There will always be an occasion that will require you to load your bike onto a trailer or truck bed for transport. Like any other task that requires tying down a heavy load to prevent shifting while in transit, there is a right way and a wrong way to securely fasten a motorcycle. Although truck beds and trailers can require different methods and products, there are some basics that apply to both and can help you avoid accidentally damaging your bike.
Tie-down straps are a vital tool for securing a bike for transport-their ease of use and ability to tighten and handle a heavy strain make them indispensable for this task. Tie-downs fall into two basic categories based on buckle type. The standard "cam buckle" uses the friction created by the strap as it passes around a knurled, spring-loaded, cam-shaped buckle to hold the strap in place. The main advantage of the cam-type tie-down is it only requires a single action that is quickly accomplished to securely fasten your bike, and you can usually tighten the strap while seated on the bike. The disadvantage is that you cannot create as much tension as with a ratchet-type tie-down. A ratchet buckle uses a small ratcheting gear and lever to progressively tighten the strap, and its leverage advantage over the strap's tension allows you to fasten the bike more securely. It is possible to use too much tension with a ratchet-type tie-down, however, so care must be taken, and it requires a bit more effort to complete the tightening job than a cam-type tie-down.
Each strap manufacturer has different recommendations on what type of product fits each application. For bikes ranging from 400 to 750 pounds, M&R; Products suggests using two pairs of straps with a combined 1200-pound strength rating; one pair securing the front of the bike with another in the rear. Ancra similarly suggests using two pairs of its cam buckle tie-downs for bikes between 500 and 1000 pounds, while Wright's Custom Products suggests that any bike more than 400 pounds requires ratchet tie-downs in the front with cam buckle straps in the rear.
Regardless, all agree on one critical factor: The front wheel must be immobilized in some way. If not secured in place, the front wheel can twist during transit, causing the tension to vary on either side, resulting in an unstable load. The most common product for this job is a wheel chock. A chock prevents both twisting and forward movement of the front wheel, while also providing a leverage point for tie-downs. Make sure the chock is wide enough to fit over your front tire. It should also be test-fitted to check for enough clearance to the brake rotors; otherwise, brake damage could result.
Tie-down manufacturers stress that the rear of the bike must also be strapped down because in the event of sudden braking or in an accident, an unsecured bike can pivot over the front end and cause severe injury or damage.
When tying down the front end of the bike, a common question is, "How far do I compress the forks to ensure the bike is stable?" Scott Mackie of Mackie Enterprises Inc. advises that a bike should be pulled down until the forks are compressed to approximately half of their available travel. This will ensure that the bike is stable without putting unnecessary stress on the springs or fork seals. If you have air-assisted forks, it's a good idea to release the air pressure.
It is also important to remember that when tying down your bike, the higher the attachment point the better, because it offers more leverage. Each bike is different, so look around and find the location that offers a solid tie-down point. Avoid fairing brackets or other fragile/flexible components, and instead look for locations that offer a rigid mount like a triple clamp in the front or a subframe in the rear. The use of soft tie extensions can make this easier, and prevent you from scratching bodywork or parts with the S-hooks found on most tie-down straps.
The angle of attachment is also important, and several of the straps come with detailed instructions (some even include a sketch) on the proper method. A good basic starting point is to ensure that the tie-downs are at a minimum of 10 degrees (but preferably 50-60 degrees) from vertical, with the front straps pulling the bike forward and the rear straps backward. This will ensure that tension exists to keep the bike from moving forward or backward during transportation.
Also, check and ensure that the straps do not touch any bodywork or painted surface on the bike. The vibration (and ensuing rubbing of the strap on the paint) during a long trip will ruin the surface over time. If you have an application that does not allow any other option, simply place a soft towel between the strap and the painted area.
Hot surfaces are also not a good environment for tie-down straps. Most straps are made from polyester or nylon, and therefore have a melting temperature low enough to allow the strap to be damaged or destroyed by a hot muffler. It's also a good idea to secure any loose strap ends after you tighten them down. Otherwise, the loose end will flap in the wind on an open trailer or truck bed, and could damage your paint over the course of a long trip. Some people prefer to tie the excess in a knot, while others prefer a strip of duct-tape to fasten it to the strap. Either way is fine-just make sure to secure it.
The most common problem we hear with regard to tie-down straps during normal use is "creeping" (slippage of the strap through the buckle), requiring constant checking and tightening during an extended trip. In order to measure each tie-down's creep, we developed a test utilizing steel plates hijacked from the high-tech Sport Rider weight-lifting center used to maintain our incredible level of physical fitness (the center is located right next to the official, well-stocked SR beer cooler). The total weight of the plates was 130 pounds; using the strap, we lifted approximately 100 pounds of the plates' weight. The remaining 30 pounds was supported by a scale below the fixture. As the strap slipped over time, the weight on the scale increased. We measured the results after one hour and then thoroughly wet the strap to simulate rain, making another measurement at the end of a second hour.
