Sport Touring Corner
By Norm Kern
Last month we talked about transitioning to a smaller bike that is lighter and easier to handle, but not as desirable for long distance riding. This time we explore solving the long distance problem by hauling the bike on a trailer.
Hauling a bike is nothing new for me- I’ve been hauling dirt bikes since the late 1960s on trailers or in the bed of my pickup truck. I still do that with my Suzuki DRZ400E dual-sport bike, as I can just ride it up an aluminum ramp into the bed of my old Ford Ranger. It only takes a minute and I can do it by myself, but then it only weighs about 315 pounds and has high ground clearance.
My Suzuki 650 Wee Strom weighs about 500 pounds loaded and doesn’t have as much ground clearance under the motor, so it’s a completely different story. It needs to go on a trailer towed behind the truck.
Last June, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association’s national STAR rally was at Canaan Valley, West Virginia, about 350 miles from home. I decided to borrow a nice aluminum trailer from a friend and haul both the Wee Strom and the DRZ to the event.
My friend brought the trailer to me and helped me connect it to the truck. Its rails are about 14 inches off the ground and there is a loading rail that goes with it. I quickly found the trailer rails are too far off the ground for me to get the bikes on or off by myself, so I had to get a neighbor to help.
The V6 engine in the Ranger did a good job even in the mountains of West Virginia and I got almost 14 MPG on the trip. On the way there I got into heavy thunderstorms and was happy to be safe and dry in the cab of the truck. When I arrived at the rally there were plenty of friends around to help unload and load the bikes. It was a very fun week!
The drive home was no problem and a friend helped me unload the bikes. Then I had to take the trailer back to my friend who lives about thirty miles away. Is this the way to go in the future? My thoughts:
1. Being able to have two bikes at the event was a luxury.
2. Avoiding discomfort from weather extremes on the trip was nice.
3. Getting the trailer, loading, unloading multiple times and dropping it off afterward collectively took an entire day.
4. Having to get help with loading and unloading at home is a hassle.
How could I make trailering better/easier?
1. Use a different trailer that is lower and has a wide ramp to enable riding the bikes onto it. That would solve the assistance needed problem.
2. Get my own trailer so I don’t have to go back and forth borrowing/renting them.
The problem with buying a trailer is that I don’t have anywhere to store it at home. It’s also a lot of money for something I won’t use very often. One compromise is to rent a U-Haul motorcycle trailer for $15/day. They are well-designed and very low to the ground to make loading easy. I could rent for many days at less cost than buying a decent trailer, but would still have to book it, pick it up and drop it off. Time start over on this problem.
I searched YouTube for bike hauling ideas and found videos where people easily rode full size bikes into the beds of their trucks using Black Widow or Big Boy ramps. These ramps are 10-12 feet long with a hinge in the middle so they fold in half for storage or putting in the bed of the truck. 2112-01.JPG They come in three sections to make the individual pieces lighter and easier to load. 2112-01.JPG Most important, the upper portion is arched to reduce the angle between the ramp and the tailgate. 2112-03.JPG 2112-06.JPG The added length and more gentle angle enable sitting on the bike and safely backing it down as well. I can hang them on the wall of my garage so storage is not a problem.
These ramps cost $700-1500 per set, but one of the videos suggested looking for used ones on Craigslist. I easily found a set of Black Widow ramps in excellent condition for less than $300 nearby.
The most critical part of loading is adequate speed going up the ramp. I found that about 10 mph at a fast idle in first gear is what is needed. Start thirty to forty feet from the ramp so you are completely stable and you will be able to ride right up onto the truck bed.
I was more intimidated about the prospect of backing down but that turned out to be easier than riding up. With the engine off you can put the bike in first gear and release the clutch to brake the rear wheel. Control the front brake with the handlebar lever. You can back up is small increments and stop whenever you wish to improve your footing. Now I can load or unload the bike in the truck bed in less than fifteen minutes and be on my way. 2112-04.JPG
This is a good solution for me. I don’t have to rent or borrow, pick up or return anything. I don’t need help loading/unloading, and there are no problems parking or backing up the truck like with a trailer.
Will I quit riding to events now that I have an easy alternative? I might haul to an event that’s over 500 miles away or at times when the weather is uncertain. On the other hand, I don’t have many aches or pains, plus my bikes are so capable and comfortable that it’s still more fun to ride them to just about every event I attend. That is sure to change over time, but for now I have secured a backup plan for the future by having a lighter bike to ride and the means to haul it conveniently if I wish.
Editor’s note: Feel free to crop photos to fit the layout.
Connect with local Ohio Motorcycle Sport Touring Association riders at these monthly breakfasts:
Southwest Ohio Breakfast, 9AM, December 18
Village Family Restaurant
144 S. Main St.
Waynesville, OH 45068
Central Ohio Breakfast, 8AM, January 2
6515 S High St
Lockbourne, OH 43137