-downs are laterally placed, the better. It’s about physics, but a bike can still fall over if the tie-downs take an overly vertical line from the bike

to the trailer hook.

8) Tie down the rear, too. Hard braking can see the bike cartwheel end over end into the boot of the car. That’s not good. It will make someone very unhappy if that happens, trust us.

9) Load with as much room between bikes as possible. When loading three bikes (which often represents a tight squeeze), place two forward on the outsides and one backward in the centre.

10) Set up your tie-downs before loading. Keep everything within easy reach. It’s pretty nasty to be balancing a bike and find the tie-downs tantalisingly out of arm’s length.

11) Attach the trailer to the car before loading. The weight of a bike at the rear of the trailer will often make it tip up, with disastrous results.

12) Trailer servicing is paramount. Regular visual checks and properly grease-packed, quality bearings are a no-brainer. Wheels come off poorly maintained trailers.

down-011. These are motorcycle-specific tie-downs. They are wider than the more generic tie-downs we are seeing at cheap prices in hardware shops. Look for double hooks at one end or, even better, the caribiner-equipped type (shown).
down-082. This is the correct way to attach the tie-down to the trailer hook. Loop both hooks through the trailer hook and return the belt part back through the hooks.
down-073. This is the incorrect way to attach the tie-down to the trailer hook. If the bike bounces on its suspension, the slack can easily manifest at the hook and the tie-down will detach.
down-154. Prepare all your trailer attachments prior to loading the bike, ensuring you can reach the tie-downs from the seat.
down-185. Try to position the bike so you can get the stand down. This will allow you to get off the bike should you need and adds a degree of safety if the whole plot gets away from you. Trust us, it happens.
down-216. Pretty simple this one, but it’s surprising how often we see it done incorrectly. The bike should be centralised in the channel. This usually allows the tie-downs to be equidistantly spaced.
down-257. Run the tie-down up from the trailer hook, over the low part of the handlebars and put the hook through the loop at the short end of the tie-down. Do not hook directly to the bike because the hook can easily become loose in transit.
down-268. Lean the bike to one side and take up the slack using the buckle, but don’t put a great deal of tension on the tie-down at this stage.
down-319. After repeating the attachment procedure on the opposite side, pull the bike from side to side, adding tension in steps until the fork is pretty much bottommed out. No, you won’t pop the seals. You’ll hear that, but it’s a load of old cobblers.
down-3410. As an added precaution, tie a neat knot in the remaining leangth of belt around the long tensioned section. This stops the belt from pulling through if the buckle gives in transit.
down-3811. Tie the rear of the bike down as well.  This doesn’t do a whole lot in regard to holding the bike in the upright position, but will stop it going end over end in hard-braking situations and will keep it from hopping out of the channel.
down-3612. There you go. There’s a saying that just about everyone gives a run after tying a bike down well and checking it thoroughly – ‘that’s not going anywhere’. You listen next time – it’s uncanny…