One of the biggest perks about owning a motorcycle is the freedom to hit the open road and go wherever you want at a very low cost. For those who road trip frequently, being able to tow a trailer would be a big benefit.
Can a motorcycle tow a trailer? Yes, it is possible to tow a trailer with a motorcycle, but doing so requires the right combination of motorcycle engine displacement, lightweight trailer, and necessary hardware. Be sure to consult your manufacturer’s shop manual for any special requirements that may be listed.
Not every motorcycle is equipped for towing because not every model has a powerful enough engine and transmission. However, there are many models very capable of doing so, namely touring motorcycles, cruiser motorcycles, or adventure motorcycles.
How To Tell If Your Motorcycle Can Tow A Trailer
If you are interested in towing a trailer with your motorcycle, you need to know if it is compatible with towing. While motorcycles aren’t necessarily designed to tow, it is possible to fit a motorcycle with a tow package, otherwise called a hitch. Your bike will likely be able to tow if it:
- Has a big enough engine. A 1000cc engine is a good baseline.
- Has a compatible Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).
- Has a hitch installed. This will be an aftermarket part.
If you are wanting to tow, you need the horsepower to do it. 1000cc is a good baseline to start as that size will make roughly 130-180 horsepower depending on the specific displacement, drive train, and so on. A smaller engine simply won’t have the power to tow at speed.
The ability for your motorcycle to tow is also dependent on the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or GVWR. This is a weight designated by the manufacturer as the maximum operating weight.
There is a stamp somewhere on your motorcycle or in your owners manual that displays the GVWR. This weight is important to know when towing because it is used to calculate the carrying capacity of your motorcycle. The trailer you use will also have a gross rating which adds to the combined GVWR.
The wet weight of your motorcycle is the weight of the bike in a ready-to-ride condition. This includes the geared-up rider, passenger, and anything that will go into the trailer.
The carrying capacity refers to how much weight your motorcycle can safely carry and is calculated by subtracting the wet weight from the GVWR. By knowing these figures, you will not overload your bike, which will lead to poor performance, handling, and safety.
Another weight to be aware of is the tongue weight of the trailer. This is the force of the tongue against the hitch. Manufacturers suggest that tongue weight should be 10% – 20% of the trailer’s total weight. So, if your loaded trailer weighs 200 lbs, the tongue weight will be about 20lbs – 40lbs.
To connect the trailer to the motorcycle you will need a hitch installed on the rear end of the bike. Since these will be an aftermarket part, the hitch will be a bolt-on install and is a job requiring only a few tools. There are different types of hitch but the most common is a ball hitch. Along with a hitch, you will want to have chains and hooks connecting the trailer to the bike which adds a required layer of safety.
There are several reliable brands of motorcycle trailers offering a variety of applications, colors, and accessories. If you’re in the market for a used trailer, do your due diligence before purchasing to make sure the trailer is in satisfactory condition. Make sure to keep up on maintenance and repairs as this will further ensure safety.
Safety Tips For Towing With A Motorcycle
Safety always comes first. Motorcycle riding is inherently risky and towing adds additional risks. Take the extra steps–some of which have been mentioned above–to protect yourself and others on the road. Here are a few more tips for safely towing with a motorcycle:
First, carefully inspect your motorcycle and trailer before riding to make sure everything is in order. Check fluids, tire pressures, and condition of chain, suspension, brakes, and so on. Make sure all lights are operational and that mirrors are adjusted. Check for anything else that might cause issues down the road and make necessary repairs.
Ensure that the hitch is correctly connected and that safety chains are secured. Tip: crossing the chains and allowing just a moderate amount of slack will keep the tongue of the trailer centered behind the bike if it disconnects while driving.
Second, as has been mentioned above, follow the weight ratings of both the bike and trailer and secure cargo. Take some time before your trip to do some weight calculations and plan out the gear you will need. Make sure your cargo is secure in the trailer to prevent shifting in weight.
If you are towing an open trailer or flat trailer, make sure to use straps and/or chords to tie down the load. During the trip, especially if it is more than a day, check your cargo before getting back on the road.
Third, for beginners to towing, practice in a less-busy area to get a feel for it. Make sure you find a place where you can practice accelerating, braking, and turning. Utilize empty parking lots, parks, or back roads for practice areas. Make sure to have a bit of weight in the trailer, as an empty trailer will bounce around and cause problems.
Fourth, motorcycle trailers are not equipped with brakes, so braking will be different. Allow for extra time and distance when braking to account for the extra weight, especially when driving at highway speeds. This will take some mental effort to judge distances differently and apply the brakes differently. Be sure to signal turns sooner to help other motorists stay safe.
Make wider turns to allow the trailer extra clearance from the curb or other obstructions. Also, the weight will cause turning to be different, so practice balancing with the loaded trailer. When turning right, you want to keep clear of the sidewalk, signs, pedestrians, and so on. When turning left, there may be other vehicles, center dividers, and other obstructions to keep clear of.
Fifth, know what the speed limit is and maintain it. This will keep the trailer tracking smoothly. The speed limit varies by area and state, so pay attention and stay within the limit. Not only is this upholding the law, but keeping a steady speed will help with reaction time to traffic and road conditions as well as handling and even fuel economy.
Sixth, park so that you can pull away without interference. Backing up with a trailer on your bike will be a nightmare, especially with oncoming traffic. Whenever possible, find a spot that allows you to pull away with minimal steering or reversing. When parking parallel to a road, make sure your trailer is fully out of the road.
Finally, all these practices should be done in addition to primary safety measures, such as wearing a good helmet, wearing other protective gear, and following traffic laws. Watch for changing weather conditions and react accordingly. If going off paved roads, take extra precautions to maintain traction and safely navigate gravel roads.
There is an additional safety risk caused by towing a trailer with a motorcycle. The manufacturer doesn’t take towing into account when designing their motorcycles. The handling of your motorcycle will be greatly affected, so careful consideration should be taken. Despite that, there are some safety tips, as will be discussed below, an experienced rider can take to tow a trailer without incident.
Why tow? Towing a trailer can be a great accessory for your trip. Whether you’re going camping or just going across the country, having a trailer provides a lot of extra cargo capacity. There are many different types of trailers, from basic cargo trailers to loaded camper trailers. Also, there are tons of online blogs dedicated to travels with a motorcycle and trailer.
Does It Hurt The Motorcycle To Tow A Trailer?
There will be some extra wear and tear on your bike from towing due to maximizing engine and transmission performance capacity. However, towing a few times over the life of the bike will not dramatically affect the bike. Make sure you keep up on proper maintenance.
Some common components more prone to wear are tires and brakes. Towing reduces the life of tires and brakes compared to normal riding. This is due to the extra load of the trailer weight applying a greater force on the tires. Similarly, the extra weight of the trailer creates extra kinetic energy that requires more out of the brakes.
Regularly inspect your motorcycle, especially tires and brakes, and replace as necessary. Maintain adequate tire pressure to maximize the life of your tires. Wear and tear on the brakes can be remedied by taking extra time to brake, which keeps the brakes cooler and causes less damage. Also, gearing down will reduce your speed and will save your brakes.
When done right, towing a trailer with a motorcycle can be a game changer for your cross country trip. Take extra safety precautions and keep your equipment in good shape. Be sure to practice trailering before taking a trip including practicing loading the trailer. Keep in mind that things will handle differently, but towing a trailer can be a rewarding experience.