Most of these straps are rated at a working load of 400 pounds or more, so a tension of 100 pounds is only 25 percent (or less) of loading; however, it is representative of the force applied during normal use. Applying a tension of higher than 300 pounds on a single tie-down strap shouldn't be necessary on a sportbike-any higher could be harmful on the hard parts used for tie-down points. Most importantly, it's a good idea to check the bike after the first 20-30 miles to ensure that nothing slipped or came loose.
For years, the standard wheel chock has been the Pingel unit, available in both permanent and removable styles, with prices starting at $40. We have used them for years, and our only complaint is that new-generation sportbikes with large brake discs now require more care when tying down the front wheel, as some 320mm rotors come very close to rubbing on the chock.
Some innovative new wheel chocks have entered the market. One example is a new-style chock from Mac's Custom Tie-Downs called "The Wedge" ($74.95). The basic premise of this unit is that the wedge shape allows many different tires to fit into the same chock, allowing you to haul your sportbike or big cruiser without any changes. The tire also sits on the steel base plate when in use, making the chock even more stable, and the higher frame of the chock extends over the centerline of the axle, which the producer claims results in better stability.
Another new design is the Sport Chock from Baxley Trailer Co. It uses a trick front-wheel cup that actually grips the front tire as the bike is rolled into it, making the chock simultaneously act as a front wheel stand. The manufacturer suggests that only one pair of rear straps (pulling the bike forward into the chock) is necessary when this stand is bolted in a truck or trailer. At first we doubted their claim, but after seeing the stand in person it does appear very stable. We would still suggest using both front and rear ties just in case. The best part of this chock is that it eases one-person bike loading. Once mounted on the trailer floor, the bike is held up when you drive into it. Then you can walk around and attach the straps without fear of the bike tipping over. At $205, it is easily the most expensive and largest stand here.
Tying down a motorcycle in a truck bed can cause problems due to the bike's weight being concentrated on a small portion of the bed railing where the front tire is lodged against it. The force of a bike's weight, coupled with the loads generated while braking, are enough to crumple the walls of a typical truck bed. A solution to this dilemma is the Bed-Buddy by CCR Sport. When mounted to the top bed rail of a pickup truck, the Bed-Buddy reinforces the bed rail while simultaneously acting as a wheel chock. The Bed-Buddy also has tie-down attachments, so you know the angle of attachment is correct. This is a good option for truck drivers at $139.95.
Another issue that goes along with trailering your bike is security. We continually hear about trailers being broken into, and the contents (or the entire trailer) stolen. While it may be impossible to stop a determined thief, there are some basic precautions that can be taken.
In order to prevent easy entry into the trailer, use a high-quality lock with a shrouded shackle. Experts in the lock industry say locks are most commonly defeated by bolt cutters. The new shrouded shackle locks make bolt cutters useless because the cutter jaws cannot get access to the shackle. Several companies on the market produce shrouded locks, so you should be able to find one locally.
Obviously, hardened shackles are a must. High-security locks can usually be rekeyed, meaning you can have one key fit all three of the locks typically required for an enclosed trailer, one for the side door and two for the ramp door.
In order to prevent the trailer itself from being stolen, there are several antitheft products available. When connected to the tow vehicle, the use of a coupler lock can add a great deal of difficulty for potential thieves by preventing access to the trailer-hitch latch for coupling or uncoupling the trailer. Many products are available from suppliers like Hitches4less.com. The Fulton coupler lock ($9-$30) is a popular example. Hidden Hitch also offers a nice unit ($10-$32) that can be key-matched with the receiver lock, preventing you from having to carry extra keys. Locking the receiver draw bar to the vehicle is another antitheft method.
When the trailer is not in use, preventing access to the ball receiver of the trailer can prevent tow-away theft. We tried a lock from Fulton called the Gorilla Guard ($38). It uses a metal pin that protrudes into the ball-receiver area of the trailer hitch, thus blocking access to the tongue of the trailer.
Another common trick is to use a typical high-security chain and lock through the wheels to prevent the trailer from being pulled. Any high-security chain and lock that can fit through the wheel spokes should suffice. But if you are really serious about theft protection, the ultimate option appears to be the wheel boot by Alpha Lock (similar to those used by police departments to lock your car down when you don't pay your tickets). Plus, the boots are fairly economical at $140 each.
Trailering your bike can be as easy or difficult as you care to make it. But with some common sense and a few of the aforementioned tips and products, your trailering experience can be a seamless one that gives you more time riding and less time worrying about your gear being damaged or stolen.