Feature: Bike transport

Date 25.5.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Bike transport

Here’s the hot tip for the day: if you have to move a motorcycle, often the cheapest and safest way to do it is ride the damn thing. Really.

But when it comes to big interstate moves, sometimes it’s a whole lot cheaper and easier – particularly if you value your time – to throw the problem at a transporter. If that’s what you’re doing here’s tip two: use a professional motorcycle carrier. With all the best intentions in the world, someone who’s not experienced and equipped properly to carry a motorcycle is likely to have dramas.

Then there are the occasions when you have no choice but to use a transporter, like when the little mechanical bastard is taking a holiday and refuses to start. In any case, let’s have a look at the options.

LOCAL TRANSPORT

Dirt bikes aside, I increasingly avoid using the old trailer in the backyard, particularly if the machine is a heavyweight. I’ve yet to seriously damage a motorcycle getting it on and off a trailer, but there have been some very close calls.

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One classic stuff-up was ending up with a massive cruiser half on the trailer and heeled over past 45 degrees, resting what felt like its entire weight on muggins… and nobody around to help. It’s surprising how much strength you can summon, but that little episode probably took a few months off my life.

So, there a few things you will need to transport a road bike by trailer:

1. An assistant to help get it on and off, even if they just act as a catcher if the bike starts to keel over.

2. A decent ramp – there are lots of alloy items out there that can fold up so they fit into a car boot.

3. A good set of tie-downs, including a specific padded handlebar type.

Ideally your assistant is someone who understands bikes and will know what they can and can’t use for leverage, while also knowing when to just help you balance rather than work against you. Also, they’re damned handy to have so one person steadies the bike while the other gets the first set of straps in place.

As for ramps, get something nice and long, preferably with a plate or series of rubber-coated prongs that sits snugly and firmly on the trailer. Make sure the load rating is higher than the weight of your bike.

When it comes to tie-downs, you need enough to hold the machine at four points. My preference is for a padded handlebar strap that is designed to go over the handgrips and holds the front end on its own. This is an absolute necessity for machines with a fairing, if you want to avoid damage.

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Then I use a second set of straps on the rear end, attached via a pair of soft loops that won’t damage the finish on the sub-frame.

You need everything nice and firm, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so tight that absolutely nothing budges. In any case I usually stop after a kilometre or two to check everything is holding the way it should. There are some pretty big forces at play.

And the big one? Make damn sure the trailer itself is properly hooked up to the tow vehicle. You’d be surprised at how many make a bid for freedom as their horrified owners watch helpless from the driver seat.

So what are your alternatives? I have a local bike transporter’s number in my phone, because sometimes it’s just smarter and easier to leave it to a professional who you know understands the special needs of motorcycles. The $150-$200 or so can seem cheap when compared with the potential hassle and damage involved in sorting it yourself.

Larger cities have specialist carriers. For example Cychaul in Melbourne has been around for ages (albeit with two owners) and has a great reputation. Owner Michael Finnigan is a qualified mechanic and specialises in Melbourne metro and country Victoria transport. He’ll act as a rescue service, has a secure bike-dedicated truck, can provide overnight storage and is fully insured.

John Clark over at Motoevents (0408 405 506) reckons personal service is valuable. With many years of experience in the motorcycle trade, he believes people like to know they’re talking to the person who’s actually moving their pride and joy.

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INTERSTATE

In most cases people shifting a motorcycle are doing so because they’ve bought or sold something. If you’re the buyer, consider flying there and riding home – it’s a great way to get to know your new toy. If not, there are four services I’ve used in recent times, which get the nod – listed on these pages.

If the bike is somewhere outside the metro area of where you’re buying, there will often be an additional fee involved. In any case it often requires double-handling – one truck to take it to a central depot, and another to do the interstate run.

As a buyer I’ve sometimes found it difficult to get the owner and transporter co-ordinated, as the latter has to work to a flexible schedule and generally won’t commit to a specific pick-up time until that day. In one case, I offered the owner a little extra to stay home for the day, or ride it to the depot – not ideal but the simplest solution at the time.

As a seller I like to be there and get a few pictures of the bike being loaded, so there’s some proof of condition as it leaves. Though there has yet to be a mishap, it gives some peace of mind that’s often appreciated by the owner. In one case, where I couldn’t be there, I simply took a few pictures of the machine with that day’s newspaper – again, proof of condition on the day.

