Does your car have a towing hitch?
When you look at the back of your car and you don’t see a metal appendage sticking out, you may need to get a hitch installed. Safe towing is impossible without a hitch.
Every tow hitch is attached to the frame of the vehicle which may include removing the bumper and possibly cutting part of it away. The tow hitch is installed with bolts and brackets by following the manufacturer’s instructions perfectly. If you are not experienced in doing this, it is highly recommended that you get it done by a professional mechanic which will cost you between $200 and $600 depending on the make and model of your car.
If you have an electric car, hybrid, or sports car, your vehicle may not be a good candidate for a tow hitch. Again, you’ll need to consult a professional before attempting anything as this is a high-risk operation putting yourself and others at risk if done improperly.
What are your motorcycle towing options?
The Motorcycle Tow Dolly
Full capacity tow dolly
This is a motorcycle carrier that is basically a light trailer that can lift and tow the entire bike including the front and rear wheels and usually has a platform parallel to the back bumper and connects to the car with a bracket that attaches to the ball. The motorcycle is walked up a shallow ramp that is often part of the tow apparatus just a foot or two off the ground and secured using tie-down ratchet straps. You can rent or buy a motorcycle tow dolly for less than $300.00.
What are the pros of using a full-capacity dolly:
- Protects the motorcycle tire and suspension
- Simple loading capability
What are the cons of using a full-capacity dolly:
- Not as secure as other methods
- Not applicable for bikes with weight over 600 lbs.
- Not available for some lighter weight cars
- Position the motorcycle dolly behind the towing vehicle and align it with the tow hitch.
- Lift and then lower it onto the ball of the towing vehicle and secure it in place with a latch.
- Connect the safety chains and electrical brake connector to the towing vehicle.
- With two people, walk the motorcycle up the ramp onto the deck and lock it in place
- Secure the bike in place using tie-down ratchet straps rated for the weight of the bike
- Adjust straps in a cross pattern over the gas tank and seat and tighten them securely
Front-wheel tow lift dolly (a.k.a. motorcycle towing cradle or caddie)
Front-wheel tow dollies are small trailers that allow you to hook the bike's front wheel to a small car or truck via a cradle allowing the rear wheel of your motorcycle to roll behind freely. You can rent or buy a front wheel tow lift dolly fairly inexpensively costing under $200.
What are the pros of a front-wheel tow dolly?
- Least expensive way to tow
- Easiest attachment capability
- Lightest weight and good for a small car (75% of the weight is on the rear tire)
What are the cons of a front-wheel tow dolly?
- Wear and tear on suspension and rear tire
- Least secure method
Step-by-step instructions for the front wheel tow lift dolly
- Attach the cradle to the tow hitch and latch
- Attach safety chains and electrical brake connector
- Lift the motorcycle's front wheel into the cradle
- Strap the motorcycle into the cradle with tie-down ratchet straps
- Cross straps across the gas tank and front wheel and tighten
Motorcycle Towing Trailers
To make sure that your vehicle is the proper size to pull the trailer check with the company you are renting or buying the motorcycle towing trailer from. Check with your vehicle’s owner’s manual to find the maximum towing capacity. While these are generally used with pickup trucks, many cars can easily pull motorcycle trailers since they are more light weight and are generally a small trailer. The general rule is that the overall weight of the small trailer including the payload is no more than 80% of the vehicle’s maximum towing capacity.
When towing motorcycle trailers you must ensure that the payload is secure. Failing to do this could create a shifting of your payload with the bike’s weight becoming unbalanced which could damage the bike, trailer, and your car. Not only could you lose your load, but just as importantly, an imbalance in the weight can cause the trailer to sway.
Correcting trailer sway while driving can be tricky if you do not know how to correct this in real time. This can be extremely dangerous because the trailer swaying can increase until you completely lose control of the vehicle and cause an accident. Prevention is the best key to avoid trailer sway. Be aware of the specs of your bike and towing trailer including its tire size, suspension, frame width, and, of course, weight capacity.
If you are a novice in motorcycle towing and have never pulled a towing trailer, you might want to consider a professional towing service that can guarantee a successful and safe motorcycle shipment without worrying about towing trailers. Rates are based on weight and are often less than you might think with bikes being moved from Chicago, IL to Miami FL for $700 and an LA to Dallas haul for $550.
If you do decide to take this task on yourself and pull your own trailer, here is a general checklist to make sure you are prepared to tow your motorcycle:
- Develop driving skills to back up the trailer
- Learn to be proficient with the mirrors
- Understand your turn radius of the tow trailer, especially when turning right
- Check trailer tires and brake lights
- Check the owner’s manual for weight maximum
- Take the gas out of the bike
- Lock the wheels and tires of the motorcycle
- Locate tie-down ratchet straps rated for the load
- Make sure your anchor points in the trailer are stable
- Make sure that the trailer’s weight is in the front (60 percent)
Pros of using a motorcycle trailer
- Ability to handle any size motorcycle
- The safest method of transporting a motorcycle
- The most secure method of transporting a motorcycle
- Easy one-person loading and unloading
Cons of using a motorcycle trailer
- Heavy and cumbersome for many vehicles
- Wear and tear of vehicle
- More difficult set-up
Step-by-step instructions for a motorcycle trailer
- Check vehicle's towing capacity so weight of trailer and motorcycle is less than 80% of max load
- Inspect trailer for damage, wear, and structural integrity: wheels, lights, brakes, suspension
- Make sure trailer’s coupler size and rating matches your vehicle’s hitch ball
- Crank trailer jack to raise it up over hitch ball and lower it onto ball locking it in with latch
- Attach the safety chains to the hitch receiver, crossing them underneath the coupler
- Level the trailer by adjusting the trailer jack to level the trailer
- Ensure the tongue weight of the trailer is about 10% of the total trailer weight
- Attach the electrical connector and brake controller ensuring they work correctly
- Carefully push the motorcycle onto the trailer centering it for balance
- Strap down the motorcycle using at least four tie-down ratchet straps fastening the straps in a crossing pattern over the bike frame avoiding weak points to secured anchor bolts in four corners of the trailer
- Tighten the tie-down ratchet straps until they are snug, but not too tight ensuring the straps are not rubbing against any sharp edges or corners
About THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Rathbun has been hooked on motorcycles since 1987 when he bought his first bike, a 1973 Honda CBR450 for $300. Since then he has been through countless bikes and continued his two-wheeled hobby passing it down to his 21-year-old son who rides with him on the weekends in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Benjamin believes that nothing clears the mind faster than flying 26 inches above the asphalt on his Harley-Davison.Read More About Benjamin Rathbun