Have you noticed how many touring motorcyclists are now pulling trailers?
A glance around the Ulysses Clubs’ AGM campsite will quickly confirm that some 60% of members now opt for the extra comfort and advantages that a trailer brings.
Gone are the days of wobbling off on an extended trip with an overloaded, evil handling motorcycle and a usually irate passenger (if there is room for one).
Trailers have the power to actually save marriages as the pillion in a million will be a much happier person with the room to move with most of the comforts of home tagging along behind.
The advantages of trailers are many. Firstly let’s consider cost.
The price of an average trailer is approximately double that of a set of good panniers and top box combination with a carrying capacity of about 80 litres. A new trailer will set you back about $3000 and for that you get a carrying capacity of up to 550 litres.
Second hand trailers are seldom available in the market place and if they are advertised, go for almost new prices anyway. Once you own a trailer, you are usually hooked for life, only selling to update or to buy a larger version.
Trailers offer much more security than an on-bike system. You can safely park in a shopping centre without fear of your gear being ripped off. Security at night is not a problem with your helmets, gear and valuables safely locked away.
Larger standup dome tents can now be carried plus the best velour air mattresses and your favorite pillow. The bride will be happy with the ability to carry the beauty and cosmetic survival kit and the hair dryer, need I go any further with the list of advantages!
A well-designed motorcycle trailer can also improve the handling of your bike. Remember that overloading the motorcycle with gear strapped on the tank, top box etc. raises the centre of gravity and makes for poor handling. With a trailer, all unnecessary weight is off the bike and inside the trailer. That in turn lowers the C of G and allows the suspension to function properly. The rear wheel of the motorcycle produces a gyroscopic effect that makes any well designed trailer almost transparent to the rider, the trailer actually acting as a balance that can have a stabilising effect caused by gusting cross winds and air currents generated by large semi-trailers on two laned highways.
The maintenance of a trailer is minimal, requiring the greasing of wheel bearings every 10,000 kms. Tyre pressures are critical however. Trailers with torsion block rubber suspension rely on a low air pressure in the trailer tyre to provide most of the suspension component. Check with the manufacturers of these trailer types, but the general rule of thumb is to accurately maintain a pressure of 15 psi in each wheel. Trailers using leaf spring suspension have air pressures of approximately 25 psi because the springs provide the major suspension dampening.
With correct air pressures, the tyres should last at least 60,000 kms and are not a major cost item anyway.
A rubber mud flap extending down from the motorcycle rear mudguard is a good way of keeping road grime away from the front of the trailer. A bra attached to the front of the trailer is also a necessity to prevent damage to the paintwork.
What are the other things you need to be aware of when setting up a trailer?
The tow bar is also a critical component of the trailer. The hitch height must be exactly the same as the rear axle on the motorcycle, otherwise instability will be caused when cornering with the trailer actually rising and pointing way from the longitudinal axis. The tow hitch mounting point can be either a rubber block or a steel 50mm ball. Both have their advantages with the ball type being the favorite because other vehicles can tow the trailer if needed. Two chains are a legal necessity and are best used in a cross fashion so that a dislodged trailer can fall safely down into the chains without touching the pavement. Hopefully, this will never happen if the trailer is connected properly in the first place.
The correct loading of a trailer is a very important part in its safe operation. The general rule of thumb is that no more than 10% of the total mass of the trailer should be exerted onto the tow hitch. In other words, no more than 10 to 15 kgm on the bike, about the weight of a medium bag of potting soil.
If the total mass of the trailer exceeds the mass of the motorcycle, then, by law, trailer brakes must be fitted.
Caravan type brakes, where the inertia of the trailer pushes forward on the tow hitch to pull cables to activate the brakes, are the way to go. On the average trailer however, brakes will seldom be necessary.
Items in the trailer must be well stowed with no room for movement as the inside of a trailer can be like a war zone when on the move. When a gas bottle in purchased, keep the carton it came in, reinforce the bottom and always carry the bottle in its carton. Pack food items in square plastic containers and lock them in amongst other items. Large heavy items are best placed over the axle with lighter items placed on top or front and back. Eskys are best carried on a special frame on the draw bar as the inside of a trailer in warm weather can get very hot, causing ice to disappear rapidly. Don’t forget to allow for this extra weight in the final calculation of the total mass on the tow hitch.
Make up a little jacket out of insulating material to isolate the Esky from the elements and protect it from road grime.
Just because a trailer boasts a carrying capacity of 550 litres doesn’t mean that we have to use it all. The C of G must be kept as low as possible.
One good idea is to unfold the sleeping bags and place then over the top of the gear to help keep things in place and to protect the top of the trailer from damage caused by flying items.
It is not a good idea to carry heavy items on top of the trailer lid rack, if one is supplied. These ‘roof racks’ are an optional extra from some manufacturers and can have the advantage of strengthening the lid and preventing buckling and damage. Light items only can be carried on these but security will be a problem.
A cigarette lighter connection inside the trailer that is live-wired, is a must. Mobile phones can be charged and airbed pumps used as well as a small flouro light. OK, that’s summed up most of the things we need to know before hitting the road.
What do we need to know before we point the outfit towards the open road for the first time?
Firstly, we need to be aware of the actual dimensions of our mini road train. The trailer will probably be only a few centimetres wider than the widest point of the bike (mirrors or panniers), but in any case, lane splitting is a definite no-no! Because of this width, we will need to spend more time riding on the centre of the carriageway with its shove mounds and spilt diesel contamination - be aware!
A bike and trailer combination can be up to 5.5 metres in length making parking a bit of an art form. Nose in parking is to be avoided unless your bike is a K1200LT or a Goldwing and blessed with a reverse gear. You might have to spend some extra time cruising around to find a suitable park. On the subject of parking, it is not advisable to sit abruptly on the A-frame of the trailer if the bike is parked using the side stand. The sudden extra weight on the tow bar can cause the bike to stand up and actually fall onto its right side. Not a pretty sight!
I have seen this happen twice now. Ouch!
Once away and on the road, the trailer is almost undetectable, the occasional glance in the mirrors will be needed to make sure that it’s still there.
Braking is naturally effected with the extra weight of a trailer. Allow an extra two car lengths buffer distance between you and the next vehicle ahead. Overtaking will also be slower, so allow extra time to pass that line of traffic.
Fuel consumption will increase by 10 to 15%, but by traveling 10 kph slower, this can largely be compensated for.
Basically, successful trailer touring is mainly about using some common sense.
The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. We have now have had a trailer for ten years and enjoy our touring a great deal more. Never had a nasty moment!
No more being forced to stay at the Cockroach Motel at $90 a night! Food can be carried if needed and meals prepared cheaply using a small stove.
The trailer has repaid its initial purchase price many times over and gets repainted with every new bike acquisition.
Camping items are permanently stored in the trailer when not in use, it takes 2 minutes flat to pack and be on the road again.
One possible disadvantage though, is that we now have to allow an extra 20 minutes when we stop at a shop or fill up at a servo. Someone is sure to saunter over to the bike and ask ‘what’s the trailer like?’ and ‘could we have a peep inside please?’
Owning a trailer is FUN, we wouldn’t be without one.