Experience says that a pro motorcycle transporter is hard to beat. They’re generally well-equipped, reasonably fast (though beware expecting a quick move over the Christmas-New Year break) and, so far, there have been no problems. I have heard of a business going bust, which cost some people their transport fees and it took time to sort out which bike belonged where, but that is not a common occurrence.

Prices vary. Generally you’re looking at around $300-400 for a one-state move (for example, Brisbane to Sydney) with prices going up with the distance travelled.

Two of the better-established operators out there are Motorcycle Transport & Logistics and Bikes Only. MTL has been around a long time, is owned by a motorcycle mechanic and has built up an enviable reputation. General manager Litsa Kane suggests you should check whether your transporter is insured. Her company also offers pre-purchase inspections and long-term storage.

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Bikes Only is celebrating 20 years on the scene and, like MTL, uses unmarked trucks to avoid attracting unwanted attention to the valuable cargo inside. Hop online and you’ll see it offers an interesting twist on the transport theme: why not send you bike on a holiday? Rather than ride thousands of kilometres of mind-numbing interstate, the suggestion is you ship the bike and fly up to meet it. Not a bad idea when you think about it.

INTERNATIONAL

Some time ago we did a story on buying and importing a motorcycle, discovering along the way that there are plenty of traps and expenses for the unwary. The moral to that story was to do your research. The same goes for shipping your machine overseas and back for a holiday.

While the process is generally simpler and less expensive than for importing a new toy, you still need to do your homework. Often there will be a carnet involved (a deposit you pay to ensure you don’t just sell the bike while you’re over there) and there may be other requirements. In any case, you’ll also need to think about cleaning and crating at each end. Plus, what are the registration and insurance requirements?

Again, there’s a lot to be said for using an expert. Just as an aside, you might look at the alternative of buying a cheap motorcycle over there and selling it before you return.

So, most things are possible – happy shipping!

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BUYING A TRAILER

Years ago I bought a used dirt bike trailer and it’s more than paid for itself. Aside from needing wheel bearings and electrics a couple of times over the years, it’s done the job.

The trick is to be sure it’s robust enough to handle the weight. The disadvantage of this style of trailer (particularly the older ones) is the wheel channels are often too narrow for most modern rear rubber and even some fronts.

Motorcycle Trader has a fairly elaborate, fully enclosed, custom-made unit, designed for carrying two bikes. Despite a few design flaws, such as poor access to the nose for tightening the front tie-downs, it’s had plenty of work.

The downside is it weighs more than 500kg and has the aerodynamics of a block of flats, so having the right tow vehicle is crucial. It’s fine behind a full-sized SUV (such as a LandCruiser) but is a handful behind a sedan and can go close to halving the fuel range.

Particularly with the bigger units, look for a professionally built model. I’ve seen some absolute shockers out there, with poor welding and design. If in doubt, go and talk to people who use them and get their advice – the pits at a race meeting is a great source.

WHICH CARRIER?

There are a few questions to consider when choosing the right carrier for you. These include:

INSURANCE: Will my motorcycle be fully insured while in your care? Not just a basic transit warranty, but full insurance including accidental damage?

VEHICLES: Will my motorcycle travel 3000 kilometres in a fully enclosed vehicle or in an open-bike trailer or ute?

BOXES AND PARTS: Can I move my motorcycle helmet, gear and parts with my bike?

STORAGE: Where will my bike be stored, and is it insured while in storage and not just while in transit?

QUESTIONS: Ask lots of them. How do you strap down my bike? How often do you travel? How long will it take to get there? Anyone not willing to answer questions should set alarm bells ringing.

MTL’S RATES

MELB TO:
Sydney $285
Brisbane/GC $410
Adelaide $275
Newcastle $365
Perth depot $865
Darwin depot $1070

SYD TO:
Brisbane/GC $310
Melbourne $285
Adelaide $407

PERTH TO:
Melbourne $699
Sydney $850
Brisbane/GC $1050
Adelaide $750

BRIS/GC TO:
Sydney $310
Melbourne $410
Newcastle $299
Adelaide $599

NOTE: Indicative prices. For a more accurate quote, contact MTL on 1300 769 991 or visit www.CallMTL.com.au

THE AUTO CLUB OPTION
Because I own a fair-sized fleet, I pay about $190 a year for premium membership of the local car club, which obliges them to come and rescue me regardless of what I’m driving or riding at the time.

For those of you with a more modest number of machines, it’s worth checking if your local club has a discount going – many have access to special deals that can be as little as $30-$40 a year for a single bike.